Case Study 2: The Wisdom and Stupidity of Military Calculations in International Politics

  • Tuomo Peltonen


This chapter analyses mistakes made regarding the collection and interpretation of information and the decision-making process in the context of military operations. The two of the cases concern decision-making in war circumstances, whereas the third discusses the role of the intelligence apparatus information production in an escalation of Cold War superpower relations. War cases take a look at the 1944 Soviet attack in the Karelian Isthmus, and the 1941 Operation Barbarossa offensive by Germany against the Soviet Union. In the war examples, supreme commanders trusted their previous experience and ability to filter and analyse massive amounts of information to such an extent that they sidelined the ability of the intelligence machinery and the army bureaucracy to condense and synthesise relevant analytical conclusions from the information regarding the situation. This reliance on informal information and intuitive wisdom, however, demonstrated its limitations in the cases as leaders made erroneous calculations about the enemy intentions based on their experientially induced or ideological beliefs. The third example, in turn, scrutinises the escalation of Cold War superpower relations in the early 1980s, culminating in the Soviet war panic in the midst of a routine NATO war game in 1983. The case highlights the mistakes of the intelligence apparatus in delivering neutral overviews of the mindset of the opposing side. Fears related to previous failures to detect offensive plans as well as the inability to transcend one’s own cultural and ideological presumptions are among the factors that can lead to biased or tinted readings of the policies and mentalities of the adversary. All cases demonstrate in a myriad of ways the pitfalls of foreign policy decision-making relying on military calculations or intelligence information without an adequate input from the sources of philosophical wisdom.


Military leadership Mannerheim Stalin Cold War Decision-making Ideology 


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© The Author(s) 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  • Tuomo Peltonen
    • 1
  1. 1.School of BusinessAalto UniversityHelsinkiFinland

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