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Archive for August, 2013

Recommended and Timely Reading: The Insurgents, by Fred Kaplan

Tuesday, August 27th, 2013

I just finished The Insurgents. Found it thoughtful and certainly applicable given current events, including Egypt, Syria, and others.

As you read the small excerpts from the book, below, keep four considerations in mind that I raised in last week’s note:
• Is the region likely to support and effort to defuse, avoid or mitigate the crisis?
• Is there a middle class?
• Are there institutions capable of providing basic services…..water, food, power, healthcare…..to the population if they are freed to do so?
• Is there a moderating influence inside the country to calm the waters?

A few bits from the book are worth relating to you here.
• “the US government wasn’t set up as a colonial enterprise.”
• [David] Kilcullen had long thought-and still believed-that it was important to study insurgency wars because big powers, including the United States, tend to get involved in these kinds of wars at least once every generation, whether willingly or incrementally, and they can turn disastrous if their armies didn’t know how to fight them. If you were going to engage in a COIN campaign, there were certain things you had to do……But he also thought-he’d always thought-that it was usually best not to undertake COIN campaigns in the first place. They took a long time, cost a lot of money, got a lot of people killed, and often didn’t work.
• If [Sarah] Chayes was right, if the Afghan government was beholden to a criminal network of patronage, then its leaders could never warm to the notion of reform. The implications were these: either a COIN campaign in this country was futile because America’s strategic partner wasn’t really a partner or Petraeus would have to persuade, manipulate and coerce Hamid Karzai into altering his own concept of Afghanistan’s national interests.
• Petraeus’ s frustrations, in short, stemmed not so much from Karzai as from the nature of Afghanistan itself; its primitive economy (which impeded the rise of an educated, entrepreneurial class); its vastly scattered rural populations (which a weak central government could rule only through a corrupt patronage network); its long border with a state whose leaders were assisting the insurgency (which limited the success of any fight confined to Afghan territory). A glance at a map, a few villages, or some key passages from Galula would have revealed that Afghanistan and COIN made an unlikely match.
• The modern age itself has reduced much of the whole COIN concept to folly. The most often-cited models of successful counterinsurgencies-Malaya, Kenya, the Philippines, Algeria, and Northern Ireland-were colonial wars.”

Highly recommend the book.

And I’ll welcome and share your comments and views, on the book, on the Syrian and Egyptian situations, and on the considerations the US must consider as we make policy and strategy decisions in situations like these. Send me a note at john@lsi-llc.com and I’ll share your ideas.

Thanks,
John

Egypt

Thursday, August 22nd, 2013

I don’t claim to be an expert on the complicated dynamics involved in the early days of trying to get themselves into stable and hospitable circumstances. Certainly, given what our nation went through for the first hundred years, I expect it is quite difficult and may take many attempts to get to a situation that all stakeholders see as beneficial. So I send this note to all of you in the hopes it will provide fodder for your more reasoned and knowledgeable discussion.

My bias in these situations, so you have some context for what follows, is pretty simple: 1) the world community suffers if there is unfettered upheaval in any member country, so the world community better get involved in a positive way before these situations get worse. 2) You turn these deteriorating situations in a slightly positive direction in small ways on a local basis with basic services the population needs to survive. People first, institutions second. A little hope and optimism go a long way toward making people want more and more stability.

It seems to me that there are at least five sets of stakeholders that must be considered in a situation like the current upheaval in Egypt. There are the people, the institutions, the government, groups including the Muslim brotherhood, and regional and global interests and influences. Let’s look at them one at a time.

First, the government. Well, the military is now functioning as the government. They have said, as they did before the last elections, that they want only to restore and ensure the stability of the country and enable elections of a popular government as soon as possible. Let’s take them at their word. The aid that everyone is talking about cutting off, the approximately $1.5B worth of credits to buy fighter jets, seems to me to be the least important kind of help Egypt needs right now. But the signal sent by withdrawing that aid will be very negative and used to drive Egypt back to the Muslim Brotherhood.

Second, the Muslim Brotherhood. Unhappy that they have been ousted by what appears to be popular demand, they are the pro-active creators of the upheaval. Has the government, the military, been too harsh on the Brotherhood? Maybe so. But the military did not pick the fight, the Brotherhood seem clearly to be the aggressors, and the military cannot restore peace and stability until the Brotherhood is convinced to stop the violence. Is there a peacekeeping role for the region and/or world community here? Maybe so. As the unrest goes on, I expect more and more foreign influences and activists will come into the country (as is happening in Syria, for example), only making a bad situation worse.

