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Archive for June, 2012

Foreign Policy and The Roles Of The Elements of Power

Thursday, June 21st, 2012

Friend Scott Perry recommended this article by George Friedman. It’s a great first piece is a discussion of the development of US foreign policy, and of the roles various elements of power……counterinsurgency, drones, training missions, etc…..ought to play in the planning and execution of policy designed to enable a safe and stable world that serves US interests.

The End of Counterinsurgency and the Scalable Force
June 5, 2012 | 0901 GMT



By George Friedman

“The U.S. military for years has debated the utility of counterinsurgency operations. Drawing from a sentiment that harkens back to the Vietnam War, many within the military have long opposed counterinsurgency operations. Others see counterinsurgency as the unavoidable future of U.S. warfare. The debate is between those who believe the purpose of a conventional military force is to defeat another conventional military force and those who believe conventional military conflicts increasingly will be replaced by conflicts more akin to recent counterinsurgency operations. In such conflicts, the purpose of a counterinsurgency is to transform an occupied society in order to undermine the insurgents.

Understanding this debate requires the understanding that counterinsurgency is not a type of warfare; it is one strategy by which a disproportionately powerful conventional force approaches asymmetric warfare. As its name implies, it is a response to an insurgency, a type of asymmetric conflict undertaken by small units with close links to the occupied population to defeat a larger conventional force. Insurgents typically are highly motivated — otherwise they collapse easily — and usually possess superior intelligence to a foreign occupational force. Small units operating with superior intelligence are able to evade more powerful conventional forces and can strike such forces at their own discretion. Insurgents are not expected to defeat the occupying force through direct military force. Rather, the assumption is that the occupying force has less interest in the outcome of the war than the insurgents and that over time, the inability to defeat the insurgency will compel the occupying force to withdraw.

According to counterinsurgency theory, the strength of an insurgency lies in the relationship between insurgents and the general population. The relationship provides a logistical base and an intelligence apparatus. It also provides sanctuary by allowing the insurgents to blend into the population and disappear under pressure. Counterinsurgency argues that severing this relationship is essential. The means for this consist of offering the population economic incentives, making deals with the traditional leadership and protecting the population from the insurgents, who might conduct retributive attacks for collaborating with the occupying force.

The weakness of counterinsurgency is the assumption that the population would turn against the insurgents for economic incentives or that the counterinsurgents can protect the population from the insurgents. Some values, such as nationalism and religion, are very real among many populations, and the occupying force’s ability to alter these values is dubious, no matter how helpful, sincere and sympathetic the occupying force is. Moreover, protecting the population from insurgents is difficult. In many cases, insurgents are the husbands, brothers and sons of civilians. The population may want the economic benefits offered by the occupying force, but that does not mean citizens will betray or ostracize their friends and relatives. In the end, it is a specious assumption that a mass of foreigners can do more than intimidate a population. The degree to which they can intimidate them is doubtful as well.

An Alternative to Counterinsurgency?
There is of course another dimension of asymmetric warfare, which encapsulates guerrilla warfare and special operations warfare. This is warfare by which highly trained light infantry forces are deployed on a clearly defined mission but are not dependent on the local population. Instead, these forces avoid the general population, operating on their own supplies or supplies obtained with minimal contact with the population. Notably, either side could adopt these tactics. What is most important in considering guerrilla warfare from the perspective of the counterinsurgent is that it is not merely a tactic for the insurgent; it is also a potential alternative to counterinsurgency itself.

Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan have shown that the U.S. military is not very good at counterinsurgency. One could argue that the United States should improve its counterinsurgency capabilities, but there is little evidence that it could master such capabilities. There is, however, another form of light infantry warfare to consider, and it is a form of warfare the United States is good at. The alternative does not seek to win over the population but is designed to achieve very definable military objectives, from the destruction of facilities to harassing, engaging and possibly destroying enemy forces, including insurgents.

