The Characteristics of Successful Warfare After the Second World War

Annotated Bibliography

Kavanagh, Jennifer, Bryan Frederick, Alexandra Stark, Nathan Chandler, Meagan L. Smith, Matthew Povlock, Lynn E. Davis, and Edward Geist. Characteristics of U.S. Successful Military Interventions. Santa Monica: RAND Corporation, 2019.

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This research-based source reports the results of the statistical study that was devoted to analyzing important interventions involving the United States from the point of view of success. Its basic purpose is to collect enough data on successful and failed military operations to find out whether different characteristics of interventions (duration, types of warfare, etc.) can be regarded as the predictors of success. Being sponsored by the U.S. Army, the source is intended for a wide range of military professionals and analyzes events in the country’s military history from the end of the 1890s to 2016. The discussion of general trends related to military success makes the report a useful source when it comes to the essay topic.

Stewart, Richard. War in the Persian Gulf: Operation Desert Shield and Desert Storm (August 1990-March 1991). Washington: Center of Military History, 2010.

The book delves into a popular research topic in U.S. military history – the Gulf War. The main aim of this source is to provide a detailed and fact-based discussion of the country’s participation in the defensive and offensive phases of the war. Written by a U.S. Army officer and a specialist in military history, the book explores the technical aspects of two military operations and lessons that can be learned from them. The focus on one of the most successful wars for the United States and the abundance of factual evidence explain why the source is useful when studying the characteristics of successful warfare.

Swain, Richard M. “Lucky War”: Third Army in Desert Storm. Leavenworth: U.S. Army Command and General Staff College Press, 1994.

The book covers multiple topics related to the United States’ role in the Gulf War and discusses the war’s events in chronological order, thus explaining the military conflict from the viewpoint of the country’s armed forces. It is reasonable to regard the book as a credible and authoritative source since it has been written by a former field artillery officer who specializes in the history of the Third Army. The work presents historical facts about the Gulf War in a well-structured way and offers conclusions related to the success of the U.S. Army’s performance, which makes this source valuable for the present research.


Effective and successful warfare increases any nation’s chances to win imperative and indispensable resources and, if necessary, protect its physical and intangible assets. For the United States, the period after the end of the Second World War is characterized by positive changes linked to the diversity of available and time-tested military tactics. The country’s forces demonstrated very good performance during different phases of the Gulf War and Operation Iraqi Freedom, and it is possible to use such events to describe successful warfare.

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The characteristics of successful warfare include the prevalence of conventional warfare, a large number of ground forces involved, experienced specialists in military logistics, time-tested practices (exercise Reforger) to plan deployment logistics, well-developed networks of support centers, effective skills in leading military coalitions, and the use of new weapons, radar systems, and thermal imaging systems.

Warfare after 1945 and General Characteristics of Successful Military Operations

For the United States, the start of the post-war era heralded the period of new achievements, strategic planning, timely efforts, effective military coalitions, and innovative military equipment. The number of military interventions by the United States started to grow right after 1945, with the largest increases in operations affecting East and Southeast Asia, North Africa, and the Middle East.1 By studying the country’s military operations in the 1950s and the subsequent decades, it is possible to delve into different prerequisites to success in armed conflicts. Between 1946 and 1989, less than 15% of all political objectives of the United States that required military or peaceful interventions resulted in ill success, and the percentage of unsuccessful efforts decreased even more between 1990 and 2016.2

The United States became one of the global leaders in terms of both economy and military potential even before 1945. The country’s use of effective diplomatic actions often helped it to prevent the escalation of international conflicts. However, the United States still had to participate in multiple armed conflicts taking place after 1945, including the Korean War, the Civil War in Laos, the Vietnam War, the Dominican Civil War, the Gulf War, and the Iraq War, not to mention some smaller armed encounters. In many of the conflicts that happened right after the Second World War and later, successful or not, the country in question played a part of an ally to one of the fighting nations instead of being a party that acted to satisfy its exclusive interests.

