Small Wars

BY Herschel Smith
10 years ago

Global Guerrillas has a very interesting piece up entitled “Playing with War.”  In it John Robb argues that:

The western way of war in the 21st century is a pale shadow of the warfare it waged in the 20th. The reason is simple: for western societies war is no longer existential. Instead, it’s increasingly about smoothing market flows and tertiary moral concerns/threats. As a result of this diminishment of motivation, western warfare is now afflicted with the following: 

John continues with a complete description of what I will include as an outline listing (for editorial and space reasons):

  • Operations of low lethality
  • Marginal placement within national priorities
  • Muddled objectives

The upshot according to John is that wars will become increasingly difficult to win, because:

  • Asymmetric motivation (of the enemy)
  • New methods of warfare
  • Proliferation of opposition

Finally, the following points are outlined as a summary for learning to live within the constraints imposed by this new breed of warfare (I will quote completely).  We should learn to avoid:

  • Nation-building as a global social policy. Historically, counter-insurgency against an established enemy has almost never worked (and when it has, it usually involves bloody exterminations). Any attempt to build a nation will likely, particularly in the current environment of globalization, yield an opponent that will be impossible to defeat through limited means. Further, the durations of these conflicts will exceed the capacity of the western states to maintain a cohesive set of objectives — they will shift with opinion polls and political winds.
  • Collapsing rogue states. In almost all instances, despite how easy it is to collapse a weak state with modern weapons, those wars launched to collapse rogue states will not yield positive results. The collapse will necessitate calls for revival (see item one). Unless states are willing to live with partial collapse without resolution, they should not undertake the action in the first place.
  • Escalation of tension. Given an inability to resolve conflicts through nation-building and state collapse, western states should endeavor to deescalate conflicts rather than ignite them. Escalation is a false God that promises a return of the motivational clarity found in the wars of the 20th Century. It cannot deliver this. The only thing it provides is a widening and deepening of the conflict through the proliferation of opposition. 

Mr. Robb probably knows about one thousand times as much about the current subject as I do.  So it is with all due respect that I say that I think that his characterization of the problem(s) is incomplete.

Having a son in the Marines, I study everything I can get my hands on pertaining to his training, the history of the Marines, the nature of the current conflict, and what he will likely be doing in several months.

One of the more interesting things that I have learned is the concept of “small wars.”  I highly recommend reading the Small Wars Manual, and I especially recommend visiting the Marine Corps Small Wars web site and another site called Small Wars Journal.  I make a daily visit to these sites (and sometimes more).

What Mr. Robb describes has already been described in detail in the Small Wars Manual.  In fact, the Marines have known this not since the publication of the manual in the early ’40s, but essentially since the birthday of the Marines, 10 November 1775.

Since their birthday, the Marines have been engaged in small, low intensity conflicts at the behest of the President, oftentimes without the support of the public, without a declaration of war, and without clear goals or orders, while battling both regular forces and insurgencies and while also having to deal with more pedestrian issues such as electrical power and the restoration of government.  Such engagements have often relied upon rapid, mobile and robust force projection.

The above paragraph is not an advertisement.  The Small Wars Manual is as salient today as it was when it was first published.  It is an admonition for the Army to consider its future.  The Marines have had to adapt, modify, adjust and make-do based on the changing conditions of the over three hundred low intensity engagements in its history.  The Army will do the same, or it will become irrelevant to the twenty first century.

If this type of warfare is not new, then what has changed?  My contention is that politics has changed.

Politics and failure to act decisively allowed Bin Laden and many in Al Qaida leadership to escape Tora Bora.  Politics failed to execute a warrant for al Sadr’s arrest during Paul Bremer’s watch in Iraq (I recently saw an interview with Bremer on FNC in which he attributed this failure to a military decision, saying that he was in favor of al Sad’r arrest.  I know nothing of the decision making or line of authority concerning this matter, but if the military made this decision, then the one who actually approved of letting al Sadr escape arrest should be on the receiving end of a courts martial).  Politics has caused us to cease hostilities on Ramadan.  Politics has caused us to refuse to fire upon Mosques (until very recently).  Politics has caused problems for Gitmo.  Politics has dragged generals in front of congressional inquiries to be battered by those seeking to stake out a position for the upcoming elections in November.

