This post is the first in a series that is not intended for those bloggers or readers who already follow military affairs closely; for them it contains nothing new. Nor is this intended to be an exhaustive investigation of any specific military theory. Instead, it is written for those who would like to know more about buzzwords like ” Core-Gap”, “4GW”, “Open-Source Warfare” and “COIN” that have begun seeping into the MSM and the mainstream blogosphere and who would enjoy a set of links for further investigation.
After the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991, the Pentagon found itself deprived of it’s main adversary, the Red Army, that the American military had been lavishly equipped and superbly trained to confront, along with our NATO allies, on the North German plain. That awesome high-tech, American military power ended up being unleashed not upon the Russians but on the Soviet equipped and formidably large and well trained armies of Saddam Hussein’s Iraq in the first Gulf War, which were crushed in approximately 100 hours, recorded in images that were televised around the world on CNN. While this outcome had been foreshadowed by the infamous aerial duel over the skies of Lebanon where the Israelis shot down 72 Syrian MiG fighters, the lopsided nature of the outcome forced a strategic reassessment by general staffs of every major military power, guerrilla army and terrorist group that someday might be on the business end of America’s big stick.
Many theorists, statesmen strategists,historians retired military officers and think tank intellectuals have tried, both before Gulf War I. and afterward, to grapple with the implications that asymmetry, information technology, American hegemony and globalization have had on the classical conceptions of war. Clausewitz and Sun tzu were now in the age of the internet and non-state actors. What did all of this mean ? There are many intriguing suggestions but few hard answers; some members of the military community, notably the writer Ralph Peters, are of a temperament that Walter Russell Meade would call “Jacksonian”, reject the new theorizing entirely and implicitly embrace total war as the answer to our strategic problems in the War on Terror. Others are wholesale advocates for a particular theory as the vision of the future of warfare in the twenty-first century. I have my own opinions but in this series, I will try to present each facet of emerging military thinking as objectively as possible.
“COIN” is military jargon for “counterinsurgency warfare”, which in our grandfather’s time was generally referred to as “Small Wars” – a situation where a conventional army faced an irregular, often weaker, opponent who generally could not be expected to adhere to the customary laws of war. Traditionally, in the American military, this task was the preserve of the U.S. Marine Corps which saw action as far afield as Beijing, Veracruz, the Philippines, Haiti and Tripoli. By contrast, the U.S. Army has disdained both the role of suppressing insurgencies and the special or elite units required to wage unconventional warfare. Political pressure from the White House was required for the Army to create and tolerate Airborne troops (WWII), the Green Berets (Vietnam) and the Special Operations Command (USSOCOM).
COIN is ” hot” in the MSM because of the ” surge” strategy being implemented in Iraq by General Petraeus and his brain trust advisors that include the noted COIN experts and authors, LTC. David Kilcullen and LTC John Nagl but its history goes back to ancient times. The primary objective of COIN is to neutralize the political legitimacy and appeal of guerrilla forces and isolate them from their target, the civilian population – hence the Vietnam War era phrase, ” hearts and minds”. Firepower takes a definite backseat to proximity, cultural intelligence, propaganda, psychological warfare and engaging civilian networks politically and economically. Classic experts in COIN would include T.E. Lawrence, Colonel Edward Lansdale and Dr. Bernard Fall.
Recommended Reading and Links:
“Twenty-Eight Articles:Fundamentals of Company Level Counterinsurgency” by David Kilcullen
“Counterinsurgency: The French Experience” by Bernard Fall
The Savage Wars of Peace by Max Boot