Small Wars Journal

This Week at War: Rise of the Irregulars

The U.S. isn't militarizing intelligence, it's civilianizing the military.

Here is the latest edition of my column at Foreign Policy:

Topics include:

1) Need to fight a war? Recruit a civilian, not a soldier

2) The U.S. military should get ready to taste its own precision-guided medicine

Need to fight a war? Recruit a civilian, not a soldier

Last week, the Washington Post's David Ignatius discussed how the line between the Central Intelligence Agency's covert intelligence activities and the Pentagon's military operations began blurring as George W. Bush's administration ramped up its war on terrorism. In his column, Ignatius took some swipes at former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld for exceeding his authority by encroaching on turf legally reserved to the CIA. The Defense Department also was criticized for taking on too many diplomatic and foreign aid responsibilities as well. Ignatius expressed concern that without clearer boundaries separating covert intelligence-gathering from military operations, "people at home and abroad may worry about a possible 'militarization' of U.S. intelligence."

Ignatius missed the larger and far more significant change that continues to this day. In order to survive and compete against the military power enjoyed by national armies, modern irregular adversaries -- such as the Viet Cong, Iraq's insurgents, the Taliban, and virtually all other modern revolutionaries -- "civilianized" their military operations. Rumsfeld's intrusions onto CIA and State Department turf were initial attempts at civilianizing U.S. military operations. Whether it realizes it or not, the U.S. government continues to civilianize its own military operations in an attempt to keep pace with the tactics employed by the irregular adversaries it is struggling to suppress. This trend has continued after Rumsfeld's departure from government and has significant implications for how the United States will fight irregular adversaries in the future.

In modern irregular warfare, the most difficult problem is identifying and finding the enemy. Insurgents benefit from the "home-field advantage" and their ability to blend in with the civilian population. It is natural that when U.S. military forces are tasked with rooting out insurgent cells in such situations, they seek to infiltrate the same civilian population to gain target intelligence. It should, therefore, be no surprise to find the U.S. military's special operations units behaving more like the CIA's operatives and agents, whose civilian status is a better match to the mission.

The CIA has used its authorities and relative flexibility to assemble a blend of covert civilian and paramilitary capabilities, a blend much more suited for modern irregular warfare. As a civilian intelligence agency, the CIA has the authority and resources to establish relationships with a variety of indigenous partners, some official and some not. According to Bob Woodward's Obama's Wars, the CIA has recruited a large Afghan paramilitary force, a combined covert intelligence and military force that can engage in a wider range of activities than a standard Afghan army unit. The CIA has poached many former special operations soldiers into its own paramilitary ranks. These paramilitary operatives have the authority to do everything they used to do while they were in the military -- such as organizing direct action raids -- while also performing operations limited to the CIA, such as covert missions inside countries not at war with the United States.

Meanwhile, the utility of conventional ground forces continues to diminish. After the experiences in Iraq and Afghanistan, a political backlash against overt military interventions is already evident. This week the House of Representatives rebuked the Obama administration over the intervention in Libya and narrowly avoided voting in favor of immediate withdrawal. The House also narrowly defeated a measure that would have required a faster exit from Afghanistan. Defense Secretary Robert Gates said that a future defense secretary advocating another large intervention in Asia or Africa "should have his head examined." The continued presence of U.S. conventional ground troops in Iraq is so politically toxic to both Iraqi and U.S. policymakers that the State Department is planning to recruit a small army of 5,100 civilian security personnel to protect its facilities and diplomats next year.

The common thread in all these developments is that conventional military operations, especially sustained ground operations, attract too much attention and are too politically fraught to be useful against irregular adversaries. These adversaries adopted a civilian guise in order to evade Western firepower. Western governments in turn are civilianizing their military operations in order to evade the attention that comes with overt deployments and to achieve the operational flexibility required to succeed on the terrain where irregular adversaries operate. This will mean the increased use of covert intelligence operations, official and indigenous paramilitary groups, the recruitment of local militias, and civilian security contractors. With this civilianization of military operations, regular soldiers will be left wondering why they weren't invited to the next war.

The U.S. military should get ready to taste its own precision-guided medicine

Of all the casualties suffered during the past decade of war, one -- the so-called Revolution in Military Affairs (RMA) -- did not die soon enough for many military analysts. In the 1990s, a group of theorists inside the Pentagon's Office of Net Assessment predicted that precisely aimed weapons, cued by exquisitely perceptive sensors and control systems, would allow the United States military to completely dominate any battlefield it entered. For many analysts, RMA's promises of dominating future battlefields led to excessive investment in technology in the 1990s at the expense of better soldier training, especially for small-unit leaders. The result they believed was a military unprepared to face irregular adversaries. After a decade of mostly inconclusive fighting and over 6,000 U.S. soldiers killed in action, many bitter combat veterans are happy to see the wizard's dreams of RMA dominance cast onto the ash heap of history. As has happened after other technological jumps forward in warfare, the Pentagon's theorists failed to respect adversaries' ability to adapt to a changing threat.

The wars in Afghanistan and Iraq seemed to demonstrate the irrelevance of RMA theory, especially for irregular campaigns against non-state actors. U.S. soldiers who had to focus on the immediate task of surviving and succeeding in these wars quickly lost any interest they may have had in RMA theory. But, to badly paraphrase Trotsky, although today's soldiers aren't interested in RMA, RMA is interested in them. The RMA theorists of the 1990s foresaw U.S. warfighters employing sophisticated sensors, command networks, and precision weapons against vulnerable enemies. The results in the real world this past decade have been underwhelming. But today's RMA theorists may have found a new vulnerable target for precision strikes -- the United States military itself.

In a paper written for the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments, a Washington, D.C. military think-tank, Barry Watts, a former U.S. Air Force officer and Pentagon analyst, prepared a current scorecard on RMA's shortfalls and progress. The Maturing Revolution in Military Affairs reveals that in attempting to structure itself to take advantage of the promises offered by RMA, the U.S. military may have made itself vulnerable to an adversary's RMA campaign.

