Translating Lessons Learned in Colombia and Other Wars Among the People: Confronting the Spectrum of 21st Century Conflict

Translating Lessons Learned in Colombia and Other Wars Among the People: Confronting the Spectrum of 21st Century Conflict

Max G. Manwaring

Beyond Afghanistan, we must define our effort not as a boundless global war on terror—but rather as a series of persistent, targeted efforts to dismantle specific networks of violent extremists that threaten America.  In many cases, this will involve partnerships with other countries...we must help countries modernize economies, upgrade education, and encourage entrepreneurship—because American leadership has always been elevated by our ability to connect with peoples’ hopes, and not simply their fears.

- President Barack Obama, Speech at the National Defense University, 23 May 2013

When we think about the possibilities of conflict, we Americans tend to invent for ourselves a comfortable U.S.-centric vision with an enemy who looks and acts more or less as we do, and a situation in which the fighting is done by conventional military units.  We must recognize, however, that in protecting our interests and confronting a hegemonic adversary today, the situation has changed.  That change is illustrated in different ways, ranging from the identity of the enemy to the very nature of conflict.  General Rupert Smith, (UK, Ret.) reminds us that,  “War as cognitively known to most non-combatants, war as a battle in a field between men and machinery, war as a massive deciding event in a dispute in international affairs, such war no longer exists...The old paradigm was that of interstate industrial war.  The new one is the paradigm of war amongst peoples.”[[1]] 21st Century reality, then, depicts an ambiguous, complex, and dangerous global security arena.  Some of the issues that emerge from an examination of the contemporary conflict arena are briefly outlined in subsequent parts of this article, and are outlined as follows:

  • First, one can get a good idea of the changing threat situation from a brief examination of the transformation of conflict from “Shock and Awe” to “War Amongst Peoples.” 
  • Second, as one looks into the contemporary conflict arena, and into the Insurgency War in Colombia, one can see a variety of politically oriented, violent, and terroristic non-state actors (i.e., enemies) perpetrating a level of human horror, violence, criminality, corruption, and internal disequilibrium that threaten Colombia’s survival as a democratic nation-state.
  • Third, that is not to say Colombia is a failing state.  It is not.  But, it is important to understand the direction in which the enemy (i.e., “Bad Guys”) would lead that country.  Moreover, it is essential to understand that as important as security and stability might be, they are only symptoms—not the threat itself.  Rather, the ultimate threat is that of state failure.
  • Fourth, we can take note of lessons from general wars among peoples and the specific Colombian conflict that, when brought together, characterize or define contemporary wars among peoples.  As such, they reflect new realities and new guidelines that can lead to a new, more effective, sociology of war.  They include ambiguity, new battlefields, new centers of gravity and new enemies, new definitions power, and the realization that war has become “total.”
  • Fifth, further investigation of the global security arena uncovers governing rules that would allow discerning civilian and military leaders around the world to control—or succumb to—insurgents, proxies, drug traffickers, gangs, pseudo-militaries, terrorists, and other modern mercenaries involved in contemporary unconventional conflicts. Further investigation of those governing rules reveals a short list of basic challenges and tasks that can help strategic leaders be clear on what a given conflict situation is and what it is not.[[2]]
  • Finally, we recommend a concerted educational and organizational effort to help develop a new paradigm for conventional and unconventional operations.  Military and civilian leaders will—sooner than later—have to confront hybrid, de-centralized, and networked threats; and lead operations across the full spectrum of 21st Century conflict.

The lessons and guidelines devolving from a broad examination of a sample of “Wars Amongst Peoples” have proved to be relevant over time and throughout the world, and inspire confidence that they are valid.[[3]]  These lessons also have enormous implications for the exercise of U.S. land-power in the global security arena.  Accordingly, it is obvious that war is changing.  Appropriate adjustments must be made.  If not, some authorities predict “Dragon Wars.”[[4]]  Others are more specific.  They predict a return to the “Dark Ages.”[[5]] The adjustment process begins with an understanding of the transformation of conflict, and its associated challenges and threat.

The Evolution of Conflict from “Shock and Awe” to War Amongst Peoples

The United States, Europe, and those other parts of the global community most integrated into the interdependent world economy, including Colombia, are embroiled in a security arena in which time-honored concepts of national security and the classical military means to attain it, while still necessary, are no longer sufficient.  In addition to traditional regional security issues, an array of nontraditional challenges now threaten the global community at home and abroad.  These include state and non-state, military and non-military, lethal and non-lethal, direct and indirect, and a mixture of some or all of the above kinds of challenges.  The logic of the situation demonstrates that the conscious choices that the international community and individual nation-states make about how to deal with the contemporary threat situation will define the processes of national, regional, and global security and well-being for now and well into the future.  Clearly, effective involvement in the contemporary global security environment requires some serious conceptual adjustments that center on understanding the relatively recent transformation of conflict.

Lessons from the Past to the Present

Over 2,500 years ago, Sun Tzu warned that, “In war, numbers alone confer no advantage.  Do not advance relying on sheer military power.”[[6]]  It appears that this advice was pretty much ignored in favor of force-on-force wars of attrition until the middle of the 20th Century.  Better weapons and means of destruction were developed, but the general concept of force-on-force and attrition war dominated thinking and action until World War II—and after.  At that time, a new concept of conflict was developing that was intended to provide a numerically inferior combatant with the means to out-perform an opponent.  The basic concept utilized high technology-led warfare to employ surprise, speed, and lethality to bring pressure to bear on an adversary’s weak spots.  The rationale was that the military force that can “move, shoot, and communicate” more effectively than an opponent has the advantage, and is more likely to prevail.  The German blitzkrieg of the Second World War and the American “shock and awe” approach to the recent war in Iraq are examples of what Colonel Thomas X. Hammes (USMC, Ret.) calls Third Generation War, and take us to the next generation of conflict.[[7]

From Hard Power to Brain Power.  At this point, the transformation of conflict began to move from blatant use of force toward the employment of “brainpower” to achieve success against an enemy.  This entailed a transition from “hard” to “soft” power.  In addition to using transport (i.e., movement) weaponry (i.e., shoot), and command and control (i.e., communication), this conflict methodology tended to take advantage of intelligence, psychological operations, and knowledge-based technologies as “force multipliers.”  The idea here was that the “soft” power added to the hard power” of the military-centric approach to conflict provided an efficient and effective means by which to paralyze enemy action.[[8]] It should also be noted that, while intelligence, psychology, and other forms of “soft” power are less bloody than the use of “hard” power assets (e.g., infantry, armor, artillery, and aircraft), the ultimate objective of war remains the same—to compel the enemy to accede to one’s own interests.[[9]

