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Hoffman -What is Irregular Warfare?

I saw this fantastic “ask the basic question” thread at SWJ this morning due to a comment by SWC member Ken White:

 Frank HoffmanAn IW “Bottle of Scotch” Challenge

I loved the paper by a team of guys trying to tackle a thorny issue – Irregular Warfare: Everything yet Nothing by Lieutenant Colonel (P) William Stevenson, Major Marshall Ecklund, Major Hun Soo Kim and Major Robert Billings.

In over a year of effort, and two separate meetings of OSD’s most senior officers; we failed to come up with a good solid definition for Irregular Warfare (IW). It’s like porn, we know IW when we see it. I do take exception to the unfounded statement made about historical research. The IW JOC (Irregular Warfare Joint Operating Concept) may not show it, but there is a lot of good history referenced by both the IW team and counterinsurgency guys, with lots of cross fertilization and common members. We may not have gotten it right, but it wasn’t due to a lack of intellectualism. I’ll be a bit blunter, people who live in glass houses, need to be careful where they throw their rocks. That said, I agree with the conclusion that we could use a better definition.

….All in all – the beginnings of a good debate. Yes, we need a definition better than what we have. Yes, concur with the point about populations (very COIN centric). But out of a dozen or so definitions that exist in the foreign literature, and the six or so developed by OSD, Army, Booze Allen etc, this is not an improvement. Sorry about that – so it’s back to the white board. I will put up a bottle of scotch to the best definition.

Great comments in this thread – read the whole thing here.

Irregular warfare historically coexists with conventional warfare to varying degrees whether we are discussing the Civil War, Vietnam War or even WWII where, for example, the Ukranian Nationalist partisans of Stepan Bandera could field reasonably large semi-regular units with light artillery or fight in classic guerilla syle. WWI is of course, famous for COIN patron saint Lawrence of Arabia’s campaign against the Ottoman Turks in his advisory capacity to the forces of the Sherif of Mecca and his allied Bedouin tribes of the Nejd.

One Response to “Hoffman -What is Irregular Warfare?”

  1. Lexington Green Says:

    "Irregular warfare" is the wrong thing to define. 
    It implies that what the US Army is good at is "regular".
    Defining something in the negative, as "irregular" in opposition to something "regular" makes it sound odd, unusual, offbeat, weird, uncommon, also maybe illegal, contemptible or otherwise subject to disparagement.  It is belittling and not particularly enlightening.  In fact, NOT fighting the US military at what it is good at, i.e. fight not fighting the US military in a "regular" way, is very much the "regular" thing to do.  In fact, it is more than "regular", it is universal for for anyone who is sane and wants to stay alive very long. 
    Gen. Smith’s "Wars Amongst the People" may be a better usage.  But something even broader and more generic is probably best:  "Styles and Methods of Contemporary Warfare".  This allows you talk about actual cases and look for commonalities not based on jargon but on actual practices, methods, doctrine and results. 

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