Even though the United States continues its long irregular wars against insurgents in ungoverned places such as Afghanistan, it has continued to build a worldwide infrastructure to support RMA warfighting techniques and employ those techniques in its current irregular campaigns. Satellite communication networks relay commands and data to and from hunter-killer airborne drones. Nearly all munitions are guided by satellite or laser. Most soldiers have radios and other electronic devices tying them into large command networks. And vehicles and aircraft find their way by satellite or electronic signals.

Watts discusses how vulnerable this sensor and communications structure has become to enemy attack. Irregular adversaries have adapted to U.S. RMA capabilities by dispersing and masking their identities. By contrast, Watts describes how vulnerable satellites networks, over-centralized command systems, and an overreliance on large hub bases, are vulnerable to precision missile attack. The Air Force and Navy, the services least affected by enemy action this decade, have made themselves the most vulnerable.

U.S. ground forces, the most exposed to combat, are the most prepared to survive against an RMA-capable adversary. The concentrated buildup of U.S. ground forces in Saudi Arabia and Kuwait in 1991 and 2003 would have been ripe targets for an RMA-capable adversary. By contrast, over the past decade the Army and Marine Corps have adapted to counterinsurgency by dispersing small units across wide spaces. Although this was done to increase effectiveness in a low-intensity counterinsurgency campaign, this structure and the skills and techniques required to implement it will also be useful for surviving and succeeding against high-end adversaries equipped with RMA capabilities designed for finding and destroying massed concentrations of military forces.

Many military leaders lost interest in RMA because its promises to dominate the battlefield weren't fulfilled in Iraq and Afghanistan. America's adversaries learned to adapt to the revolution's effects. Just like the adversaries they recently fought against, the original revolutionaries will now have to adapt.


Anthony (not verified)

Thu, 07/28/2011 - 10:33am

ADTS and Steve
<p>I have been reading your comments with interest but have been away and unable to reply until now. There is a lot packed in the comments and very good reading recommendations.</p>

<p>I think there is something very interesting going on here, where the boundaries between regular and irregular and civilian groups are becoming blurry. </p>

<p>On the US side, and in reply to Robert Haddicks interesting article, I dont think it is unprecedented. The Office of Strategic Services (OSS) walked all over the line between civilian and military during WWII. After the war they redrew the lines to suit the growing Cold War and a need for military-civilian separation (although people like Major General John Singlaub continued to go back and forth as did some organizations such as MACV-SOG and SAD). We seem to be coming back around again to rearranging the military-civilian relationship in war, e.g. with JSOC and the CIA working closely together. </p>

<p> (The issue is of particular interest to me as myself and some other civilians who had the pleasure of serving in Iraq and Afghanistan have recently formed a 501(c)3 to address some of the issues arising from civilian service in war zones. (We are still developing the organization so I am hesitant to go into more detail other than to say that it will be called the Civilian Veterans Association.) </p>

<p>On the armed group side of the equation the issue is even more complex. When I wrote the Problems of Mobilization I was struggling with the Lords Resistance Army (LRA) which was very hard to classify as insurgent, warlord or terrorist organization (or anything else for that matter). The taxonomy based on type did not work at all so I turned to a taxonomy based on function. My book 'Armed Groups and the Balance of Power (Routeledge 2008) expanded on the taxonomy (to include training and other knowledge functions). </p>

<p>What may also be of interest here is that I argued that what happens is not only that the armed groups have these functions but in having them, at a certain point they can form and defend their own enclosed political community. They in essence become de facto sovereign entities. In doing this they again break the regular-irregular and civilian-military boundary in that they now paradoxically become like regular forces protecting a political community. </p>

<p>My conclusion is that the groups have to perform the same functions as regular militaries, except regular militaries can rely on the state, whereas armed groups are the entire political community in one. They must obtain economic goods and weapons, recruit personnel and so on. But also, as ADTS points out, train new individuals. More than just that, they must incorporate new individuals into the political community (just as regular militaries use Boot Camp to indoctrinate new members), pass on the history and rules of the organization and develop and train new individuals in tactical and strategic methods. </p>

<p>I think another major differentiator for regular and irregular forces is that the irregular forces are less highly structured and defined, mostly due to being newer, smaller and less entrenched. What this ends up doing is making them more flexible and easier to evolve. I would posit that the smaller, newer and less structured an organization, the faster it is able to evolve during a war. Al Qaeda is a prime example of a group that has evolved very quickly. So did Al Qaeda in Iraq and the Taliban.

<p>The process can go back and forth. To bring the discussion back around, the interesting thing for me about the formation of the OSS is that it was highly influenced by the development of the British Special Operations Executive (SOE) which was specifically devised as an irregular guerilla force (and indeed may possibly have been specifically modeled on the IRA). The OSS, SOE and similar groups evolved very quickly during the war. Afterwards they matured and became more rigidly defined. </p>

<p>What appears to be happening now is that in order to combat the quickly evolving non-state armed groups, the US has (consciously or unconsciously) created or otherwise come to rely on less structured, more flexible groups like JSOC. At the same time I think there has been a coevolution between the US forces and groups like Al Qaeda and the Taliban. (I wrote about something similar in 'Becoming the Enemy: Convergence in the American and Al Qaeda Ways of Warfare in Journal of Strategic Studies). </p>

<p>To some degree I think ultimately, the same functional taxonomy applies to any type of armed group, whether its a warlord gang, Al Qaeda, JSOC or the entire US Army. (Soccer Hooligans and other less complex groups are not able to fully mobilize and so do not count. Although, they can form the basis for more robust groups should opportunities present themselves.) The benefit for analysis is that it becomes possible to more effectively compare the different types of organizations. I think it would be interesting, for instance, to compare Singapores Boot Camp with US Boot Camp (as youve mentioned) and then compare them with Taliban indoctrination and training. </p>

<p>Apologies for the long post - youve both hit upon several areas of interest for me. </p>


ADTS (not verified)

Sun, 07/03/2011 - 1:43pm


In re the first paragraph book suggestions, thanks. On the history/political science (history/social science) divide, I actually fall pretty heavily on the latter of the two categories in terms of preferences. I have not finished this,* and the review I glanced over looked harsh (but couched in very polite terms)** but I think it might be of relevance to our discussion. As for feline or canine insurgency, I have little commentary to offer or insight to provide.