Fourth Generation War.  According to Hammes, the current generation is the Fourth Generation.  It is the methodology of the weak against the strong.  The primary characteristic is that of “asymmetry”—or the use of disparity between the contending parties to gain advantage.[[10]]  Strategic asymmetry has been defined as “acting, organizing, and thinking differently than opponents in order to maximize one’s own advantages, exploit an opponent’s weaknesses, attain the initiative, or gain greater freedom of movement and action.  It can have mixed political-psychological and physical dimensions.”[[11]] This is a concept as old as war itself, but many military leaders do not like it.  They say it is too ambiguous, too complex, and too prone to allow politicians to lose the war while the military fights the battles.[[12]] Nevertheless, the evidence demonstrates that wise militarily weaker state and non-state actors will not even attempt to defeat a militarily stronger state or non-state actor on its own terms.  The militarily weaker adversary will seek to shift the battlefield away from conventional military confrontations to unconventional political-psychological population-centric methods that compel the opponent of accede to his will.   

Current Wars Among Peoples. This “soft” power methodology tends to emphasize the use of information and/or propaganda and high technology, and is aimed at both civilian and military organizations.  On the military level, it involves the propaganda-oriented strategy derived from Maoist insurgency doctrine against a vulnerable government or a set of targeted institutions.  As an example, Peru’s Sendero Luminoso (Shining Path) insurgents still use the term “armed propaganda” to refer to destabilizing activities that facilitate the processes of state failure, and to generate greater freedom of movement and action for themselves.  At the same time, Colombia’s narco-terrorists call the same activities “business incentives.”[[13]] Those transnational non-state organizations, and others around the world, operate with psychological, political, and military objectives—in that order.  In these terms, they seek to establish conditions that destabilize, drain, and exhaust their stronger opponents.

In striving to establish these conditions, hegemonic opponents’ tactical level objectives, not surprisingly, center on attaining the widest freedom of movement and action.  Operational objectives would include the achievement of short-and mid-term policy goals, and to establish acceptance, credibility, and de facto legitimacy within the national, regional, and global communities.  In turn, achievement of tactical and operational objectives takes us back to antiquity.  That is, the age-old strategic political objective in war is—one way or another—to impose one’s will on another.[[14]]

On a more sophisticated information and technology level, contemporary conflict includes, but is not restricted to financial war, trade war, economic warfare, media war, cyber war, chemical and biological war, nuclear war, net war, and bond-relationship targeting.  As one example, it is asserted that the powerful German deutsche mark breached the Berlin Wall—not tanks, artillery, or aircraft.  In these terms, one uses “all means, including armed force or non-kinetic force, military and non-military coercion, and direct and indirect means to compel the enemy to concede to his adversary’s interests.”[[15]] Moreover, it is important to understand that information—not firepower—is the strategic currency upon which modern unconventional war is conducted; and that key operational instruments of power are intelligence, propaganda, public diplomacy, the media, time, and flexibility.  These are the kinds of instruments of statecraft (i.e., power) that can ultimately capture public opinion and influence decision-makers. Thus, contemporary war among the people employs a combination of possibilities (i.e., hybrid war) that is only limited by imagination and willingness to use all available methods and means, and in which the various “battlefields” (i.e., spectrum of conflict) may be extended to everyone, everything, and everywhere.[[16]]


Finally, Qiao and Wang summarize the complexity of different scenarios and actions that can occur using a mix of the various methods of contemporary conflict among peoples.  We call this summary a “Chinese Cocktail.” That is:

If the attacking side secretly musters large amounts of capital without the enemy nation being aware of this, and launches a sneak attack against its financial markets, then after causing a financial crisis, buries a computer virus and hacker detachment in the opponent’s computer system in advance, while at the same time carrying out a network attack against the enemy so that the civilian electricity network, traffic dispatching network, financial transaction network, telephone communications network, and mass media network are completely paralyzed, this will cause the enemy nation to fall into social panic, street riots, and political crisis.  There is finally the forceful bearing down by the army, and military means are utilized in gradual stages until the enemy is forced to sign a dishonorable peace treaty.[[17]]

In short, the astute contemporary warrior will tailor his campaign to the adversary’s political, psychological, economic, and social vulnerabilities.

The Organizational and Motivational Context of the Enemy(s) in the Colombian Conflict

Over the past 50 or more years, Colombia has been engaged with three violent internal non-state groups:  FARC (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia), the paramilitary/vigilante AUC (United Self-Defense Groups of Colombia), and the illegal TCOs (transnational criminal/drug organizations).  Additionally, neo-populist (anti-system) activities of some of that country’s elites have further complicated the conflict picture.  Historically, these elites have never fully supported the idea the idea of strong national institutions and the development of a viable nation-state.  Lastly, the contemporary Colombian state must contend with the additional internal anarchy generated by the bandas criminales (criminal bands/gangs) devolving out of the AUC demobilization program, and the dissolution of some disaffected FARC units. Interestingly and importantly, the destabilizing activities of these diverse non-state actors have been considered to be more tactical/operational-level law enforcement issues than strategic national security and sovereignty problems.[[18]]

The Main Protagonists (The Enemy)

The FARC Insurgents.  The FARC insurgents are essentially a foco (i.e., an insurrectionary armed enclave) in search of a mass base.  Because of their general lack of appeal to the majority of the Colombian population, these insurgents developed a military organization designed to achieve the “armed colonization” of successive areas within the Colombian national territory.  The intent was to “liberate” and mobilize the “disaffected and the disposed” population into an alternative society.  That is, FARC responded to the lack of public support as did the communist insurgents in Vietnam by violently attempting to take control of the human terrain.  In this effort, FARC proved to be every bit as ruthless as the Vietcong.  Torture and assassination—to say nothing of kidnapping, extortion, intimidation, and other terrorist tactics—have been so common in  Colombia as to go almost without comment except in the most extreme cases.  In any event, and in the past, the FARC approach to taking control of the Colombian state has been the Vietnamese approach.[[19]]  That violent approach alone, however, has not been all that successful. 

