zenpundit.com » swj blog

Archive for the ‘swj blog’ Category

Manea Interviews Colby on Air-Sea Battle

Friday, November 8th, 2013

[by Mark Safranski, a.k.a. “zen“]

Octavian Manea branches out from COIN to the realm of power projection:

The Role of an Air Sea Battle-Centric Posture in Strategic Reassurance: SWJ Interview with Elbridge Colby 

SWJ: In a time when the PLA is intensively investing in anti-access/area-denial (A2/AD) capabilities, how would you characterize the Chinese way of war? What are they preparing for?

EC: My understanding of what the Chinese are trying to accomplish is the ability to effectively counter a third party intervention. If you look at the strategic landscape in the Western Pacific, more or less starting from 1945, the US dominated the aerial and maritime spheres. Obviously, we had less success on the Eurasian landmass, but the whole system was predicated on the ability of the US fleet and airpower to dominate the Pacific.

The particular contingency for which this was most relevant was Taiwan. Now, the US continues to have a policy guided by the Taiwan Act which, at the very least, suggests that we might intervene militarily. This is something that the Chinese are not comfortable with. It [the claim to Taiwan] is a core element of their regime’s legitimacy. This issue became more salient after the Taiwan Strait crisis in 1995/1996. That was a wakeup call for the Chinese, and in its aftermath they decided to build up the ability to try to effectively push back the US military. The trajectory of Chinese military development has therefore been to build forces that would potentially enable them to prevent the US from operating effectively in the areas that we need to be able to dominate if we decide to defend Taiwan in the event of Chinese military attack or attempted coercion. In this context they have spent a lot of time and resources on more accurate ballistic and cruise missiles, aerial forces and naval forces, basically with the overarching idea of creating an A2/AD bubble in order to deny the US the ability to exercise its power in the Western Pacific. That challenge to our power projection ability has been compounded because of the centralization of the US military posture following the Cold War, becoming increasingly focused on Guam and a few other nodes in the Pacific region.

SWJ: What are the implications of China’s military build-up for the United States?

EC:  As we go forward and the Chinese economy likely continues to grow, they will presumably continue to put significant resources into these military capabilities. If we think about the basic military problem, the US is trying to project its power across the greatest expense of water on the globe, very far from our shores, using naval and airpower, all while the Chinese are operating from their mainland. The Chinese basically are trying to frustrate our ability to enter, while we are trying to get there and accomplish our objectives. As the Chinese military become more sophisticated, it will become a great problem for us.

SWJ: Are the Chinese A2/AD capabilities a long-term threat to the credibility of the deterrence capital that the US is providing to the region?

EC: Absolutely. We can see this in the case of Japan, where we see a lot more interest, focus, and essentially need for a stronger military posture. Publicly the Japanese are talking about North Korea, but what they are really worried about is China. The Senkaku Islands are the tip of the iceberg. A few months ago the Chinese state-affiliated press started to talk about the Chinese claims on the Ryukyu Islands, of which Okinawa is a part. It is a classic example of the downside of accommodation or appeasement in that the potential adversary can get hungrier rather than sated due to accommodation. And Taiwan’s closer relationship with mainland China is, in part, a result of the shifting regional military balance. More broadly, in these kinds of strategic competitions, perceptions of capability and resolve are crucial. If everyone thinks we are growing weaker, then they are likely to behave accordingly. 

A lengthy interview – read the rest here.

Two Manea COIN Interviews at SWJ

Thursday, October 10th, 2013

[by Mark Safranski AKA “zen”]

Octavian Manea has two excellent interviews up at SWJ; for those interested in COIN theory and history, these are must-reads:

Learning From Today’s Crisis of Counterinsurgency

SWJ: What is the relevance of post-9/11 counterinsurgency campaigns for future Western expeditionary operations? What are the challenges you expect to see repeated in future campaigns? Is the past a prologue to the future?