Ive always been amazed by field manuals. My limited understanding of how the brain functions (derived from this book,*** which is admittedly not a work of psychology per se) is that humans need schemas to assimilate information. I would translate this as stating humans need narratives to organize and make sense of information. Field manuals are not narratives, or at least, written in a narrative form, based on what Ive read. (I add the second-to-last clause because I think there are those who argue pretty much anything can be or is a narrative.)

I think the Israeli military historiography is complex. First, returning to Migdals book,**** the Israelis did not necessarily organize very quickly. They had time to evolve a state while still under British rule (still under Turkish rule?). I suppose along with that was the evolution of various terrorist and/or military groups. (How else is one to label those who blew up the King David Hotel, even if it were given warning and time to evacuate?) (And I was going to ask if the taxonomies we pondered applied equally, or at all, to terrorist as well as military groups!) Again, this is a topic where itd be great if other SWJ readers jumped in. Its not clear to me how effective on the battlefield the Israelis were. (Are?) And, to the extent they were effective on the battlefield, how was this related to having a state structure already developed? I suspect the kibbutz system also may have contributed - I wonder whether kibbutzniks were autonomous or integrated into the Haganah during the 1948 War or fought autonomously to a degree.

Your question about the raising of armies rapidly in the 1860s and during WWs I and II is one that has always intrigued me. Ive actually been particularly curious about how the defense industrial base was activated and managed. How does one turn around a free-market economy and put it toward a specific, non-market purpose? Some research, I think, has been done - and published, although I havent read it. Quite frankly, I think a book project could easily be had by a comparison of the three cases you cited - a project I doubt anyone has attempted. Another topic of interest is, how does one make citizens into soldiers - the evolution of boot camp (and perhaps how it differs - in Singapore, for example, Ive read***** that parents visit their childrens barracks - from place to place); the selection and training of officers (to reference Israel once more, everyone starts as enlisted, and works their way up to becoming an officer); and, of course, the mobilization of the defense-industrial base. Last but not least, I think your application of the business administration literature to said topic - how leaders overcome long odds - and perhaps also how armed groups can be classified? - is a superb one.

Ive only read a few Harvard Business School and Harvard Kennedy School case studies (although when I reread your post, I realized you were writing about HBR). Theyve all been of relatively high standard. As for quantitative (e.g., modeling) tools within Excel, that is definitely something from which I would profit, although quite frankly, there are probably "lower-order" aspects of the software package from which I could benefit, and indeed, am trying to pick up those skills currently; PowerPoint is really where I would like to brush up on more than anything. I have not read "Seeing the Elephant" but will scan it on Amazon. And alas, while I actually do reside in a city known for its technology sector, Zuckerberg et al, both present and future, have yet to reveal themselves to me. Maybe I walked by them on the street the other day and just didnt recognize them. My/our loss...or theirs...?








Sun, 07/03/2011 - 3:56am


As always, thanks for the conversation and links.

Here are some suggested case studies for your reading pile regarding irregular groups. They are useful on the referenced topics, shed light on irregular groups, and have served for me as a quality OJT education in the how to of political analysis: A History of Iraq, by Charles Tripp ISBN 978-0-521-87823-4, Reidar Vissers Irans Role in Post-Occupation Iraq: Enemy, Good Neighbor, or Overlord?, and Philippine Politics and the Rule of Law, by Steven Rogers. I used all of these as prisms of sorts to look through during my last trip to Iraq. They are all part of my reading pile, which stands at the ready at home, for when the free-riding big cat comes to nip my nose around 03:00. I get up because the dogs need to go out, while the big cat believes that he has yet again slyly orchestrated the solution to his never ending desire to hunt for sleeping pigeons (or fight with feral cats if available). The readers of SWJ are then sometimes subjected to my groggy attempts to wax eloquently on a variety of topics until I run outta gas and go back to sleep. It all works out as they say ;)

Regarding insights into the culture of US Army Officers I offer up a mix of old and new official publications for your reading pleasure. AR 600-100- Army Leadership , AR 600-101- Officer Personnel Management , DA PAM 600-3, Commissioned Officer Professional Development and Career Management, and AR 600-200 - Army Command. Bottom line one can gain entry into the Army Officer corps via Direct Commissioning (Legal and Medical), OCS, ROTC (2 or 4 year programs), or West Point (4 year program). My experience during the Cold War days was that ROTC slackers 'fought for scarce active duty reserve officer commissions (and that the even scarcer active duty regular commissions were earned by distinguished military graduates). Today with the GWOT and all, active duty slots are plentiful and there seem to be more choices available for the ROTC folks. Soldiering can be combined with a regular civilian career but its a tough balancing act. Overall soldiering is a very driven and regimented lifestyle that values conformity to a certain extent; none the less, it is a priceless experience and a chance to give back.

You have mentioned Israel and the IDF a few times now. While I admire the IDF, my knowledge regarding them is very superficial. One of your Amazon links had a commentator who posed the interesting question as to how was it that the IDF were able to effectively organize from essentially nothing and to be able to win multiple wars with the surrounding Arab populations in a very short amount of time. There appear to be some parallels with Americas rise during the late 1800s and its organization of an effective military for use in WW1 and WW2. Our opponents at that time, Germany in particular, appeared to be more advanced economically, scientifically, and militarily at least prior to WW1. While the Israelis didnt appear to have a knowledge deficit with respect to their opponents, they were however facing long odds. I find that Harvard Business Review regularly offers interesting case studies on how leaders are able to overcome long odds and provide something valuable. That Harvard brand is pricey though, the individual issues are almost $20 bucks a pop. Harvard also offers an online MS Excel course for those of us non Harvard types working on expanding our quantitative modeling mojo.