Consequently, like the Vietcong, FARC organized an active international support network.   The Coordinadora Continental Bolivariana (CCB) and a secret political party structure (The Clandestine Colombian Communist Party, known as PC3) are intended to facilitate the FARC’s survival and prosperity.   The CCB is composed of governments in the Latin American region (Venezuela, Nicaragua, and Ecuador), non-state regional actors (gangs and transnational criminal organizations), and European groups—including still operative parts of terrorist organizations such as the Basque Independence Movement (ETA) in Spain, and the Provisional Irish Republican Army (PIRA) in Ireland.  The support received from members and associates of the CCB is known to have lead to enhanced knowledge, technology, financial, and personnel transfers and exchanges that have greatly improved FARC’s political-military-economic-informational capabilities.  This support combined with substantial revenues derived from involvement with the illegal drug industry becomes a significant force multiplier.[[20]]

The PC3 is a parallel political structure to the overt Colombian Communist (Bolivarian) Party.  It is designed to:  1) conduct strategic intelligence, and propaganda and provocation (agitation) activities: 2) infiltrate and penetrate the state and its institutions, and other political parties, social organizations, universities, and the media; and 3) conduct other subversion and destabilization activities as opportunity allows.[[21]] It portends a move away from the direct confrontation of the armed forces through guerrilla war, and toward a more subtle continuation of the revolutionary struggle against the state through political-psychological means (i.e., war among peoples).  Thus, it is argued that a military victory over FARC is unlikely as long as it retains the international support network provided by the CCB, and the overt and covert political party apparatus provided by the legal Communist Party and the covert PC3.  In that connection, FARC’s myriad urban organizations have access to a virtually inexhaustible pool of marginalized youth living at the seams of rural and urban society.  They can move into or control the major population centers of the country at virtually any time the FARC leadership might direct and pay for.  All this is a classic Leninist response to a military setback, and it has serious implications for the ongoing internal war in Colombia.[[22]]

FARC leadership has apparently come to the conclusion that political-psychological innovations directed at the Colombian human terrain, combined with the careful application of coercion, become a viable substitute for conventional insurgency war.  That shift of emphasis or approach will begin to replace traditional state authority (i.e., sovereignty) with alternative governance—which, slowly and almost imperceptibly, will do away with the Colombian state as it now exists.  That, theoretically, will achieve the radical long-term strategic political objective of replacing the bourgeois democratic state with a 21st century Socialist state.[[23]]

The Paramilitaries, Bandas Criminales, and Bandas Criminales Emergentes (BACRIM—criminal gangs and emerging criminal gangs).  The AUC groups (i.e., paramilitaries) began as vigilante self-defense organizations to protect family, property, and law and order in a given political-geographical area.  These groups were semi-autonomous regional alliances relatively independent of each other.  Nevertheless, a central organization existed primarily to organize and conduct a coordinated strategy against the FARC and other more traditional insurgents (e.g., the ELN— National Liberation Army).  That national front organization provided guidance, training, and other help to member paramilitary organizations as necessary.  The strategy and tactics of AUC, interestingly, mirrored those of the FARC.  AUC groups sought to expand their control of grassroots levels of government—municipalities or townships in rural and urban areas—and to exercise political influence through terroristic control, intimidations, corruption, or coercive replacement of local and national officials.  Like the FARC, the paramilitaries also profited from drug trafficking.[[24]]

Because of AUC’s willingness to fight the FARC and its ability to provide elementary justice and personal security to those defined as non-collaborators (with FARC) who lived in areas where the Colombian state was absent or ineffective, the paramilitaries consistently improved their standing in Colombian society.   Political-ideological excesses, however, brought them under serious attack from home and abroad.  As a consequence, in 2005, the Colombian government publically disavowed AUC.  President Uribe made a considerable effort to demob- ilize AUC, and claimed great success.  Thousands of AUC fighters were estimated to have been disbanded and demobilized.  No matter the numbers.  Hard-core AUC leaders and members did not give up, and continue to fight; the various AUC units have become increasingly autonomous; and a considerable number of demobilized members are operating in an outsourcing mode as “subsidiaries,” “pseudo-paramilitaries,” or “gangs” (bandas criminales)—renting (not selling) their services to the highest bidder.[[25]]   

Additionally, a “new” element is joining the bandas criminals—the bandas criminales emergentes (the BACRIM—emerging criminal gangs).  With the success of the Colombian military, the death and defection of key FARC leaders and units has led to disarray and fragmentation.  Disaffected units and individuals are breaking away from the FARC and other insurgent organizations and merging with AUC groups and/or narco-terrorists for self-enrichment.  Nevertheless, commercial self-enrichment requires some level of political influence or control, and is an implicit political agenda.  The new emerging gangs are doing what gangs all over the world do best.  As they evolve, they need more and more freedom of movement and action to secure their commercial objectives.  They generate more and more socio-economic-political instability and violence over wider and wider sections of the political map.  FARC, AUC, and BACRIM coercively neutralize, control, depose, or replace existing governmental services and security institutions.  As a result, the present Colombian Minister of Defense has admitted that these non-state actors have created autonomous enclaves in 118 municipalities that are sometimes called “alternatively governed” or “ungoverned territories”.  Consequently, these organizations change the values of a given society to those of their criminal or ideological leaders, and can act as Leninist “midwives” that begin the process of radically changing the society and the state.[[26]]

The Narcos.  The illegal transnational drug traffickers of Colombia—known as narcoticos or narcotraficantes ilegales transnacionals and generally called narcos for short—operate as a consortium that functions in much the same way as virtually any multinational Fortune 500 company.  Products are made, sold, and shipped; bankers and financial planners handle the monetary issues; and lawyers deal with legal problems.  The consortium is organized to achieve super-efficiency and maximum profit.  It has chief executive officers, and boards of directors, councils, a system of justice, public affairs officers, negotiators, project managers—and enforcers.  Plus, it operates in virtually every country in the Western Hemisphere and Europe, and several countries in Africa and Eastern Europe (to include Russia).[[27]]  