Thanks to modern statistical studies, it is possible to thoroughly analyze post-1945 warfare by focusing on the links between particular characteristics of well-known military operations and the extent to which they were successful. As is stated in the report prepared by the RAND research team, the number of military professionals involved in warfare actions is possibly a predictor of success in counterinsurgency and combat operations in the post-1945 era, but the same is also true for the previous historical epoch.3

For armed conflicts that occurred after the end of the bloodiest war, there was a strong positive correlation between the number of ground forces of the United States and a good probability of success at meeting the set military and political goals. Interestingly, this correlation is not observed if close attention is paid to other branches of the military, such as air and naval forces of the country.4

Aside from the number of fighters involved, the traditional character of military operations should be emphasized to describe successful warfare of the discussed historical period. Based on some prominent historical examples, including the United States’ effective military performance during the battles of the Gulf War (1990-1991) and Operation Iraqi freedom, it is reasonable to state that the country’s successful military actions taken after 1945 were typically based on conventional operations.5 Conventional warfare is a traditional method of reaching military objectives involving direct attacks and military competition, whereas the unconventional methods of fighting wars are based on the use of proxy or covert forces that do not state their objectives in an explicit manner.

It is also critical that the success of the Americans’ warfare after 1945 seems to be rooted in the factors that depended on the country’s decisions and were controlled by the authorities. The attributes of the host nations receiving military help from the United States do not seem to be among the strong predictors of military success. For instance, the statistical study by the RAND team did not establish meaningful links between host nations’ degree of economic well-being or the forms of government and the United States’ ability to reach the anticipated military goals to a full extent.6

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Logistics and Training and Their Role in Successful Warfare

Military logistics is a significant discipline that basically presents the science of deploying forces, planning their movement and cooperation, and locating enough resources to keep military units fully mission-capable for the required amount of time. The United States’ successful warfare after 1945 involved the achievements of well-trained and experienced commanders that were supposed to oversee and control military logistics efforts.

Prior to the Gulf War, to prevent the potential negative consequences of Saddam Hussein’s and his supporters’ growing influence in the Persian Gulf region and start defensive actions, the leadership of the U.S. Army sent John Yeosock (lieutenant general) to Riyadh. Using his knowledge of the area’s climatic profile and terrain that he had gained in the 1980s while serving as a military project manager in Saudi Arabia, Yeosock was to supervise all aspects of the army deployment process.7

The very first challenges associated with military units’ deployment enabled Yeosock and his command subordinates to demonstrate flexibility and adaptability to different circumstances when approaching logistics-related tasks. Right after the deployment of the first Airborne Force units, the absence of adequate logistical support became evident. Yeosock issued an order to improve the support system, and his command was fulfilled as soon as possible.8

Thus, to plan the defensive part of the war (Operation Desert Shield that was focused on protecting Saudi Arabia) more thoroughly and consider the required resources, major general William Pagonis and his crew used their military experience participating in the Reforger exercise implemented by NATO during the era of the Cold War. Utilizing the Reforger campaign as a model to emulate, they developed a comprehensive logistics plan based on strategies for “reception, onward movement, and sustainment.”9

Prudent and effective military logistics efforts made by the U.S. Army made an important contribution to the success of operations Desert Shield and Desert Storm. For the first stage of the war being discussed, Saudi Arabia’s transportation system was transformed into a set of efficient supply channels for the U.S. Army. The physical part of the army supply system included a few multilane roads used as the primary supply channels and a number of convoy support centers providing around-the-clock access to fuel and tools for equipment maintenance.10 The mentioned support centers deserve to be called a significant part of the military resource delivery strategy since the areas for rest could improve army morale by increasing the transportation network’s speed of operation and adding to soldiers’ physical comfort during the trips.

Also, to maximize the outcomes of its collaboration with European countries, the U.S. Army actively participated in planning the transportation of the German equipment to the Saudi Arabian territories using land and water transport.11

Continuing on the Gulf War, logistics training and education was one of the priority areas for the U.S. Army, which also contributed to the U.S.-led coalition’s victory. In November of 1990, the U.S. Army initiated the mobilization of its reserve forces, including over one thousand units of all-volunteer manpower.12 The ground combat brigades consisting of different members of the Army National Guard had about a month to implement the pre-deployment training, improve both teamwork and individual skills, and complete military logistics training.13

To some degree, the military and political objectives of the Gulf War basically encouraged the U.S. Army to rethink its approach to military training. To implement the knowledge originating from the experiences of the Vietnam War, the U.S. Army increased the presence of the reserve artillery brigades and enabled them to participate in major combat operations, and such military units (the brigades 142 and 196) managed to meet all performance expectations.14

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Military Alliances and Cooperation as Characteristics of Successful Operations

The establishment of multinational military coalitions with partially or fully identical military, political, and economic interests is among the best-known and most popular strategies that conflicting parties use to maximize their chances of success. Despite the obvious benefits of uniting efforts with allies, the use of coalition warfare is also fraught with the dangers of poor or insufficient coordination, suddenly arising conflicts of interest, and the need to search for compromise solutions. The United States’ effective military performance has been related to the existence of alliances many times, including the Gulf War and the beginning of the Iraq War, which is also known as Operation Iraqi Freedom.

