Dec 122015

During a regular review held in 2014 of DoDD 3000.07, the directive guiding IW development, concern was expressed by at least one party that the proposed definition of IW unduly characterized Stability Operations as an IW activity, vice a traditional military activity.The following attempts to identify and address the concerns with the inclusion of “stability operations” as one of the examples within DoDD 3000.07 (2014) of DoD activities and operations that comprise an IW campaign.

The offending text was proposed to read: “IW can include any relevant DoD activity and operation such as counterterrorism; unconventional warfare; foreign internal defense; counterinsurgency; and stability operations that, in the context of IW, involve establishing or re-establishing order in a fragile state or territory. While these activities may occur across the full range of military operations, the balance or primary focus of operations gives a campaign its predominant character.”

While the specific issues with the text were not explicitly stated, except that the text made stability operations seem to be too closely aligned with irregular, vice traditional warfare. We were able to identify several possible areas of contention, most prominently including whether Stability operations is a core activity of IW and whether stability operations is categorized as an exclusively IW activity. However, neither of these contentions stand up under close scrutiny.

Taking first the possible issue with stability operations as a core activity of irregular warfare, current stability operations and IW doctrine are in accord with the proposed text’s characterization of IW activities as those “establishing or re-establishing order in a fragile state or territory.” According to the IW JOC 2.0, stability operations are one of the five core activities or operations “undertaken in sequence, in parallel, or in blended form” to “prevent, deter, disrupt and defeat irregular threats.” These five activities are focused upon because IW’s “contest for legitimacy and influence over a population will be won primarily through persistent effort to enable a legitimate and capable local partner to address the conflict’s causes and provide security, good governance, and economic development.” These core activates meet that requirement “because they are typically sustained activities that focus on the population and are conducted with other partners.” 

Stability Operations is one of IW JOC 2.0’s five core activities due to the need to “establish or re-establish order in a fragile state” and the role of the military in providing “a safe and secure environment to support other government agency programs to build host nations capacity” or in which the military will conduct such activities itself. 

Stability operations doctrine aligns with that of IW in that both seek to “neutralize and isolate irregular actors by winning the contests in both the physical domains and the information environment of the operational area.” (JP 3-07 pg. II-26) Concordant with the IW concept, JP 3-07, Stability Operations, notes that “The HN government must provide a more attractive, credible vision of the future than the adversary. Without security, the development of adequate governance, sustainable local economies, and delivery of essential services is significantly impeded and unlikely to succeed.” 

The second likely concern is also unwarranted. The DoDD 3000.07 proposed language does not unduly characterize stability operations as “an IW activity,” since it also states that “IW can include any relevant DoD activity and operation,” of which stability operations is one example. This is appropriate, since in current doctrine, stability operations is not characterized as an activity in support of either traditional or irregular warfare. In fact, none of five doctrinal core irregular warfare activities are perfectly unique to irregular warfare. IW JOC 2.0 “recognizes that [the] five IW activities may also be applied outside the arena of irregular threats.” This includes as much to stability operations As any of the other core activities, if not moreso. Moreover, JP 3-07 also envisions stability operations being conducted in support of an IW campaign, in addition to traditional warfare (see JP 3-07, pg. I-4).

There are two likely reasons for this either-or confusion regarding stability operations. The first is a belief evident within the military community that irregular and traditional warfare are in some way mutually exclusive, despite multiple pronouncements throughout US military doctrine to the contrary. Joint military doctrine and policy is very clear that irregular and traditional warfare are not mutually exclusive, but coexist in nearly every conflict in some proportion. 

The precise reason for this insistence on bifurcation of irregular and traditional is unclear, but very likely is rooted in the fear of change and preference for simplicity that is inherent in human logic. Military officers and defense professionals, as with any type of professional, are easily enamored with evolutionary changes in their craft which make their current job easier, but reflexively reject changes which challenge their assumptions about the nature of their work or require entirely new modes of operation. 

Another likely reason for the confusion over stability operations as either traditional or irregular is introduced by a sloppy classification system used within joint doctrine itself. Under this system, warfare is described as “offensive,” “defensive,” or “stability” operations, or some blend thereof (e.g. “Traditional warfare is characterized by a series of offensive, defensive, and stability operations.” JP 1 pg. I-5; see also JP 3-07 pg. I-4). While not explicitly stated, this appears to be an entirely separate classification system from that which defines types of operations. Notably, while stability operations is clearly defined in the joint lexicon and has a joint publication devoted to it, “offensive” and “defensive” operations do not appear to be defined in JP 1-02, the joint military dictionary, or other relevant documents. 

However, the definition of stability operations is provided in JP 1-02 and JP 3-07, and according to this definition, stability operations is capable of being classified as a core activity of IW (see the above discussion), which is not included in the offensive/defensive/stability classification. Therefore, 

In addition, stability operations may be confused with operations during the “stabilize” phase of a conflict (see, e.g., JP 3-0 pg. V-8). However, DoDD 3000.07 and several joint pubs make clear that stability operations are carried out throughout all phases. (See, e.g., JP 3-0 pg. V-36). The stabilize phase is merely the notional point of the conflict in which stability operations are the predominant military concern. Stability operations is neither the exclusive activity during this phase, nor is it relegated to this phase. In fact, in the vast majority of modern conflicts, the stabilize phase is purely notional in that it begins before major combat operations are actually over, and even once they are over, they will likely be employed again at several points in an attempt to crush strongholds of insurgent activity, as in Fallujah, Korengal and a multitude of other examples. 