Now the population. They are stuck in the middle, with shortages of food, water, healthcare, probably basic utility services (electricity, telephones, sewage, etc.), without jobs, and the economy in worse shape every day. It seems there is a humanitarian crisis here that the world community, say the UN or NATO or the EU or the AU, could play a role, which might also help dampen some of the unrest just by their presence in the country. Food, water, displaced persons camps, and clinics would go a long way.

Don’t think you have to blanket the entire country with these ideas and contributions, just the greater Cairo area, to get maybe 75% of the good effects.

Institutions improvements….water, power, transportation, law enforcement, sewer, telephone, banking, courts, healthcare…..even small ones in limited areas (Cairo?), might go a long way toward improving the situation. It would seem to me that a bit of this done by the UN, NATO, the EU or the AU could get some of these institutional services back on a positive path that would make a small dent in unhappiness and instability.

What do you think? Send me a note at john@lsi-llc.com, and I share your ideas and approaches with our readers.

Thanks,
John

Continued: US Foreign Policy: Preventing Conflicts: Strategic Intervention or Tactical Whack-a-Mole?

Thursday, August 15th, 2013

Continuing this theme of our nation’s foreign initiatives and involvements designed to protect and enhance national security, I recommend to you the article that follows some opening comments:

SOF, COIN, and the Question of Host Nation Viability: An Interview with Dick Couch
By Robert Tollast
Small Wars Journal
July 1, 2013

The article addresses several key points at the heart of effective small all-of-government engagements in foreign countries that fall into the COIN category. Among the important points made in the article, which follows in its entirety, are:
• Strategy must lead these engagement
• These are typically bottom-up involvements, both militarily and politically
• “A wider deployment of SOF around the world, working with local allies has two key advantages for US policy: 1) Gradual buildup of relevant regional knowledge and greater information about emerging/ongoing regional problems to meet emerging threats with the most appropriate response. 2) Greater understanding of the regional “human domain” to reduce chance of ‘strategic surprise.’”
• “Do we have host-nation and popular support? Is this in our national interest? And if we do become involved, do we sufficiently understand the problem to fix it? America has a knack for becoming involved in good causes that we simply do not understand or lack the ability to resolve.
• “If there’s not the buy in by the host nation to put their people in the field, then we should have no interest in deploying teams to train them. I think we have to stand away from unilateral engagements unless there is a clear threat to our vital national interests or our security. “
• “Our involvement has to be scalable but small, sustained, and well-resourced, but above all, there has to be a willing, reasonably stable government in place. And when we go, we have to be prepared to stay for a while; there has to be the commitment and the resources to see it through.”

Let us know what you think, about the article and this topic. Send me a note at john@lsi-llc.com, and I’ll share your comments with our readers.

Thanks,
John
———————————————————————————–
“Few writers have a better knowledge of special operations over the past 40 years than Dick Couch, who graduated from Basic Underwater Demolition/SEAL (BUD/S) in 1969 and served in Vietnam with SEAL Team One. Couch went on to work with the CIA, and following his government service, he has published some 17 fiction and nonfiction books including NY Times bestseller Act of Valor. More recently, Couch has been embedded with MARSOC and his book on MARSOC training, Always Faithful, Always Forward will be on the shelves in 2014.

The Sheriff of Ramadi was released in 2008 and charts Couch’s experience embedded with US Navy SEALs, Marines and soldiers during the battle for Iraq’s most contested town, where he witnessed firsthand the transition to carefully orchestrated, population focused counterinsurgency, culminating with the “Anbar Awakening,” and the routing of al-Qaeda.

However, in the absence of national level political reconciliation (and with persisting violence in Syria) the Awakening movement is under immense pressure to resist the Iraqi government. Some tribal leaders remain loyal to Maliki. A number of others recently held a meeting to re-affirm their rejection of al-Qaeda, despite considerable anger at the government and sympathy for the Syrian rebels. For some the talk is now of a federal solution, or at most the right to defend themselves against what they see as an aggressive ISF, while others are already mobilized for war. This being Iraq, far more complex political and religious forces are also at play and a good overview of the shifting dynamic can be found here. What is clear is that a distinctly Sunni nationalism and a resurgent al-Qaeda are once again rocking the streets of Iraqi towns, and the fact that this is happening should bring attention back to the problem of strategy (or lack of it) in counterinsurgency campaigns.