Special Operations Forces are highly useful for meeting these objectives, but we should also include other types of forces. The U.S. Marine Corps is one such example. Rather than occupying territory, and certainly rather than trying to change public opinion, these forces have a conventional mission carried out in relatively small unit operations. Their goal is to assert military force in highly defined if limited missions designed to bypass the population and strike at the opposition’s capabilities. This is exemplified best in counterterrorist operations or the assault on specific facilities. These operations are cheap and do not require occupation. More important, these operations are designed to terminate without incurring political cost — the bane of prolonged counterinsurgency operations. The alternative to counterinsurgency is to avoid occupational warfare by rigorously defining more limited missions.

To illustrate these operations, consider what we regard as a major emerging threat: Non-state actors potentially acquiring land-based anti-ship missiles. Globalism brings with it intensified maritime trade. Meanwhile, we have seen the dissemination of many weapons to non-state actors. It is easy to imagine that the next stage of diffusion would be mobile, land-based anti-ship missiles. A guerrilla group or insurgency, armed with such weapons, could take advantage of land cover for mobility but strike at naval vessels. In fact, we have already seen several instances where groups employ this strategy. Hezbollah did so in operations against Israel in 2006. Pirates off the coast of Africa are a non-state threat to maritime shipping, though they have yet to use such weapons. Likewise, we see this potential in suicide boat bombs launched from the coast of Yemen.

The world is filled with chokepoints, where the ocean narrows and constricts the flow of ships into corridors within range of land-based anti-ship systems. Some chokepoints, such as the Strait of Hormuz, the Strait of Malacca and the Strait of Gibraltar, are natural, while others, such as the Panama and Suez canals, are man-made, and they are vulnerable to weapons far less sophisticated than anti-ship missiles. These chokepoints, as well as other critical coastal waters, represent the vulnerabilities of the global economic system to state and non-state actors. Occupying them is the logical next step up from piracy.

Providing naval escorts to protect commercial vessels would not solve the problem. The escorts would not be in a position to attack the land-based attackers, whose location would be unknown. Airstrikes are possible, but as we have learned in places like Kosovo, camouflage is an effective counter to airstrikes despite its shortcomings.

These are the circumstances under which scalable, self-contained units would be needed. U.S. Marines, who have forces of sufficient scale to engage attackers in relatively larger areas, are particularly well suited for such missions. Special operations teams would be useful against identified and static hard targets, but amphibious light infantry in various sized units would provide the ability to search, identify and destroy attackers who are constantly moving or redeploying. Because these would be land-sea operations, cooperation between naval forces and ground forces would be critical. These clearly are Marine missions, and potentially urgent ones.

This is one mission among many that can be imagined for smaller-unit operations against non-state actors in a hybrid war scenario, which would avoid the obvious pitfalls of counterinsurgency. Most of all, it would provide boots on the ground distinguishing between targets, camouflage and innocent victims and still be able to deploy unmanned aerial vehicles and other assets.

The issue is not between peer-to-peer conflict and counterinsurgency. While increasingly rare, peer-to-peer conflict still represents the existential threat to any country. But the real problem is matching the force to the mission without committing to occupation — or worse still, the social transformation of the country.

Scale and Mission
The type of government that Afghanistan has is not a matter of national interest to the United States. What is of national interest is that terrorist attacks are not planned, practiced or launched from Afghanistan. Neither occupation nor transformation of the social structure is necessary to achieve this mission. What is necessary will vary in every conflict, but the key in each conflict is to contain the commitment to the smallest level possible. There are three reasons for this. First, doing so defines the mission in such a way that it can be attained. This imposes realism on the mission. Moreover, minimizing commitment avoids the scenario in which prudent withdrawal is deemed politically unacceptable. Last, it avoids the consequences of attempting to transform an entire country.

Military intervention should be a rare occurrence; when it does occur, it should be scaled to the size of the mission. In the chokepoint scenario addressed above, the goal is not to defeat an insurgency; an insurgency cannot be defeated without occupying and transforming the occupied society. The goal is to prevent the use of land-based missiles against ships. Missions to destroy capabilities are politically defensible and avoid occupational warfare. They are effective counters to insurgents without turning into counterinsurgencies.

These missions require a light force readily transportable by multiple means to a target area. They should be capable of using force from the squad level to larger levels if necessary. Forces deployed must be able to return as needed and remain in theater without needing to be on the ground, taking casualties and engaging in warfare against non-essential targets and inevitably against civilians. In other words, the mission should not incur unnecessary political costs.

