Small Wars Journal

Rethinking Revolution: Introduction

When is a revolution over, completed, fulfilled?  Traditionally, we prefer to quantify revolutions as ending in a win, loss, or negotiated settlement.[1]  While this framework is helpful for shaping theory, it neglects that reality is often much more complicated and messy.  As John Maynard Keynes said, “it is a method rather than a doctrine, an apparatus of the mind, a technique for thinking, which helps the possessor to draw correct conclusions.”  Simply put, it is only a guide towards understanding history and human nature.

For instance, the American Revolution did not end with an American colonist’s win over the British Empire.  Rather, the conflict was the beginning of a long, arduous process that continues today.   As Richard Edens notes, “the American Revolution created an imperfect union.  In addition to legalized and racialized enslavement in a land of equality and freedom, the limited power state of the 18th century was inadequate for the dynamism of 19th century industrial capitalism rather than an economy dominated by agriculture.  These unresolved and irresolvable tensions led to the Civil War.”[2]

 James McPherson in the conclusion of his book on the Civil War, Battle Cry of Freedom, writes,

. . . when secessionists protested that they were acting to preserve traditional rights and values, they were correct. . . .  The South’s concept of republicanism had not changed in three-quarters of a century; the North’s had.  With complete sincerity the South fought to preserve its version of the republic of the founding fathers – a government of limited powers that protected the rights of property and whose constituency comprised an independent gentry and yeomanry of the white race undistributed by large cities, heartless factories, restless free workers, and class conflict. …  Their secession was a pre-emptive counterrevolution.  …  ‘We are not revolutionists,’ insisted James B.D. DeBow and Jefferson Davis during the Civil War, ‘We are resisting revolution . . . .  We are conservative.[3] 

The tensions of an imperfect union continue to this day with a re-revolution and a counter-revolution, an on-going revolution for a changing context and resistance to revolution and a changing context.[4]   

In his seminal work, Rethinking Insurgency, Steven Metz challenged our community to rethink the existing assumptions and relearn how to counter insurgencies.[5]  Moreover, over the past decade, scholars challenged the accepted military definition that an insurgency is “an organized movement aimed at the overthrow of a constituted government through use of subversion and armed conflict.”  

Yet, with all the evidence, scholarship, theories, and analysis, we continue to muddle through small wars.  Why?  Perhaps, we often choose mass over maneuver and speed over subtle influence in attempts to control the problem.  Small wars are wicked problems.  If we continue to plug and play the latest "new" idea to tame a problem, then we will just muddle along and only make the problem worse.

In the last decade, we jumped from pre-emptive war to counterinsurgency, and we are now moving to Foreign Internal Defense (FID)/Security Force Assistance (SFA) without a serious debate, informed discussion, or collaborative endeavor.  There is no imagination.  There is no fully formed, holistic, comprehensive strategy.  We continue to muddle in tactics bypassing strategy.

Today, we are in a time of unprecedented economic, environmental, technological, and political change.  “The Agricultural Revolution was a roughly 3,000-year transition, the Industrial Revolution lasted 300 years, and this technology-led Global Revolution will take only 30-odd years. No single generation has witnessed so much change in a single lifetime.”[6]  We could be facing a generation of revolution as changes occur in the Americas, the Middle East, Europe, and Asia.

Before we can hope to distill any lessons learned from this past bloody decade of war and rewrite the existing counterinsurgency manual[7][8] and find a suitable foreign policy for this new century, perhaps we should first seek to better understand the nature of revolution. 

We need to start rethinking how we see revolution.  One place to start is with the great contributors at Small Wars Journal.

For instance, Col (Ret.) Robert C. Jones’s proposes that we relook our definition and consider,

Insurgency is an illegal political challenge to government, rising from a base of support within some significant and distinct segment, or segments, of the populace; and employing any mix of violent and non-violent tactics.[9]

This is just a primer to help us move past the COIN, CT, FID, and SFA debate in order to start thinking about strategy.  Perhaps, if we look at our own history, see that the United States is still a revolution in process, an imperfect union; it can help guide us towards better understanding the world around us.  Before we try to change the world around us, perhaps we should first seek self-awareness.

In the upcoming weeks, we will examine recent scholarship that argues that we should consider the Civil Rights Movement as an insurgency.

[1] See Ben Connable and Martin C. Libicki’s Rand Study How Insurgencies End,  Gordon McCormick and the Naval Postgraduate School’s Defense Analysis Department internal databases, and Mark Safranski’s Do Oligarchies Create Insurgencies? among other notable scholars.

[2] Richard Edens, Second Sunday of Advent Sermon, United Church of Chapel Hill, NC. 4 Dec 2011.  

[3] James McPherson, Battle Cry of Freedom, pp. 880-861,

[4] Ibid, Edens.

[5] Steven Metz, Rethinking Insurgency, June 2007, Available at

[6] Andy Stern, China's Superior Economic, Wall Street Journal, Accessed on 6 December 2011, Available at   

[7]Carl Prine, Crispin Burke, James Few, Evolving the Coin Field Manual: A Case for Reform.   Available at

[8] Frank Hoffman, Counterinsurgency Doctrine In Context, Small Wars Journal, Available at

[9] Robert C. Jones, “Understanding Insurgency: The Condition behind the Conflict” Small Wars Journal. 1 October 2011.  Accessed on 4 December 2011.  Available at


Categories: El Centro


Yes, the cartels are violent, they attack people, they steal oil and other things, and all the rest. That doesn’t make them an insurgency. Again, not all conflict is insurgency or revolution. Not all problems are insurgency or revolution. Not all insurgency or revolution is a problem, at least not for us.

I can’t see counterinsurgency tactics in Mexico against Mexican cartels as anything more than a stopgap measure, because this is not a Mexican insurgency, this is a business based in Mexico but serving American demand. It’s not about Mexico. If we want a long-term solution, we have to address our own drug issues and make a real effort to treat demand, not supply, as the core of the problem. Pretending that the conflict is insurgency obstructs understanding and distracts from the real policy reforms needed in the US to achieve a lasting solution.

I see not even the remotest similarity between Kilcullen’s serious scholarship and Robb’s tawdry self-promotion and barrages of buzzwords. It might help if you would link to some specific published work of Robb’s – ideally serious work published in a reputable peer-reviewed journal – that you think deserves consideration, and perhaps discussion on the SWC forums. Maybe there’s stuff out there that I haven’t seen.

Outlaw 09

Sun, 12/18/2011 - 5:35am

Dayuhan---refer to the seentence below---you really do need to go back and thoroughly review what has been going on in Mexico and for that matter other Latin American countries reference the DTOs just in the last three years---ask Mexican internet bloggers if they feel like they are not under attack--ask civilians killed in deliberate attacks if they feel like they are not being attacked-literally tens of examples of their attacks on critical infrastructure---ask Mexicans just how much oil income does the National givernment lose daily to the cartel organized theft of oil and oil based products to include smuggling of those products into the US via Texas. Their actions are coming closer and closer to the style of the Sunni insurgent group attacks on the critical infrastructure in Iraq. Just a side note the cartels really do not care about the economic infrastructure due to the simple fact that 1) they have either bought it out via their drug money, or "own" the company boards 2) have built their own internal crime driven companies as secondary cash streams and 3) have currently just about the same economic power as the state does based on the drug money coming back south. If you would really reread Robb's early 2004/2005 works you will notice the concept that insurgents really do not want to crash a hallow state---the Sunni groups acted in much the same way.

"They don’t seek state power. They’d little incentive to attack civilians or the economic structure… in fact they need to preserve the economic structure."

Interesting that you accept Kilcullens' works, but not Robbs' especially since they both parallel/re-enforce each other.