As in Vietnam, the US had clearly achieved significant tactical success in Iraq by the time of withdrawal, but such success is all too often an orphan in the absence of a realistic strategy. As Iraq appears to unravel (this is contested by some experts) it is only right to continue the debate about counterinsurgency, the appropriate application of land power and the expanding role of Special Operations in the US military. For anyone interested in these questions, I highly recommend The Sheriff of Ramadi as a thoroughly detailed, blow by blow account of the dramatic events in al-Anbar prior to “the surge.” Couch’s most recent published work is Sua Sponte: The Forging of a Modern American Ranger

RT: We often hear about inter-service rivalry and challenges of getting different branches of the armed forces to work together efficiently. In The Sheriff of Ramadi what comes across is quite a deep level of cooperation and pulling together against the challenge. What do you think enabled this level of camaraderie in Ramadi? Perhaps it was the extent of the crisis before the 2006 Awakening…

DC: There are usually two elements that precede this kind of cooperation. One is necessity. When there’s a need the troops on the ground will always share and help, especially in a joint environment. The other is leadership. Both were present in Ramadi. The SEAL task unit commanders played their role well.

RT: Historically, the US (and most other countries) have been pretty bad at determining what the next war or security crisis will be, or how it will be fought. Perhaps even if we had a good notion of the threat, politicians would choose a different priority. A looming nightmare could involve regime collapse in North Korea. That could present the ultimate “hybrid war,” defined by defense analyst Frank Hoffman as a “blend of the lethality of state conflict with the fanatical and protracted fervor of irregular war.” (Vietnam arguably presented such a multi dimensional challenge.) In some future scenario, aid is dropped to starving North Koreans as US and ROK forces scramble to secure North Korea’s borders and secure WMDs. Fanatical North Koreans may thwart such efforts, fighting both conventionally and using insurgent tactics. South Koreans would no doubt be central (and invaluable) to the effort, but may find themselves strangers in the backward and isolated DPRK. Meanwhile, North Korean units may also rapidly defect or leave the fight, providing vital intelligence but also other challenges, so US/ROK forces would have to be prepared for this as well. If this war happened any time prior to 6 years ago, the Marines would have been going in in the absence of MARSOC. What advantages would having MARSOC bring to such a multi-faceted crisis?

DC: Not sure I can answer this question or that SOF could play a role if Korea begins to unravel. With 28,000 US soldiers in play, there is little call for indirect action. China has been and always will be the decider in this one. There might be a role for the 75th Rangers to capture WMD sites, but the situation you described would be one of mass casualties. The role of SOF/MARSOC going forward is to run in front of open conflict, and if Korea gets out of hand, it will be a US/China joint problem.

RT: At the end of The Sheriff of Ramadi, one of your conclusions is thus: “don’t forget, this was a bottom up victory, both politically and militarily.” Is there anything you think that, specifically, the SEALs brought to the process of a “bottom up” victory that the conventional forces really benefitted from?

DC: Ramadi was one of the few times that the SEALs went into the streets and fought side-by-side with conventional troops. They played a role in setting up the combat outposts and they exposed themselves to danger time and again serving as a QRF when needed. And when the SEALs were in trouble, the Army sent armor to support them. This all made them brothers. The Americans made the streets safe and the tribes/tribal police kept them safe. Security became a tribal victory and an American victory, and with security on the streets, there was room for political stability.

RT: In The Sheriff of Ramadi, you highlight the conclusion of numerous scholars of Iraqi history: attempts to obtain a strong localized understanding of the war in al-Anbar were not properly resourced early in the war and a conventional approach became dominant, before counterinsurgency skills had to be rediscovered, or thoroughly overhauled by adaptive and forward thinking men like Sean McFarland. This seems relevant to your point about greater future coordination between embassies, country teams, geographic combatant commanders and TSOCs.

A wider deployment of SOF around the world, working with local allies strikes me as having two key advantages for US policy: 1) Gradual buildup of relevant regional knowledge and greater information about emerging/ongoing regional problems to meet emerging threats with the most appropriate response. 2) Greater understanding of the regional “human domain” to reduce chance of “strategic surprise.” Both of those points, and problems in Ramadi, relate to a lack of understanding of the “human domain.” Since SOF have a strong focus on UW, FID etc. Their expanded role could actually help prevent the conventional quagmires seen in Ramadi, (or perhaps even Hue for that matter.) Do you agree?

DC: We’ll have to see how all his plays out after we’re out of Afghanistan—what our role and overseas posture will be. One thing I hope will play out is how we choose to become involved in issues around the world. We must first be able to understand what is going on. Is this a tribal, al-Qaeda-influenced, religious, smuggling, banditry, or drug-related problem? Do we have host-nation and popular support? Is this in our national interest? And if we do become involved, do we sufficiently understand the problem to fix it? America has a knack for becoming involved in good causes that we simply do not understand or lack the ability to resolve.

SOF, working closely with the country teams, GCCs, and TSOCs may be able to help. We may even be able to avert a crisis. But we must move carefully and use our resources judiciously. And there’s always the possibility that things will not go as planned.

