Small Wars Journal

COIN Huckleberry

Christian Brose at FP's Shadow Goverment on the unintended consequences of COIN.


The author describes what on the surface may be a viable option for a future foe, but the reality is that option will likely remain cost prohibitive for most of our projected future foes, and even if they pursued a build up their conventional military capability that type of activity should present sufficient signature for us to get ample early warning and respond appropriately (pre-emptive strike, diplomatic pressure, sanctions, counter build up, etc.).

I think a more likely response by a foe, and I think we're seeing it today, is to simply support/sponsor insurgent movements we're attempting to counter. This enables the insurgency to drag on, which in turn undermines our national will and the coalition's will, and it undermines the international perception that the U.S. is an effective security partner. If we're not successful then it could cause the U.S. to be more risk adverse and less willing to intervene, even when it is clearly in its interest (Vietnam Syndrome), which in turn will give our foes greater freedom of movement (if they are effective).

While I understand the counter-COIN fad arguments, the reality is we really do have no choice but to improve our capabilities in fighting this type of war, and at the same time we must remain the world's premier conventional force. It won't be easy, and it won't be cheap, but we have to adapt to the world we live in, not the way we want the world to be.


Mon, 01/19/2009 - 12:04pm

Concluding paragraph:
<I>So in our rush to shift the balance of power within our military toward COIN, we shouldn't assume that rival states won't change their behavior in response to ours, and that this may leave us with a nasty self-fulfilling prophecy.</I>

Are we really in a rush to make such a shift?

The author implies that making such a shift towards COIN will entice our adversaries to bolster their conventional warfighting capabilities to challenge us. The same argument can be made in the reverse scenario. If we shift towards conventional capability, then other countries will use other (probably more effective) means to exert their influence. China seems to be getting a much warmer welcome in the oil fields of Sudan than the Soviets got in the hills of Afghanistan. If only we were so fortunate that we could dupe our adversaries into leveraging hard, conventional warfighting capabilities instead of the more effective elements of their power. Then China might meet the same fate as the Soviets.

Either way, the debate seems entirely academic. Last I checked, we're still spending gobs of money on big-ticket, conventional warfighting systems (boats, planes, etc) and doing most of the training that we did prior to 9/11, albeit in a much more realistic way and to a higher standard.