In addition, the illegal drug industry has at its disposal a very efficient flat organizational structure, the latest in high-tech communications equipment and systems, and state-of-the art weaponry.  With the advantages of these force multipliers, decisions are made quickly that can ignore or supersede laws, regulations, decisions, and actions of governments of the nation-states in which the illegal drug industry operates.[[28]]

Narcos also have been known to assassinate, bribe, corrupt, intimidate, and terrorize government leaders, members of the Colombian Congress, judges, law enforcement and military officers, journalists, and even soccer players.  As such, the illegal narco-trafficking industry is a major agent for destabilizing and weakening the state government apparatus.[[29]]  At the same time, cosmetic narco patronage to the poor, narcos’ creation of their own electoral machinery, open participation in traditional political processes, the financing of friendly election campaigns, and the assassination of “uncooperative” elected officials has facilitated considerable narco influence in the executive, legislative, and judicial branches of the government.  All of this undermines the ability of the Colombian government to perform its legitimizing security and social well-being functions, and gives the narcos a de facto veto in the “democratic” political process.[[30]]

The Socio-Political/Elites.  Each of the above sets of violent non-state players involved in the Colombian conflict generates formidable problems, challenges, and threats to the state and the region in its own right.  What are we to make of the more subtle but destabilizing actions of the “elites” that further complicate the intra-national and international conflict mosaic of mutual and conflicting interests?

As noted above, Colombian elites have never supported the idea of a strong central government or strong state security institutions.  As one result, the burden of fighting Colombia’s internal wars falls primarily to the relatively poorly supported military and to the hapless peasantry.  In that context, it appears that there is a common and strong residual elite belief that the Colombian armed forces have overused the FARC threat as a means to support expansion of state powers and the military budget. Similar feelings are being expressed as we write.[[31]] This destabilizing lack of support can be attributed to the fact that the power to control insurgents, narco-traffickers, transnational criminal organizations, and bandas criminales is the same power that can control internal elites and legal transnational corporations.  In these terms, and to quote an unnamed source, “The political structure and elites simply accommodate the continuing anarchy, absorb it, while the population makes the necessary psychological adjustments, as if it were a normal condition, like rain.”[[32]]    


John Sullivan and Robert Bunker postulate a very realistic mix of non-military and indirect methods of conflict.  Because of their flat organization and informal attributes, sophisticated criminal “gangs” can be considered net-warriors.  These transnational non-state groups have the capability to challenge the dominance of hierarchal and highly formalized nation-states, and carve out new realms of activity for the non-state soldier.  We call this a “Sullivan-Bunker Cocktail.” That is:

If the unconventional attacker—terrorists, drug cartels, criminal gangs, militant environmentalists, or a combination of some of such actors—blend crime, terrorism, and war, he can extend his already significant influence.  After embracing advanced technology weaponry, including weapons of mass destruction (including chemical and biological agents, radio frequency weapons, and advanced intelligence gathering technology, along with more common weapons systems) the attacker can transcend drug running, robbery, kidnapping, and murder and pose a significant challenge to the nation-state and its institutions.  Then, using complicity, intimidation, corruption, and indifference, the irregular attacker can quietly and subtly co-opt individual politicians and bureaucrats and gain control of a given geographical or political enclave.  Such corruption and distortion can potentially lead to the emergence of a network of government protection of illicit activities, and the emergence of a virtual criminal state or political entity.  A series of networked enclaves could, then, become a dominant political actor within a state or group of states. Thus, rather than violently competing with a nation-state, an unconventional attacker can criminally co-opt and seize control of the state.[[33]]


The response of the Colombian government to the type of war imposed by its internal enemies and represented by the “Sullivan-Bunker Cocktail” above leaves something to be desired.  The Colombian military/police law-enforcement mission is to generate the security and stability that enable stability, development, democracy, and sustainable peace.  That depends, however, on effective and legitimate control of the national territory and the people in it.  Moreover, that control must be achieved within a population-centric approach that safeguards the human rights, civil liberties, rule of law, and personal security of all its citizens.  Clearly, all this is well beyond the military-centric law-enforcement mandate, training, equipment, and resources of the Colombian security forces.  The result of the military/police-centric approach to the violent non-state actors (i.e., Groups at the Margins of the Law—Grupos a las margines de la leyGAML) noted above has been a series of tactical and operational “successes” over the past 50 or more years that are substantially irrelevant to the strategic whole.[[34]]  This strongly implies the need for a serious re-conceptualization and change in the management of that country’s contemporary war among peoples.[[35]]

Where the “Bad Guys” Lead - State Failure

Throughout Latin America, the situation in Colombia has led to the addition of a new term in the Spanish lexicon; the cognate is “Colombianization.”  That term defines a political-social-economic situation that refers to the process of social disequilibrium, eventual disintegration of national institutions, decay in civil society, a permanent state of violence, and diminishing state sovereignty.[[36]]  The elite desire to return to the post-Colonial status quo ante enhances that disequilibrium in the Colombian social-economic-political system.  Probably the most-read contemporary revolutionary writer in Latin America (and the Middle East and Africa), Jorge Verstrynge, teaches us that internal (e.g., intra-state) war is a reflection of social disequilibrium.  Therefore, whatever creates any kind of instability is a good revolutionary method.  That disequilibrium, of course, can be exploited by any state or non-state actor at virtually any time.[[37]]  Another highly influential Leninist theorist, Abraham Guillen, puts “Colombianization” into a more straight-forward revolutionary context:  “Political and moral factors are more decisive for [revolutionary] victory than heavy armament and ironclad units.”[[38]] In any event, the Colombian conflict is not a conventional insurgency.  It is an internal multi-dimensional military-political long-term struggle that pits diverse non-state actors (not just insurgents) against the state.   Each of the various non-state actors has its own specific—and different—motivations that may or may not change.  Nevertheless, the unchanging common denominator is the strategic-level political objective of effectively controlling and/or radically changing the Colombian government and state.

The Threat

The issue of the enemies’ objective takes us back to the mission of the Colombian security forces.  Given that the military/police mission is to control instability and disequilibrium to the point where it can enable effective and legitimate control of the national territory and the people in it; then, security and stability are good but not sufficient objectives through which to accomplish the more demanding legitimization mission.  As important as each of the above elements (e.g., instability and disequilibrium) might be in confronting contemporary unconventional war, they are only symptoms—not the threat itself.  Rather, the ultimate threat is that of state failure.