In the end, as students of military theory, it is important to be able to be clear about the types of operations we are discussing, and to ensure that the classification systems we use are internally coherent. Moreover, it is vital that we not allow biases to dictate our understanding of the issues involved in our craft. Unfortunately, these problems abound in the study of irregular warfare. Through this blog, we hope to elucidate some of these problems, but caution the reader that vigilance is required at all times when reading any analysis related to irregular warfare topics.

Dec 052015

The nature of warfare in the 21st century remains as it has been since ancient times – ‘a violent clash of interests between or among organized groups characterized by the use of military force.’ These organized groups are no longer limited to states with easily identifiable regular armed forces, nor do they all operate by internationally accepted conventions and standards.
IW JOC 1.0, quoting 7 MCDP 1, Warfighting (Washington, DC, United States Marine Corps, June 1997).

This blog was started not just out of a personal passion for the subject matter, but a firmly held belief that the United States will increasingly be confronted by irregular challenges, and that it has a troublesome tendency to bury its head in the sand about such threats when planning its military and diplomatic forces.

While the most catastrophic conflicts in which the US might engage would undoubtedly be those involving open warfare with major powers, such as China or Russia, these states also understand this fact, and know that they would very likely have no chance of success in such a conflict. Therefore, like the smaller “rogue” states and non-state dissident groups we more frequently confront, they will avoid direct conflict with the US, and rely instead on irregular and hybrid modes of conflict. Using these more indirect means, they can avoid provoking the immense conventional power of the US military while still affecting the international environment in ways that are unacceptably contrary to our interests, in much the same way that the Soviet Union attempted to achieve dominance through its “salami slice” approach to the Cold War.

Faced with the conventional warfighting capacity of the United States, our adversaries will likely choose to fight using a hybrid of irregular, disruptive, catastrophic, and traditional capabilities as a way to achieve their strategic objectives. The strategy of our adversaries will be to subvert, attrite, and exhaust us rather than defeat us militarily. They will seek to undermine and erode the national power, influence, and will of the United States and its strategic partners.

IW JOC 1.0.

This truth has been stated over and over again, but to little avail. In 2005, Assistant Secretary of State for Political-Military Affairs, Dr. John Hillen, told the Joint Worldwide Planning Conference that “We imagine the brewing threats of ‘Perfect Storms’ of failed governments, ethnic stratification, religious violence, humanitarian disasters, catalytic regional crises, and the proliferation of dangerous weapons. We see lagging economies, unintegrated and disenfranchised populations, transnational crime, illicit sub-national power structures, and destabilizing bulges of uneducated and unemployed youth.” By 2008, it was becoming clear that this threat emanated not only from failed states and non-state actors, but state powers as well. Recognizing this, the first Irregular Warfare Joint Operating Concept stated that “Our adversaries will pursue IW strategies, employing a hybrid of irregular, disruptive, traditional, and catastrophic capabilities to undermine and erode the influence and will of the United States and our strategic partners.” Moreover, it predicted that “our adversaries will continue to wage IW against us until we demonstrate the same competency in IW that we demonstrate in conventional warfighting.”

But this is not merely prognostication. Recent conflicts with powers small and large are characterized largely by the employment of irregular means and methods. Al Qaeda has survived its trials in Afghanistan, Pakistan and elsewhere and has developed a more subtle, long-term strategy to build a network of allied dissident groups, while its former branch in Iraq has morphed into a semi-regular force that controls a massive amount of territory and has developed one of the most sophisticated information operations campaigns the world has ever seen. Meanwhile, Russia has adroitly applied its conventional and special forces to bolster and lead irregular forces in Eastern Ukraine, challenging the future of NATO and the European balance of power. Furthermore, China has been engaging in a coordinated campaign of lawfare and harassment in the South and East China Seas, using forces and methods that allow it to work toward its strategic goals while remaining below the threshold at which conventional conflict is likely to result.

While this may seem like a new and troubling trend, the most troubling aspect is that this trend is hardly new. While many in the defense and national security field lament what appears to be the breakdown of the system of state monopoly on violence as a political tool, it seems more likely that we are witnessing the beginning of the end of the “Westphalian moment,” as described by Sean McFate, author of The Modern Mercenary: Private Armies and What They Mean for World Order. This period was likely created by the window of opportunity for organization, in which the available modes of communication were sufficient to disseminate information and guidance, allowing top-down political organization, but not sufficient to allow more horizontal alternative networks to arise. Modern communications greatly reduce the divide between the ability for individuals to communicate and that of the state communications apparatus. This allows individuals to organize across distance without resorting to the state or other superstructures (e.g., the church, guild, union, etc.), subsequently creating too many voices for the state to adequately respond.

In fact, as mentioned elsewhere in this blog, since the time of Napoleon, approximately 80% of conflict has been irregular in nature. Obvious examples in U.S. history abound: guerrilla warfare in the Philippines during World War II, the counterinsurgency and foreign internal defense waged in Vietnam in the 1960s and 70s, unconventional warfare in Afghanistan in the 1980s, stability operations in the Balkans in the 1990s, and arguably the (abortive) unconventional warfare in Iraq in 1991, just to name a few. This is not to mention the more recent extensive efforts following the attacks on September 11, 2001.

Although this is not a blog on military or political history, it is essential to understand important lessons from the past for how our military and diplomatic corps will need to operate in the future, and how they must prepare themselves to do so. The rich history of irregular warfare also lends its compelling voice to the call for improved capabilities to confront modern-day irregular challenges. Throughout this blog, we will draw on the lessons of history and current events to guide and inform our analysis of the threats we face, and the most effective means of confronting them.

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