Simon Benningas Financial Modeling (uses Excel) is pretty good for teaching oneself/or polishing previously taught modeling skills. While I work on a future post regarding quantitative modeling a Lexis-Nexis how-to for those of use who dont remember using it/havent used it would be appreciated? Surferbeetle at the usual gmail address is a way to get in touch. Hmmm $20 bucks and a million plus pay off... do keep me posted if you find that lead, I will do the same ;)

Have you read Seeing the Elephant - The US Role in Global Security by Hans Binnendijk and Richard L. Kugler? I am not yet all the way through it, but as a survey of thinkers on security I find it to be helpful. Their thoughts on Kant versus Hobbes are pretty interesting.



A History of Iraq, by Charles Tripp ISBN 978-0-521-87823-4,

Reidar Vissers Irans Role in Post-Occupation Iraq: Enemy, Good Neighbor, or Overlord?,…

Philippine Politics and the Rule of Law, by Steven Rogers…

Simon Benningas Financial Modeling (uses Excel)

Seeing the Elephant - The US Role in Global Security by Hans Binnendijk and Richard L. Kugler

ADTS (not verified)

Sat, 07/02/2011 - 3:43pm


This is or has become indeed a content-laden post. And youre right - one can only guess at what the monks would have thought of Brin and Pages creation. As for physical stacks versus digital archives, I actually, in the age of Lexis-Nexis and all the rest, happened once to simply wander through the stacks and stumble across what was for me at the time a useful economics article. So maybe the stacks are on the whole outdated or what have you not, but occasionally they can provide serendipity. The real question to me is, who are the current Brin, Page and Zuckerbergs, what garage or lab or dorm room are they hanging out in, and how can I get an equity stake that will balloon to millions for the $20 in my pocket?

Moving on: Your point about regular and reserve commissions is well-taken indeed. In the modern era, for that matter, how recent is the notion of a standing professional army? When did the purchase of commissions cease? How recent an invention is a standing, regular, modern Army? I know a little about this, but know many if not most if not all on this board (you?) could educate me. Regarding the Shultz et al paper, I think you can obtain it here.*

I think youve ably codified the points of tangency weve arrived at with respect to formulating a taxonomy of irregulars. Were this a research project and we were getting handsomely renumerated (!), I think the next task would be to make some preliminary pilot efforts and try and fill in cells based on the variables weve identified, observe what clusters emerge and see whether the construct has validity. We could create the dimensions along either the criteria identified as "aligned with a sovereign, etc.," or we could create the dimensions along the criteria of the polity/economy/society in which the armed group emerges, or, I suppose, if really ambitious, both.

A few points about city-states, however. First, I think most non-state sanctioned irregulars ("guerillas?") would not be from such city-states: first, theyre too affluent. I think if I searched the literature far and wide enough, or perhaps even not even particularly far or particularly wide, Id come across a finding that insurgency is correlated largely with affluence, or rather, lack thereof (in here?**). I suppose a question becomes, then, how formal or closely aligned with the regulars are the irregulars. My suspicion is that Singaporean reserves may possibly be termed irregulars, but at one very high end of a spectrum. A Sudanese militia, by contrast, may also possibly be termed irregulars, but at perhaps the very low end of the spectrum. And it is worth noting that one could explain this differential with a single variable, I imagine - per capita GDP.

Also on the topic of city-states, aside from their ability to exist as independent polities, I wonder if its worth pondering whether geographically small states which are larger than city-states (e.g., Finland) have similar or identical issues over, say, reserves, or whether their relative size gives them an advantage or at least a different perspective. And there is the issue of sea power versus land power (is this turning into Thucydides?) Are pirates also irregular group capable of analysis by the same categories? And can one imagine a contemporary Venetian or Singaporean navy somehow projecting power around the globe?

"four locations are imperfect models for examining free trade, free ridership, reliance on organic professional armies for core strategic missions, irregulars, mercenaries, and allies, are all themes worth examining more deeply... .another post perhaps?" I agree, definitely a topic for another time, although these are certainly fertile grounds for thought and writing. I personally would probably move away from just the city and focus on the state as well - many of the categories or topics above - free trade, free riding, role of a professional army, allies - strike me as overriding themes when considering post-WW II Japan. Perhaps instead of city-state, one should use demilitarized states (or is that too misleading a term? - after all, the JSDF is, so far as I know, quite robust)?

Funny you should use such a Milton Friedman-esque quote from Michael Porter in a discussion containing Richard Florida! I like what little Ive read of Porter (the Five Forces, naturally), and obviously, have enjoyed what Ive read of Florida. But what makes me laugh is I heard Friedman give a speech when I was at college on the triumph of Hong Kong, which was, essentially, that Hong Kong became successful because it embraced capitalism. It was not the most convincingly delivered argument, especially for one so renowned for his rhetorical abilities, but it was still fun to hear a Nobel Laureate, of course.

Yet we, or at least, I, are straying off topic a bit. Should we wish to resume this in another thread, I think the key take aways are three-fold) the criteria for the evaluation of armed groups we devised, initially deriving our categories from Vinci; the criteria for the evaluation of armed groups we devised basing their nature on the polity/economy/society from which they emerge;*** the relevance of city-states and, possibly, demilitarized states and the issues they present, noted above.

Hope you were able to get enough sleep, and hopefully well be able to explore these ideas in a future thread or exchange. (And while I like our dialogue, itd also be interesting to have additional feedback and comments - perhaps Mr. Vinci himself, among others, may read this and care to jump in.)