I agree with you that we constantly seek to complicate our analysis of events and theories however I think the beauty of the OODA loop is in its simplicity to establish an explanation for our social environment, and therefore a way of thinking about revolutions. Yes, you are right that we don’t need fancy models that show off our intellectual prowess just by throwing concepts around when simple explanations are best. Im sure Boyd would support this and that is why he placed the most emphasis on Orientation. Orientation is the repository of our genetic heritage, cultural tradition, and previous experiences – it is the most important part of the O-O-D-A loop since it shapes the way we observe, the way we decide, the way we act. How Western policy / decision makers react revolution may be assisted by using the OODA loop, particularly if they are humble enough to look at it from other cultural perspectives.

We can use OODA to rethink how we see revolutions not just from a Western mindset but from any mindset. The discipline is remembering to consider how other cultures would see their revolution. A differentiating cultural lense needs to be placed over the OODA framework. Then we may be in a better position to prevent ourselves making assumptions about revolutions in other parts of the world.

The other perspective on this topic that I just cannot stand is the sense that the system in the US is broken politically and socially. Media and academic commentators publish papers on the inequality in the US as a demonstration of how this global economic powerhouse is broken. The magic is in our natural instinct to strive to improve and evolve into better human beings on every level. This may be at the heart of many revolutions and as it has been frame here the un-finished revolution in the US.

Inequality is part of what makes competition such a deep seated motivator in human beings. I would not want to live in the perfect society where struggle no longer takes place. What a boring place that would be. How many great thinkers, artists, scientists would there have been if our society were perfect or where the revolution had been complete.

The fact that the revolution is continuing, as Mike Few puts forward, is why the US has been the economic and military power for the rest of the world to either emulate or oppose. Perhaps what is essential for us to recognise is the underlying revolution within other societal and cultural contexts. This would enable us to be better at deciding when, how or even if to become involved.



I’m not quite sure how to reconcile this:

<i>An insurgent ecosystem is a system whose members (members defined as being either as insurgent group or groups) benefit from each other's participation via symbiotic (mutually beneficial and self-sustaining) relationships.</i>

With this…

<i>wow we are in agreement--seriously to me and a few others there is no such thing as an insurgent ecosystem</i>

But I don’t suppose it matters.

The virtue of the “conflict ecosystem” construct is that it emphasizes the need for detailed knowledge of the entire conflict environment. The danger of the term, as with most terms, is that it easily becomes first a buzzword, then a mantra, dropped into the discourse for the sake of its associations with little consideration for the substance of what it means or requires.

Understanding an environment isn’t about models or buzzwords or terms. It’s about old fashioned knowledge: knowing the history, the language, the culture, the geography. Often it’s about seeking out area specialists and actually listening to them, even if they don’t tell us what we want to hear.

We also have a tendency to focus on the conflict environment without remembering the equally imperative need to understand ourselves. What are we doing in this picture? What are our goals? Are those goals clear, practical, and realistic? If they aren’t, or if the goals keep changing, or if we don’t know what they are, we’re in trouble no matter how well we study the conflict ecosystem.

I don’t like the idea of the military focusing on the OODA Loop or any other prescribed decision-making procedure, because different people and organizations make decisions in different ways. If we want to improve decision making I suspect it’s best to forget about imposing a single consistent decision-making method and try finding and promoting people who consistently make decisions that have positive outcomes.

In any decision-making method success or failure is not down to the method, it’s down to implementation. Observation can be thorough or superficial. Orientation can be objective or contaminated by preconceived assumptions. Decisions can be… well, smart or dumb. Simply following a doctrinally ordained procedure is no assurance of success.

I’ve lived for 30+ years in insurgency-affected areas. Many of my neighbors sympathize with the insurgents. Some assist them. Some have been insurgents. I deal with both sides of the picture on a daily basis… and I don’t see anything of any use or relevance in Robb’s work. Kilcullen, yes: I don’t always agree with him by any means, but he’s a serious thinker who does serious work and earns his respect. I don’t see that in Robb’s stuff, nor do I find anything that relates in any way to what’s going on in the back yard.

I realize that drug cartel issues can be presented in a way that makes them sound like insurgencies. They still aren’t insurgencies. They may react or act in ways similar to those of some insurgencies; that doesn’t make them insurgencies. They aren’t trying to overthrow governments. They don’t seek state power. They’d little incentive to attack civilians or the economic structure… in fact they need to preserve the economic structure. All they want to do is sell drugs. That’s not insurgency. That’s a problem, because we’ve decided that we don’t want people to sell drugs. It’s a bigger problem because we’ve effectively decided that it’s ok to buy drugs and not ok to sell them, which is the disconnect that has produced today’s problem.

<i>The key it to take both concepts and make them understandable for the end user and to tie them to military processes since it looks like this is the future.</i>

I don’t see how tying anything to military processes is going to help. This is a policy problem first and a law enforcement problem second: sticking the military into it is unlikely to help. Tie it to a policy process an you might have something. The cartel problem exists because our drug policy does nothing to reduce demand, and constrains supply only enough to make the business insanely profitable. As long as that policy remains in place, law enforcement and military responses will be stopgap measures at best.

As with so many of today’s problems, efforts to resolve dumb policy with better implementation are always going to be unsatisfactory. That’s what happens when you start with dumb policy.

<i>By the way I really do think that alot of things are actually far simplier than we think they are. We as humans need to make things far more complicated than they really are just to show that we humans are capable of deep thoughts---just my opinion.</i>

There we agree. We also have a habit of slapping new words on old phenomena and trumpeting them as the next big revelation. It doesn’t get us anywhere, but lots of people make a tidy living at it.

Outlaw 09

Sat, 12/17/2011 - 10:54am

Dayuhan---wow we are in agreement--seriously to me and a few others there is no such thing as an insurgent ecosystem---Kilcullen was right from the start in 2004 it is all about the conflict ecosystem or the simple term environment ---what the military calls the OE which they still are having a hard time understanding and it goes to an article written by MG Flynn also complaining of the lack of "understanding" being gained from the sheer amont of information being collected.

In some aspects both Kilcullen and Robb are one and the same-Kilcullen focuses on the conflict environment, Robb focuses on what drives that conflict environment and how do they evolve/organize/decide in that environment and the OODA loop just maybe the idea of how to get inside the decision making curve of the evolution that Robb describes. But you are right about terms---take the OODA loop---the military really never signed onto it regardless of what they wrote and said and then lately Gen. Dempsey attempted to kill it in March 2011 with his release of the term of complexity.

IE a recent article in Military Review spoke about "adapatibility" in military decision making---it was used 48 times in the article---never once did I see a definitive definition for it. One of the problems that has increased not deceased in the last few years is a distinct lack of defining terms which then leads to multiple uses of a single term thereby adding to the already confused state of being.

But to DTOs---and really this goes to the core of Robbs concept--it is really all about business---if we use in the place of common military terms common business/software terms for the events being seen all of a sudden everyone gets it. If we fully understand the open source (coding/innovation) battles/wars fought between the developers of LINUX/UNIX vs the world of say MS/IBM and it is still going on---I came out of those software wars of the early 90s---his theories are easy to understand. If again in my case you have trained, led, and fought along side insurgent groups in the 60-80s you are a believer/practicer of UW and you recognize immediately what Robb is writing about, if you have as in my case spent hours interrogating Iraqi insurgents-actual insurgents not just someone picked up in a cordon and search for being in the wrong place and time you fully understand both Kilcullen and Robb. We do not need alot of explanations and deep theoritical discussions as we have lived it, actually seen it, and it conforms to our experiences.

I can actually now take both Kilcullen and Robb's concepts and give a 4 hour lecture to senior leadership on the DTOs and you would think it is a briefing on an insurgency movement somewhere in the world--that is just how close the two concepts are now to each other and it is extremely important that senior politicla/military leaders start to wake up and realize that if we thought the Sunni's were a problem and we think that the Taliban are a problem WE already have the problem and it is already in the homeland growing, spreading and increasing internally their power structures.