RT: In The Sheriff of Ramadi, you tell the story of the late Travis Patriquin, a crucial player in the war of tribal engagement in al-Anbar. Patriquin knew that the US needed to adapt to the environment, not simply target the enemy. He was highly culturally attuned, something he demonstrated in Afghanistan as well as Iraq. There is now greater emphasis on cultural training in the US armed forces, and MARSOC have this in Phase 4 of their training program, in addition to language training.

In a perfect world, the future of small wars will be fought by armies of Patriquin, men who can engage with and adapt to the situation on the ground. We saw this approach in Vietnam with SEAL and Green Beret deployments very early on, until the war (as John Nagl highlighted) became largely “conventionalized,” going from Marine to conscript deployments, while trying to build the ARVN in a US army image. It gives me some hope that there is a greater will for future US overseas operations to have a major SOF component and be supportive of HN forces in largely “indirect” efforts. But that depends on the US not crumbling to mission creep and sending in large army units where they might do more harm than good. SOF will still of course need conventional force support, and we saw this in Ramadi where an impressive interoperability developed, but it strikes me that the future is keeping small wars “small” while preparing for another “big one,” while avoiding what you have called “medium sized” wars in developing countries (eg. Iraq, Vietnam.) Do you agree?

DC: That’s a big chunk of ground to cover—Vietnam to Ramadi—but yes, I believe that we must move to the indirect, choose those situations where there is host-nation, partner-force participation, and the requirements are manageable, i.e., small. If there’s not the buy in by the host nation to put their people in the field, then we should have no interest in deploying teams to train them. I think we have to stand away from unilateral engagements unless there is a clear threat to our vital national interests or our security. The training currently being done at MARSOC in the area of FID and UW training is essential to the future employment of SOF.

RT: When you left Vietnam, the South Vietnamese army had recently launched a major offensive into Laos, inflicting heavy casualties on the Communists but also suffering heavy losses themselves (Lam Son 719.) The following spring the NVA launched a 14 division offensive so disastrous that Generals such as Tran Van Tra seriously doubted the wisdom of ever again launching a conventional attack on the south, worrying that the war was lost. By this point some RVNAF units were proving themselves to be quite combat proficient and willing to fight, while the VC insurgency was barely functional and little more than a nuisance in many parts of the country.

In some ways, it was a similar situation to Iraq as America prepared to depart: parts of the insurgency had been rallied to the government side, AQI were decimated and violence was at all-time lows, with proficient ISF launching unilateral operations.

As in Vietnam, to some this looked like victory, or at least a face saving situation. In both wars, the Big Army went in, disaster was looming within a few years and then a change of command and a changed approach brought huge dividends. But crucially, in both wars America left the Host Nation afflicted with corruption, unrepresentative leadership (that were militarily incompetent) and political instability. Maliki is fumbling progress, like Thieu before him. In both wars the political part of the equation could not be sustained, despite the skill and foresight of US forces in turning the war around. So my point is: what’s the point in perfecting COIN if the Host Nation Govt. simply messes up the results? Perhaps these were just the wrong wars and we should really stick to what truly are “small wars,” as demonstrated by SF success in central and South America…

DC: I agree. Our involvement has to be scalable but small, sustained, and well-resourced, but above all, there has to be a willing, reasonably stable government in place. And when we go, we have to be prepared to stay for a while; there has to be the commitment and the resources to see it through. Columbia and the southern Philippines are places where this approach has had some measured success. But they have to be willing to do it; we can only help. As for SOF going forward, they will have to work as closely with the embassy/country team as they will with the geographic combatant commanders and their T-SOCs. That said, we’ll never have all the information and we may never understand what may and may not work. And the results may not turn out to be what we had in mind when we first went there, as happened in Mali.”
————————————
Dick Couch was born in Mississippi and raised in Southern Indiana. He graduated from the United States Naval Academy in 1967. His first tour of duty was aboard the naval destroyer USS Mansfield DD728. He graduated from Basic Underwater Demolition/SEAL (BUD/S) Class 45 in 1969, and was the class Honorman. He graduated first in his class at the Navy Underwater Swimmers School and the Army Free Fall (HALO) School. As Whiskey Platoon Commander with SEAL Team One in Vietnam, he led one of the few successful prisoner of war rescue operations of that conflict.

Following his release from active duty in the U.S. Navy, he served as a maritime and paramilitary case officer with the Central Intelligence Agency. In 1997, he retired from the Naval Reserve with the rank of Captain. At that time, he held the senior command billet in the SEAL reserve community.

He and his wife, Julia, live in Idaho. He is a frequent lecturer at Special Operations Component Commands and at the service academies.

About the Author

Robert Tollast is an occasional contributor to The Small Wars Journal. He writes Mesopotamia Monthly, a monthly Iraq update for the Global Politics journal, as well as having written for the Defense Management Journal. He lives and works in London.