Sat, 07/02/2011 - 8:25am


That phrase, 'use the Google Luke just never gets old does it? Not that long ago it sometime seems, I would head over to the periodicals room in my local science and engineering library, silent and severe in its architecture, grab the latest copy of science and peruse the stacks (or query and peer into the dusty crt eye of the wheezing computer in the cramped corner with its soviet inspired chair) for whatever topic it was that had my brain cell in an uproar. Before those days even, it was me, a short pencil, a recycled dewey decimal card for my scribble, the card file cabinets, and perhaps a hushed conversation with the librarian before I headed off on my search for various facts in support of my first degree. Of late it I have found that periodicals have gone digital and that as a result periodical room floor space and library hours at the science and engineering library are going the way of the dodo. My routine has changed to wandering over to the liberal arts library, with its vibrant décor and constant conversations, to peruse the large stylish flat paneled computer monitors (using the universitys internal portal) for a variety of digitized periodicals while ensconced in ergonomic comfort. The paradigm has shifted once again however. This morning, while the rooster still slumbers, I find that Google offers and that while searching for the 'taxonomy of violent groups I am shown 'Violent conflict, poverty and chronic poverty - Goodhand - Cited by 69 while clicking on the link takes me directly to the abstract of the article. One more step on the long road to total information decentralization, aka the democratization of information, aka the cloud? What would the proverbial ancient orders of monks, who were engaged in creating exquisitely illustrated copies of the few books which summed human knowledge in total, think of it all?

So then, on to taxonomy; your use of a continuum concept and suggestion to consider our definitions carefully are, I feel, very wise. Once upon a time, and perhaps even still, the distinction made between a regular and a reserve commission in the military spoke volumes to some. Similarly, in the civilian world distinctions are made between professional university degrees and the rest. Google Scholar offers us that Shultz, Richard H. ; Farah, Douglas ; Lochard, Itamara V. in their paper Armed Groups: A Tier-One Security Priority (cited 21 times) "... develop a four-category typology of armed groups, demonstrating that one must recognize and adapt to the differences among the different types of violent actors in today's international environment; develop a very promising profiling model for these groups, creating a four-by-six matrix for group analysis; suggest significant geographic regions of danger where these groups can thrive without effective controls... " Looks like I will need to access a university portal to get to the entire paper, another time then. As previously discussed, we both can access (and find of value) the paper by Vinci, Anthony. "The 'Problems of Mobilization' and the Analysis of Armed Groups." Spring 2006. pp. 49-62. So what are our agreed to distinctions between the terms regular and irregular? You have kindly offer up a number of considered and substantive points in your posts and I have, perhaps, suggested a few as well. I find that your description of the following continuum is very interesting to consider; "Perhaps its best to have ideal-types: irregulars are along a continuum from very close to ordinary militaries, to some outgrowth of a social movement such as soccer hooligans. " And we should compare this continuum with Robert Haddicks suggestion that "... the U.S. government continues to civilianize its own military operations in an attempt to keep pace with the tactics employed by the irregular adversaries it is struggling to suppress." So it seems that so far we have training/education, the carrying of arms, the offer of soft services/social service provision, a shared long-term goal, an affiliation (or lack thereof) with a recognized sovereign government, to consider as part of our incomplete taxonomy for identifying irregulars.

Lets head on to this point of shared agreement "... militaries grow out of societies, and one way of gaining analytical traction over the determinants of paramilitarism (among other topics) is to assess the polity and society and economy from which they emerge." Richard Florida provides us with another vantage point that we both find interesting to contemplate. Florida is able to aptly consider and convey the importance of urban centers of renaissance through his various works. I am particularly struck by the phrase he uses, urban metabolism. There is captivating beauty to be found when considering efficiency. Power to weight ratios for high powered motorcycles are amazing both on paper and on the street but motorcycles have practical limitations as well ;). Efficient use of capital whether accomplished by individuals, multinationals, state-owned corporations, geographic clusters, city-states, or nations is also amazing; "Capitalism is an unparalleled vehicle for meeting human needs, improving efficiency, creating jobs and building wealth." (Creating Shared Value by Michael E. Porter and Mark K. Kramer, HBR, Jan Feb 2011). Singapore creates approximately 237 billion USD a year with 5.2 million people on approximately 710 square kilometers of land while Hong Kong creates approximately 220 billion USD with 7.1 million people on 1104 square kilometers. I have never been to either location, nor speak the languages used there, but both polities remind me in some ways of ancient Venice and Florence. Ten plus years spent in Europe and varying fluency in three European languages (one of which is English - its a cheat I know) provide some insight into how European trade is creating shared value in Asia, but this of course does not bring the same insights that would come from actually visiting or living in Asia for a time. Those four locations are imperfect models for examining free trade, free ridership, reliance on organic professional armies for core strategic missions, irregulars, mercenaries, and allies, are all themes worth examining more deeply... .another post perhaps?

Your posts are very enjoyable, and very dense in a good way. Much to think about, the Phd idea is interesting (perhaps a second masters?), and thanks for sharing the links (I will review them later). The rooster will crow soon, so I am going to head off and see if I can catch some more sleep before that happens.


ADTS (not verified)

Fri, 07/01/2011 - 4:28am

Thanks for the very thought-provoking post. I dont know where to begin, quite frankly. I suppose its a problem of Internet forums and bandwidth at times not being the idea medium by which to discuss ideas. But you go to discuss with the tools and media you have, to quote some guy whose name I cant seem to recall (although I think his successor, who just retired, is generally thought to have done one heckuva job).

Having (briefly) seen the Singaporean Armed Forces (engaged) in (humanitarian) action, and having heard a friend state that the Singaporeans acquitted themselves quite well when he was at Fort Sill, Im a tad puzzled as to why you consider them a good example of a less-than-formal military. I think I understand your logic - city-states obtain their security and prosperity by being "trading states" rather than by being military regional or global hegemons - but I am not sure I necessarily agree. I think a counterargument would be that city-states like Singapore and Hong Kong (or Taiwan or Israel, to take two small nation-states) developed under the American security umbrella (the British one in re Hong Kong?) None of those states - including Singapore, which is devoid of strategic depth, and perhaps for that reason even less inclined not to neglect armed force - chose to abstain from building militaries. I think one argument could be that Israel does not have a professional military but a conscript one (as do other small states, I think, such as Singapore, which fro m what I understand was structured and initially trained largely if not entirely by Israelis) and that that constitutes an irregular army of sorts. I dont find that to be a particularly persuasive argument, but it is one I can accept.