The key it to take both concepts and make them understandable for the end user and to tie them to military processes since it looks like this is the future.

That will be the slant of the op ed and then open it to a really deep discussion without anger, aggression, and personal beliefs---because I really do think they are onto to something worth the discussion.

By the way I really do think that alot of things are actually far simplier than we think they are. We as humans need to make things far more complicated than they really are just to show that we humans are capable of deep thoughts---just my opinion.

That’s a lot of material to cover in an op ed… we will see I suppose. I hope it doesn’t devolve into another blistering blizzard of buzzwords. My personal opinion is that all-encompassing theories and buzzwords reduced to mantras hurt more than they help, but I’m willing to be convinced… though I’m not saying it will be easy.

I realize that drug trafficking is all about business. That’s why DTOs are not insurgencies and should not be described or treated as such. They may have some things in common, but they are inherently different things.
Drug trafficking by the Taliban is of course nothing new, and I fail to see much connection between the Taliban’s drug operations and Hezbollah’s occasional dalliances with the cartels.

There seems to be some confusion here between a “conflict ecosystem” and some new species called an “insurgent ecosystem”. If the latter term is being applied to an alliance of convenience among insurgent groups, or between an insurgent group and a non-insurgent armed group such as a drug cartel, it misses the entire point of the ecosystem construct. A connection between two groups is not an ecosystem. It is a part of the ecosystem of each group, not an ecosystem in its own right.

The whole virtue of the ecosystem construct is that it recommends understanding of all of the factors in a conflict environment: insurgents, non-insurgent armed groups, government, foreign interveners, civil society, etc, etc. Trying to apply the term to a connection between some actors while excluding others is a complete misuse and serious degradation of the whole idea… bring it to that point and it’s useless, and meaningless.

The main goal of a DTO – again, a DTO is not an insurgency or a revolution - is not to generate common ventures. The only goals of significance are to make money and to protect the organization against its rivals and the law. Common ventures may be pursued if they advance those goals, but the common ventures are not goals in their own right.

Talking about “the goal of an insurgency ecosystem” makes no sense. An ecosystem by definition consists of numerous disparate actors, many of which have widely divergent goals and many of which are in conflict with each other. Some of those groups may cooperate, but those alliances are not ecosystems in their own right, they are constituent parts of the larger ecosystem.

Outlaw 09

Fri, 12/16/2011 - 10:40am

Dayuihan---there will be an op ed coming soon on just how one uses the Robb open source warefare as a theory, how one uses Kilcullens conflict ecosystem analysis as the tool and how then one uses the OODA loop as the decision making process to get inside insurgent evolutionary processes and will even tie it to targeting both lethal and non lethal. A kind of apadative model that I think some at this blog have actually seen, but since the two authors who have voiced their theories have not provided a working analysis model maybe it is time for one.

You missed the core takeaway from the article tieing terror organizations to DTOs---it is all about business regardless of politics, tribal, ethnic,religion, insurgent ideology reasons etc. Watch for this specific joint venture to become more pervasive in the coming years---it is already happening as the Taliban have built a solid ME drug smuggling conduit---just waiting for the business world term to occur---M&As- between the SWA side of the drug business and the SA side of the drug business.

An insurgent ecosystem is a system whose members (members defined as being either as insurgent group or groups) benefit from each other's participation via symbiotic (mutually beneficial and self-sustaining) relationships. (One could actually define DTOs as a group and the definition would still fit)

The main goal of an insurgency (DTO) ecosystem is to generate common ventures. It forms when many small and potentially diverse (origin, tribe, religious belief, (gangs) etc.) insurgent groups join together to fight a common predator (the counter-insurgent or state).

Insurgent (DTOs) ecosystems attract and retain members (groups) due to network effects:

• The benefits of the ecosystem (shared ventures) are so great that groups won’t leave it (although temporary departures to avoid targeted pressure from counter-insurgents are possible).
• The ecosystem’s features (i.e. immediate access to shared resources) make it easy for new groups to form and participate.
• The growth of the ecosystem results in an exponential increase in benefits (i.e. more segmentation and specialization) for all of the member groups.

Getting a little contradictory there, no? On the one hand the Arab Spring events aren’t revolution because they “existing economic/political power structures were not overthrown”, on the other the Mexican cartels are “an actual revolutionary environment” because they’re disruptive and violent. What definition of “revolution” are you using here?

A populace rising up to overthrow a dictator is revolution by any definition, regardless of whether the entire economic and political structure is overthrown. An illegal commercial enterprise using force to improve its competitive position and defend itself from law enforcement is not revolution by any definition I can imagine.

A Hezbollah financier laundering “literally millions of dollars” for a drug cartel doesn’t seem very surprising to me, nor is it reason to hyperventilate over some superempowered 9G open source nexus between terrorism and drug dealing. Drug cartels launder money wherever they can, which is all over the place and through all kinds of contacts. “Literally millions of dollars” is a drop in that bucket. Terrorist groups seek money where they can find it and cooperate with those who can help them get it. None of this is new or particularly shocking, and it requires no new theory or method of analysis to understand. It’s also quite peripheral to any effort to disable either category of organization.

I sometimes wonder why neither Robb nor his disciples have ever brought his theories over to the SW Council to run them by a jury of peers. I suspect that they know the edifice won’t stand up to serious and informed criticism.

Outlaw 09

Thu, 12/15/2011 - 8:41am

Dayuhan--not so sure that one can call the events of the Arab spring a revolution as the existing economic/political power structures were not overthrown as one would expect in a true "revolution"---kind of looked like 1) I want to participate in true economic development and 2) I want to participate in the political process---but the complete overthrow of the government and the related economical/political systems did not occur as far as I can see. Kind of like let's just swap out the personalities and continue on and things will "get" better because "we" are now in power.

If you ask ethnic communities that have large Latino/cartel gangs in their neighborhoods or those Mexican citizens who have been driven from their border houses/property in order to create drug/people smuggling zones if they feel like they are in a warzone or in the middle of an actual revoluntionary environment---they will probably say yes-- at least the Arab spring protesters could protest---one does not protest in Mexico or Latino communities.

If you look at the just completed extensive DOJ/DEA investigation and charges against a Hezbollah financier who laundered literally millions of drug dollars and the Hezbollah together with the Los Zetas who smuggled tons of drugs both into the US and Europe---there was one common underlying/unifying common thread between the two completely different organizations/political views/models---it was all about "business" ie money.

If you go deeply into John Robbs OSW theory---this would be about the fourth point in his thoughts--if one conducted conflict ecosystem analysis one could have predicted this development years ago. But neither was done so we "get" surprised by this development-strange world.

The “global Salafi movement” isn’t just about “religious differences of over 1300 years”. It’s an attempt to restructure existing power relationships, which is not incompatible with “revolution” on a scale larger than the national. Of course if you look at the groups that are considered part of this “global Salafi movement” you’ll see quickly that many of them are locally focused. While the leadership may have a global agenda, much of the followership is more concerned with local power relationships.

The Arab Spring revolutions are revolutions because they overthrew or seek to overthrow the political dominance of established personalistic governments. There’s no reason why a continued “western style” government or economic structure should be incompatible with revolution.

I didn’t say that DTOs are not a problem or that they are nothing to worry about. I said they aren’t revolutions. Not all problems are revolutions. Not all revolutions are problems. Certainly DTOs require attention, and their conflict ecosystem (and our large role in fostering it) requires understanding. That understanding will not be advanced by misclassifying their conflict as something it is not.

I am not defining “conflict ecosystems” in that paragraph. I’m looking at one element of one type of conflict ecosystem, a type associated with the sort of conflict we call “revolution”. It’s just a loose speculation on the question “when does a revolution end”. There are many other types of “conflict ecosystem”, and even within types each individual case is unique. Trying to impose deductions drawn from one on another is often counterproductive and an obstacle to understanding.

