Introduction – irregular warfare in all of its manifestations


Welcome to the Irregular Warrior. This is a blog about irregular warfare in all of its various manifestations. We will take a methodical approach, discussing each facet of irregular warfare and its component parts independently. There will therefore be a great deal of overlap between sections, so we will necessarily revisit different topics again and again. Additionally, this blog will cover many topics not normally associated with defense, and explore the associated connections required between the military and civilian organizations.

Irregular warfare, while usually considered a specialty skill set, is actually one of the most often required, if not the most employed in the modern military. As will be discussed more in a later post, irregular warfare is essentially the use of military capabilities to affect the relationship between a people and their governing authority. As such, irregular warfare plays a central role in insurgencies, terrorism, and stability operations. With approximately 80% of all conflicts since the Napoleonic era involving non-state actors as major combatants, it is becoming increasingly clear that irregular warfare is not an area of warfare that can be brushed aside by our military leadership. In fact, looking at just US military history, it is arguable that nearly all wars, large and small, have included a sizable irregular warfare component. Beginning with the American Revolution, which was a classic case of insurgency, American warfighters have either employed or confronted irregular methods. (Additional historical examples will be discussed in a later post.)

Because of it ubiquity, it is vital that military and foreign policy decisionmakers have a firm grasp of irregular warfare and their role in it. However, there has been significant resistance in US defense and foreign policy institutions to assuming responsibility for irregular warfare. In 2012, the Defense Planning Guidance¬†while lauding the lessons learned over a decade of war, stated that “U.S. forces will no longer be sized to conduct large-scale, prolonged stability operations.”¬†While some in the military, and especially in the Army, have taken up the banner of irregular warfare, the Army and the military at large still prioritize conventional forces when cuts are required. Similarly, while some in the State Department and USAID understand the vitality of irregular warfare, they are do not resourced sufficiently to meaningfully participate in the the effort.

This deprioritization of such a central requirement of US foreign and national security policy is likely due to several factors, many of which will be explored in subsequent posts over the course of our investigation of irregular warfare. However, two of these reasons warrant mention from the start, those being the fact that no agency bears clear and individual responsibility for irregular warfare and the fact that it is by its very nature a messy and complicated affair, when American decisionmakers and the American public both prefer simple solutions even if those solutions don’t reflect reality.

If the foregoing seems glum and foreboding of a future of relearning all the lessons of history through trial and error, then I apologize. In truth, the future does in fact look brighter by far than the past. Taking the broadest perspective, despite our perceptions, the world is steadily becoming a safer place. Over time the number of deaths due to conflict have dropped dramatically. For example, battle deaths have dropped exponentially as the world has become more interconnected, from 500 per 100,000 people before the advent of the modern state to 60 per 100,000 during the period of the two World Wars, to 0.3 per 100,000 today. 

In the narrower, irregular warfare perspective, there are bastions of retained lessons learned and centers of study that continue to advance the study of irregular warfare The United Nations, by eschewing offensive operations in favor of peacemaking, peacebuilding, and peacekeeping, provides a modicum of continuity from one irregular warfare campaign to the next. Additionally, the US Army, while it has downsized its irregular warfare capabilities to protect its conventional forces from budget cuts, has made a clear effort to retain the lessons learned from the last decade and a half of irregular warfare. Simultaneously, the Joint Staff in the US Department of Defense maintains an active interest in protecting the irregular warfare capabilities built during those difficult years. In fact, it is largely from that wealth of knowledge that this blog will draw its inspiration.

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