Irregular Conflict and the Wicked Problem Dilemma: Strategies of Imperfection

Irregular Conflict and the Wicked Problem Dilemma: Strategies of Imperfection by Franklin D. Kramer, NDU's Prism. Here's the abstract:

Irregular conflict poses a wicked problem—with contradictory and changing requirements, multiple stakeholders, many interdependencies, and problems that keep evolving. Successful resolution demands strategies that can produce satisfactory results despite imperfections in motivations, capabilities, and techniques. Based on an analysis of successful irregular conflict resolutions, this article proposes a framework and broad set of techniques. In undertaking to generate "good enough" resolutions, a combination of competitive, collaborative, and authoritative approaches will allow for greater flexibility and effectiveness. The problem of changing behaviors is the critical element. Doing so will require understanding multiple critical actors and their often conflicting objectives, and applying, within the context of a multiphased adaptive approach, the techniques of persistent security, thoughtful interactions with key groups including the importance of a favorable base from which to build, establishment of appropriate and sometimes multiple and even competing structures, the control of spoilers, the management of hatred, close scrutiny of economic actions including the importance of absorptive capacity and the synergistic consequences of projects and the potential for corruption, the limitation of sanctuaries, and the use of negotiations.

Read the full article: Irregular Conflict and the Wicked Problem Dilemma: Strategies of Imperfection.

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Instead of agonizing over how complex it is to understand the current environment under our old cold war/containment model of foreign policy; or how wicked hard it is to jam a square peg through a round hole I would simply recommend we stop and think about how it is the new information age is changing the inter-relations between various factors and then apply that to a bit of thought on what our policies, grand strategy, strategy and operational design need to look like for best effect in the world we actually live in, rather than the one our fathers wrote manuals and books about. We can do better.
magic bullet

How about instead of WOG, something like oh, I dunno, say...Popular Unity Through Affluence? Y'know, PUTA.

Old folks to the rescue. From 1964 the NAWAPA project North American Water and Power Alliance. If we don't do this "Vital Interest" soon the rest isn't going to matter. Link to part 1 and then go to part 2.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_MibzpJ54do&feature=related

Just a minor incidental comment, others have mentioned it before: telling non-Western nations that they'll be engaged with the WOG approach may or may not result in the intended 'hilarity ensues' model. Unless, of course it's like a VK Empathy Test to suss out latent post-colonial trace emotions. Dang, it's working already...

Wog or Pog is a slang word with a number of meanings, generally considered derogatory and, in some instances, extremely offensive when used in relation to ethnicity. The term is essentially used differently within the UK and Australian context: in the United Kingdom, historically it referred to "dark skinned" people and in its modern usage is considered overtly racist and is not used in polite conversation; while in Australian English the term was originally a pejorative for "Mediterranean" migrants, though in recent decades its offensiveness has been defused in certain contexts by common usage in pop-culture produced by the descendants of Mediterranean migrants.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wog

Addendum:

Bottom Line Questions: Given present circumstances (a rapidly expanding, interconnected and interdependement world), can one "protect a world trading system hospitable to the unrestricted movement of goods and services" without greater use of land forces, WOG capabilities and private sector involvement? If so, how is this to be done?

A distinction of, possibly, some importance:

a. Recent Past: A generally static and not interconnected world.

b. Recent Present: A significantly more dynamic, expanded and rapidly expanding, interconnected and interdependent world.

Thus, adding a third "vital interest" to the old list?"

To wit: Adapt the "rest of the world" (cause it to become less of a bottleneck/problem/hinderence and more of a conduit/solution/expedient) so as to adequately provide for the new paradigm shown at "b" above. (Note: Seems to requires greater use of land, WOG and private sector forces and capabilities).

Or should my suggestion above simply be seen as being consistent with the second vital interest noted by COL Jones above (protect a world trading system hospitable to the unrestructed movement of goods and services) but noting "modern," present-day requirements?