US Foreign Policy: Preventing Conflicts: Strategic Intervention or Tactical Whack-a-Mole?

Tuesday, August 6th, 2013

Our country is in the process of taking the lessons we have learned from 9/11, Iraq, Afghanistan, Mail, Egypt, Syria and all of the other conflicts of the last 15 years, and figuring out how to better anticipate and pre-empt similar conflicts so as to keep from having to make the investments of time, manpower, lives and money that are required if the conflict gets out of hand and becomes a threat to our national security. One of the key lessons is that military might alone does not prevent conflicts, and alone it cannot solve the problems that lead to these kinds of conflicts.

It takes an all-of-government” strategy that intervenes in ways that address not only the governance and security factors that often contribute to conflict, but also the religious, social, cultural, basic requirements of human survival (food, water, health), basic services, economic, natural resource, partner nations, and other factors that can contribute to unrest. The military plays an important role in this all-of-government strategy. But often it will not lead the collaborative effort, rather contribute capabilities that are most effective in combination with appropriate non-military components of the strategy. And, if we can get to the point where we can anticipate where unrest and conflict is most likely to take place, we can be in a position to fashion a strategy including an appropriate combination of all-of-government capabilities that can intercede and prevent the conflict from occurring.

On this theme, I recommend to you “The Dogs that Do Not Bark: Prevention as the Path to Strategic Stability”,
by William J. Flavin, which appeared in the Small Wars Journal on August 2, 2013 First some valuable exerpts; the entire article follows.

Please let us know what you think about this topic, and we’ll share your views with our readers. Send me a note at john@lsi-llc.com, and I’ll send your ideas on to everyone.

Thanks,
John

“In this new era, conflicts will be prevented or contained by creating alliances, leveraging nonmilitary advantages, reading intentions, building trust, converting opinions, and managing perceptions – all tasks that demand an exceptional ability to understand people, their culture, and their motivation. In a nutshell: World War IV will cause a shift in classical centers of gravity from the will of governments and armies to the perceptions of populations.”

“We have examples where conflict was avoided and where future conflict was prevented. There have been several instances where major drivers for conflict were present but major conflict was prevented. What can be learned from a crisis that did not happen? First, in each of these, the failure to descend into crisis was dependent upon relationships that had been developed over years. Identifying the problem, before blood is shed, and providing timely and deliberate measures, from competent and trusted third parties, with support by a comprehensive international effort, seems to prevent our the descent into conflict. Second, the international community, including the U.S., engaged directly with key countries and actors and created a safe environment so that political action and capacity development could take place.”

“Gary W. Montgomery, in his recent Small Wars Journal article on “An Age of Instability,” offers several observations. Since Westphalia, the world is ordered in states; and, after WWII, there has been a growth in the number of states as most people seem to want to have their own state as an independent nexus of the elements of power. But, although the world is ordered into states, are these the states as we understand them? Montgomery proposes that “global integration is not state-based,” rather, “components within states are integrating transnationally.” This process eventually unravels and undermines the state as a nexus of power. It becomes apparent when the elements of power are considered separately: information, economics, military, and diplomacy.” In all of these areas there are powerful transnational forces building the new face of the international system that can not as of yet be distinguished.”

“The US government has struggled to achieve a whole of government approach to address what Dr Michael Lund terms primary prevention (stopping incipient conflicts) and secondary prevention (preventing relapse of previous conflicts).”

“It is essential that we learn and address the dynamics of human-centered violence and share this knowledge with all actors in the U.S. Government and among our international partners. In the past, though successful engagements, tools, skilled people and resources have been used neither the U.S. government, nor the international community, has developed a best practices network to widely share what has been successful.”

“Joe Miller, at the 2011 NPS symposium on prevention, suggested that the military use the following formula to guide their engagement: engage long before violence happens to enhance, enable, and promote conflict prevention. If violence should start then deter, persuade and preempt. For this formula to succeed the following conditions should be considered: develop deep understanding of the total physical, cultural, social, and psychological environments that influence human behavior; understand the strategic narrative and how to deal with it; develop sensing and monitoring abilities to know when and where to engage and act on this understanding before tensions escalate and bloodshed polarizes the actors; develop a comprehensive approach that will include the whole of the U.S. government, host nation and international actors; engage discretely with just the appropriate level of force needed; develop partnerships and networks and sustain them over time (“you can’t surge trust” Admiral McRaven) ; be patient and engage for the long haul; maintain the legitimacy of the engagement; be comfortable with setbacks; see the military in collaboration with the other elements of power as a constructive tool; and, remember success at the end of the day lies with the host nation.”

