SWJ Blog – COIN is Alive: Know When to Use it!
In his opinion piece, COIN is Dead: U.S. Army must put Strategy Over Tactics published November 22 in World Politics Review, Colonel Gian Gentile appears to base his argument on the premise that COIN is not a strategy, but rather a collection of methods and tactics. Given his extensive combat experience and his impressive academic accomplishments, it is clear why his analyses of recent operations carry significant weight with leaders at all levels of our Army. However, I am unconvinced that his desire to reduce COIN from doctrine to a collection of methods and tactics is prudent at a time when we appear to be on the cusp of a scientific understanding of what fuels violent group behavior and the establishment of a strategic framework to determine when and where COIN may be best applied.
The scientific approach to the study of war has resided in the backwaters of military theory since the years immediately following the First World War. However, recent advances in evolutionary biology led by Harvard sociobiologist E.O. Wilson are providing insights to what generates warlike behavior within, between, and among groups of the social species, including our species Homo sapiens. Today, evolutionary behavior can be rudimentarily characterized by adaptations that are considered either beneficial toward the individual and their kin, or to a larger group or even a species….
Rethinking Security –COIN-Ish Thoughts
….First, it is a bit too soon for us to hail or mourn the death of COIN. What this represents is the end of COIN as practiced and theorized by elements within the Army and Marine Corps from 2006-2010, just as the Kennedy-era idea of counterinsurgency within elements of the US defense establishment died with Vietnam. The United States has faced insurgencies, terrorists, armed rebellions, guerrillas, partisans, and irregular raiding forces since the early days of colonization. It will continue to do so in the near future as long as American allies, clients, and proxies face irregular threats, although the shape of the response will vary.
Second, COIN, for all of the heat and noise about it, is still rather poorly understood in Iraq and Afghanistan. So much of the debate is weighted down with external baggage, mainly because it was never entirely about Iraq or Afghanistan. Rather, the COIN debate was often a proxy for many different political, professional, interdepartmental, and other battles within the United States political and defense establishments. Ollivant’s paper, and newer research highlights significant uncertainty to cause and effect in both sides of the COIN debate that will likely not be definitely settled soon.
Colin Clark (AOL Defense) –U.S. Military To Scrap COIN; Focus on Pacific, Says Vice Chairman
Omaha: The United States, which rushed to replace and rebuild its ability to wage counter insurgency warfare over the last decade, must plan for a new future in the Pacific and leave COIN behind.
“We are not likely to have as our next fight a counterinsurgency,” he said. While America has been teaching its troops Arabic and other regional languages, training them how to win friends and influence people at the village and provincial levels, “the world has changed,” Winnefeld said. America’s enemies and competitors are “coming up with new asymmetric advantages. They’ve been studying us closely…,” he said. So, “we need to avoid the temptation to look in our rear view mirror.”
Our future conflicts, the vice chairman said, will probably occur “in a far more technically challenging environment.” As he described it, the fight will be much closer to a conventional military conflict, characterized by “intense electronic warfighting,” swarm attacks and cyberwar.
All this is occurring as 20th century’s warfare, characterized by state clashes over “nice bright Westphalian borders” fades to black. Now, “borders are simply fading away,” with cyber best exemplifying this trend. “The border between near and far…has been obliterated by the Internet…,” the admiral said. The border between public and private is fading, as is the divide between companies and countries, with “some companies acting as countries” and some individuals being used by countries as “proxies.”
It is extremely difficult to free military bureaucracies, which are budget-centric, turf-conscious and institutionally track career incentives to the former, from the tyranny of either-or thinking. Bureaucracies as complex organizations are sustained and steered culturally by cherishing and reinforcing simple narratives.
A very few astute individual leaders can shape changes in the organization’s outlook while counterintuitively using the reforms a career accelerant. CIA Director General David Petraeus is both widely admired and bitterly disparaged for having pulled off this rare neat trick with re-establishing COIN within the US Army while rising to four stars, theater and combatant command and Washington “player” status.
Normally, institutional change-agents are like Colonel John Boyd, mavericks, who opt to do something important at the career cost of being somebody important. They try to create something new, sometimes do, but metaphorically perish in the process.
Most members of any organization, civilian or military, simply go with the flow and color within the lines they are given.