I think your argument, though, is less that these are examplars of sub-professional (i.e., irregular) armies rather than, in part, that militaries grow out of societies, and one way of gaining analytical traction over the determinants of paramilitarism (among other topics) is to assess the polity and society and economy from which they emerge. (Please correct me if I am wrong, or conversely, affirm I am heading in the right direction?) How could I disagree with such a premise? Of course a military is a product of the entities just mentioned. Certain political/social/economic systems lend themselves toward regular armies, and regular armies of certain types (e.g., the US, British, Soviet, and Wehrmacht, to name a few); certain political/social/economic systems lend themselves, perhaps, to irregular armies, and irregular armies of certain types (e.g., Viet Cong, Fedayeen*).

Alas, both the Asimov reference and Connections series, Im embarrassed to confess, do not ring a bell. But specifically with respect to Goldstone, my sense is that time and computer power are not particularly stringent limiting factors; rather, the Political Instability Task Force seems a well-funded and -staffed entity, at least by the standards of the field. (But I dont know *that* much about it, so as always is the case, I could be wrong.) Nor is Goldstone the only person or the PITF the only organization attempting such feats. Obviously, Florida - with seemingly a great deal of parsimony - was able to generate a basic model of political instability. If you have the chance, you might want to check out the article on "POLICON" and "FACTIONS" in H. Bradford Westerfields "Inside CIAs Private World" (two quantitative forecasting models used by the CIA).** Similarly, in the Annual Review of Political Science a few years ago,*** someone (Stanley Feder - a former CIA analyst?) of "Policy Futures") employing the same methodology, wrote an article on using said models for predictive purposes. I think the arguable patriarch of the current quantitative approach to such issues is Bruce Bueno de Mesquita (who devised POLICON and FACTIONS, IIRC). Whats interesting to me is that Goldstone, so far as I know, is not known as an expert on quantitative methodology per se, but rather someone whose specialty is revolutions (you can see his essay in the last - I think - essay of "Foreign Affairs" examining the Egyptian regime change). What I find interesting is the issue of how to weight quantitative versus qualitative approaches. I asked the then-Director of Operations at a political risk consulting firm (a former DIA analyst/programmer) what they do when the quantitative model conflicts with the particular qualitative experts judgment, and his response was, "We go with the qualitative assessment." I wonder still if thats the appropriate response.

You seem to wish to examine how city-states and metrics such as those employed by Florida comprise national (municipal?) power in the fullest extent, not limited to irregulars. (And Ill ask here, even though it may not be the appropriate or at least optimal place to do so: *Do* you consider conscripts to be irregular, even well-trained ones such as one *might* perceive the IDFs soldiers?) On that topic, Ill simply conclude for now by noting that I concur Florida might provide a useful set of tools for DIME assessments, particularly with respect to the I and E components of the acronym. He does interesting work, and while Ive only really read it in the context of domestic economics and sociology, I dont think the leap is too difficult to make, and moreover, once again, for countries that are bifurcated and/or undergoing transition (e.g., China), disaggregation into units of analysis like cities might really be the optimal approach for many a research question. FP/AT Kearneys work may also be used in the same way (although Im more inclined to trust Florida - while hes made himself a celebrity academic and has a stake in ensuring his success in that regard, I dont perceive him to be an enterprise requiring marketing like FP of AT Kearney).

At the same time, I am less in agreement (albeit not, of course, in a bad way) regarding the conversation in two respects. First, it seems to me that you are conflating irregulars with private military companies (PMCs). PMCs are, I suppose, irregulars (perhaps especially 32 Battalion and Executive Outcomes?) but to me mercenaries from afar simply do not qualify. Maybe Im wrong here (I am not sure I am right) but I suppose what causes me to raise this is your reference to Viktor Bout. I think your reference here is due to the comparative resilience of nation- or city-states, and and your emphasis on how they provide security for themselves by focus on DIE rather than M (out of DIME, of course). Where I am in disagreement in the conversation is that I think, confusingly enough, that we are actually closer in our position and stances than you seem to. I do not disagree that carrying a weapon is unnecessary for being an irregular. Hezbollah is irregular; it also does quite well because of its social service provision, is my understanding. (This is an article that isnt very descriptive per se - its by a political scientist rather than a historian, and I never bothered to read it, I shamefully admit it, but in case youre so inclined... **** ) From what Ive read, the Viet Cong provided social services too. Parallel governments seem somewhat commonplace. Do I consider those who provide such "soft" services (as opposed to carrying a rifle) *not* to be irregulars? I suppose I could go either way. You are, admittedly, correct that I think carrying a weapon may be essential. At the same time, though, Im cognizant of how simplistic a distinction such a viewpoint might constitute. I am accordingly quite prone to the argument that these people are, in fact, irregulars. I do think line-drawing is necessary, though. Soccer hooligans - I somehow dont think of them as irregulars. Maybe its the absence of any long-term goal. Maybe it is indeed because of a lack of training, established and adhered to TTPs. I am willing to accept though that irregulars can be more than a mere army. They could arguably be members of a gang (I remember reading an article about Weimar Germany entitled "Goons and Guns" or something like that, about all the paramilitaries in that period). Perhaps its best to have ideal-types: irregulars are along a continuum from very close to ordinary militaries, to some outgrowth of a social movement such as soccer hooligans.

Again, I think thats where Vinci is so useful, and his article arguably verging on brilliant. He provides a useful taxonomy. Granted, I think he omits training, but nothing is perfect, and one is far, far better off having read Vincis article than not. I think the next steps would, possibly, be to taxonomize further - define the spectrum of irregulars assuming theyre not homogenous (and would anyone argue they are?), try and "map on" that spectrum to Vincis concepts and criteria, perhaps include training into the Vinci articles conceptual scheme, etc. It would -in a matter of speaking - be interesting to survey the worlds irregulars and come up with a classificatory scheme (or perhaps more sound methodologically, come up with a classificatory scheme and *then* survey the worlds irregulars). Again, what makes an irregular an irregular, a fighter not a soldier; what makes a group of irregulars a group of irregulars, rather than something deemed a military? Is it, to toss in a parting shot, an affiliation (or lack thereof) with a recognized sovereign government, or something more?

