Boots and Suits: Historical Cases and Contemporary Lessons in Military Diplomacy

  • Published

Boots and Suits: Historical Cases and Contemporary Lessons in Military Diplomacy edited by Phillip S. Kosnett. Marine Corps University Press, 2023, 440 pp.

Boots and Suits is an anthology dedicated to the study of military diplomacy. The book combines historical research with practitioner experience to illustrate the best practices and lessons learned for the soldier-statesman. Historians, diplomats, military leaders, and diverse scholars contributed to this seminal publication. Retired Ambassador Philip Kosnett drives this project, reflecting a passion for diplomacy, a commitment to improving its practice, and exceptional scholarship. Having served in numerous leadership positions in the US Department of State, including as the foreign policy adviser to the commander of Multi-national Corps–Iraq, Kosnett is an authority on military diplomacy.

Boots and Suits is divided into three parts: historical experience, contemporary challenges, and lessons from practitioners. The first section tells the story of military diplomacy through the lens of the United States’ unique experience as a nation. Starting with the United States’ relationship with Turkey and ending in the Reagan administration’s relationship with Egypt, this section illustrates the impact of foreign military sales, security cooperation, and alliances in the development of national security. Perhaps the most intriguing of these historical examples is the impact military diplomacy played in the outcome of the US Civil War. Historian David Campmier notes that the Confederacy’s diplomatic aims with Great Britain were unsuccessful in securing military assistance against the Union, arguing that the primary factor behind this failure was the Confederacy’s commitment to slavery and its underestimation of how abhorrent it was to Britain. While in agreement with its aim to see the Union weakened, Britain would never align its strategic goals with those of the Confederates without emancipation. Antislavery attitudes were too strong in the British consciousness. Campmier therefore highlights the practical lesson that military diplomacy is most effective when combined with broader diplomatic efforts toward states with similar political goals.

Another notable lesson emerging from historical example is the realization of how quickly international norms can change. For example, less than one hundred years ago, United States military diplomats were shaping the future of Iran through advisory missions. The robust Iranian-American relationship following World War II has been lost in recent memory and is now far from present-day geopolitical realities. Yet understanding this forgotten history is imperative to understanding how the current international system is not immutable.

The next section of the book highlights modern-day obstacles facing the military-diplomat. These include Russian hybrid warfare, Western security assistance to Ukraine, and great power competition in the Pacific. Of these three challenges, the most informative chapter is national security scholar Frank Goertner et al.’s article on security assistance to Ukraine. This section masterfully traces Ukraine’s experience following the fall of the Soviet Union to the present-day Russian invasion. The authors analyze the last 30 years of the United States’ and Europe’s policies with respect to Ukrainian deterrence, security assistance, and accession into the European Union and NATO.

 Also included in this section is a cross-cultural analysis of the Netherlands’ ability to engage in military diplomacy. The article, written by Mirjam Grandia Mantas, Hester Postma, and Han Bouwmeester, may be the most profound section of the book because of its boldness to try and define the practice. The authors define military diplomacy as:

the strategic deployment of military personnel working within the international and/or international network of the Ministry of Defense, with the aim of monitoring, identifying, appreciating, and influencing security developments and activities in order to contribute to the implementation of national foreign and security policy.1

Thus, the Netherlands case study contributes to the book’s overall aim in offering foundational scholarship on military diplomacy. Also notable is the authors’ depiction of diplomacy as a social phenomenon, an idea evident in the book’s earlier example of the Confederacy’s inability to secure British aid during the Civil War. As mentioned, the Confederacy’s failure was largely due to the inability of Confederate diplomats to acknowledge British attitudes toward slavery. The Netherlands case study affirms the social aspect of diplomacy, using contemporary scholarship to build a cohesive narrative on military diplomacy. While not all encompassing to the profession, the authors challenge readers to advance their ideas and definitions in future research.

Finally, the last section of Boots and Suits is a series of articles written by a diverse group of practitioners in military diplomacy, offering best practices and lessons learned as a guide for other practitioners. This section is particularly beneficial to senior government officials and combatant commanders because of its discussion of the interagency friction experienced in Afghanistan and Iraq by former US Agency for International Development and State Department officials working with the Department of Defense. The challenges identified in the book can help future operations avoid the same mistakes. Specifically, as a social phenomenon, interagency success depends on strong interpersonal relationships to drive foreign policy victories. Moreover, this section is helpful in understanding contemporary history and experiences that shaped the outcomes of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and the forces driving the Indo-Pacific competition.

While the collection of articles provides a foundation to study military diplomacy, John T. Hennessey-Niland’s article on Chinese and United States competition in the Pacific could have made a stronger argument as to why the issue is so critical to national security and global prosperity. Hennessey-Niland brilliantly leverages his experience as ambassador to Palau to highlight contemporary issues for the Pacific; however, his argument fails because it does not articulate a strong reason for American intervention in the Pacific. While Hennessey-Niland references the importance of maintaining the liberal international order, he does not connect this to the American people.

Nonetheless, the combined experiences and scholarship within Boots and Suits make it the first collection from both practitioners and scholars to advance the military diplomacy profession. In this sense, the book resembles Hal Brands’ edited collection, The New Makers of Modern Strategy, and it could serve as a hallmark resource to encourage professionals and students to think critically on the subject of diplomacy.2 Within each section, the chapters highlight a specific lesson or challenge, yet they coherently build upon one another to present an informative and concise body of knowledge.

For those engaged in foreign affairs or diplomacy, Boots and Suits belongs on the bookshelf to cite and study. For readers interested in the subject, the book would help inform their practice and improve their professional competence.

Captain Peter R. Carkhuff, USAF

1 Mirjam Grandia Mantas, Hester Postma, and Han Bouwmeester, “Military Diplomacy Conceptualized from a Small State's Perspective: The Case of the Netherlands,” in Boots and Suits: Historical Cases and Contemporary Lessons in Military Diplomacy, ed. Philip S. Kosnett (Quantico, VA: Marine Corps University Press, 2023), 239.

2 Hal Brands, ed., The New Makers of Modern Strategy: From the Ancient World to the Digital Age (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2023).

"The views expressed are those of the author(s) and do not reflect the official policy or position of the US government or the Department of Defense."