That stems from the failure of government to alleviate the political-economic-social injustices, safeguard human rights, and honor the rule of law throughout the entire national territory.  As a consequence, the counter-insurgency mission cannot be accomplished with a singular military-centric approach to the issue.  A multi-dimensional populace-centric effort is also necessary to generate the balance that makes for a whole-of-government approach to deal effectively with unconventional, complex, and asymmetric inter- and intra-state conflicts that can precipitate the state failure process.  Thus, the entirety of the state failure threat is found in the opposite of effective and legitimate control of the national territory and the people in it.[[39]]

State Failure

State failure, then, is not an event, it is a process.  This process tends to move from personal violence to increased collective violence and social disorder to kidnappings, bank robberies, violent property takeovers, murders/assassinations, personal and institutional corruption, criminal anarchy, and internal and external population displacements (i.e., disequilibrium).  As the destabilization process continues, the state will control less and less of its national territory and fewer and fewer of the people in it.  The individual (e.g., warlord or drug baron) or organization (e.g., non-state actor) that takes control of a series of networked pieces of “ungoverned territory” can then become the dominant political actor in the area, expand, and create (or control) a state-within-a-state or a group of small states.[[40]]      

Nevertheless, just because a state fails does not mean that it will simply go away.  Everybody understands the need for security and order.  The key questions would be, “Who will provide security from who or what; whose laws and regulations will prevail; and who will be the judges?”  The values of the best organized and most disciplined players left standing—good, bad, or non-existent—will prevail.  This universal reality translates itself into constant and subtle, and not-so-subtle, multidimensional struggles that dominate life throughout much of the world today.  Traditionally, this has meant that governments are waging war on their citizens, are fighting to survive assaults from their citizens, or have become mere factions among other competing political factions claiming the right to govern all or part of a destabilized national territory (inter- or intra-state unconventional or irregular conflicts). The results of these dynamics around the globe can been seen in an explosion of weak, incompetent, misguided, insensitive, and corrupt governments, as well as the creation of new radical political-economic-social orders.[[41]]    


The common theme that runs through the cases that inform this analysis is that any attempt to violently control, depose, or replace a targeted government can eventually lead to:

  • The erosion of democratic governance;
  • The erosion of state institutions, and to the processes leading to state failure;
  • The establishment of military or civilian dictatorships;
  • The establishment of tribal states, criminal anarchy, or warlordism;
  • The creation of “new” socialist, populist, or criminal states; or
  • The absorption, division, or reconfiguration of existing states into entirely different political entities.[[42]]


Now, all this is not to suggest that Colombia is a failing state.  Far from it.  It is sobering, however, to consider the higher level of stability, development, democracy, and peace that Colombia could enjoy today if that country had not been subjected to the instability, insecurity, and violence that has dominated the political, economic, and social-cultural landscape over the past 50 or more years.  Sun Tzu reminds us that, “There has never been a protracted war from which a country has benefited.”[[43]]

More Lessons, New Realities, and New Guidelines 

The enemy is no longer a recognizable military formation and/or an industrial complex capable of supporting military forces in the field.  The enemy has become a state and/or non-state political actor that plans and implements long-term multi-dimensional kinds of indirect and direct, non-lethal and lethal, non-military and military, and internal and external activities that compromise a given society’s general well-being and exploits root causes of disequilibrium.  This fundamental change in the sociology of conflict is the basis of much of the ambiguity and complexity of modern war.  The traditional distinctions between crime, terrorism, subversion, insurgency, popular militias, mercenaries, gangs, and conventional warfare are blurred.  The change in the concept of “the enemy” is not a radical or a completely altruistic principle of international law (i.e., preventative and protective action to preserve the security and well-being of a targeted state).  It simply extrapolates from post-Cold War developments in international relations and international law, in which old rules have proven counter-productive at best and murderous at worst.

But, to achieve a larger international-legal protective and preventative grand-strategic objective, international civilian and military leaders must understand that if a targeted government and its international allies want to achieve success against an unconventional aggressor, it will have to address the defining characteristics of contemporary conflict.  These characteristics provide a set of lessons that are in fact guidelines that, if not taken seriously, will result in a lack of progress or even failure against a modern adversary.[[44]]

Lessons from Wars Among Peoples

These redundant (i.e., universal, strategic-level) lessons from all around the globe reflect some hard facts that dictate the bases for a new Sociology of War:

  • Combatants are not necessarily armies; they tend to be small groups of armed individuals that are not necessarily uniformed, not necessarily male but also female, and not necessarily adults but also children.  At the same time, there are accountants, financiers, trade specialists, hackers, media and public relations experts, software engineers, and chemists—among others—within the architecture of an effective adversary’s hegemonic  organization;
  • These small groups of combatants tend to be interspersed among ordinary people, have no permanent locations, and no identity that clearly differentiates them from the rest of a given civil population;
  • There are no secluded battlefields far away from population centers upon which armies engage;
  • Effective combat or confrontation uses not only coercive military force (i.e., military-centric), but, at the same time, a co-optive political and psychological persuasion (i.e., population-centric) approach; 
  • The principle tools of contemporary statecraft are now the proactive and coercive use of words, images, symbols, perceptions, and ideas;
  • The major military (kinetic)  and nonmilitary (non-kinetic) battles in modern conflict  take place among the people, and when they are reported, they become media events that may or may not reflect social reality;
  • The struggle is total, in that it gives the winner absolute power to control or replace an entire existing government or other symbol of power; and,
  • All that is done is intended to capture the imaginations of the people and the will of their leaders, thereby winning a public opinion trial of moral strength.[[45]]    

These lessons provide the basis for a new sociology of conflict that if taken seriously could make the difference between state success or failure in the new global security environment.