The key is to recognize the failure of counterinsurgency, that warfare is conducted on varying scales of size and that any force must be able to adapt to the mission, ideally operating without large onshore facilities and without moving to occupation.

The current debate over counterinsurgency opens the door to a careful consideration of not only the scalability of forces but also the imperative that the mission includes occupation only in the most extreme cases. Occupation leads to resistance, resistance leads to counterattacks and counterattacks lead to counterinsurgencies. Agile insertion of forces, normally from the sea, could beget disciplined strategic and operational planning and war termination strategies. Wars are easier to end when all that is required is for ships to sail away.

Not all wars can be handled this way, but wars that can’t need to be considered very carefully. The record for these wars does not instill optimism.”

We’d love to hear your comments and share them with our readers.  You can comment on the Roundtable, at, or send me a note at

Thanks, John

More of Your Comments on John Nagl’s Washington Post Op-Ed, “Neither White House hopeful is a veteran. Does it matter?”.

Wednesday, June 20th, 2012

Here’s a great note from Ray Brown that puts some perspective on the topic: 


“I think we are making Much Too Big A Deal about this article and its implications.

Population dynamics in the U.S. will inevitably lead to a result for the vast majority of American citizens born since 1976 — or 1950, for that matter — in which they will have never, ever served in the military, fought for our country, or run for public office.

No doubt the vast majority of this vast majority will never serve in politics, seek public office or ever consider running for president.

It is also obvious that the vast majority of military veterans choose not to pursue a career in politics or elected office, and a vanishingly small percentage of them ever run for national office, much less for the presidency of the United States.

So, what is the point of these pointless points? STATISTICS!

If we want or expect our presidents to have served in the military, we automatically deny an overwhelming percentage of the vast majority of our citizens from being qualified for this honor and responsibility.

As I recall, the Constitution does not make it a requirement that the Commander in Chief of the U.S. armed forces actually had to serve in the military and wear a uniform before being elected.

If that was a requirement, it would not be the United States of America.

In fact, I think the gentlemen farmers who framed the constitution wanted a system in which non-professional politicians or soldiers were eligible for the presidency.

In that sense, statistically speaking — and not to put too fine a point on it — our presidents who have indeed had military experience are a significantly OVER-represented subset when compared to the forty four men who have served in the White House.

I’m not talking about fairness, or right or wrong… but statistics (and you recall what Samuel Clemens said about them!)”

Dr. Raymond L. Brown
Foreign Policy Advisor
HQ U.S. Africa Command

We’d love to hear your comments and share them with our readers.  You can comment on the Roundtable, at, or send me a note at



Your Comments on John Nagl’s Washington Post Op-Ed, “Neither White House hopeful is a veteran. Does it matter?”.