The Dogs that Do Not Bark: Prevention as the Path to Strategic Stability
By William J. Flavin
Small Wars Journal Article | Aug 2 2013

Gregory (Scotland Yard detective): “Is there any other point to which you would wish to draw my attention?”
Sherlock Holmes: “To the curious incident of the dog in the night-time.”
Gregory: “The dog did nothing in the night-time.”
Sherlock Holmes: “That was the curious incident.”
Silver Blaze

It is difficult to prove that prevention works because if it does nothing happens. But as Holmes observed even the absence of action can lead to insights. Something has [not] been happening. There have been many potential conflicts that have been averted, or contained, since WWII. One study found as many as 47 incidents since 1945 such as: Macedonia, Baltic States, Hungary, South Africa, Kenya etc. Many, like the Inspector above, have not been paying attention to what has not been happening. What insights can we suggest from this?

Can this be attributed to Strategic Stability, the possession and potential to use WMD and the overwhelming military power of the United States? Some believe that this is, and remains, a factor and the reason that there has not been a state-on-state confrontation and other conflicts have not been able to disrupt the international system. However, the fact the U.S. possesses significant military power in the areas of nuclear, conventional, maritime and air did little to convince the Afghan Government to hand over Osama bin Laden. This vast military power has not convinced the many spoilers, terrorists, anarchists, and criminal elements from attempting to reorder global governance to their own liking with little regard for international consequences. It was not successful in preventing any number of regional conflicts from the Balkans to Iraq, to Afghanistan, the Horn of Africa, the Philippines, and of course the “Arab Spring.”

Some scholars and thinkers believe that we may be entering a new era. If the international system becomes more fragmented and existing forms of cooperation are no longer as seen as advantageous to many of the key global players, the potential for competition and conflict may also increase. Thus, conflict although contained in the past may cause instability in the international system that could lead to unintended consequences. No one predicted in 1914 that a minor incident in the Balkans would lead to WWI. The international system forged in Westphalia (1648) and rededicated in Vienna (1815) failed to function.

Several have been thinking that the international system is shifting away from one where technology and organizations hold sway. MG(R) Robert Scales, Jr., in several articles, has been emphasizing that the international system is shifting.

In his August 2006 article, “World War IV,” he predicts the coming “human and biological era of war” when mission success may be determined by individual conduct, character, mental agility, and intuition rather than superior technologies. He argued that the center of gravity would shift from governments and armies to the perceptions of populations. In effect, he argues that we are now beginning the tectonic shift into World War IV, the epoch when the controlling amplifier will be human and biological rather than organizational or technological. In this new era, conflicts will be prevented or contained by creating alliances, leveraging nonmilitary advantages, reading intentions, building trust, converting opinions, and managing perceptions – all tasks that demand an exceptional ability to understand people, their culture, and their motivation. In a nutshell: World War IV will cause a shift in classical centers of gravity from the will of governments and armies to the perceptions of populations. Victory will be defined more in terms of capturing the psycho-cultural rather than the geographical high ground.

The Small Wars Journal has been running several articles and blogs dealing with similar shifts in the international system such as Hybrid War and Unrestricted War. In these concepts conflict is considered as using all areas of human activity as a means to achieve victory. They assert:

“Mankind is endowing virtually every space with battlefield significance. All that is needed is the ability to launch an attack in a certain place, using certain means, in order to achieve a certain goal. Thus, the battlefield is omnipresent.”

Will this be a game changer for the international system?

Gary W. Montgomery, in his recent Small Wars Journal article on “An Age of Instability,” offers several observations. Since Westphalia, the world is ordered in states; and, after WWII, there has been a growth in the number of states as most people seem to want to have their own state as an independent nexus of the elements of power. But, although the world is ordered into states, are these the states as we understand them? Montgomery proposes that “global integration is not state-based,” rather, “components within states are integrating transnationally.” This process eventually unravels and undermines the state as a nexus of power. It becomes apparent when the elements of power are considered separately: information, economics, military, and diplomacy.” In all of these areas there are powerful transnational forces building the new face of the international system that can not as of yet be distinguished.

The trends indicated above have also been identified by the National Intelligence Council in “Alternative Worlds 2030” and the Zentrum für Internationale Friedenseinsätze Berlin Center for Peace Operation’s “Peace Operations 2025” and lend some credibility and rigor to their observations in that they both used similar methods, approaches and timing to create their reports and scenarios.

Montgomery concluded that:
“One might argue that the weakening of the state is actually a stabilizing influence in that it reduces the frequency of interstate warfare. That may be true, but it transfers conflict from international to domestic arenas. Relatively short periods of uncertainty and intense conflict are exchanged for persistent uncertainty and low-level violence.”

Will this persistent violence affect the health of the international system and what can be done?