Specific Lessons from the Colombian Experience:  From National Security (i.e., Public Protection) to Public Safety

In a speech given at the U.S. National Defense University in Washington, DC on April 24, 2013, the Colombian Minister of Defense, Carlos Pinzon, clearly stated that the present government understands the lessons of contemporary conflict.  As a result, the government’s plan for the future is intended to move from a military/police-oriented emphasis on public protection toward a more balanced population-centric social policy to secure public safety. This is the result of the ongoing professionalization and legitimization of the Colombian security forces, and “The development of a generation that is now ready to go beyond the historical precedents of the colonial period [and operative] until recently.”[[46]] The intent is to continue the modernization and professionalization of Colombian security forces in compliance with international humanitarian standards.  At the same time, the intent in terms of the public protection issue is to center coordinated civil-military efforts on: 1) improving equity and reducing poverty; 2) land reform; and 3) exercising diplomacy to help secure conflict termination, and national prosperity.[[47]]

But, just because a strategy becomes a national policy, it does not mean that will come to fruition smoothly or quickly. In the context of the specific Colombian experience, the U.S. Consultative Team Report—written for the Commander, U.S. SOUTHCOM, dated 17 September 2012—found that the Colombian military has made major strides in combating the Colombian Revolutionary Armed Forces (FARC).  The Team also found a few things that might be improved.  They include and/or reflect rules that are moving the global community toward a new sociology of war, and an associated paradigm:  

  • Colombian military operations and supporting civil actions that pertain to a populace-centric and military-centric counter-insurgency effort are not balanced;
  • When they exist, population-centric actions are usually misdirected, uncoordinated, and under-resourced;
  • Colombian and U.S. unity of effort exists only as it pertains to military actions against drug and insurgent enemies;
  • Legitimizing actions are slow and uncoordinated;
  • FARC and other non-state adversaries have not been politically, economically, socially, or physically isolated from their sources of support;
  • Intelligence, psychological/information operations, and civil affairs activities are understood to be important, but remain at the bottom of the counter-insurgency priority list;
  • Kinetic and non-kinetic efforts to regain effective sovereign control of the national territory and the people in it have been slow and uncoordinated;
  • Strategic Clarity (i.e., holistic Colombian inter-agency and Colombian-U.S. coordination and cooperation) is virtually non-existent; and,
  • No one can agree on what success looks like.[[48]]

Given Colombia’s fractious socio-political-historical background, it should not come as a surprise that that country is not a particularly good example of counter-insurgency success.  Nevertheless, lessons learned—even negative lessons—can be useful.  In that context, we find—again—that war is changing.  The new sociology of war that is emerging out of that change transcends the case of Colombia.  It will help define the processes of national, regional, and international security and well-being now and into the future.  It should also inform the utilization of U.S. land, air, and naval forces in the various battlefields within the contemporary spectrum of conflict.

More Lessons that Illustrate New Realities and Dictate New Guidelines

There are no silver bullets, and there are no guarantees.  However, over the past ten or more years, universal lessons learned from wars among peoples, and the specific case of Colombia, have lead to the conclusion that the resultant guidelines are valid.  A short representative sample follows:    

  • Wars Among Peoples Are Ambiguous.  As noted above, distinguishing between crime, terrorism, insurgency, and war is almost impossible.  Additionally, definitions of “enemy” and “victor” are elusive; definitions of defense, deterrence, and security are muddled; and, the traditional differences between military and civilian security responsibilities are no longer relevant. Moreover, traditional clear-cut conditions no longer apply or are not present.  As a consequence, there are: 1) no formal declarations or terminations of conflict; 2) no easily identified human foe to attack and defeat; 3) no specific territory to take and hold; 4) no single credible government or political actor with which to deal; 5) no legal niceties, such as mutually recognized national borders and Geneva Conventions to help control a given situation; and 6) no guarantee that any agreement between or among contending factions will be honored.  These issues not only lead to ambiguity, but they also contribute to the political-psychological complexity of contemporary conflict.
  • Conflict Has Become Multi-dimensional, Multi-lateral, and Multi-organizational.   Contemporary conflict now involves all the political, economic, social, moral, and security instruments of national and international power, and entire populations.  As a result, conflict now involves a large number of indigenous national civilian agencies, other national civilian organizations, international organizations, non-governmental organizations, private voluntary organizations, and sub-national indigenous actors.  All these types of organizations must work together to deal with complex unconventional internal and transnational threats to security, peace, and well-being.  Consequently, an almost unheard of unity of effort is required to coordinate the multi-organizational paradigm necessary to play effectively and achieve strategic clarity in a given security arena.  
  • Contemporary Conflict Is Not Limited.  It is Total.  Total war (i.e., prolonged war or the long war) is more than a lengthy war.  It is a great deal more.  As long as opposition exists that is willing to risk all to violently take control or take down a government, there is war.  This is a zero-sum game in which there is only one winner, or, in a worst-case scenario, no winners.  It is, thus, total. 
  • There Are New Battlefields.  In addition to traditional direct nation-state vs. state conflict we see a broadening spectrum of war: 1) direct and indirect non-state actor vs. nation-state conflict; 2) indirect state vs. state conflict using irregular surrogates/proxies; and 3) intra-state conflict involving non-state vs. other non-state actors and the nation-state.  Regardless of differences, actions throughout the spectrum of conflict are centered on one common act—an attempt to compel an adversary to do one’s will.  That is war.[[49]]
  • There Are New Enemies and a New Center of Gravity.  Experience teaches us that the principal enemy is not necessarily a uniformed military force.  At the same time, we find that the enemy may not be armed with traditional weaponry, but also with computers, legal briefs, spread-sheets, cameras and tape recorders, and chemicals, among others.  Thus, the enemy can also be a political actor (i.e., non-state and/or proxy) that pursues an aggressive persuasive-coercive effort to manipulate a nation’s political will.  Again, as Clausewitz taught years ago, the “new” center of gravity becomes public opinion and political decision-making leadership.[[50]]
  • There is a New Definition of Power and a New Definition of Victory/Success.  Power is now a multi-dimensional combination of kinetic and non-kinetic activities brought to bear on the causes as well as the perpetrators of inter-state and intra-state violence.  Victory/Success is achieved when belligerent activities cease, political tensions end, and a sustainable peace is achieved.  But, importantly, as long as opposition exists that is determined to violently take down one or more governments and establish its own, there is war.  Again, in this zero-sum game there can only be one winner.  In that context, it must be remembered that in the long-term contemporary war is total. 
  • Consequently, the Realities Noted Above Take Us to New Guidelines for Success or Failure in Dealing with Insurgencies and Other Wars Among Peoples.  Experience, logic, and data indicate that the most salient guidelines would include:
    • Abandonment of the conventional military-centric approach as the one and only approach to insurgency and other asymmetric conflicts.  That is not to say that use of military force is not useful.   It is.  Stability, political-economic-social development, rule of law, popular well-being, and sustainable peace all depend on effective and legitimate control of the national territory.  Nevertheless, a military-centric approach must be balanced with a population-centric approach for maximum effect and legitimacy.
    • The second guideline vital to the success of the population and military-centric approach is legitimacy (i.e., relative moral rectitude).  It is the ideological-moral basis for attacking an enemy’s right to govern and defending one’s own right to govern.  Public opinion is the element of power that actually challenges leadership and popular support for that leadership—on both sides of the unconventional war coin. 
    • The third guideline addresses unity of effort and strategic clarity.   The intent is to unify a multi-dimensional effort within fragmented civil and military bureaucracies.  In the case of Colombia, the intent is also to unify the efforts of that country with those of its U.S. ally.  Sooner than later, everyone must agree on what success looks like, what it takes to achieve it, and collectively implement the effort.  Otherwise, chances of failure are multiplied.
    • The fourth guideline involves the media and propaganda.  This takes us back to the ideas of legitimacy and a population-centric approach to unconventional asymmetric conflict.  The intent here is to convince the population of the relative moral rectitude of the government, and to expose the insurgents (and other “bad guys”) as self-appointed elites with unacceptable agendas.  What matters most is the ability to shape the story, not necessarily the facts on the ground.  That is how insurgents are able to win wars even as they lose battles.[[51]]
    • The last guideline is that there are virtually no rules.  In contemporary complex and asymmetric wars/conflicts, there is normally no formal declaration of or termination of conflict; no easily identifiable enemy military formations to attack and destroy; no specific territory to take and hold; and no single credible government or political actor with which to deal or to hold responsible.  There are no legal niceties such as mutually recognized sovereign borders  to help control a situation; no guarantee that any agreement between contending parties will be honored; and no enforceable rules guide the leadership of any given state or non-state actor.  Thus, the 21st century marks an age of unconventional conflict in which “Only the foolish will fight fair.”[[52]]  