The U.S. Army’s successful military operations organized after 1945 typically included the use of coalition warfare, and the country led such alliances to freedom while acting as the leader instead of being a supporting force. The Gulf War can serve as a good example of how coalition-making and international support have been the elements of the Americans’ successful warfare after 1945. The first eight weeks of 1991 became a period of significant losses for the military forces of Iraq thanks to their inferiority in number and the international coalition’s well-coordinated efforts.15 The United States was one of Kuwait’s most influential allies, but Kuwait was also able to gain independence from Iraq thanks to military and financial help provided by more than thirty countries collaborating with the U.S. Army.16

At a rough estimate, human resources provided by the U.S. Army made about fifty percent of the coalition’s total military forces, whereas other countries’ military and financial contributions were much more humble but still extremely important.17

The Gulf War was successful for the international anti-Iraq forces thanks to multiple factors, including the coalition members’ ability to make joint decisions and alter their most important military goals as a tight-knit team. Speaking about the strong aspects of uniting the resources and efforts of multiple countries, it is worthy of note that the members of the anti-Iraq coalition were able to place emphasis on the global community’s and the host nation’s interests instead of pushing initiatives that would place them in an advantageous position.

For instance, the anti-Iraq coalition initially planned to protect the population of Saudi Arabia from Iraq’s aggression and search for a diplomatic way to promote peace, but the insufficiency of those efforts was recognized in November of 1990.18 Then, the coalition agreed to change the approach to the conflict and set new and more ambitious military objectives to proceed from defensive to offensive strategies and finally liberate Kuwait.19

The establishment of military coalitions to create new challenges for adversaries was also initiated by the United States in other armed conflicts following the Gulf War in the 1990s. The first stage of the ongoing Iraq conflict codenamed as Operation Iraqi Freedom is another example of how the United States has used military cooperation agreements as an element of its successful warfare. Operation Iraqi Freedom involved almost three weeks of major combat operations in March and April of 2003.20

The operation was organized and implemented by the coalition of multiple countries that saw Iraq as an aggressor that could take further actions to change the balance of power in the region. The most active and productive members of the coalition included Poland and three English-speaking countries, such as Australia, the United Kingdom, and the United States, and the countries also received support from political organizations in Iraqi Kurdistan to meet three basic objectives associated with the operation.21

Operation Iraqi Freedom was a major success of the U.S. Army and its allies, and the coalition managed to strip Hussein of his authority and reduce potential threats to the global community associated with the new weapons of mass destruction probably possessed by Iraq.22 To continue, the coalition partially met another significant objective that involved causing an end to the alleged support for terrorism in Iraq.23 Overall, the use of coalition warfare contributed to the positive outcomes of the entire military operation and enabled the U.S. Army and its military partners to reduce the influence of Saddam Hussein and Ba’athist ideology in Iraq in a relatively short span of time.

Military Technology in Successful Warfare

Being able to implement up-to-date and effective military technology can definitely be listed among the prerequisites to achieving success. When participating in armed conflicts, the U.S. Army tries to achieve a perfect balance between the most recent military technology and time-tested weapons that have proven remarkably effective during previous battles. Achieving superiority over adversaries in terms of military technology belongs to the priority areas for the U.S. Army, which has helped it to perform at its best in many battles of the discussed historical period.

Readiness to invest in innovative weapons continues to be one of the characteristics of successful warfare. As the findings reported by the RAND Corporation suggest, the U.S. forces’ ability to achieve superiority by utilizing new equipment and technology makes the positive link between military success and the size of the employed military force even stronger.24 The great role of technology in successful warfare is evident in many conflicts in the post-1945 era that involved the United States. During the Bosnian war in the first half of the 1990s, American commanders achieved success in air campaigns by increasing the use of the so-called smart or guided bombs.25 Earlier, the country had been able to demonstrate the use of modern technology in Operation Desert Storm.