Outlaw 09

Wed, 12/14/2011 - 8:56am

Dayuhan---just a quick response to your comments below;
When the eternal and necessary tension among all these elements is not at a point of conflict – when there’s a rough equilibrium – we call that “stability”. That doesn’t mean everyone’s happy with the way things are, it just means they aren’t in open conflict. When the tension reaches a point where it spills out as conflict (not necessarily violent) we call that “revolution”.

I think if one looks at the term revolution as referencing the civil right movements as Mike first mentioned---it was a revolution as it produced a series of social changes and legal changes---and one can chart the point of where the non violent shift to violence did occur---the same goes for the anti war movement.

But in the current global Salafi movement I am not inclined to use the term revolution as it was defined in the 60s thru the early 80s---how can religious differences of over 1300 years be defined as a revolution---take the northern Ireland distrubances---the term revolution is only in the eyes of the beholder. The Irish will call it the "problems" the Brits defined it a guerrilla war unfinished from 1916.

How can economic upheavel be called a revolution when in fact most of the Arab spring movements really have not thrown out the existing governmental forms present in their countries---that might in fact change but currently it did not change as they are attempting to copy western style governement.

Reference the DTO and NTC developments---currently ask portions of our communities that have strong cartel gang activities if they feel safe, if they feel the exisiting political/police structures are protecting them them from the spillover effects, or if they think there is nothing to be concerned about.

Back to your initial paragraph that I quoted here---what you are actually defining is really "conflict ecosystems" if you analyze your paragraph.


Tue, 12/13/2011 - 10:16pm

Trying to go back to topic… this is a very rough thought that spilled over from a bike ride. It’s not meant to be anything but idle banter, and it certainly isn’t though through.

All societies change, all the time. Even in the most traditional tribal groups, the change may not be obvious from the outside, but if you ask the elders they’ll tell you the young generation is different.

Change always generates tension. Some people think it’s too slow, some think it’s too fast, some want things to stay the same, some want to go back to the (often idealized) past. These categories are not monolithic: people who want change want different changes, people who want to preserve the status quo may prioritize preserving different facets; people who want to turn the clock back have different idealizations about the past.

When the eternal and necessary tension among all these elements is not at a point of conflict – when there’s a rough equilibrium – we call that “stability”. That doesn’t mean everyone’s happy with the way things are, it just means they aren’t in open conflict. When the tension reaches a point where it spills out as conflict (not necessarily violent) we call that “revolution”.

So when does a revolution end? It could be when somebody wins (imposes their will), but that’s likely to lead to further revolution by those who feel imposed upon. It might be more accurate to say the revolution ends when that rough equilibrium among those contesting parties is restored, or when a new and more appropriate equilibrium is achieved.

That’s obviously very rough and isn’t meant to be anything more than a sketch to toss into the mix. I still like it better as a base than the Jones model, mainly because the Jones model focuses entirely on tension between “government” and “populace”. This inclines toward treating government as an entity apart from the society, which it is not. I think it’s more accurate to focus on tension within and among the society or societies that make up a nation, tension that is generally reflected in the government, which after all is a part of the society.

I agree that the Iranian revolution can be called a conservative backlash against change. I agree that most of the Arab Spring revolutions are driven largely by economic conditions: that's obvious and overt and requires no deep examination. That does not make them a conservative backlash against change; far from it. In these cases we see rebellion against a deeply entrenched, ossified elite whose control of economic and political life has failed to produce desired change and improvement, not a backlash against excessively rapid modernization or change. These weren't revolutions against change, they were revolutions seeking change.

Of course DTOs and TNCs adapt. All organizations do, or they die. Nothing surprising or unusual about that. The allegation that DTOs and TNCs "they act and respond much as do insurgent groups" seems stretched beyond the breaking point to me, especially in the case of TNCs, Again we see the danger of trying to bracket phenomena and actors into categories, instead of understanding each in its own unique context.

DTOs may be a threat, but they are certainly not a revolution... what point is there in discussing them in a thread aimed at discussion of revolutions?

TNCs may be seen as something revolutionaries revolt against, though in practice this is less the case than it once was, largely due to TNC adaptation. They are certainly not revolutionaries themselves.

Outlaw 09

Tue, 12/13/2011 - 10:16am

Dayuhan---reference your comments on DTO/TNCs---they act and respond much as do insurgent groups and are a worthy topic to discuss as the threats they present go deeper for the homeland that any threat posed by any Salafi group outside the homeland.

They are clearly showing the adaptive nature of the Sunni insurgents and we should really be paying attention---reference this today out of PoliceOne concerning a Houston TX event.

"The news out of Houston that a group of criminals is staging armed raids on illegal gaming rooms in that city contains a very important wrinkle for our consideration — these violators are also police impersonators, and by all indications in the video these thugs have stepped things up quite considerably in their tactics — and tactical training. We’ve reported extensively here on PoliceOne in recent months on the variety of issues related to police impersonators, but today’s news presents us with an array of additional considerations to contemplate — not the least of which is the idea that HPD investigators are considering the possibility that these perpetrators are Zetas.

The experts with whom I’ve spoken on this matter don’t feel that these men in the Houston incident were, in fact, Zetas. Regardless, this is a very significant episode, whether or not it is found out that Zetas are conducting these types of operations here in the Untied States. At best, these offenders are ‘frequent fliers’ who have witnessed firsthand the movements and procedures of a tactical team taking down a room. At worst, well, we’re seeing a watershed event indeed.

Lest we forget, the Zetas did not start out as an independent cartel — they began as hired guns for the OTHER cartels."

Outlaw 09

Tue, 12/13/2011 - 10:05am

Dayuhan---would argue that if you looked intensively at the core reasons of each of the Arab spring events in each country one would find a deep underlying economic driver--and that economic driver impacted/still impacts both the common laborer and the emerging middle classes to the exact same extent in each of the Arab spring countries---meaning they were falling further and further behind in the internal economic development of their countires-coupled with an ever rising unemployment that was reaching into even the university trained graduates.

And they viewed the ruling elite as those protecting the existing economic inequalities---much as we see the Occupy movement here in the US demonstrating against inequality. Would aruge also that economic equality is not a left, right or middle thing -it is a human (ecosystem) nature thing and easily used to support "insurgencies, revolutions, internal disputes, internal termoil" or whatever term given it.

Mike indicated previously and correctly that the "effects" of "moderization in Iran" created the revolution that drove out the US supported Iranian leader ---so even in the late 70s we were starting to see globalization take it's toll.

I come from the world of definitions--meaning part of the current debate raging over, around, and about COIN really comes from how one defines the term. I also come from the concept of Einstein---meaning we as a humans tend to make things more complicated that they really are---so why cannot something actually be simple for a change?

If one had a chance to sit down and have a conversation with a major insurgent leader---one first has to get through the rhetoric but then surprisingly it turned to economics. Once had a 50 year old shoe/sandal manufacturing company owner (arrested naturally for support provided to AQI) explain to me why he supported AQI---reason---even with his really older shoe manufacturing equipment from the 60s/70s, even with employing his family members and paying cheap wages he was complaining in prison about how the importation of Chinese sandals was killing his Iraqi company and he could not compete with 2 USD sandals and that I as a representative of the US should do something about it. So here was an example of an economic issuee driving a decision to support a specific insurgent movement---again as Mike indicated when economically pressed elements of society turn inward and they become more conversative and crave the past where they think things worked better than it currently does.

So yes it is all about economics and that is actually as Eintsein often said---a simple straight forward topic if one allows it to remain simple.

