Military Strategy Magazine - Volume 8, Issue 1

Volume 8, Issue 1, Summer 2022 30 clear driver of the formation of such groups. For example, one might expect that having an especially powerful partner that could assume many of the transaction and coordination costs of forming and sustaining a coalition might make such groups more likely.[vi] In fact, superpower participation does not seem to be that important; the United States contributed forces to only about 34% of all battlefield coalitions that fought between 1900 and 2003, and only about 39% of all battlefield coalitions that fought after the end of the Cold War. Similarly, one might think that democracies are especially cooperative and likely to form battlefield coalitions.[vii] However, less than 50% of battlefield coalitions that fought since the turn of the twentieth century included any forces fielded by democracies.[viii] Treaty commitments are another potential explainer, as pre-existing agreements to fight together would allow partners time to work through many of the organizational and logistical problems that inhibit the creation of battlefield coalitions. Yet less than 40% of all battlefield coalitions that fought since 1900 included at least two members that had previously concluded a written agreement to come to one another’s defense.[ix] Sovereignty status also does not seem to matter, as approximately 40% of all battlefield coalitions included forces fielded by at least one non-state actor. There is little to unite the 228 battlefield coalitions that fought between 1900 and 2003 other than the fact that the leaders of the forces engaged collectively decided that fighting together would offer them a better chance of victory—of securing strategic ends—than fighting alone. Experience Matters Even if the belligerent partners forming battlefield coalitions are correct that fighting together improves their odds of victory, that assessment alone does not guarantee success. While battlefield coalitions have outperformed forces fighting alone, winning 54% of the time since 1900, another way to view their performance is that they still lose nearly half of their battles. Crucially, hidden within that aggregate figure is the performance of a particular set of battlefield coalitions that systematically underperform others: those comprised of forces fielded by partners that have not recently fought a major battle together. As noted earlier, these inexperienced battlefield coalitions won only 40% of their engagements since 1900 while those with members who had fought major battles together in the past 25 years won nearly 60% of their fights. The relatively poor performance of inexperienced battlefield coalitions is reflected in many different types of groupings, as depicted in Table 1. For example, among battlefield coalitions with two members that had previously concluded a written agreement to come to one another’s defense, collectives with prior fighting experience won 60% more battles than those that did not. Examples of battlefield coalitions with such agreements that performed well in battle include the Entente in World War I, Serbia and Montenegro during the First Balkan War, and, more recently, the United States and several of its partners during Operation Anaconda in Afghanistan. Similarly, among those battlefield coalitions that enjoyed a manpower advantage over their adversary, groups with prior collective fighting experience won approximately 45% more of their battles than inexperienced groups. Such experienced, successful groups include the United States and its European partners throughout the Boxer Rebellion, the Axis in early battles in North Africa, and Tanzania and the Ugandan National Army in their battles against Uganda in the late 1970s. Even among those battlefield coalitions that were outnumbered by their adversaries, having prior collective fighting experience increased their chances of victory by more than 50%. Outnumbered, experienced battlefield coalitions that won their fights are those like the United States and the United Kingdom at Salerno duringWorldWar II, the United Nations Command in several battles during the Korean War, and Cuba and the People’s Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA) in a number of battles fought in Angola in 1975. A similar story can be told about the vast majority of other battlefield coalitions, no matter how they are grouped. The only two types of battlefield coalition for which prior collective fighting experience did not improve belligerents’ odds of success: those including American forces and those comprised of forces drawn exclusively from democracies. These types of battlefield coalitions won much more often than they lost throughout the twentieth century but, crucially, they were rare. As noted above, battlefield coalitions including American forces comprised only one third of all such groupings and those including forces drawn only from democracies were only one fifth of the total. The vast majority of battlefield coalitions that fought major battles during interstate wars waged in the twentieth century were much more likely to win if at least two of their members had fought together before. Just as significant is that past performance does not guarantee future success. Practice Makes Perfect for Battlefield Coalitions Rosella Cappella Zielinski and Ryan Grauer