Thanks for the interesting conversation,


* Talk about "From Fighters to Soldiers"! - a comparison perhaps of the Viet Cong and the Fedayeen would be superb fodder, if difficult to process, for a potentially superb dissertation and book - even more so given the perceived paucity of material on "the other side" in both the Vietnam and Iraq conflicts.



**** Magouirk, Justin. ―The Nefarious Helping Hand: Anti-Corruption Campaigns, Social Service. Provision, and Terrorism.â€â€" Terrorism and Political Violence 17, no. 3:


Fri, 07/01/2011 - 1:54am


Thanks for the great mix of links, they work well with our mix of topics (did you also enjoy PBS Connections series with James Burke back when?).

Robert Haddick has suggested that the US is civilianizing its military in order to survive and compete in todays environment, and he has provided examples of organizations past and present as reference points for irregular forces (the Vietcong, Iraqs insurgents, the Taliban, etc.).

You and I are attempting to narrow that broad field of vision a bit when we search for underlying indicators/metrics which are common to these organizations/movements and their ilk, thus the shared interest perhaps in ATKearneys examination of such metrics as technological connectivity and personal contacts. At a very fundamental level the richer(?) Hindi word Jugaad (get-er-dun) and Chinese word Guanxi (connections/network) come to mind when I think about my observations of 'irregular Iraqi organizations which utilized the type of business model referred to by Robert Haddick.

You and I agree that training, not high priced 'toys, are a distinguishing factor for use in differentiating between regular and irregular combatant forces. You and I appear to diverge in that you seem to more narrowly define irregular combatant forces as armed paramilitary or militia type organizations whereas I suggest that physically carrying a weapon is not an absolute metric for distinguishing irregular combatant forces. Chao Xianzhan/Unrestricted Warfare, Hezbollahs social arms/cells, and Arkan/Zeljko Raznatovic of Serbia who used the Red Star soccer team for political cover, recruitment, funding, propaganda, muscle (hooligans associated with the team - Ultra Bad Boys),etc. while his paramilitary Tigers were used for much worse; all of these come to mind as examples in support of my argument. Todays soccer hooligans and skinheads in Russia appear to use a variant of Arkans business model (with Cechens and other 'immigrants as fair game for their 'favors within Russia), and I would again suggest that these are examples which show that carrying a weapon (AK, 9mm, not baseball bats) is not an absolute distinguishing metric for classifying 'irregular combatant forces.

Viktor Bout and his organization is another interesting case to consider, and perhaps we can use him to broaden our definition of 'irregular combatants. Hybrid/state backed organizations/corporations (lets use the acronym SOC for brevity) bring privileged information feeds, economies of scale, and on call professional business or violence skills to the fight. Multinational corporations are tough, but obviously can be outgunned/outclassed by a SOC depending upon the venue where the struggle takes place Considering the strategies of Clausewitz/Chess (the one-final deciding battle view) versus the Sun Tzu/Go (perpetual conflict view) is cliched i know, but still relevant.

I would suggest that which is old is new again. Venice (past), Florence (past), Singapore (present/future), and Hong Kong(present/future) are examples of why I think that formal military structures lean towards 'irregular when the majority of the struggle (billable work hours allocated to the task of survival and long term longevity of nations/city-states/SOCs), is spent on activities other than war (by taking a very broad based view of what defines survival/success and that of 'regular' and 'irregular'). This does not mean that war, and its associated requirements will ever go away - it just means that we need to look at definitions and sustainable balance points.

My discussion in this post has been focused upon 'irregulars' and 'regulars' but I should note here, that these two groups are a small part of the whole. A true macro view means that we must further broaden our analysis to consider the many different societal demographics (internal and external to a 'nation') that interact with these two types of organizations.

Jack Goldstones very thought provoking work on quantitative and qualitative models (derivations of econometrics - IMF macroeconomic models?), might be a way to test definitions and evaluation criteria of 'currently accepted understandings when it comes to defining the definitions, impacts, and cohesion of irregulars, regulars, and the demographics of societies ... unfortunately (or perhaps fortunately?) spare time and computer power is always an issue. Is he channeling Issac Asimov's Foundation series?


ADTS (not verified)

Thu, 06/30/2011 - 2:55pm


That indeed appears to be the same article I was linking to, but even on another computer, I can't seem to get the dang link to work.

And, yes, we seem to have a lot of topics floating around a single comment or two. First, regarding Florida's specific post - not his work more generally, even though I still find it very interesting - if you haven't checked the Political Instability Task Force material out, it might (or might not) be worthwhile.*

Kant versus Hobbes did not come to mind, but the idea resonates, in particular not just because of the expansiveness two city-states' foreign policies (i.e., dealing with peaceful commerce as well as violent non-state actors) but also their domestic policies (Singapore essentially mildly authoritarian, Hong Kong a bizarre anomaly within an indisputably authoritarian nation-state).

I found this book, "From Fighters to Soldiers,"** somewhat dull when I got it from the library, but I think the title encapsulates at least part of what I find interesting. What distinguishes a group of people who can fight from something more formal? It makes me think, too, of von Steuben (a forebearer of Orde Wingate?). Training, indeed, rather than C3, personnel, and weapons, would seem to me to be the distinction between irregulars and a formal military force. At the same time, though, I imagine some irregulars are relatively well-trained or disciplined, and some formal military forces are poorly trained and lack discipline. (Chechnya 1994 comes to mind as a possible example.) Cohesion, as you note, is another factor to consider: could one even denote the Revolutionary Army an "army" or was it a fairly disparate group of people? One last thought from this paragraph: the diffusion of military doctrine. How do irregulars choose to fight? For example, if they are fighting a colonial power, do they use the same tactics (operations, strategy, grand strategy...) the colonists would use (mirror imaging, I suppose), those of potential external supporters, some other source...?

Another possible distinction that comes to mind is the literature in political science about coup protection and countervailing security forces.*** In other words, dictators in weak states may prefer to have weak armies and strong irregulars, or various armies and various forces of irregulars, lest having only one render a coup irreversible.