These are the high operational/strategic-level means by which—over time—a nation-state can make its internal enemies irrelevant, or succumb to them.


These are some of the basic realities and guidelines (i.e., analytical commonalities) operating throughout the spectrum of war in the Age of Globalization.  The challenge here is to come to terms with the fact that contemporary security, at whatever level and within whatever battlefield, is at its base a holistic political-diplomatic, socio-economic, psychological-moral, and military-police effort.   This requires a sophisticated and effective organizational architecture, and well-educated strategic leaders that can put together a mix of hard and soft power that equates to what Professor Joseph Nye calls “smart power.”[[53]] The task is to deal effectively with the root causes as well as the perpetrators of social-economic-political disequilibrium.  The intent is to promulgate a unified civil-military (e.g., whole-of-government) planning and implementation of a multi-dimensional approach to the Colombian conflict.  That approach, however, will not likely lead directly to the unconditional surrender of the Colombian state’s non-state enemies.

Rather, a multi-dimensional “smart power” whole-of-government approach can create the environment (conditions) through which the state can control a conflict situation, and progressively and legitimately strengthen itself to the point where it can provide the security and well-being the Colombian people expect and deserve.  In short, and as noted above, these are strategic-level means by which, over time, the state can make its internal enemies irrelevant. 

Solutions to these problems require the highest level of strategic-political thought, and exceptional civil-military and military-to-military diplomacy, cooperation, and coordination.  Solutions to these problems also take the United States beyond unilateral training and equipping units for conducting tactical-operational level counter-narcotics, counter-terrorist, and counter-insurgency operations to multilateral strategic-political approaches to broader professional military education (PME) and leader development, and whole-of-government political-military organization for unity of effort.  Accordingly, solutions at this level require rethinking and renewing a concept of global, regional, and national security—and a balanced utilization of kinetic and non-kinetic force.  In much the same way that George F. Kennan’s Containment Theory of Engagement (paradigm) was conceived in 1947, philosophical underpinnings must be devised for a new paradigm to deal with more diverse threats—from unpredictable directions, and by more diverse state and non-state actors.[[54]]

Seven Governing Rules and Five Leadership Challenges

Empirical evidence gathered from over 400 military and civilian participants in over 100 cases around the world indicate that losses or defeats in wars among peoples are the result of “bad luck.”  The argument is that “Luck is an agile spirit that jumps both ways in double quick time.  All that matters is that luck should run good on the last throw.”[[55]] A frequent explanation for the French defeat in Algeria, the British loss of Aden, and the American embarrassment in Vietnam was that luck simply ran bad on the last throw.[[56]]  If the real lessons from Vietnam, the former Yugoslavia, Iraq, Afghanistan, and several other cases teach anything, they teach the need to go back to basics.  Sun Tzu argued that “War is of vital importance to the State; the province of life or death; the road to survival or ruin.  It is mandatory that it should be thoroughly studied.”[[57]] That advice does not stand alone, however.

Seven Governing Rules

Seven highly interrelated and reinforcing grand strategic-level lessons that should have been learned over the past several years are particularly germane to the wars that characterize the war in Colombia as well as other contemporary wars among peoples.  These lessons—or rules—clearly demonstrate that no successful strategy has been formulated over the past 50 years that has not incorporated a balance of the following seven rules.[[58]] A cautionary note is appropriate at this point, however.  These “rules” do not constitute a hard and fast recipe.  One must grasp the essence of the basic idea and apply it carefully in accordance with the dictates of the historical internal and contemporary external socio-political anarchy that allows state and non-state actors to confront a targeted state.

  • Perceived moral legitimacy of government, and its international ally(s), is the single most important dimension of contemporary conflict.
  • A unity of effort must be achieved in which all civil-military and national and international efforts are centered on the ultimate objective.
  • Information and intelligence must be centered on winning the “hearts and minds” of the populace, and convincing the people and decision-makers that the adversary is a self-appointed elite that cannot or will not provide the security and well-being the public wants and deserves.
  • A high level of political, economic, and social isolation of the enemy(s) is required to preclude internal and external support and sanctuaries.
  • External political, economic, and other support to the targeted government must be appropriate to the type of conflict, and must be consistent.
  • External military support must be appropriate to the task, consistent, and perceived as “legitimate.” 
  • Indigenous military capabilities must be perceived to be professional, competent, modern, disciplined, and able to engage the adversary(s) without alienating the population.[[59]]

Contemporary unconventional conflicts are all unique, and will over time probably be given different names.  Nevertheless, they will reflect the history, geography, and culture of the society in which they occur.  And, analytical commonalities—strategic-level principles—will continue to be relevant in terms of understanding the whole of a given problem.  Ian Becket is eloquent when he states, “The past of guerrilla warfare and insurgency represents the shadow of things that have been and those that will be.”[[60]] The challenge, then, is to adapt the essence of those ever-present strategic-level rules to the situation at hand and pursue the contest holistically, with consistent vigor, and with relative moral rectitude. 

