The Dragons and the Snakes

How the Rest Learned to Fight the West

March 2020 9781787380981 336pp
March 2022 9781787387218 336pp
Available as an eBook


In 1993, a newly-appointed CIA director warned that Western powers might have ‘slain a large dragon’ with the fall of the USSR, but now faced a ‘bewildering variety of poisonous snakes’. Since then, both dragons (state enemies like Russia and China) and snakes (terrorist and guerrilla organisations) have watched the US struggle in Iraq and Afghanistan, and mastered new methods in response: hybrid and urban warfare, political manipulation, and harnessing digital technology.

Leading soldier-scholar David Kilcullen reveals everything the West’s opponents have learned from twenty-first-century conflict and explains how their cutting-edge tactics and adaptability pose a serious threat to America and its allies, disabling the West’s military advantage.

The Dragons and the Snakes is a compelling, counterintuitive look at the new, vastly complex global arena. Kilcullen reshapes our understanding of the West’s foes, and shows how it can respond.


‘This book should be read by everyone in uniform.’ — The Times

‘Impressive … The Dragons and the Snakes is based on a formidable array of military and political sources.’ — The Financial Times

‘Interesting and provocative.’ — The Sunday Times

‘An eye-opening look at the state of strategic balance between the United States and its rivals, large and small … Essential reading for anyone concerned with America’s future on the world stage.’ — Kirkus

‘Disturbingly brilliant. David Kilcullen, ever the thoughtful observer of wars and the people who wage them, captures the changes in warfare that already confound and threaten to overwhelm us. He correctly shows that we are mentally and physically unprepared for the new nature of conflict, and will likely pay dearly for it.’ — Stanley McChrystal, Retd US Army General, and Partner, McChrystal Group

‘David Kilcullen has produced another thoughtful, important book. At a time when some believe that the return of competition with great powers might serve as an emotional catharsis to help forget the long war against jihadist terrorist organisations, the author exposes and transcends that false choice. His ideas about how to fight for peace in a dangerous world should be read and discussed not only by diplomats, defence officials, and military officers, but also by citizens concerned about securing a better future for their children.’ — H.R. McMaster, Retd US Army Lt-General, and author of Dereliction of Duty and Battlegrounds

‘Once again David Kilcullen succeeds in demonstrating how our adversaries are adapting faster than we are to the experiences of the recent past. Timely advice for defence strategists on how to apply those lessons, and to plan for the next conflict, not the last.’ — Professor Sir David Omand, former UK Security and Intelligence Coordinator


David Kilcullen is an author, an expert on unconventional and guerrilla warfare, and a former soldier and diplomat. He was a senior counterinsurgency adviser during the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. His previous books with Hurst include The Accidental Guerrilla; Blood Year; and Out of the Mountains.

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