Again, I think it’s pointless and counterproductive to try and find a single “term” or “definition” that “explains what is currently being seen on a global basis”. There’s an extraordinary variety of things being seen on a global basis, and any term or definition that encompassed all would be far too general to be of any real use. If we lock ourselves into the assumption that “revolution”, on “a global basis”, is a conservative backlash against globalization and change we set ourselves up to drastically misinterpret revolutions that are in fact driven by populaces seeking change and opposing governing elites obstructing it. The converse is also true. The danger of models and sweeping generalizations is that once we accept them, we try to shoehorn events into them whether or not they fit.

Of course “current Islamic groups are actively participating in the "globalization process" for their own reasons”. What else would we expect? Everyone participates, or doesn’t, for their own reasons. The Arab Spring revolutions, though, were not driven by “current Islamic groups”, they were driven by populaces infuriated and frustrated by a stagnant status quo that failed to produce changes that wanted to see. I see no evidence at all suggesting that these revolutions were “global in perspective”… in fact they are clearly and overwhelmingly local in perspective: they sought to change their stagnant governance status quo, not any global order.

Similarly, I think it’s a huge stretch to twist resistance to TNC activities in the developing world – and, more importantly, resistance to the antediluvian neocolonial dictators that enabled those activities – into a conservative backlash against globalization. In most cases these revolutions didn’t oppose change, they sought change in an entrenched colonial status quo that was seen as enduring under a subservient neocolonial order maintained by foreign-supported dictators. They perceived themselves as radical, not reactionary, not seeking a return to some idealized past but rather a radical change.

The “conflict ecosystem” construct is useful to the extent that it emphasizes the need to understand each conflict, revolution or otherwise, in its own unique context. If we try to postulate a global “conflict ecosystem” the term becomes an obstacle, again reinforcing our tendency to shove conflicts into grand models rather than understanding them for what they are.

I am singularly unimpressed by the output of John Robb, but that may be personal prejudice to some extent. The dense clouds of vacuous and poorly defined buzzwords and the overwhelming tone of chest-thumping self-promotion are a combination that I find extremely obnoxious and difficult to endure, so perhaps I’m not staying with it long enough to perceive whatever hypothetical wisdom lies behind.

Outlaw 09

Mon, 12/12/2011 - 9:44am

Dayuhan---take a read of the article at the link below concerning the issues of globalization and the Arab spring for another take on the topic.

While I do not like alot of what they write about--it is important to at least attempt an understanding of where they are coming from and I think a number of their ideas have merit and should be reflected on.

Goes to the idea that just maybe current islamic groups are actively participating in the "globalization process" for their own reasons.

So we are back to the idea of what is the term----"revolution, economic upheavals, changes to society driven by economic developments, insurgencies"---and what is the definition that explains what is currently being seen on a global basis.

Outlaw 09

Mon, 12/12/2011 - 8:11am

Dayuhan----yes you are right on the length of globalization, but look at it's development---first we use to call it in the 70s "multinational companies and later corporations" in the literature and then check the amount of literature being written about the "evils" of multinational acitivities especially as they were being tied as the causes of "revolutionary/insurgency" developments ie Middle and Central America, Cuba etc.

Then the term got changed to "transnational corportions"---then surprisingly there is little literature tieing TCs to insurgencies or revolutionary developments.

Check though the develop of the African revolutions/insurgencies in the 70/80s ie Angola, SA---you will notice that it refers to multinational companies and just now they are talking about the impacts of TCs in Africa ie AFRICOM exists for this reason---and by the way this includes the Chinese.

Now the shift in terms has occurred and TCs are now being called "globalization efforts" focused on reducing the overall multiple markets to one standard global marketplace and now look at the insurgencies that are occurring.

The "globalization movement" rightly from their perspective calls them "revolutions" as the globalization movement attempts to export the ideas of democracy, liberty, civil rights, human rights as a way of opening even more markets. If you notice the globalization movement does not utter a single word that even remotely can be tied to the term revolution---check what is going on in Russia right now.

Check the literature---would massively argue that yes globalization has existed since at least from the days of the tea/spice trading days of the 1700s until now---but the core difference is the ability via sheer financial power to get things changed---if you inherently check the Libyian developments and look at the other Arab springs check the underlying drivers---they are economic in nature and global in perspective---but people tend to forget that when you push an existing society to change you inherently get a conservative push back as the society feels that the previous world before the unrest is the only anker which is viewed as normal.

In some aspects and I am getting off track---Kilcullens explanation of a "conflict ecosystem" is an excellent tool to understand the why of the development, John Robb's opensource warfare is the theory that explains the evolution of the conflict and how on gets inside the decision making curve of that conflict.

Just my opinion.


Sun, 12/11/2011 - 11:10pm

Look at recent revolutions, both those concluded and those still in progress: Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, Yemen, Syria. How many involved resistance to change or modernization, and how many were inspired by a desire to remove long-standing stagnant Governments that were perceived as obstacles to desired change?

The idea of revolution as a conservative impulse resisting imposed modernization stands up poorly when weighed against actual events on the ground, as does the contention that the US or "the West" are somehow engaged in a global struggle to impose modernization where it is not desired.

Bill C.

Sun, 12/11/2011 - 10:50pm

Karl Marx:

"The bourgeoisie, by the rapid improvement of all instruments of production, by the immensely facilitated means of communication, draws all, even the most barbarian, nations into civilization. The cheap price of its commoditities are the heavy artillery with which it batters down all Chinese walls, with which it forces the barbarians' intensely obstinate hatred of foreigners to capitulate. It compels all nations, on pain of extinction, to adopt the bourgeois mode of production; it compels them to introduce what it calls civilization into their midst, i.e., to become bourgeois themselves. In one word, it creates a world after its own image."

Globalization has been going on for centuries, and is too general and too sloppy a word to be really useful in the analysis of any given revolution.

"Globalization" as variously construed can be one factor driving change, and change can generate friction, even revolution if the change is deemed threatening or otherwise undesirable.

More often, though, revolutions emerge when government is obstructing or delaying changes that are sought by a society in a status quo that is broadly felt to be unacceptable. "Globalization" and improved information flow may be a factor here, to the extent that they raise aspirations among populaces that stagnant governing structures may be unable to meet, but essentially the conflict is between elites trying to preserve a status quo that is advantageous to them and popular movements seeking to disrupt that status quo.

Again, though, each case of revolution needs to be examined and understood as a unique phenomenon demanding a unique respones - if indeed any response is required. Sweeping statements like "globalization drives revolution" don't really get us anywhere.

Outlaw 09

Sun, 12/11/2011 - 6:46pm

MikeF---would argue that in fact if there was any outward revolutionary aspirations past say the civil right movement it ended with the beginnings of and now deep ongoing globalization.

Would argue that what we are seeing globally and to a large degree also in the US are the effects of that globalization on each and every country either developed, underdeveloped, nondeveloped and how those effects are impacting individuals and then how those individuals respond.

Bill C.

Sun, 12/11/2011 - 10:59am

Bill C.

Sun, 12/11/2011 - 11:03am

In reply to by Bill C.

Some more:

"The Long War (from 1914 to 1991, between fascism, communism and liberal parlimentarianism) ended when General Secretary Gorbachev -- as he was before he sought a new constitution that styled him as president -- attempted to mimic the strategies of the West in order to compete more successfully internationally,and this mimicry led, unintentionally, to constitutional changes he was unable to control."

"Thus, the Soviet Union under Gorbachev followed the historical pattern of states mimicking their successful competitors. This brought about the loss of legitimacy experienced by the Communist Party in the Soviet Union and in Eastern Europe. Eventually the history of Communism came to be seen as one of moral and physical impoverishment. The communist state became detached from the legitimating basis of the nation-state, the mission to better the welfare of its people."

So it looks like revolution can end when leaderhip makes mistakes, or otherwise steps on its anatomy, even when trying to act in the best interests of the revolution.

(Important lesson for us here?)

Bill C.

