By Marissa Soltoff
In January 2015, strategic advisor and military force structure analyst Dr. D. Robert Worley released a draft think piece that delves into how the United States should engage in political warfare in order to successfully ensure stability of countries experiencing subversion. The piece can generally be described as a blueprint for problem solving, providing background information and current examples of different approaches to political warfare, as well as outlining what the United States’ political warfare policy and strategy should entail.
Factors that contribute to political warfare include a transitional point in a state’s history, such as post-colonial and post-Soviet states or states experiencing societal changes resulting from modernization and industrialization. External power centers can influence conflicting ideological groups vying for political strength, taking advantage of a state’s transitional point in order to further amass power. Examples of current instances of political warfare consist of China’s territorial claims in the Pacific, Russia’s acquisition of Crimea, and the rise of Islamist forces in the Middle East; all of the powerful nations involved in these conflicts utilize a different approach to waging political warfare. China’s approach involves psychological warfare that hinders its adversary’s ability to make decisions, legal warfare that enacts laws in favor of the People’s Liberation Army and Navy, and media warfare that manipulates information in order to allow psychological and legal warfare to occur. Russia’s approach consists of asymmetric warfare that combines diplomatic, intelligence, military, and economic (DIME) elements into broader tasks such as no fly zones, blockades, electronic warfare, and propaganda. Iran, a nation supporting various Islamist groups in the Middle East such as Hezbollah, prefers a lighter footprint through means such as covert operations and formation of non-sectarian coalitions. The United States’ approach is more tactical and limited, focusing on special operations forces and an ultimate transition to a new legitimate government.
When outlining the United States’ ideal political warfare policy, Worley includes a clear purpose as well as an outline of US interests and the role that the United States should play. By waging political warfare, the United States would be able to maintain an advantageous position by changing the conditions of a regime to bend to US interests without involvement in an offensive or defensive war. The United States has interests that encompass multiple areas, such as political interest in ensuring that developing states cooperate internationally, military interest in preventing vulnerable states from falling under hostile control, economic interest in continuous resource availability, and humanitarian interest in the well-being of a nation’s population; these interests shape the United States’ role in the conflict. While the United States will be competing against an opponent over contested territory in every political warfare situation, there are two different roles that could be taken. Should the United States take the role of a status quo power, US forces will be opposing an adversary competing for control over contested territory; in this case, the aggressor would be waging unconventional warfare and the United States would be waging counter-unconventional warfare using tactics such as direct military intervention, counterinsurgency, and foreign internal defense. Conversely, should the United States assume the role of a revisionist power, then it would be the United States waging unconventional warfare while other external powers wage counter-unconventional warfare. Regardless of the United States’ role in a conflict, all instruments of power will be utilized in a mix of overt, clandestine, and covert actions.
In his piece, Worley breaks down political warfare strategy into two different sections; one outlines what the United States’ strategy would entail, and the other details how this strategy would be applied. The first aspect of this strategy would be selective involvement that would depend on the vulnerability of the state, which US interests would be at stake, and cost-benefit analysis. Another aspect would be multilateral involvement consisting of actions taken through international organizations such as the United Nations or NATO, encouragement of other foreign states to provide support for the mission, and effective border security measures taken by countries next to the conflict. The third facet to US strategy would be a proper understanding of the operational environment; the prevailing political, military, economic, social, information, and infrastructure (PMESII) conditions of the state actors involved in the conflict as well as the funding, recruitment, information, and support systems of the involved non-state actors. Proper understanding of the parties involved will not only enable US forces to precisely defeat adversaries, but also garner support from the local population and improve the host nation’s current situation as a whole. The last aspect of political warfare strategy would be taking action in the operational environment that would move the prevailing conditions towards US interests and away from the interests of adversaries. For instance, opponents can be isolated internationally through sanctions, media shaming, or interdiction by air or sea, as well as domestically by dividing and uniting certain elements of society using media to discredit leaders or organizations, or by buying off opportunists. Additionally, action in the operational environment would also consist of tipping the scales using advanced intelligence, various military coalitions, providing or restricting of funds for proxies, and highly trained personnel. Worley’s outline of the United States’ ideal strategy is more than just a plan for domination by US forces; it incorporates numerous aspects of the conflict and engages the international community for optimal action.
