< Distinguished speaker series

Michael O’Hanlon

Director of Research, Foreign Policy Program; Specialist in U.S. Defense Policy, The Brookings Institution

Military History for the Modern Strategist

DATE: January 31, 2023 6:00 pm

LOCATION: World Trade Center, Baltimore

Event information

Michael O’Hanlon takes a deep look at America’s conflicts from the Civil War to Afghanistan in a new book that’s packed with wisdom and full of candor.

Some observations will sound familiar, for example: every war is unpredictable; it matters who’s in charge, and the biggest risk in war is over-confidence.

But all his judgments are worth hearing.  Korea “showed more vividly than any other experience in American history how quickly a magnificent military can deteriorate.” Korea also showed how deterrence fails if it isn’t credibly backed by the threat of the use of force.

Vietnam was a “colossal failure,” the clearest defeat the U.S. has experienced, because it was fighting not just communism but “super-charged nationalism” and one of the most competent guerrilla movements in history.

As for Afghanistan: The best chance to have avoided calamity was to have built a stronger Afghan state in the “golden window” of 2002-2005, just after the American invasion, when the country was quiet and the threat was modest.

Here’s the grand irony. America’s wars since 1945 “have not gone so well.”  Yet, we must be doing something right, for “there has never been a comparable sustained period of long term great-power peace and the spread of democracy and prosperity as in the course of world history since 1945.”

Michael O’Hanlon is the director of research in Foreign policy at the Brookings Institution in Washington, where he specializes in U.S. defense strategy, the use of military force and American national security policy.  He is also an adjunct professor at Columbia, Georgetown and George Washington Universities and serves on the Defense Board at the U.S. Department of Defense.

He received his BS and MS degrees in the physical sciences at Princeton and later a Ph.D. in public affairs and international relations from Princeton’s Woodrow Wilson School. He is a Peace Corps Veteran (Republic of Congo), was an analyst at the Congressional Budget Office  and worked at the institute for Defense Analysis before joining Brookings. He also served as a member of the external advisory board at the Central Intelligence Agency. He has written or edited over 20 books and written several hundred op-eds and articles in the country’ foremost journals and newspapers.  His topics have covered security in Eastern Europe, land warfare, nuclear disarmament, Korea, NATO in Kosovo, technological exchange and the future of warfare and U.S.-China relations.

Dr O’Hanlon is a good friend of the Baltimore Council, having appeared at least four times in the past 20 years.


Michael O’Hanlon 

The Brookings Institution

Director of Research, Foreign Policy Program

Specialist in U.S. Defense Policy

O’Hanlon’s Most Recent Speech at the BCFA, “The Art of War in an Age of Peace”; October 7th, 2021


O’Hanlon Brookings Institution Profile Page


Brookings Foreign Policy Program Information Page; O’Hanlon is the Director of Research for this Program


  • Stated Goals of the Program
    • To understand the dynamics of world affairs and the challenges they pose to the international community; and
    • To influence policies and institutions in the United States and abroad that promote sustainable peace, security, and prosperity around the world

Brookings Strobe Talbott Center for Security, Strategy, and Technology Information Page; O’Hanlon is the Director of this Program 


  • Three Overarching Themes of the Program
    • American leadership in the 21st century: U.S. grand strategy, alliances, and the multilateral order
    • National Security: U.S. defense policy, strategic weapons, and technology
    • Transnational threats: nonstate actors and sub-state challenges

Recent Article Calling for Further Intervention in Ukraine; 16 January 2023


Recent Article on a post-Russo-Ukrainian War Europe; December 12th 2022


  • Necessities in Policy Making:
    • Reassure Ukraine
    • Deter an aggressive Russia
    • Avoid inflammatory ideas such as Ukrainian membership In NATO that would make impossible future stability

CNBC Snippet with O’Hanlon Discussing Alternatives to Ukraine NATO Membership;

March 8th, 2022


O’Hanlon on the US Overhyping the Chinese Threat; December 8th, 2022


Article Further Elaborating on the Chinese Military’s Threat to US Security; December 2nd, 2022


  • Ways in Which the US has Overhyped the Chinese Threat
    • Although a joint statement between the Russian and Chinese government prescribed that their relationship “knows no bounds,” China has not sold arms to Russia during their invasion into Ukraine.
    • China’s GDP dedication to military spending, though growing, still remains at less than 2% of GDP. This is incomparable to the US’s over 3% GDP dedication to military spending.
    • Although the PRC seeks to expand its nuclear arsenal, China will not be able to foreseeably compete with US armaments. 
      • & other inflammatory statements 

O’Hanlon’s Most Recent Book: Military History for the Modern Strategist


  • “In his latest book, ‘Military History for the Modern Strategist,’ Brookings senior fellow and U.S. defense strategy expert Michael O’Hanlon examines America’s major wars since the mid-1800s. Linking military operations, wartime objectives, and grand strategy, O’Hanlon explains each war’s main causes, major campaigns, dynamics, and outcomes conceptually and succinctly. He addresses profound questions about modern American military history and outlines three key lessons for decisionmakers, higher-level strategists, history enthusiasts, and military buffs alike. Bringing the reader into the year 2022 and Russia’s brazen and ill-fated invasion of Ukraine, O’Hanlon indeed presents military history for the modern strategist”

Reviews for Military History for the Modern Strategist:

  • Michael O’Hanlon has devoted his career to thinking and writing about the causes, courses, and consequences of war so that future such tragedies are less likely to occur, and less devastating when they do. With Military History for the Modern Strategist O’Hanlon has produced a focused, consumable volume full of lessons from America’s past wars – lessons that are more apt and urgent today than at any time since the Cold War’s end. The book is an insistent reminder that it is only the knowledge, perceptions, and choices of America’s leaders, expressed in strategy, that bind the destructive activities of war to the nation’s political purpose, and to its principles. Reading this book will help the country’s leaders design those strategies with humanity and humility.
    •  Melanie Sisson, Fellow, Strobe Talbott Center for Security, Strategy, and Technology, Brookings Institution
  • A brilliant, yet sobering overview of modern war by a uniquely qualified and thoughtful expert. Michael O’Hanlon put conflicts from the Civil War to Afghanistan into strategic context with a concise clarity that is fascinating for veterans of past wars, and fundamental for strategists of the future. His final chapter’s ‘Three Lessons’ should be required reading for policymakers.
    • Stanley McChrystal, former commander, International Security Assistance Force (Afghanistan), U.S. Joint Special Operations Command