Sun, 12/11/2011 - 12:30am

In reply to by Bill M.

I believe that we may need to focus more on the nature, goals and ambitions of the victor -- and less on the desires of the masses -- in these matters. Consider this from Philip Bobbitt's "The Shield of Achilles," Chapter 23, The Peace of Paris, pages 613 - 614 of my paperback copy:

Stalin 1945: "whoever occupies a territory also imposes on it his own social system. Everyone imposes his on social system as far as his Army can reach. It cannot be otherwise."

"... it was no different in its way for liberal parliamentarians or for fascists. Each ideology sought to use its military victories against other nations as a means of imposing that variant of the nation-state that it championed."

"... after the Japanese defeat the Americans rewrote the Japanese constitution, instituted a multipary bicameral legislature and the Austrian ballot, and provided for an independent judiciary."

"The real difference with respect to such forced conversions is between the nation-state, of whatever varient, and its state-nation predecessor. The imperial states of the 19th Century were largely indifferent to the domestic social structure of their colonies as long as they were compliant."

"This is the system that Gorbachev inherited: one that was preoccupied with the control of domestic society, which preoccupation was highly sensitive to global politics because international events had a profound effect on the legitimacy of the domestic regime. When Gorbachev attempted to transform Soviet and Eastern European domestic societies, it was with the goal of enhancing communism as a strategic actor; when this transformation only succeeded in delegitimating the socialist system itself, there were important consequences for Soviet international operations."

Bill M.

Sat, 12/10/2011 - 5:53pm

In reply to by Bill C.

Bill C.

I think you make a strong argument that our revolution is now (has been) going global. In the past we have seen similiar attempts by the USSR and recently Al Qaeda, which has now expanded into global network of like minded (identity group) individuals and organizations pursuing their dream of a caliphate. I attempted to describe how a successful revolution ends in my previous post, but now I want to tackle how an unsuccessful revolution ends. Assuming we agree that the USSR's revolution has ended I'll use that as an example. It ended because its ideas were demonstrated to be deeply flawed, therefore it had no chance to become accepted as the "common wisdom." The structural changes in the communist countries was largely forced onto the people, it was not a structural change that followed the proper order of successful revolution where the ideas are first accepted as the "common wisdom" before the changes were implemented. It was simply a revolution against the current flawed government(s), but what followed was not desired by the masses. It was institutionized by mass murder and terror, not through a revolution in ideas. It ultimately fails when the ideas are discredited and the structural apparatus that promoted them are dismantled. In this case it was the government, the secret police, etc. Revolutions target the government's lever of power, and those are security forces, economic means, government structure/laws, etc. Thoughts?

When will the revolution be over?

From the perspective of the United States, the revolution will be over when everyone -- everywhere throughout the world -- is on the same sheet of music: our sheet of music.

Until then, in our eyes, the revolution continues.

This, I believe (to wit: the specific philosophy and agenda of the 8,000 pound Tyrannosaurus in the international affairs room) explains many things.

Thus, as per Bill M's comment below, from our perspective, only when our ideas have been universally accepted -- and universally implemented into law and practice -- we will consider that the revolution over.

Until then, we should expect that our instruments of power and influence will continue to be focused on achieving the goals of the revolution (to wit: the acceptance and implementation, throughout the world, of our ideas and concepts).


Sat, 12/10/2011 - 5:10pm

In reply to by Outlaw 09

Why would we assume that we want to "counter these developments".... especially in another country?

Outlaw 09

Sat, 12/10/2011 - 11:26am

MikeF---just completed a review of layering MDMP/Design over the OODA loop and then layered the various targeting methodologies over the loop and in some aspects the OODA methodology is telling in a number of ways.

Even in the discussion on revolution one must see observables and indicators in order to even assume something is ongoing---the problem we have had over the last years is that we tend to think that the old style of indicator development that was so common to the cold war and ingrained in our decision making could not be layered over COIN because we assumed COIN was an adaptive fight--it is now just now being recognized that one can build templates and build indicators for insurgent groups and that strangly insurgent are just as strucutred as we are--but while we are recognizing that we can in fact template the enemy we cannot seem to get the adapative piece right reference the ongoing debates over design.

The single difference that we have not seemed to fully understand is the way they evolve and react to us and or how we react to them- if one goes back and analyzes specific events in Iraq or Afghanistan using the OODA loop the analysis is intriguing. We were teaching the insurgency and they were definitely teaching us thus really the reason for the stalemate by 2009.

Now layer the OODA loop over say the civil rights movement or for that matter DTOs and you see the same similarities---maybe Bill is correct---the definitions are restriciting our views---maybe simply being able to clearly define a set of observables and indicators moves us faster forward in understanding the factors of instabilities both non violent and violent for whatever the background reasons are.

Again I am more interested in defining the exact moment a perceived issue flips from being non violent to violent---being able to observe, and discover the indicators allows for faster building of strategies and the required tactics to counter the developments. Example---at what moment did the civil right movement go violent and yes it did in the various styles of mass demonstrations and at what moment did the anti-war movement go violent and it did exactly in the same form as had the civil rights movement. Both movements had the ability to create a set of non violent demos that would clash with the existing state power to create a violent appearing IO campaign gaining the IO tactical edge pushing each agenda in the direction both movements wanted it to go and the existing state power did not realize it was being pushed in the direction both movments wanted it to go---the age old action-reaction-action chain. The art is understanding when the movement needs to stop the cycle as they have achieved their design goals---and again the OODA loop can demo that.

Interesting that the Marine Corp tends to recognize the validity of the OODA loop the Army does not.

Not sure where you’re going with this, but it should be interesting. You asked when is a revolution over, and then added this can only be answered if we understand why men rebel. I would suggest asking when a revolution starts. I began re-studying our own revolution, and some scholars made a great point that our revolution was not the war, but rather a change in ideology (or ideas), and the war was a result of the revolution, not the revolution. I think they’re right. Another individual who studies change, said that effective change first means changing the accepted or common wisdom, then when the new ideas are accepted as correct society and its political systems will make structural changes to implement the change. Perhaps at that time the revolution ends? For example, our nation struggled for more than 200 years until the idea of racial equality became common wisdom (of course there are still outliers, but they’re insignificant). Once the idea was accepted (after the civil war, the reconstruction, and years of discrimination culminating in the Civil Rights Movement) the new common wisdom was structurally implemented in law. This didn’t happen all at once, there was racial integration in the military, forced integration in the schools, etc., but over time the structural changes were implemented. That doesn’t mean they won’t continue to be improved upon, but the revolution is over.
If you’re going to discuss the current and projected future security environment I recommend you stay away from definitions and models, because the very use of them will narrow your view and you’ll default to labeling a particular event or series of events an act of terrorism, insurgency, etc. Just describe the acts, their strategies and the drivers of the conflicts based on what is actually happened, don’t create a model or definition to stick it in.
All the COIN models, Bob’s model, etc. are useful, but they’re all wrong, so as long as you experiment with that in mind you’ll be O.K... Read a great quote today, “there is a simple solution to every complex problem and it is always wrong.”
One idea that has promoted lately to the extent that it is nauseating and extremely misleading is the through, by and with mantra. There are some naïve enough to state everything we do from now on will be through, by and with others. While that may, or may not, be ideal, we don’t live in an ideal world. This concept is nothing new; we used it long before we were an independent nation when warring with the Indians. It doesn’t require a specialized force, just common sense. However, we are still required to be prepared to act unilaterally, which may actually become more common in the future due to the rise of the rest. Modernization is no longer tied to Westernization, and nations are less and less obligated to march to our tune. I suspect we’ll always share common security interests such as dealing with piracy, but beyond these common interests a coalition may not feasible or desirable, since coalitions not only enable, they can also severely restrict courses of action. At this point, I think an argument can be made that senior leaders with little justification overly rely on the potential of through, by and with.
To truly explore the convergence of globalism, crime, social consciousness, 4GW, ASW, IW, hybrid warfare and so forth we discipline to ourselves not to fall into the rut of we already have doctrine for that. Otherwise in the not too distant future kids will be studying about how the American Empire collapsed because it failed to adapt.