There is a deep division in America, with one side being not just anti-military, but rather, socialistic and anti-American to a large extent, and this is a failure of American society, not American military strategy or might.  Even though the Marines have engaged in conflicts before in which the public was unsupportive (or unaware), the difference now seems to be politics in the highest ranks of the military brass.  The military establishment seems less willing to insulate the decision-makers from politics, and potentially risky decisions are avoided due to their being seen as potentially career-ending decisions.  To summarize, my contention is that the main difference today is the deference being paid to politics by the military brass (and senior leadership, including the Secretary or Defense and even the President).

When properly posed, I believe the question to be “do we have the political will to win?”  The tactics, strategy, manpower, know-how, equipment and patriotism are already in place.

It is not a question of warfare.  It is a question of politics.

 

Postscript: Even if I am right, this post doesn’t address the other issues raised in the GG post such as nation-building.  I will post on this at a later time.


You are currently reading "Small Wars", entry #245 on The Captain's Journal.

This article is filed under the category(s) Politics,Small Wars,War & Warfare and was published August 28th, 2006 by Herschel Smith.

If you're interested in what else the The Captain's Journal has to say, you might try thumbing through the archives and visiting the main index, or; perhaps you would like to learn more about TCJ.

26th MEU (10)
Abu Muqawama (12)
ACOG (2)
ACOGs (1)
Afghan National Army (36)
Afghan National Police (17)
Afghanistan (677)
Afghanistan SOFA (4)
Agriculture in COIN (3)
AGW (1)
Air Force (31)
Air Power (9)
al Qaeda (83)
Ali al-Sistani (1)
America (7)
Ammunition (22)
Animals in War (4)
Ansar al Sunna (15)
Anthropology (3)
Antonin Scalia (1)
AR-15s (67)
Arghandab River Valley (1)
Arlington Cemetery (2)
Army (43)
Assassinations (2)
Assault Weapon Ban (26)
Australian Army (5)
Azerbaijan (4)
Backpacking (2)
Badr Organization (8)
Baitullah Mehsud (21)
Basra (17)
BATFE (50)
Battle of Bari Alai (2)
Battle of Wanat (17)
Battle Space Weight (3)
Bin Laden (7)
Blogroll (2)
Blogs (5)
Body Armor (17)
Books (2)
Border War (7)
Brady Campaign (1)
Britain (27)
British Army (35)
Camping (4)
Canada (2)
Castle Doctrine (1)
Caucasus (6)
CENTCOM (7)
Center For a New American Security (8)
Charity (3)
China (10)
Christmas (8)
CIA (12)
Civilian National Security Force (3)
Col. Gian Gentile (9)
Combat Outposts (3)
Combat Video (2)
Concerned Citizens (6)
Constabulary Actions (3)
Coolness Factor (2)
COP Keating (4)
Corruption in COIN (4)
Council on Foreign Relations (1)
Counterinsurgency (215)
DADT (2)
David Rohde (1)
Defense Contractors (2)
Department of Defense (122)
Department of Homeland Security (13)
Disaster Preparedness (2)
Distributed Operations (5)
Dogs (6)
Drone Campaign (3)
EFV (3)
Egypt (12)
El Salvador (1)
Embassy Security (1)
Enemy Spotters (1)
Expeditionary Warfare (17)
F-22 (2)
F-35 (1)
Fallujah (17)
Far East (3)
Fathers and Sons (1)
Favorite (1)
Fazlullah (3)
FBI (3)
Featured (176)
Federal Firearms Laws (17)
Financing the Taliban (2)
Firearms (457)
Football (1)
Force Projection (35)
Force Protection (4)
Force Transformation (1)
Foreign Policy (27)
Fukushima Reactor Accident (6)
Ganjgal (1)
Garmsir (1)
general (14)
General Amos (1)
General James Mattis (1)
General McChrystal (40)
General McKiernan (6)
General Rodriguez (3)
General Suleimani (7)
Georgia (19)
GITMO (2)
Google (1)
Gulbuddin Hekmatyar (1)
Gun Control (403)
Guns (944)
Guns In National Parks (3)
Haditha Roundup (10)
Haiti (2)
HAMAS (7)
Haqqani Network (9)
Hate Mail (7)
Hekmatyar (1)
Heroism (4)
Hezbollah (12)
