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.
To continue, let me decompose the proffered new definition and raise some points:
Combat operations conducted by the overt element of an insurgency in enemy-held territory,
Not clear why IW is limited to combat ops, nor limited to only the overt element rather than the insurgency at large. No explanation is offered. Nor is it clear or useful to make "insurgency" synonymous with IW rather than the subset it should be. I agree that the IW JOC is overtly insurgency oriented and limiting. But equally limiting is constraining our grasp to only the physical dimension of IW -- this is very limiting and historically erroneous. I am also unclear why only the overt element is addressed rather than whole of insurgency. It is completely ambiguous to discuss "enemy held" territory. Is this needed? Meaningful? Extraneous words are killing this definition.
...by predominantly indigenous and irregular forces organized on a military or paramilitary basis,
It is not evident why only "a predominantly indigenous" nature is useful. The global jihad is a movable feast. Irregular forces in IW? No kidding, but organized on a military or paramilitary basis means not terrorist or networked or transnational? How is this relevant today? Taking a backward look at my limited glance -- I have to ask - are we saying that they have to look like us, organize like us, and fight irregularly but conduct combat operations and be overt? This part of the definition is most important and gets us past just COIN, as it could be relevant to Fedeyeen and future jihadist opponents who will target us in future interventions.
...characterized by the extensive use of unorthodox tactics to reduce the combat effectiveness, industrial capacity, and morale of an enemy, usually an established civil and military authority.
Unorthodox is vague but acceptable - but culturally dependent. "Reduce" is okay, but the goals are limited by two physical - conditions and morale - not overthrow of state - or one of Bard O'Neill's or Steve Metz's categories. The ending is a bit odd, "an enemy" helps me figure out the meaning of the "enemy held territory" in opening phrase, but its utility in both places is not clear and it seems to only muddy things.
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.