Apart from help from their allies, diverse types of the U.S. armed forces were able to reduce Iraq’s influence on people in Kuwait due to the abundance of effective and complicated weapons that had been improved or designed in the mid-1960s or much later. As for particular examples, weapons used in Operation Desert Storm included smart anti-tank devices, such as M72LAW and MGM51, and light amphibious tanks (M551).26

The United States’ advantage over Iraq’s armed forces also existed due to the presence of totally new weapons. For instance, the country successfully used the newest third-generation tanks (M1) and the most recent models of attack helicopters designed in the U.S. in order to take accuracy with which the army could defeat the adversary’s tanks to the next level.27 MIM104 Patriot, one of the newest ground-to-air missile systems of the time, was another innovative weapon utilized by the American military forces and other coalition members to organize more effective attacks on Iraqi aircraft and other types of military equipment.28 Therefore, innovative weapons became an important factor responsible for the United States’ good performance during the second stage of the Gulf War.

The use of innovative systems that facilitate navigating new terrains in obscured conditions and analyzing incoming fire to detect the exact location of enemies’ weapons can also be listed among the basic characteristics of successful warfare in the post-1945 era. During Operation Desert Storm, the U.S. troops enjoyed a significant technological advantage over the forces of Iraq since they could easily find the adversary’s batteries using their highly-sensitive Firefinder radar systems, which allowed them to organize unexpected attacks and destroy the entire battalions at once.29

Another example of innovative military technology helping the United States to achieve success was the introduction of specific systems that could operate thanks to the technologies of thermal imaging. Such systems could be used in attack aircraft, different types of tanks, and infantry fighting vehicles to facilitate the detection of obstacles and the enemy’s objects in poor visibility conditions.30 The introduction of such devices was extremely important for the United States and its military partners in the Gulf War because of the natural characteristics of the field of operations, such as low humidity and frequent dust and sand storms.


To sum up, the history of warfare after 1945 offers multiple examples of how both new and traditional approaches to military operations help entire nations to assert their political and military interests, thus defending stability. As the examples of successful operations led by the United States suggest, the characteristics of successful warfare are mostly self-explanatory and involve proper preparation and training efforts, high-speed responses to changing circumstances and unexpected problems, readiness to invest in new technology, and proper skills for coalition-building.

Overall, although the United States’ performance in the Gulf War and Operation Iraqi Freedom was not entirely flawless, modern military professionals can regard the country’s actions as an example of how to plan important operations, set realistic objectives, and react to unstable circumstances. Additionally, the lessons of the past are yet more proof that even the most influential political players benefit from building military coalitions, not to mention modern weapons and combat vehicles with improved design and specifications.


Kavanagh, Jennifer, Bryan Frederick, Alexandra Stark, Nathan Chandler, Meagan L. Smith, Matthew Povlock, Lynn E. Davis, and Edward Geist. Characteristics of U.S. Successful Military Interventions. Santa Monica: RAND Corporation, 2019.

Stewart, Richard. War in the Persian Gulf: Operation Desert Shield and Desert Storm (August 1990-March 1991). Washington: Center of Military History, 2010.

Swain, Richard M. “Lucky War”: Third Army in Desert Storm. Leavenworth: U.S. Army Command and General Staff College Press, 1994.


  1. Jennifer Kavanagh et al., Characteristics of U.S. Successful Military Interventions (Santa Monica: RAND Corporation, 2019), xiii.
  2. Kavanagh et al., Characteristics of U.S., xv.
  3. Kavanagh et al., 63.
  4. Kavanagh et al., 63.
  5. Kavanagh et al., 63.
  6. Kavanagh et al., 64.
  7. Richard Stewart, War in the Persian Gulf: Operation Desert Shield and Desert Storm (August 1990-March 1991) (Washington: Center of Military History, 2010), 5.
  8. Stewart, War in the Persian Gulf, 9.
  9. Richard M. Swain, “Lucky War”: Third Army in Desert Storm (Leavenworth: U.S. Army Command and General Staff College Press, 1994), 167.
  10. Stewart, 13.
  11. Stewart, 13.
  12. Stewart, 23.
  13. Stewart, 25.
  14. Stewart, 27.
  15. Swain, “Lucky War,” 1.
  16. Swain, 1.
  17. Swain, 1.
  18. Stewart, 17.
  19. Stewart, 17.
  20. Kavanagh et al., 77.
  21. Kavanagh et al., 77.
  22. Kavanagh et al., 77.
  23. Kavanagh et al., 77.
  24. Kavanagh et al., 83.
  25. Kavanagh et al., 83.
  26. Stewart, 5.
  27. Stewart, 16.
  28. Stewart, 32.
  29. Stewart, 50.
  30. Stewart, 50.
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