Wednesday, June 13th, 2012

We got a great many comments to last week’s blog, John Nagl’s Washington Post op-ed, “Neither White House hopeful is a veteran.  Does it matter?”.  Here are a couple that reflect many of the notes:
 “This is an important topic for this nation’s future and it’s not just about military service, but service by all our citizens.  As human beings, we value things based on their cost and I fear there is no perceived cost of citizenship and freedom among the vast majority of Americans.”
“Thanks for sharing this beautifully written but deeply troubling piece. I honor all our presidents and value those military skills that many have brought to the office. But I am deeply uncomfortable with the last paragraphs. There are forges other than war for the honing of great leaders – including in the fights to reclaim urban centers from poverty, in the fight against rampant disease and in the fight against crime through rule of law. Let’s celebrate our veterans and hold them in the highest regard without overselling the soldier as somehow uniquely qualified for this nation’s highest office.”
Dr. Jennifer Sims is currently Director of Intelligence Studies and a Visiting Professor in the Security Studies Program at Georgetown University’s Walsh School of Foreign Service.
Dr. Jennifer Sims is currently Director of Intelligence Studies and a Visiting Professor in the Security Studies Program at Georgetown University’s Walsh School of Foreign Service.My two cents, which starts with the warfighter and gets far into our nation’s complicated situation: I worry that as these presidents and warfighters “come home”, they will have a very different view of the America they fought for than do the 99% of America that has had no involvement in and little real knowledge of what was done to protect our nation…..and maybe wanted to know as little as possible about it as long as their lives were safe and secure. 
I think these veterans may become another of the 1%’s…….willing to give and invest in our nation and work hard at new jobs, if they can get one, in a nation that does not see the world in the same way they do.  In combination with 1%’s that concentrate more and more of the wealth, and a focus on jobs over national security in a world where our economy and welfare can no longer be separated from that of the world as a whole, we’re not a nation that shares a common view of the world. 
Creating more jobs, for veterans and generally, in a “down” and dangerous global economy may not be possible in the short term. Businesses are already putting off adding jobs and protecting their cash, because they do not see increasing global demand.  They do see a very risky global financial situation.  I believe the majority of our people, separate from the 1% who run businesses and making hiring decisions, may still view America as separate and above when we have no choice but to be collaborative and involved. 
We need to understand that a safe, secure, stable global situation is the first step required for businesses to invest in jobs and other assets and grow revenues. These warfighters have done their best to do their part, and will have to continue to do so in a range of engagements around the world.  But many of them will be added to the already large unemployment rolls, I am afraid. 
Dr. Jennifer Sims is currently Director of Intelligence Studies and a Visiting Professor in the Security Studies Program at Georgetown University’s Walsh School of Foreign Service.We’d love to hear your comments and share them with our readers.  You can comment on the Roundtable, at, or send me a note at

Dr. Jennifer Sims is currently Director of Intelligence Studies and a Visiting Professor in the Security Studies Program at Georgetown University’s Walsh School of Foreign Service.Thanks.

John Nagl’s “Forever War” Article

Thursday, June 7th, 2012

If you have not read John Nagl’s article, “Neither White House hopeful is a veteran. Does it Matter?” in the Sunday, May 27th Washington Post, page B1, it’s very much worth your time. Here it is:

“In every presidential election since 1992, the candidate with the less distinguished military résumé has triumphed.

Bill Clinton defeated war heroes George H.W. Bush and Bob Dole; National Guard pilot George W. Bush beat Vietnam veterans Al Gore and John Kerry; and Barack Obama was decisively elected over John McCain, who had displayed extraordinary valor during years of captivity as a Navy pilot in North Vietnam.

In 2012, we won’t have the chance to test this trend: For the first time in modern American history, neither major candidate for the presidency has any military experience.

This is a dramatic change. The crucible of combat not only created these United States but has also given us many of our most successful presidents.

Our first president, and still the greatest of all Americans, was a general before he was elected; George Washington’s leadership of the Continental Army proved that he could handle the challenges of a newborn nation. William Henry Harrison’s short presidency was based in no small part on his victory over the Shawnee Indians at the Battle of Tippecanoe; with Vice President John Tyler, he won on the slogan “Tippecanoe and Tyler, too.” The presidency of Ulysses S. Grant, though marked by scandal,would never have been but for his steady generalship in America’s bloodiest conflict.

Harry Truman came to prominence as the commander of a National Guard artillery battery in the First World War in France; his performance in combat powered his rise to the Oval Office.

Service in World War II gave the nation not just Dwight D. Eisenhower but also John F. Kennedy, whose heroism as a PT boat skipper in the Pacific was a counterpoint to Eisenhower’s leadership of a great alliance in Europe.

Lyndon Johnson, Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford, Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush all served in uniform during World War II, while Jimmy Carter, too young for that conflict, graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy and served aboard nuclear submarines during the Cold War.

But today, the connection between service in war and election to the highest office in the land has been severed.

How we got here is difficult to ascertain. The sample size of presidential elections is small, and military service is far from the only factor that voters consider. Yet the 2012 White House hopefuls reflect a broader truth: Even in a country waging what seems to be a forever war, military service is increasingly limited to a small swath of volunteers, widely admired but little known.

Early in our nation’s history, Americans fought to claim a continent both from its native inhabitants and from foreign powers that coveted its riches. Fighting for the country was a regular part of the American experience, and excellence in that service was one way to demonstrate leadership to the nation. The pool of citizens who were veterans was broadened by the draft during the Civil War and both World Wars, increasing the number of political candidates with military service and the connection voters felt to contenders with whom they had shared the experience of combat. Everyone respected those who had served — and perhaps even looked down a bit on those who had not been a part of America’s battles.