Great points, Bob- our NSS-defined vital interests' "so what" is that we should build good governance and develop economies around the world- not just in Afghanistan. This also validates what we are doing in Afghanistan.

I agree, we have strayed away from what is "truly vital". I'm pretty sure the people wouldn't agree with those vital interests- where do you think the disconnect is: between them and the politicians or the military and the politicians?

The first thing we might want to consider is what we defined as vital interests going into the Cold War, and then what we are passing off as vital interests today. We have grossly expanded the list beyond the scope or need for us to control. The goal posts are in the wrong place and the game has changed, and we grow weary trying to win a game we thought we were so good at. (Though truth be told, we confused being young, strong and rich for being good as often as not; now that we are not so much any of those things we are forced fall back on our keen wits and experience; and it is a wicked complex problem to find out that we didn't spend much time honing those particular skills...)

So, to bring the class up to date, here are the two interests we used to hold up as vital:

1. Prevent the Eurasian landmass from being dominated by any hostile power or coalition of powers.

2. Protect a world trading system hospitable to the unrestricted movement of goods and capital.

The first one goes to why we intervened in WWI and WWII, and also why we freaked out when our ally, Nationalist China fell and joined our old ally, Uncle Joe Stalin. That led us to evolving a realist approach to containing Sovietism physically in their space, to a much more idealistic approach to containing the ideology of communism being adopted by so many popualces seeking to throw off old colonial controls in that era. The second one is why our peacetime force was focused so heavily on the Navy and why the Army was always allowed to shrink. We clung to a large Army for the Cold War and now the Army thinks that the status quo. It isn't. The Navy also needs to refocus on the old mission, and we all need to sort out where the AF fits into this today.

The National Security Strategy today has a laundry list of "vital interests":

"American interests are enduring. They are:
•• The security of the United States, its citizens, and U.S. allies and partners;
•• A strong, innovative, and growing U.S. economy in an open international economic system that
promotes opportunity and prosperity;
•• Respect for universal values at home and around the world; and
•• An international order advanced by U.S. leadership that promotes peace, security, and opportunity
through stronger cooperation to meet global challenges."

One does not realize how far we have drifted until one puts them side by side. While we do need to adopt new approaches to HOW we pursue our interets in this age of evovling sovereignty and rising empowerment of non-state actors and people in general; we need to get back to basics on the interests that are truly vital to our welfare and security.

Cheers!

Bob

Director of Strategic Understanding
Center for Advanced Defense Studies

Anonymous at 1:48 PM:

"...we also can't just run around trying to adapt to every passing phase in hopes that one of them turns out to be the next big thing."

True but that is a very human trait that has developed simply due to the fact that it is better to do that and explore a few blind alleys than to hew to the past.

"The question of how it will affect our interests and what we're going to do about it--those are not so simple."

They can be assumed to be complex if one wishes. My guess is that the answer to the first question is "not much unless we work to make it more than it need be."

The answer to the second should be not much -- though I fear that will not be the case if we interfere where we have no real need to do so...

R.C. Jones is right any complex problem has a simple solution. And as he says in this case we are trying to control something we caint control.

"Just because we are useing an old answer key to the current exam does not mean the problems are any more complex or wicked. They are just different."

Well... different is a type of complexity. I agree that a large part of our issue is that we're sticking to old methodologies in the face of new problems, but adapting to new situations without excessive wasted energy (and blood and treasure) is not simple. We can't just stick to what we know, but we also can't just run around trying to adapt to every passing phase in hopes that one of them turns out to be the next big thing.

And even if we know what the next big thing is, adapting is difficult. The statement about understanding the Arab Spring is an example of this. "People just want to be treated like people" is, yes, one way to describe the essence of it, and maybe in that sense it is that simple. The question of how it will affect our interests and what we're going to do about it--those are not so simple.