High Capacity Magazines (11)
High Value Targets (9)
Homecoming (1)
Homeland Security (1)
Horses (1)
Humor (13)
ICOS (1)
IEDs (7)
Immigration (45)
India (10)
Infantry (3)
Information Warfare (2)
Infrastructure (2)
Intelligence (22)
Intelligence Bulletin (6)
Iran (169)
Iraq (378)
Iraq SOFA (23)
Islamic Facism (38)
Islamists (60)
Israel (18)
Jaish al Mahdi (21)
Jalalabad (1)
Japan (2)
Jihadists (80)
John Nagl (5)
Joint Intelligence Centers (1)
JRTN (1)
Kabul (1)
Kajaki Dam (1)
Kamdesh (9)
Kandahar (12)
Karachi (7)
Kashmir (2)
Khost Province (1)
Khyber (11)
Knife Blogging (2)
Korea (4)
Korengal Valley (3)
Kunar Province (20)
Kurdistan (3)
Language in COIN (5)
Language in Statecraft (1)
Language Interpreters (2)
Lashkar-e-Taiba (2)
Law Enforcement (2)
Lawfare (6)
Leadership (5)
Lebanon (6)
Leon Panetta (2)
Let Them Fight (2)
Libya (14)
Lines of Effort (3)
Littoral Combat (8)
Logistics (49)
Long Guns (1)
Lt. Col. Allen West (2)
Marine Corps (240)
Marines in Bakwa (1)
Marines in Helmand (67)
Marjah (4)
MEDEVAC (2)
Media (23)
Memorial Day (2)
Mexican Cartels (23)
Mexico (30)
Michael Yon (5)
Micromanaging the Military (7)
Middle East (1)
Military Blogging (26)
Military Contractors (3)
Military Equipment (24)
Militia (3)
Mitt Romney (3)
Monetary Policy (1)
Moqtada al Sadr (2)
Mosul (4)
Mountains (14)
MRAPs (1)
Mullah Baradar (1)
Mullah Fazlullah (1)
Mullah Omar (3)
Musa Qala (4)
Music (16)
Muslim Brotherhood (6)
Nation Building (2)
National Internet IDs (1)
National Rifle Association (17)
NATO (15)
Navy (21)
Navy Corpsman (1)
NCOs (3)
News (1)
NGOs (2)
Nicholas Schmidle (2)
Now Zad (19)
NSA (1)
NSA James L. Jones (6)
Nuclear (53)
Nuristan (8)
Obama Administration (216)
Offshore Balancing (1)
Operation Alljah (7)
Operation Khanjar (14)
Ossetia (7)
Pakistan (165)
Paktya Province (1)
Palestine (5)
Patriotism (6)
Patrolling (1)
Pech River Valley (11)
Personal (31)
Petraeus (14)
Pictures (1)
Piracy (13)
Pistol (2)
Police (205)
Police in COIN (3)
Policy (15)
Politics (240)
Poppy (2)
PPEs (1)
Prisons in Counterinsurgency (12)
Project Gunrunner (20)
PRTs (1)
Qatar (1)
Quadrennial Defense Review (2)
Quds Force (13)
Quetta Shura (1)
RAND (3)
Recommended Reading (14)
Refueling Tanker (1)
Religion (106)
Religion and Insurgency (19)
Reuters (1)
Rick Perry (4)
Rifles (1)
Roads (4)
Rolling Stone (1)
Ron Paul (1)
ROTC (1)
Rules of Engagement (74)
Rumsfeld (1)
Russia (28)
Sabbatical (1)
Sangin (1)
Saqlawiyah (1)
Satellite Patrols (2)
Saudi Arabia (4)
Scenes from Iraq (1)
Second Amendment (159)
Second Amendment Quick Hits (2)
Secretary Gates (9)
Sharia Law (3)
Shura Ittehad-ul-Mujahiden (1)
SIIC (2)
Sirajuddin Haqqani (1)
Small Wars (72)
Snipers (9)
Sniveling Lackeys (2)
Soft Power (4)
Somalia (8)
Sons of Afghanistan (1)
Sons of Iraq (2)
Special Forces (24)
Squad Rushes (1)
State Department (17)
Statistics (1)
Sunni Insurgency (10)
Support to Infantry Ratio (1)
Supreme Court (2)
Survival (12)
SWAT Raids (53)
Syria (38)
Tactical Drills (1)
Tactical Gear (1)
Taliban (167)
Taliban Massing of Forces (4)
Tarmiyah (1)
TBI (1)
Technology (16)
Tehrik-i-Taliban (78)
Terrain in Combat (1)
Terrorism (92)
Thanksgiving (5)
The Anbar Narrative (23)
The Art of War (5)
The Fallen (1)
The Long War (20)
The Surge (3)
The Wounded (13)
Thomas Barnett (1)
Transnational Insurgencies (5)
Tribes (5)
TSA (13)
TSA Ineptitude (11)
TTPs (1)
U.S. Border Patrol (5)
U.S. Border Security (13)
U.S. Sovereignty (14)
UAVs (2)
UBL (4)
Ukraine (3)
Uncategorized (42)
Universal Background Check (3)
Unrestricted Warfare (4)
USS Iwo Jima (2)
USS San Antonio (1)
Uzbekistan (1)
V-22 Osprey (4)
Veterans (2)
Vietnam (1)
War & Warfare (210)
War & Warfare (40)
War Movies (3)
War Reporting (18)
Wardak Province (1)
Warriors (6)
Waziristan (1)
Weapons and Tactics (57)
West Point (1)
Winter Operations (1)
Women in Combat (17)
WTF? (1)
Yemen (1)