Fri, 12/09/2011 - 10:39pm

In reply to by Outlaw 09

Why would the term "revolution" need a rewrite? Of course it doesn't describe all conflicts. It isn't meant to. It's meant to describe revolutions. There are still plenty of those around,

Of course the understanding of revolution and insurgency, within the definition of resistance to an acknowledged government, is not particularly applicable to conflicts that are not revolutions. That doesn't make the study of revolution and insurgency any less useful, it just means it's not the only thing that needs to be studied, which should be obvious from the start. Again, any attempt to describe all conflict everywhere with a single term is going to produce something too general to be of any practical use.

Obviously any given "conflict ecosystem" needs to be understood. To do that we have to examine not only the "observables, signatures, and indicators", but to examine our own role critically. We often fail to do that, as we see when we read deep and detailed analyses of drug cartels that do not mention the causative role of American drug policy, or analyses of Afghan politics that treat our role as if we are intervening in support of a pre-existing government.

Understanding the reasons for instability is a worthy goal, but it's only half of what's deeded to define a strategy. The other half is developing a set of clear, realistic, defined goals. Knowing the ecosystem doesn't help if you don't know what you're trying to accomplish, or if you're trying to accomplish something that's not realistic.

Outlaw 09

Fri, 12/09/2011 - 8:55pm

MikeF---just a quick response to Mexico---yes there are comments/articles here, but in fact things are moving far faster than anyone has ever anticipated and we are behind the development and we are defintiely not in the OODA loop of the DTOs.

Refer to

With the open recruitment by the DTOs of US military personnel from Ft. Bliss to kill Mexican police officers on Mexican streets---the dynamics have now changed---even AQ has not been able to achieve that status.

Over on Global Guerrillas blog there is an interesting comment concerning some research on the Mexican DTOs.

"On that note, here's some unusual insight from Melissa Dell, a doctoral student in (Forensic) Economics at MIT. She has written an excellent paper on Mexico's war on drugs. Here are her insights into the business dynamics of the Mexican Drug War:"

Would venture a serious guess that if you layered her six points over the drug business/markets in Afghanistan and how they interact with the insurgency one would find a strong similarity between the two events.

That is why I think the term revolution needs a serious rewrite as it does not reflect the 21st century nor the speed of evolutionary developments---in some aspects using OODA does explain the evolutionary developments ---maybe then someone can tie Robert's definition into the loop and I think it would make sense.

But this is getting off the topic---the civil right movement was in fact a revolution as that is a given-but one would need a definition that fits it---would and could make the same argument for the current Occupy Movement though as there are some of the same sort of indicators one saw in the civil rights movement.

That is why I stay focused on the conflict ecosystem---understand the ecosystem and one can understand the factors of instability---understand the reasons for instability and one can define a strategy---once one has a strategy to answer the instability then one can define the necessary tactics.

Think that through the use of conflict ecosystem analysis it is easier to define the observables, signatures, and indicators that one needs to see as a way of monitoring/assessing events---but that is a lost art these days.

Outlaw 09

Fri, 12/09/2011 - 2:06pm

MikeF---from my readings the Salafi movement never really focused their "revolution" on the heartland of the US. It was always focused at least in the 50s thru the 70s on the governing elite in the various governments of the Arab world.

They only recently targeted us since they perceived us to be still involved in the internal affairs of a number of the Islamic countries. Palestine being the flash point.

Begs an interesting question---can it be a revolution if a minority in a specific religion takes on the majority of the same religion?

Or is it then really just an "internal dispute" over the direction of the movement.


Fri, 12/09/2011 - 8:37pm

In reply to by Outlaw 09

I'm not sure that we do need "a term", nor do I think we will ever find a term that will "fit what is being seen currently worldwide". There's a whole lot of stuff going on worldwide, and any term that encompasses all of it would be too general to be of any practical use. Nor is such terminology necessary: we need to see each individual problem for what it is, in its own context, and generic terminology, sweeping categories, and inclusive models are as likely to obstruct that goal as to advance it.

The adoption of Iraq-based assumptions is a problem in Afghanistan is a problem, but I don't see it as "the core problem". The core problem to me is that the US initiated operations in both Afghanistan and Iraq with a set of insanely optimistic assumptions about our ability to replace removed governments with new ones that would function, would be accepted as legitimate by the various populaces involved, and woukd suit our expectations as well.

Bad policy is a very common thread in our current problems. Our problems in Iraq and Afghanistan are not "all about" global Salafism or a clash of civilizations. They are consequences of our own decisions to try and "install" and sustain new governments, and our own failure to grasp the challenges inherent in this goal. Similarly, our problem with drug cartels is entirely a consequence of our own domestic drug policies.

I realize that tracing problems back to bad policy provides no help or comfort to those in the field who do not make policy, but who have to manage its consequences. If we speak on the strategic level, though, we do ourselves no favors by focusing on examining and categorizing threats without examining the extent to which our own choices contribute to the intractable problems we face.

Obviously it would be silly to say that all of our problems are consequences of our own actions. many of them are not, at least not in any direct sense. many of the biggest ones certainly are, though, and if we want to resolve them effectively and avoid repeating them they have to be addressed on the policy level, otherwise our people in the field will always be resorting to stopgap measures to manage symptoms.

Outlaw 09

Fri, 12/09/2011 - 8:27am

Dayuhan--you are right although the two conflict systems are totally different there are some similarities worth looking at and it is not the elephant in the room.

The core problem was that when we surged we tended to think the experiences gained in Iraq translated over to Afghanistan and the learning curve internally with the BCTs deploying was and still is painful.

The point I am trying to make is that with the current words/terms being thrown around we seemingly do not take the necessary time to fully understand what they mean before we tend to move on to other newer terms/words.

Fully believe the term revolution while understood by the academic world in the early 1960s/70s does not fit what is being seen currently worldwide.

Do think that Roberts term is closer to reality, but using the term revolution to define say the global Salafi movement does not quite fit what is being observed, nor does it fit on the other hand the DTOs as they are merging/morphing into TNOs on a global scale. Still stand by the concept that understanding the flip from non violence to violence is the point everyone is missing.

While we are so focused on say the threats evolving out the Salafi movement why is it that at the same time the DTOs south of the border are seemingly being ignored and I do believe that threat is far more danagerous to the homeland than an attempted bomb attack in Times Square or an underwear bomb poorly contructed, or a shoe bomb that needed matches to ignite it. Drone attacks, stationing troops, bigger barrier walls, or IR sensors on the border will not resolve the DTO issue as I am a firm believer that we really do not understand what has evolved and is evolving south of the border as the current terms in place do not explain those developments.

Currently the DTOs now have a foothold via their related gangs in over 1000 US cities and towns, we are having to polygraph all CBP/ICE/INS agents as many have flipped, we have violence spillover in the border states, violence directed against legal/illegal Chicano's living in the US, ambushing a DEA surveiled drug transport in board daylight in Houston killing the CI---just how did they know he was working for the DEA, thousands of M16s in the hands of the DTOs, Los Zetas recently issusing a direct challenge to the Mexican government, a complete SIGINT (using solar panels as power sources) network rolled up recently belonging to the Los Zetas AND we worry about the Salafi movement?

So yes we need a term, but it must apply to both worlds, it must be clearly defined to avoid exactly what has occurred in the last ten years (what the heck does COIN mean) and there must be massive research to understand the term in order to fully understand what we are seeing-without fully understanding what is being seen one cannot build a strategy and then tactics.

Otherwise we are simply spinning wheels and achieving nothing.

