Azar Gat provides a politically and strategically vital understanding of the peculiar strengths and vulnerabilities that liberal democracy brings to the formidable challenges ahead. Arguing that the democratic peace is merely one manifestation of much more sweeping and less recognized pacifist tendencies typical of liberal democracies, Gat offers a panoramic view of their distinctive way in conflict and war.
Gat, a professor of national security at Tel Aviv University, a Hoover Institution fellow, and author (War in Human Civilization), has gained an international reputation as a military historian and security analyst. In this look at liberal democracies in conflict, he does not directly challenge their "deeply structural" attitude toward conduct in war, a characteristic "written in their DNA," but suggests that general moral and legal parameters can be refined, through policy and strategy, using "a better awareness of the underlying patterns of the democracies' behavior in conflict." In particular, he finds fault with "normative-legal aspects" of liberal national defense that favor pacifism and appeasement: such tendencies render them vulnerable to a determined enemy without such scruples. Opposition to detention without trial, torture, and wiretapping, Gat says, has "a bitterly ideological and righteous character," rigid where it should be adaptable to changing realities and enemy tactics; on the battlefield, "self-imposed restrictions on violence against civilian population" can "render often-successful military operations futile." Suggesting that we "are inclined to rationalize backwards," Gat finds examples in the simplistic notions of the allied victory in WWII, which he suggests was "anything but preordained." A contentious contribution to the foreign policy debate that raises important issues, Gat's latest will engross security wonks.