Robert Egnell: In a simplified version, General David Petraeus already answered this question: “the counterinsurgency era is not over [because] the insurgency era is not over.” So long as the operating environment looks as it does today, so long as the character of conflict looks as it does today, the lessons at the tactical level of the last ten years remain highly relevant. Even if we can debate the concept of counterinsurgency and its application today and tomorrow, the lessons of operating in urban environments, foreign languages and foreign cultures will be relevant also in the future. Expeditionary powers cannot escape these challenges. It is not going to get easier: how to engage with a civilian population, how to establish and maintain civil order, how to collect and process human intelligence, how to operate in a foreign environment, how to provide basic services. These are challenges that are here to stay with us as we move forward.

David Ucko: Beyond these common operational challenges, one of the most pressing lessons from the cases discussed in the book is the need for greater strategic thinking. This sounds like a cliché these days, and becomes a catchall explanation with little substance. But despite great talk about the need for strategy, I don’t think the term or the art is widely understood. Looking at what happened in the last ten to fifteen years – whether we call it counterinsurgency, war, contingency operations, it doesn’t really matter – the ability to craft and implement a viable strategy is absolute, for any power involved in any kind of expeditionary operations. This is the relevance of the post-9/11 expeditionary operations and our book seems to place counterinsurgency within this strategic context. There are great lessons from these campaigns and we would be absolutely foolish to dismiss them as aberrations just because we don’t like the word “counterinsurgency.”


Gangs, Slums, Megacities and the Utility of Population-Centric COIN

SWJ: Are these trends here to stay with us? Are we heading towards a world that provides more opportunity for these dark networks to proliferate, to incubate? On one side, we see concentrated urbanization in coastal, hyper-connected areas that will need to accommodate more and more waves of rural immigrants. Presumably this will put pressure on an already overstretched city infrastructure. On the other side, we see what Moises Naim is talking in his latest book the decline/decay of power, the decoupling of power from size, the decoupling of the capacity to use power effectively from the control of a large Weberian bureaucracy.

VF-B: They will definitely stay and perhaps will intensify, partially for the reason that urbanization is taking place in a way and magnitude with which many governments struggle to cope. Much of Mexico City, a megacity of 20 millions people, for example, is really disconnected from the central government and the central business areas. Another example is Karachi: yes, the blood bath that we see there is partially instigated by state actors, but it is also a phenomenon of a very tenuous and limited control of the state in many areas of the city. I am intrigued by the Moises Naím’s suggestion of the decoupling of the effective exercising of power from the Weberian bureaucracy. I would say that the Weberian construct of power has never been as widespread as we imagine. Many areas in the world, Africa being the prime example, have had a different notion of the state, one much closer to the medieval conceptualization where the purpose of the state and the purpose of power competition for controlling the state apparatus is to make money for oneself as opposed to the public service state whose main raison d’etre is to deliver public goods to citizens in exchange for legitimacy and sustainability. In the end the social contract emerged because the self-interested elites understood that they need to offer something to the population. The notion that the state is weakening and collapsing might not be really appropriate for many parts of the world where the state has always been defined as a mafia bazaar. You take over the state so you can issue exceptions from law enforcement to your friends, so that you and your friends can make money.

In other parts of the world, the state might have also not been quite conceptualized in terms of social contract and Weber like notions.  For example, in parts of Latin America, the state lies somewhere in between the European/Western model and some of the Asian or African states. In Latin America, the state is often captured by and serves a very narrow elite. Many countries in Latin America are still highly exclusionary. Even in places like Colombia with all of its progress over the past decade, there is still a fundamental unequal society. Yes, the middle class is increasingly able to participate in state making, along with the political and economic elites, and being able to demand accountability. But still vast segments of population are really not experiencing the state in any positive manner or not experiencing the state at all. Much of Central America faces massive challenges: tax collection might be as low as 10%, and the political and economic power is enormously concentrated in the hands of narrow  elites.