That relationship broke down during the Vietnam War, when not all segments of society were called upon to fight. When Johnson chose not to mobilize the National Guard for combat duty, it became a refuge for the sons of the elite who were avoiding war. James Fallows has written, movingly and guiltily, of how the most privileged Americans found ways to avoid the draft, sending the less fortunate to war in their place.

The long conflict in Southeast Asia tore the United States in two, destroying an effective consensus about the use of American power abroad. The soldier became the symbol of an unpopular war. Presidential candidates who had answered the nation’s call struggled to connect with voters who often hated the war that had helped form them. Gore played down his service in Vietnam during his bid for the White House, while Kerry’s service became a liability; although he was one of a few candidates to have been wounded in combat, he was “swift boated” by opponents who questioned some details of his service. No American veteran of any earlier war,

But this black mark on America’s treatment of its veterans is fading. In the wake of Vietnam, the country chose to meet its national security needs with a force composed entirely of professionals who had volunteered for duty. This force has proved enormously capable — triumphing in Desert Storm, easily defeating both the Taliban rulers and Saddam Hussein’s army, and demonstrating adaptability when performing counterinsurgency in Iraq and Afghanistan. No one who has served in today’s military would countenance a return to the draft and a force composed at least in part of Americans compelled to serve. The small size of the military relative to the population — well under 1 percent — makes broadening the service base both unnecessary and unlikely.

But there are costs to this all-volunteer military that are not immediately apparent, even on this weekend dedicated to remembering its sacrifices. The disconnect between those who give the orders and those who have no choice but to follow them has never been wider; all Americans salute the same flag, but only a few carry it forward against enemy fire. The military has become a caste apart from the nation it protects, with many of its fighters the sons and daughters of military leaders — a family business that asks much of a few. Service academy alumni journals are full of photos of multi-generational family reunions in combat zones, while most of us do no more to support the troops than stand, remove our caps and cheer when they present the national colors before a baseball game.

Now, nearly 30 years into this experiment with an all-volunteer force, and more than a decade into America’s longest war, the nation will elect a president who has not known the tender courtesies of a drill sergeant at oh-dark-thirty in the morning. Military service is not the only way to demonstrate dedication to country or capability for high office, of course; Franklin Delano Roosevelt was one of our greatest presidents despite never wearing a uniform, although his appointment as assistant secretary of the Navy gave him a useful perspective on the military he would lead with such distinction.

Both President Obama and Mitt Romney have demonstrated impressive leadership in government, education and business. Obama’s bona fides as commander in chief are clear; he has shown his resolve in the pursuit of Osama bin Laden and the effective dismantling of al-Qaeda during his administration. The first lady’s dedication to military families, worn down after years of war, is exemplary.

Still, the choice to take the nation to war is the most important decision a president can make. A commander in chief who has actually served on the battlefield has peerless personal experience and can make that decision with greater empathy.

And after this election, there will be a new generation waiting to enter the political arena, veterans of a tough decade of war in Iraq and Afghanistan. Unlike those who fought in Vietnam, the veterans of these wars have been embraced by an American public that supports the troops, even if they oppose the conflicts in which they fought. The admiration offered to today’s veterans bodes well for the prospects of future political candidates who have known firsthand the burden of carrying out the orders of the president abroad.

Wars have given the United States many of its most important political leaders, and we can expect those who have led this country’s sons and daughters in the sands of Anbar province and the mountains of the Hindu Kush to turn their sights to the highest office in the land in years to come.

When they do, these veterans will lead the nation back to its foundations. Forged in war, they will work to build a better peace.”
John Nagl, a retired Army officer, is the Minerva professor at the U.S. Naval Academy and a veteran of both wars in Iraq. He is the author of “Learning to Eat Soup With a Knife: Counterinsurgency Lessons From Malaya and Vietnam.”

We’d like to hear your comments, and we’ll share them with our readers. You can comment on the Roundtable, at, or write to me at, and I’ll get them out to everyone.


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