9 times out of 10 (perhaps more), when one finds themselves confronted with "irregular" warfare, the behavior requireing modification is that of the host nation government and the government of the intervening party (NOT the populace). The former most likely needs to address the fact that that they have been acting with a certain degree of impunity toward their own populace. The latter needs to address the fact that they need to stop seeking to control aspects of this government/populace relationship that are frankly none of their business to begin with.

Once those two pills are swallowed, it now becomes a matter of ensuring a reasonable security mechanism is in place while one goes about (the host nation, not you "Mr. Intervening and seeking to control what is not yours to control guy" (sung to the Bud light 'Real Men of Genius' tune) repairing their image of legitimacy with their own populace, ensuring the people believe the rule of law to be just as applied to them, ensuring no groups are either benefited or discriminated against unfairly; and that legal mechanisms for the populace to exercise control over their government are in place and functioning.

This is not complex or wicked, this is what governments should have learned in Kindergarden.

Cheers!

Bob

The resolution of present-day irregular conflicts has proven difficult because of a burden that has been placed on those who have been tasked to fight and "win" these "wars."

This burden is that our organizations and personnel have been required to understand "victory" almost exclusively in terms of having achieved significant and fundamental state and societal change (towards a strong central government, democracy, capitalism/market economy, women's/human rights, etc.).

When forced to deal with such a burden, which seems to subordinate "victory" to or define it in terms of having achieved near-complete state and societal transformation, then (1) such "wicked problems" as we are experiencing now and (2) what would be required to deal with them -- should have been anticipated.

It is one thing to develop methods to overthrow and control governments and quell a revolts. It is quite another to substantially and fundamentally transform a state and society -- especially against its will.

"The problem of changing behaviors is the critical element."

I think this is a mistake. I submit we (the U.S.) don't understand how to change population behaviors because we've been shielded from the reality of the average human's existence for so long that our sense of how the world works is naive. I'm not sure that the idea that people are all the same makes anything simple- and I'm not sure that treating people like "people" is necessarily a good thing.

What makes this "wicked"- IMO- is the author's solution to changing behavior:

"- persistent security
- thoughtful interactions with key groups
- establishment of appropriate and sometimes multiple and even competing structures
- the control of spoilers
- the management of hatred
- close scrutiny of economic actions including the importance of absorptive capacity and the synergistic consequences of projects and the potential for corruption
- the limitation of sanctuaries
- and the use of negotiations.
"

I submit that we should acknowledge that long-term behavioral change in populations is "wicked" and that Western-style, liberal Democracies are not best structured to do the "hard" (I think we call it "inhumane" today?) short-term measures to affect long-term behavioral change in populations.

I recommend that we get past this idea and limit ourselves to short-term, easily-reached and clear objectives whenever we engage any entity with military force. Call it the Powell Doctrine "Plus": engage with overwhelming force, but don't stay very long. Doing anything else assumes a political homogeneity and moral-effective synergy that just isn't there for us.

A great deal of good information here, but I cannot help but cringe everytime anyone describes the current strategic environment as "wicked" or "complex."

Just because we are useing an old answer key to the current exam does not mean the problems are any more complex or wicked. They are just different.

When we try to force new problems into old solutions (or merely employ new tactics like nation-building COIN) to attempt to make the old solutions work is indeed "wicked" something...

Instead of agonizing over how complex it is to understand the current environment under our old cold war/containment model of foreign policy; or how wicked hard it is to jam a square peg through a round hole I would simply recommend we stop and think about how it is the new information age is changing the inter-relations between various factors and then apply that to a bit of thought on what our policies, grand strategy, strategy and operational design need to look like for best effect in the world we actually live in, rather than the one our fathers wrote manuals and books about. We can do better.

It is time to set our Cold War baggage down and move on. As a lieutenant I routinely stood in the Fulda Gap and pondered how I was going to survive a massive Soviet artillery barrage and then somehow stop a Motorized Rifle Regiment with a platoon of infantry mounted in M113s stretched across several km of battle space. THAT was a wicked problem.

Understanding Arab Spring? That is very simple indeed. People just want to be treated like People.