All that said, the future, if troubling trends are not mitigated now, might bring some fundamental challenges. Imagine if in the long term, there is substantial global warming, major sea level rise, and large parts of Bangladesh, for example, are submerged. This will generate huge waves of immigrants, but also radically empower the non-state actors who are able to provide some sort of protection and public goods to the population.

Read the rest here.

Raqqa, Syria: the Stations of the Cross

Saturday, September 28th, 2013

[ by Charles Cameron — a small devotional exercise for our sometimes too-secular world ]

In the upper image of the pair above, a crowd in Raqqa, Syria, is protesting the desecration of a church by Islamist enthusiasts who had pulled down the cross atop a church. The people of Raqaa took to the streets in protest, chanting:

Syria belongs to Muslims & Christians.

The Roman Catholic devotion known as the Stations of the Cross involves a prayerful mini-pilgrimage around fourteen “stations” representing stages in the passion and crucifixion of Christ — each of which is traditionally marked with an image of the “station” in question. In the case illustrated in the lower panel above, the station is that of Simon of Cyrene, who was pressganged into bearing the weight of the cross on his shoulders for part of the way, to give the agonized Christ some relief.

The good people of Raqqa are thus enacting, informally, with courage and grace, the Station in which Simon of Cyrene is made to bear the cross. And there’s an echo here, too, of Christ’s injunction recorded at Luke 9.23:

And he said to them all, If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow me.

There’s a spontaneous beauty that crosses the lines between two world religions — and secularism — in all this.


But the cross itself also suffers its indignities, and thus the two images of the pair that follows can also be considered Stations of the Cross.

In the upper image (below), the cross is removed by State of Iraq and al-Sham militants from its proper station atop the church, to be replaced with their black banner one of their number is holding, while in the lower image we see another screen cap of the townspeople, who have retrieved the cross and are carrying it through the streets to safety:

The people are chanting:

Syria belongs to Muslims & Christians.

Octavian Manea interviews T.X. Hammes

Saturday, September 7th, 2013

[by Mark Safranski, a.k.a. “zen“]

Octavian Manea and SWJ are on something of a roll lately. Colonel T.X. Hammes (ret.) PhD is the respected author of the excellent The Sling and the Stone. If you have never read it, you should.

The Fallacies of Big Expeditionary Counterinsurgency: Interview with T.X. Hammes

SWJ: How different is Mao’s people’s war compared with what you call 4GW (Fourth Generation Warfare)? Is 4GW an updated, evolved form of people’s wars? In the end, isn’t 4GW focused on people and minds, on influencing people and minds?

TX: Mao is a little bit different because (in China) it was a domestic insurgency and focused on wearing down the nationalists and changing the minds of the warlords who supported them. In the case of 4GW, the focus is overseas. People you can’t reach with force, you must reach with the message. 4GW is an evolved form of insurgency. It is also important to note that Maoism is a type of insurgency that essentially fits a hierarchical society, not a tribal one. It always ends with a conventional campaign to destroy the government’s army as the final step in overthrowing the government. You can’t run a Maoist insurgency in the mountains of Afghanistan, the society won’t tolerate that kind of structure.  Nor can you do it in Iraq. 4GW covers both because its objective is not the military defeat.  4GW does not focus on the destruction of the enemy’s armed forces, but on changing the minds of the enemy’s political decision makers. 4GW directly attacks the will of enemy decision makers.  Once the outside power has been ejected, the conflict can continue until resolution. 

SWJ: Tell us about the center of gravity in a 4GW.

TX: The center of gravity in a 4GW is the will of the policymakers of the other side. 4GW war uses all available networks – political, economic, social and military – to convince the enemy’s political decision makers that their strategic goals are either unachievable or too costly for the perceived benefit. 4GW is not necessarily targeted at the people.  If the war is small enough, it can run on for years like El Salvador.  In that case, the US commitment was small enough there was no major political cost to US decision makers to continue supporting the El Salvadorian government.