Strategic Stability has been offered as a solution. Colin Gray and C. Dale Walton address the problem of strategic stability their chapter in Strategic Stability: Contending Interpretations, and conclude that stability depends on the overall condition of the international system and not so much on the numbers and throw weight of weapons. The Arab Spring; the situation in Mali; 9/11; ;the subsequent operations in Iraq and Afghanistan; and operations in the Horn of Africa, Sudan, Somalia, and the Philippines occurred independent of the number of missiles, bombers or carrier task groups. Yet all of the evens affect the health of the international system and can lead to greater instability. So how do we create and/ or maintain a global security environment that precludes conflict of a most violent nature such that the condition of the international system is affected? One approach is to look at the problem as a natural disaster.

Natural disaster, like conflict among human beings, cannot be avoided. Conflict and natural disasters will occur so the focus should not be on preventing disaster but rather on learning how to cope. This requires doing what needs to be done to build on the resilience and capacity of a country so as to enhance their ability to handle the natural disaster, within their own means, without the need for massive aid from the international community. In manmade conflict the approach should be the same. Conflict prevention is not a useful term because conflict itself cannot be prevented. Instead, having nations with the inherent ability to manage conflict so that it is not violent is desired. Lacking this, then the capacity to contain and deal with conflict is preferred. The US Army doctrine on Stability Operations makes this very point:

Stability ultimately aims to create a condition so the local populace regards the situation as legitimate, acceptable, and predictable. These conditions consist of the level of violence; the functioning of governmental, economic, and societal institutions; and the general adherence to local laws, rules, and norms of behavior.

If we consider the international security system as an ecosystem, then we can address it as ecologists do by understanding relationships. Ecologists look at relationships among plants, animals, and their environments; we must look at the relationships among people, governance, resources, and aspirations. Ecologists focus on managing those relationships to try to achieve a balance or the ‘stability’ that Gray and Walton described. To achieve that balance, a comprehensive approach, using all of the national and international instruments, must be used to work among the people on the ground where these relationships can be addressed. General Sir Rupert Smith (2005) in The Utility of Force described this as the new face of the use of power.

We have examples where conflict was avoided and where future conflict was prevented. There have been several instances where major drivers for conflict were present but major conflict was prevented. What can be learned from a crisis that did not happen? First, in each of these, the failure to descend into crisis was dependent upon relationships that had been developed over years. Identifying the problem, before blood is shed, and providing timely and deliberate measures, from competent and trusted third parties, with support by a comprehensive international effort, seems to prevent our the descent into conflict. Second, the international community, including the U.S., engaged directly with key countries and actors and created a safe environment so that political action and capacity development could take place. This was accomplished by actual or virtual presence of an external force.

Beginning in the early 1990s, with the removal of the USSR on the United Nation (UN) Security Council,[12] there has been a marked expansion in size and number of peace operations deployed in the aftermath of intrastate conflicts.

Between 1946 and 2010 the number of global conflicts has declined around 25%. In the decade of 2000 to 2010 there have been five years without new conflicts. No decade, since the end of World War II, has witnessed so many years in which no newly- triggered conflicts have been added to the roster of active conflicts. However, in recent years, the number of conflict recurrences has surged to unprecedented levels. The U.S .National Intelligence Council, in their Global Trends report of December 2012, indicated that the commitment and engagement of the international community devoted to preventing conflict has accomplished the task of preventing new conflict. The 1994 UN prevention force, in the Former Yugoslavia Republic of Macedonia, is an example of keeping a country together and preventing conflict. But, as the figures indicate, the international community must continue the commitment or countries will slide back into conflict.

What is the military role in all of this? The U.S. Army’s capstone concept states that the Army’s missions is to Prevent, Shape, and Win. In their new operating concept, the U.S. Special Operations Command (SOF) will focus on enhancing stability and preventing conflict. The USMC Operating concept identifies preventing wars as important as winning them. There have been several recent efforts to look at what prevention means and what the U.S. military role should be. The Naval Post Graduate School (NPS) and U.S. Institute for Peace have hosted the Interagency Education and Training Working Group (IETWG) and a special working group on Conflict Prevention for the Collaborative and Adaptive Security Initiative (CASI). The Peacekeeping and Stability Operations Institute (PKSOI) has facilitated and George Mason University and Unified Quest, the Army Future Game hosted, the Stability Operations Training and Education Working Group. Additionally, in 2013, the Joint Concept Based Analysis for Stability Operations, conducted by direction of the Secretary of Defense, identified prevention as a key issue to be addressed.