Worley’s application of US strategy outlines the specifics of how the conditions outlined in the previous section will manifest as a successful mission. He describes how a concept of operations will allow United States forces to understand the opponent’s strategy in its entirety. This will be beneficial because it will shift the focus from particular tactics used, such as terrorism, to a much broader scope. Worley outlines the three stages of political warfare, which are general conditions that apply in any conflict situation, whether the United States is waging unconventional or counter-unconventional warfare. The first stage occurs prior to any uncontrolled subversive activity or major outbreak of violence, despite the political and economic grievances of the local population and their manipulation by those in power. Stage I would require the United States to use diplomatic and informational means to force political accommodation and isolation of opponents, as well as increase human intelligence. The second stage occurs when a stalemate is achieved via guerilla warfare and other violence organized by a subversive group; the third stage entailed a more overt, conventional confrontation between the established authority and the opposition, where commitment of US forces may be advised.
Throughout each of these stages, it is important that the United States not only continue to gather intelligence, but also amass influence in order for the political warfare operation to be a success. Garnering influence would take several different forms, such as strengthening local support in favor of US interests, providing training and assistance for psychological operations of indigenous forces, and developing a flow of information across various media in favor of US interests and countering anti-American propaganda.
Political warfare would be a joint effort of multiple different departments, approximating in Washington the process of the Country Team. Guidance for strategy will be facilitated by the National Security Council along with the intra-departmental coordination between various agencies, which would meet under the chairmanship of the State Department and potentially form a task force if needed. The Board for Low-Intensity Conflict will determine adequate training, equipment, and doctrine based on threats from subversion, and the NSC deputies committee will be responsible for quality assurance of interagency cooperation. In the country of involvement, or in a neighboring state if diplomatic ties with the primary country have been severed, a Chief of Mission will be appointed to direct the team of the host country, coordinate US programs, and formulate a political warfare plan. Rather than a limited plan of action that focuses on particular tactics used by the adversary, Worley outlines a broader approach that would encompass all aspects of the conflict.
In addition to a concept of operations, Worley’s application of US strategy also provides roles and responsibilities for a variety of institutions, during both war and peacetime in order to prevent unpreparedness. The Department of State will provide overall policy guidance as well as coordination of programs in order to ensure that actions taken remain in line with US objectives; this involves supervising political warfare through intelligence, program development, and information dissemination, in addition to encouraging other countries to demonstrate support for the United States. Supporting military capability in the host country would fall under the purview of the Department of Defense (DoD), with either overt or covert support during stages I and II and operational support from US forces during stage III. The DoD’s military assistance program will provide weapons and training to the forces of the host country, as well as encourage them to engage in public works and improvement of infrastructure. The Department of the Treasury will have a role in opposing adversaries by utilizing its Financial Crimes Enforcement Network to monitor and interdict flows of money that support non-state actors who oppose US interests. The role of advising, funding, equipping, and training proxy forces would unsurprisingly go to the CIA (in coordination with the DoD), as well as conducting false flag operations and intervening in foreign political processes when necessary in order to diminish the adversary’s power. Finally, the role of the Agency for International Development (AID) is to address the conditions that lead to subversion, mainly by creating programs that promote long-term stability and development. This can involve programs that utilize resources for self-help measures, setting up means for the host government to share information with its people, or promoting judicial procedure by supporting law enforcement and police paramilitary forces. Ensuring stability is the ultimate long-term goal, which depends on development in order to address the economic and political grievances that lead to unrest. The roles and missions of the various institutions that Worley outlines in his piece address different aspects of the conflict that require support in order for the political warfare operation to be a success.
Marissa Soltoff is a junior at George Washington University, double majoring in International Affairs and Political Science, and is a non-resident researcher for the Taylor Group.