When you look at the counterinsurgent side, I am more and more convinced that as a foreign power you can only do indirect counterinsurgency. You can advise and assist.  But keep it small – the host nation has to make it work. We, the United States, have done this successfully a number of times. Admittedly, we have not created the perfect nations that the nation-builders want, but that wasn’t the goal. The goal was to achieve US strategic goals. And we achieved our strategic goals in the Philippines, El Salvador, Columbia and Thailand. In a 4GW, the insurgent is not trying to win over the people as a whole. But the counterinsurgent must do so. In a tribal society, you can do what Kilcullen refers to as wholesale COIN – if you persuade the tribal chief everybody flips. In a more democratic society, you have to convince the people. It is more of a retail operation. It is critical to understand the society you are in and tailor your counterinsurgency and insurgency accordingly. 

I would add, in the 4GW theme of reasoning with the “moral level of war”, that a foreign power supporting a host nation government with FID that faces an insurgency, can probably get away with “punitive raiding”  of the non-state actors from time to time, particularly in rapid response to some heinous action committed by rebels. A heavy in-country footprint though will change the political calculus for the population – it is too easy to look lie occupiers and stringpullers. Foreign troops are rarely welcome guests for long.

Read the rest here.

Octavian Manea Interviews General David Petraeus

Monday, September 2nd, 2013

[by Mark Safranski a.k.a. “zen“]

Octavian Manea has had an excellent series of COIN  interviews at SWJ and this is one of the more important ones:

Reflections on the “Counterinsurgency Decade”: Small Wars Journal Interview with General David H. Petraeus

SWJ: In his recent op-ed published in the New York Times, “The Pipe Dream of Easy War”, General H.R. McMaster warned against the fantasy of “a new era of war”, and especially about the dangers in the blind faith in the transformative effects that technology promises to have on war. He argued that over the past counterinsurgency (COIN) decade we relearned a few lessons that we really should keep in mind as we head into the future: “American forces must cope with the political and human dynamics of war in complex, uncertain environments”. His warning reminds me of an article you wrote in 1986 with General John Galvin about “uncomfortable wars”. You warned to take into consideration “the societal dimension of warfare”. To what extent do you see that prophecy still holding true post Iraq and post Afghanistan?

General Petraeus: I think the essence of the article back in 1986 with General Galvin was frankly the importance of the human terrain in each particular situation, and the importance of understanding the terrain, having a very nuanced, detailed feel for the context of each situation, not just nationally, but sub-nationally and literally all the way down to each valley and each village. That kind of knowledge was achieved in Iraq and helped us enormously during the Surge. We had a greater understanding there, earlier than we did in Afghanistan, just because we had so many more forces on the ground, 165,000 American military alone at the height of the surge. In Afghanistan at the height of our deployment, we had 100,000 US troopers and about 50,000 coalitional forces, and we maintained that level for a relatively brief period of time. As I noted on a number of occasions, we never really got the inputs close to right in Afghanistan until late 2010.

So, noting the importance of human terrain, I believe, is a fundamental aspect of crafting a counterinsurgency campaign. In fact, it was the biggest of the big ideas when we launched the Surge in Iraq, and we knew that since the human terrain was the decisive terrain, we would had to secure it as our principal focus – and to do so by living with the people, locating forward operating bases/joint security stations in the neighborhoods and villages, and specifically right on the sectarian fault-lines across which the heaviest fighting was ongoing in the capital. We ultimately established 77 additional locations just in the Baghdad area of operations alone, and many dozens more elsewhere throughout the country. There were other big ideas to be sure:  e.g., that you can’t kill or capture your way out of an industrial strength insurgency, such as we faced, therefore you need to reconcile with as many of the insurgents as was possible, seeking to maximize the number of the reconcilables; correspondingly, we also needed to intensify our campaign of targeted operations against the irreconcilables. But I think, fundamentally, it comes back to this issue, that it is all about people, counterinsurgency operations are wars in, among, and, in essence, for the people. And the first task of any counterinsurgency campaign has to be to secure those people.

Read the rest here.

Switch to our mobile site