*** "Strong Societies and Weak States" may not be well-established in the strategic studies literature, but it is a fine, fine book, and perhaps worthy of discussion on this website for more than just the topic at hand. Regarding said topic, per the book's usual style, its discussion of the topic is interesting and lucid.…


Thu, 06/30/2011 - 2:05am


Appreciate the links.  

Richard Florida's article was very interesting and so were the comments in the comments section.  He had another interesting article regarding applied(economic) geography, which you might like, entitled  How the Crash Will Reshape America at the Atlantic…

I had trouble with your second link.  Was this the article you were linking to?
Vinci, Anthony. "The 'Problems of Mobilization' and the Analysis of Armed Groups." Spring 2006. pp. 49-62.…

Lately I have been thinking about, in a macro kind of way, the processes involved with gaining understanding/agreement, with respect to concept definitions and evaluation criteria, between discrete groups of 'irregulars'.  Geographic separation, cost and schedule constraints, technical barriers, language barriers, cultural barriers, and flexible hierarchies (the basic hierarchy of the bill payer, vs that of skill sets, and that of influencers) have made for many difficulties over the ages.  Your suggestion regarding concentrating upon cities immediately brings to mind the examples of ancient Venice and Florence, but it's also interesting to think about how modern day Singapore and Hong Kong engage and influence those previously mentioned 72 countries which produce 97 percent of the worlds GDP, as well as non-state actors such as pirates.  Kant vs Hobbes?

Anthony Vinci, if the article that i caught is the one that you intended to highlight, certainly zero's on some of the nuts and bolts of running a crew of 'irregulars'.  Blending formal and informal leadership ttp's in fluid settings to produce measurable results is not easy.  Although most dictators and warlords are consistently reprehensible, the mechanics of leadership are interesting to observe...and finding points of leverage is a worthy challenge...along those lines  I would say that this is part of diplomacy and that the art of diplomacy is an interesting one.

So, can I pull this all together into one closing paragraph?  Maybe.  Who controls the definitions of regular and irregular as well as the criteria that those definitions are evaluated by?  Does 1% of the population of one country really have the final say?


ADTS (not verified)

Wed, 06/29/2011 - 3:42am


For what it's worth, I am a fan of Richard Florida's work, and think it is in the same vein as the FP/AT Kearney indexes you reference. I like his approach of focusing on cities and think it in particular might be a very profitable way to view nations like, say, China, in which regional disparities are acute. Also, I just Googled Florida and came up with this, which I had not seen before -… - but which might be of obvious interest.

When thinking of irregulars, though, I am a bit curious about the relationship between the data contained in the FP/AT Kearney indexes (or in much of Richard Florida's work, for that matter) and irregulars. If I may be so bold, to me a more pertinent article might be the following:…. (I cannot seem to make it "work" in my browser, but am trusting the link is the proper one.) The idea of irregulars is fascinating to me. They would seem to present a spectrum of individuals and groups along any number of dimensions. To me, Vinci's work is at least one attempt to try and find a logical conceptual way through which to classify those irregulars.



Tue, 06/28/2011 - 12:04pm

More context for contemplating the forces/drivers which 'irregular' methods and actors are impacted by

<i>The 72 countries ranked in the 2007 Globalization Index account for 97 percent of the worlds gross domestic product (GDP) and 88 percent of the worlds population. Major regions of the world, including developed and developing countries, are covered to provide a comprehensive and comparative view of global integration. </i>…

<i>The A.T. Kearney/FOREIGN POLICY Globalization Index is a study that assesses the extent to which the world's most populous nations are becoming more or less globally connected. Find out who's up, who's down, and who's the most global of them all.</i>

Fred (not verified)

Wed, 06/15/2011 - 2:55pm

Wow, were you making hand prints in a cave for March and April of 2003 ? You seem to have forgotten how the 4th was denied a route through Turkey and the 3rd had to push up from the south all the way to Mosul ? The major military operations phase of OIF clearly demonstrated that the US Military does effectively use RMA tech in conventional force on force warfare.

And when the force on force phase of OIF was complete, RMA tech provided huge advancements in the suppression of enemy insurgents. For example, did you watch the Thunder Runs through Baghdad and see all the little pickup trucks that went splat while they were hiding around corners waiting to ambush our convoys ?

Your claim that RMA tech hasn't been actualized only holds if you forget military history and redefine "warfare" as zero-loss security and stability missions where success is determined not by military victory, but by the soccer mom doctrine: Any military operation that isn't 0% loss is a 100% failure.

The soccer mom doctrine isn't stopping aggressor countries from invading their neighbors, conventional military forces equipped with RMA tech are.

slapout9 (not verified)

Sun, 06/12/2011 - 12:11pm

Very Good article but it is old Green Beret Stuff. Guerrillas are "Armed Civilians" that used to be the very defintion of them. And they can be used for the Offense and/or the Defense. But as the article points out wait until they get a hold of some really good guided missiles.

Bill M.

Fri, 06/10/2011 - 10:05pm

Some the comments above illustrate the extent that our commitment to the OIF and OEF-A conflicts in recent years has narrowed our scope of thought on irregular warfare. Not all insurgents enjoy homefield advantage. Homefield advantage is limited to the terrain and people you are familiar with, not the entire country. Furthermore, host nation security forces have the same homefield advantages and disadvantages as the insurgents. However, the author went a step further and said irregular forces enjoy a homefield advantage? Really! Did the AQ terrorists from the Middle East enjoy a homefield advantage in the U.S. on 9/11? Did/do the foreign fighters in Iraq and Afghanitan enjoy a homefield advantage? Actually the insurgents who do enjoy a true homefield advantage are actually the least threatening to our national interests.

I tend to agree with the jist of the author's comments about the RMA. This applies equally to State and non-state actors (threats). One aspect of long and indecisive wars we do not discuss in politie company is the fact that both sides evolve their technology and techniques for employing it. The battlefields in Iraq and Afghanistan (and elsewhere) are a battlelab for future irregular threats, whether Jihadists, left wing extremists, narcoterrorists, etc., they all will benefit from the evolution of relatively cheap war related technology, and it is only a matter of time before we see irregulars employing it against against our deployed forces and homeland in creative ways.