Missionaries of Modernity

Advisory Missions and the Struggle for Hegemony in Afghanistan and Beyond

March 2016 9781849044806 496pp
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This volume is an historical survey of advisory and mentoring missions from the 1940s onwards, starting from the Soviet missions to the Kuomintang and ending with the mission to Iraq. It focuses on Afghanistan during the Soviet occupation and after 2001, but also deals with virtually every single advisory mission from the 1940s onwards, whether involving ‘Eastern Bloc’ countries or Western ones. The sections on Afghanistan are based on new research, while the sections covering other cases of advisory/mentoring missions are based on the existing literature. The authors highlight how large-scale missions have been particularly problematic, causing friction with the hosts and sometimes even undermining their legitimacy. Small missions staffed by more carefully selected cadres appear instead to have produced better results. Overall, the political context may well have been a more important factor in determining success or failure rather than aspects such as cultural misunderstandings.


‘This scholarly analysis demonstrate that in trying to help, assist, stabilise, coerce or modernise a weaker state, the sending state (whether mischievous or benign) too often attempts to mirror their own system. They then find their deployed advisors swimming upstream against local conditions, always with less than perfect results. Whilst sending nations might espouse ‘nation building’ they subconsciously set out to ‘modernise’ in their own image, resulting in failure as a homeland template is shoe-horned onto the culture of a recipient. The authors show how dangerous it is to interfere like this without a cohering strategy — that is having a clear idea of the direction of travel and why it is being done. Agree or not with the conclusions, Missionaries of Modernity is essential reading to guide advisory missions before deployment and a compendium of ideas about why things are going wrong once the mission has become stuck in the mire. A very interesting book.’ — Major General Christopher Elliott CB MBE, former Director of Military Operations and author of High Command: British Military Leadership in the Iraq and Afghanistan Wars

‘A wholly original look at how great powers try to mould their client states in their own image — and so often fail. A must read for every serious student of how international relations really work.’ — Sir Sherard Cowper-Coles, former British Ambassador to Israel, Saudi Arabia, and Afghanistan, and author of Cables from Kabul: The Inside Story of the West’s Afghanistan Campaign

‘Too often advisory missions are treated as sui generis case studies, unique unto themselves. By examining the common threads in advisory mission across time and place, this important volume fills a critical gap in the literature. The authors develop a general interpretive framework that addresses the type and role of advisory mission in foreign policy, the barriers encountered, the variety of results and the long-term legacies. A must-read for scholars of international relations and military history.’ — Montgomery McFate, research professor at the US Naval War College and co-editor of Social Science Goes to War: The Human Terrain System in Iraq and Afghanistan


Antonio Giustozzi is Senior Research Fellow at the Royal United Services Institute, and Visiting Professor at King's College London, with a PhD from the London School of Economics. His eleven books are published by Hurst, most recently The Islamic State in Khorasan: Afghanistan, Pakistan and the New Central Asian Jihad.  

Artemy Kalinovsky is Assistant Professor of East European Studies at the University of Amsterdam. He is the author of A Long Goodbye: The Soviet Withdrawal from Afghanistan.

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