The Dragons and the Snakes

How the Rest Learned to Fight the West

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Just a few years ago, people spoke of the US as a hyperpower- a titan stalking the world stage with more relative power than any empire in history. Yet as early as 1993, newly-appointed CIA director James Woolsey pointed out that although Western powers had "slain a large dragon" by defeating the Soviet Union in the Cold War, they now faced a "bewildering variety of poisonous snakes." In his new book, The Dragons and the Snakes, the soldier-scholar and former fellow with New America and ASU’s Future of War project, David Kilcullen asks how, and what, opponents of the West have learned during the last quarter-century of conflict. Applying a combination of evolutionary theory and detailed field observation, he explains what happened to the "snakes"-non-state threats including terrorists and guerrillas-and the "dragons"-state-based competitors such as Russia and China. Kilcullen argues, state and non-state threats have increasingly come to resemble each other, with states adopting non-state techniques and non-state actors now able to access levels of precision and lethal weapon systems once only available to governments.

David Kilcullen is a professor of practice in the School of Politics and Global Studies at Arizona State University and plays a central role guiding the MA in Global Security. He is also a professor in the School of Humanities and Social Sciences of the University of New South Wales. He heads the strategic research firm Cordillera Applications Group. A former soldier and diplomat, he served as a counterinsurgency advisor during the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, advising both Condoleezza Rice and David Petraeus. In recent years he has supported aid agencies, non-government organizations, and local communities in conflict and disaster-affected regions, and developed new ways to think about highly networked urban environments. Dr. Kilcullen was named one of the Foreign Policy Top 100 Global Thinkers in 2009 and is the author of The Accidental Guerrilla, Out of the Mountains, and Blood Year in addition to The Dragons and the Snakes.


David Kilcullen
Professor of Practice , Arizona State University School of Politics and Global Studies
Former ASU / New America Future of War Senior Fellow
Author, The Dragons and the Snakes: How the Rest Learned to Fight the West


Peter Bergen
, @peterbergencnn
Vice President, New America

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