Bill C.

Fri, 12/09/2011 - 8:58am

In reply to by Dayuhan

I agree with Dayuhan here.

If we study the 80,000 pound Tyrannosaurus Rex in the the international affairs room (the United States) and gain a much better understanding of T-Rex's agenda, then this, I believe (rather than spending all our time studying the "small fry") will give us a better understanding of the "conflict ecosystem."


Fri, 12/09/2011 - 4:37am

In reply to by Outlaw 09

Certainly one cannot directly equate Iraq and Afghanistan, but both "conflict ecosystems" have something in common. They have the same elephant in their drawing room, and the elephant is us. We're sometimes overly inclined, IMO, to focus on analyzing populace/government dynamics, relations among varied ethnic groups, etc, to the extent that we may underestimate the impact of our own presence, our own intervention, and the perception that "government" is an extension of our presence.

Kilcullen may have been the first to use the term "conflict ecosystem", but he's certainly not the first to observe that conflict, especially domestic conflict, stems from and includes a broad range of components, actors, and interactions. I've nothing against the term specifically, but as with similar expressions ("smart power" comes to mind) it is easily reduced to he level of a buzzword, thrown into discourse with little regard for what it's supposed to mean. Using the term gets us nowhere. Applying the effort and expertise needed to accurately define and understand any given ecosystem can get us somewhere. Unfortunately, using the term is easier than doing the work. That's not the fault of the term, but when it pops up it's always worth noting how much substance is involved.


Fri, 12/09/2011 - 4:42am

In reply to by Outlaw 09

Post got repeated.

Outlaw 09

Thu, 12/08/2011 - 2:57pm

MikeF---you go to the point I was trying to make---we have not even figured out the reasons behind the current events and now we want to answer the future events.

I think we all would be better served if we fully understood exactly what happened the last ten years --especially since one cannot equate Iraq to Afghanistan.

We need to understand just "how" do say two events ie Iraq and Afghanistan re-enforce each other and to what degree support each other or for that matter any number of other current events in southwest asia.

Would love to see Kilcullens' future work-just do not think he fully answered the past and or present events and you are right it has to to do with revolution ---would also rather see a term other than revolution as a number of events have started more or less from the non violent point before shifting to violence.

It is that crossover point that is the most interesting---1) what causes the flip and then 2) once the flip has occurred how do you put the genie back in the bottle.

Think Kilcullen was on the right track with the term conflict ecosystem-it just is a term that many cannot figure out how to understand. The problem with many thinkers is that they "see" the problem/problem sets and then take it for granted that what they see is "real" for them and then they move on to new subjects without fully exploring what it was they "saw".

Kinda of like the countless rotations one has been on "been there, done it and have the T-shirt to prove it" so you cannot tell me anything new.

Outlaw 09

Thu, 12/08/2011 - 8:59am

Going back to Robert Jones's definition---is it not really all about Kilcullen's initial 2004 view that it is all about a conflict ecosystem?

The core problem is how to define that "ecosystem" and how to define it well enough in the revised 3-24 that ALL understand it.

Have noticed in the last years a distinct lack of many Army personnel understanding the basic definitions of military terms as we have gotten way to lax in their use ---to the point of for example "integrating processes" or even more simple---can anyone name the seven steps in MDMP or can anyone define/explain "wargaming".

Ask those terms in a crowded room and see the answers come back---same goes for COIN---currently there has to be 5-8 different defintions based on who one asks.


Wed, 12/07/2011 - 9:55pm

In reply to by White Rabbit

Oil flowing cheap? Not lately.

Actually the GCC has done a great deal of modernization; far more than most oil-producing areas. They also haven't seen a great deal of insurgency, other than Bahrain: largely a consequence of ethnic homogeneity, strongly conservative societies that often approve of what are seen as traditional governance structures, and of course a relatively high degree of prosperity.

Political change will probably come, someday, but I can't see that how or when is any business of the US.

The US has to deal with revolutions as they arise, whether or not they are directly consistent with US interests. We don't decide who rebels or when... and in many cases the pragmatic decision has to be to work with whoever is going to win.

White Rabbit

Wed, 12/07/2011 - 7:55pm

In reply to by Bill C.

Revolution in the Cooperation Council for the Arab States of the Gulf? Not with U.S. backing. So, revolutions, yes, as long as they serve U.S. interests.

Many from the GCC countries know perfectly well that the day they run out of oil, they will not have much left. Accordingly, they know and want to modernize their countries.
Corruption, however, is what stops them. Corruption--and other not-so-modern aspects--, is what allows Kings to say in power and oil to flow cheap for you, me, and especially the military...

Thoughts on strategy, revolution, the role of local governments, etc.

Our strategy during the Cold War was containment (of the former USSR/communism).

Our strategy today is modernization (along Western lines, of outlier states and societies).

Our strategy during the Cold War was to counter the revolution.

Our strategy today -- much as was the case of the North in the American Civil War -- is to facilitate the revolution (toward modernity).

Our enemies during the Cold war were the revolutionaries.

Our enemies today -- much as was the case of the North in the American Civil War -- are all manner of conservatives.

From our perspective, the role of foreign local governments during the Cold War should be to stand against the communist revolution/the revolutionaries.

Today, we view the role of foreign local governments to be to facilitate the revolution (toward modernity) and to overcome all manner of conservatives that resist.

Thus, counter-insurgency, in the "old days," related to defeating the revolutionaries.

While counter-insurgency today -- much as was the case for the North in the American Civil War -- relates to defeating the conservatives/the counter-revolutionaries?

Jack Gander

Thu, 12/08/2011 - 7:24am

In reply to by White Rabbit

Thanks White Rabbit - it looks like an interesting work - I've got it on order!

A book that Prof John Gaddis from Yale recommended on this topic is "Power and Protest: Global Revolution and the Rise of Detente" by Jeremi Suri. I haven't read it yet but it appears to mesh with the ongoing discussion of revolution.

“In a brilliantly conceived book, Jeremi Suri puts the tumultuous 1960s into a truly international perspective in the first study to examine the connections between great power diplomacy and global social protest. Profoundly disturbed by increasing social and political discontent, Cold War powers united on the international front, in the policy of detente. Though reflecting traditional balance of power considerations, detente thus also developed from a common urge for stability among leaders who by the late 1960s were worried about increasingly threatening domestic social activism.

In the early part of the decade, Cold War pressures simultaneously inspired activists and constrained leaders; within a few years activism turned revolutionary on a global scale. Suri examines the decade through leaders and protesters on three continents, including Mao Zedong, Charles de Gaulle, Martin Luther King Jr., Daniel Cohn-Bendit, and Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn. He describes connections between policy and protest from the Berkeley riots to the Prague Spring, from the Paris strikes to massive unrest in Wuhan, China.

Designed to protect the existing political order and repress movements for change, detente gradually isolated politics from the public. The growth of distrust and disillusion in nearly every society left a lasting legacy of global unrest, fragmentation, and unprecedented public skepticism toward authority.”

White Rabbit

Wed, 12/07/2011 - 7:24pm

In reply to by Jack Gander


In regards to citizen groups around the same time, there is "The US Government, Citizen Groups and the Cold War" which is an excellent book:

Thank you for the link on MH/CHAOS, it looks fascinating. Another one for the pile...

Jack Gander

Wed, 12/07/2011 - 11:05am

Jack Gander

Wed, 12/07/2011 - 10:44am

Jack Gander

Wed, 12/07/2011 - 9:14am

The civil rights movement as insurgency is interesting - studied it a bit in grad school a few years ago. You must also open your aperture and include the radical/new left and the anti-war movement which occurred a few years later. I’m half way through the new book on MH/CHAOS – pretty insightful for those of us not old enough to remember the domestic issues of late 60s. Let’s hope your analysis isn't skewed by political correctness.