These efforts identified issues and challenges. Joe Miller, at the 2011 NPS symposium on prevention, suggested that the military use the following formula to guide their engagement: engage long before violence happens to enhance, enable, and promote conflict prevention. If violence should start then deter, persuade and preempt. For this formula to succeed the following conditions should be considered: develop deep understanding of the total physical, cultural, social, and psychological environments that influence human behavior; understand the strategic narrative and how to deal with it; develop sensing and monitoring abilities to know when and where to engage and act on this understanding before tensions escalate and bloodshed polarizes the actors; develop a comprehensive approach that will include the whole of the U.S. government, host nation and international actors; engage discretely with just the appropriate level of force needed; develop partnerships and networks and sustain them over time (“you can’t surge trust” Admiral McRaven) ; be patient and engage for the long haul; maintain the legitimacy of the engagement; be comfortable with setbacks; see the military in collaboration with the other elements of power as a constructive tool; and, remember success at the end of the day lies with the host nation.

All of the above mentioned working groups and thinkers have been identified key challenges and issues. What does prevention mean? Can we achieve a comprehensive approach? Can we learn from previous successes and failures? Can we educate and train for prevention? Can the military “institution” have the flexibility to embrace prevention? But what does prevent mean? Preventing conflict is not well-defined. There is no U.S. interagency definition for prevention. Does preventing violent conflict mean preventing war? Does it mean “If you do “that,” I have the military power to prevent you?” This is not a useful approach, either from a national security perspective or from a military perceptive. So, we need to define prevention and determine who has what role. This is not easy if we look at all the “prevention regimes” that currently exist. There are many different regimes established to deal certain aspects of the international system: Nuclear, Chemical, Landmine, Cyber, Terrorist, Arms Control, Climate Change, Piracy, etc. Each of these regimes has norms, principles, rules, procedures, decisional arrangements and measures of effectiveness. There is no overarching regime for “prevention.” This remains a challenge.

The US government has struggled to achieve a whole of government approach to address what Dr Michael Lund terms primary prevention (stopping incipient conflicts) and secondary prevention (preventing relapse of previous conflicts).

Since the 1994 Presidential Decision Directive 56 through the 2004 National Security Presidential Decision Directive to the 2010 Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Report – the struggle continues. The problem has been discussed in many journals. In 2012, the Simon Center Interagency Journal discussed the deleterious effects that the lack of a whole-of-government approach has on conflict prevention. The problems faced prior to the outbreak of uncontrolled violence lie primarily in the civil realm and are related to structural grievances, societal grievances and drivers of conflict. The military may be a necessary, but not a sufficient, tool. Many countries have military- oriented processes in which the military has a lot of influence, respect and control. The military may have more levers than the civilian side; therefore, a whole- of -US Government is warranted. Currently, a shared policy on conflict prevention within the United States Government does not exist.

It is essential that we learn and address the dynamics of human-centered violence and share this knowledge with all actors in the U.S. Government and among our international partners. In the past, though successful engagements, tools, skilled people and resources have been used neither the U.S. government, nor the international community, has developed a best practices network to widely share what has been successful. There are several groups in the U.S. Government working these issues, in USAID and Department of State, but they use different tools and sharing is incomplete, among those agencies and with the Department of Defense (DoD). The problem has been identified.

How do we educate and prepare for conflict prevention? The IETWG is directly addressing this issue and has support from a wide range of governmental offices. The USIP Director of Learning and Organizations has addressed the issues of program design and feedback. The problems of definition, policy and lessons learned listed above provide challenges when designing whole-of-government educational initiatives. The U.S. Government has not reached consensus on the nature of conflict or which theory of change should underpin it. Education and preparation are essential toward informing all of the players.

How will the military embrace prevention? Andrew Bacevich describes the institutional challenge in this way: “The armed forces of the United States do not define their purpose as avoiding defeat. They exist to deliver victory, imposing their will on the enemy. In plain English, they make the other side say uncle.”[17] The military institution is designed to prepare to engage in combat so their budgeting and planning systems ensure that the institution is prepared. Those systems postulate a crisis and then ensure that the military has the doctrine, education, training, material, and personnel necessary and appropriate to address that crisis. This is indeed prudent and appropriate. But how then does the institution plan and prepare for a situation that is not a crisis? The current assumption is that the doctrine, education, training, material, and personnel developed for a crisis are appropriate for preventing that crisis. Are they? The current Joint Concept Based Analysis (CBA), mentioned above, is trying to address that issue.

So, has the absence of conflict led to insights? It has led to many questions, challenges, and discussions that will, hopefully, lead to a whole-of-government approach to addressing one of the most challenging issues we face.”

About the Author
William J. Flavin
Professor Bill Flavin is the Assistant Director of the U.S. Army Peacekeeping and Stability Operations Institute, located at the Army War College in Carlisle, Pennsylvania. Professor Flavin has written on peace and stability operations doctrine, concepts, education and training.