August 2016
July 2016
June 2016
May 2016
April 2016
March 2016
February 2016
January 2016
December 2015
November 2015
October 2015
September 2015
August 2015
July 2015
June 2015
May 2015
April 2015
March 2015
February 2015
January 2015
December 2014
November 2014
October 2014
September 2014
August 2014
July 2014
June 2014
May 2014
April 2014
March 2014
February 2014
January 2014
December 2013
November 2013
October 2013
September 2013
August 2013
July 2013
June 2013
May 2013
April 2013
March 2013
February 2013
January 2013
December 2012
November 2012
October 2012
September 2012
August 2012
July 2012
June 2012
May 2012
April 2012
March 2012
February 2012
January 2012
December 2011
November 2011
October 2011
September 2011
August 2011
July 2011
June 2011
May 2011
April 2011
March 2011
February 2011
January 2011
December 2010
November 2010
October 2010
September 2010
August 2010
July 2010
June 2010
May 2010
April 2010
March 2010
February 2010
January 2010
December 2009
November 2009
October 2009
September 2009
August 2009
July 2009
June 2009
May 2009
April 2009
March 2009
February 2009
January 2009
December 2008
November 2008
October 2008
September 2008
August 2008
July 2008
June 2008
May 2008
April 2008
March 2008
February 2008
January 2008
December 2007
November 2007
October 2007
September 2007
August 2007
July 2007
June 2007
May 2007
April 2007
March 2007
February 2007
January 2007
December 2006
November 2006
October 2006
September 2006
August 2006
July 2006
June 2006
May 2006

about · archives · contact · register

Copyright © 2006-2016 Captain's Journal. All rights reserved.