Associated Tasks

Given today’s realities, failure to prepare adequately for present and future contingencies is a prelude to failure.  There are at least five fundamental educational and organizational imperatives needed to implement the rules and challenges noted above.  They include:

  • Civilian and military leaders at all levels must learn the fundamental nature of subversion and insurgency with particular reference to the way in which military and non-military, lethal and non-lethal, and direct and indirect force can be employed to achieve political lends.  Leaders must also understand the way in which political-psychological considerations affect the use of force.
  • Civilian and military personnel are expected to be able to operate effectively and collegially in coalitions or multi-national contingents.  They must also acquire the ability to deal collegially with civilian populations, and local and global media.  As a consequence, efforts that enhance interagency as well as international cultural awareness—such as civilian and military exchange programs, language training programs, and combined (i.e., multi-national) exercises—must be revitalized and expanded.
  • Leaders must learn that an intelligence capability several steps beyond the usual is required for contemporary conflicts.  This capability involves active utilization of intelligence operations as a dominant element of both strategy and tactics.
  • Non-state political actors in any kind of intrastate conflict are likely to have at their disposal an awesome array of conventional and unconventional weaponry.  The “savage wars of peace” have and will continue to place military forces and civilian support contingents into harm’s way.  Thus, leadership development must prepare “peacekeepers” to be effective war fighters.
  • Governments must restructure themselves to the extent necessary to establish the appropriate accountable and transparent political mechanisms to achieve effective unity of effort (i.e., strategic clarity).  The intent is to ensure that the application of the various civil-military instruments of power directly contributes to a mutually agreed political end-state.  Generating a more complete unity of effort will require contributions at the international and multi-lateral levels, as well.[[61]]

The above rules and tasks take us back to Clausewitz and where we began.  They emphasize that the ultimate requirement in contemporary conflict is to generate and encourage both a thinking process, and the concomitant development of a grand strategy.   The intent is to help leaders at all levels to understand what the situation in a given part of the global security arena is, and what is relevant or irrelevant to the strategic whole.


The past several years have marked the beginning of a different security era than that to which we have been accustomed.  Accordingly, it requires a new orientation.  Whether we like it or not, whether we want it or not, and whether we are prepared for it or not, the United States and the West are engaged in a number of unconventional, undeclared, and undefined asymmetric wars.  In addition to wars initiated by traditional nation-state aggressors, in 1996, Boutros-Boutros Ghali, then Secretary General of the United Nations, introduced two new sources of conflict into the Global security arena.  They are:

  • Belligerent and politicized non-state actors (e.g., proxies for hegemonic nation-states, and insurgents, transnational criminal organizations, terrorists, private armies, popular militias, and/or gangs) that are taking on roles that were once reserved exclusively for the sovereign nation-state; and
  • Indirect, implicit, and violent challenges to stability and human well-being (e.g., root causes: poverty, social exclusion, environmental degradation, and political-economic-social expectations) that are exploited almost exclusively by hegemonic and violent non-state actors.[[62]]

If left ignored and unchecked, these unconventional wars compel radical, unwanted, and epochal political-economic-social change.  And, even if that compulsion is generally indirect, ambiguous, conducted over long periods of time, and not perceived to be as lethal as conventional maneuver war between traditional nation-states, it does not alter the cruel reality of compulsion.

The U.S. Army has been successfully training allied and partner land forces to deal with enemies on the traditional battlefield for a long time.  That is good but not sufficient.  In order to deal with enemies in all the contemporary battlefields, land forces must be competent to operate throughout the entire spectrum of conflict.  Moreover, a robust, formidable U.S. Army is necessary to build capacity in regional partners, maintain interoperability with America’s most capable allies, and promote their expeditionary capabilities.  Civilian and military leaders—prepared or not, sooner or later—will have to confront hybrid, decentralized, and networked threats, and lead operations across the full spectrum of conflict.  As early as 1999, Quao and Wang warned us that, “In warfare and non-military warfare…there is no territory which cannot be surpassed, there are no means which cannot be used in war; and there is no method which cannot be used in combination.”[[63]] In fighting an insurgency, or any other kind of unconventional contemporary conflict, one is not simply attempting to destroy a guerrilla tactical force in the classical sense.  There are other equally valid objectives in this complex hybrid war.  Modern insurgency war is not uni-dimensional, it is multifaceted.  It is both kinetic and non-kinetic.  Every dimension of unconventional conflict has its corresponding operational and tactical threat and center of gravity.  The problem—again—is in determining accurately “what it is and what it is not.”[[64]]    

These are the basic realities for now and into the rest of this century.  As the United States and its armed forces transition over the next months and years to deal more effectively with the requirements of contemporary conflict, we should contemplate the problems of threat and response in the terms outlined above.  As a consequence, the problem of professional education is probably more immediately important than structure, doctrine, or strategy, per se.  Given today’s realities, failure to prepare civilian and military leadership adequately for the full spectrum of contemporary conflict contingencies is unconscionable.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the Department of the Army, the Department of Defense, or the U.S. Government.

End Notes

[1] Wars Amongst Peoples” is a term coined by General Sir Rupert Smith (Ret., UK).  See:  The Utility of Force:  The Art of War in the Modern World, New York: Alfred A. Knoph, 2007.

[[2]] This is a paraphrase of Carl von Clausewitz, On War, ed. and trans. by Michael Howard and Peter Paret, Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1976, p.88.

[[3]] Max G. Manwaring and John T. Fishel, “Insurgency and Counter-Insurgency: Toward a New Analytical Approach,” Small Wars and Insurgencies, Winter, 1992, pp. 272-310; and John T. Fishel and Max G. Manwaring, “The SWORD Model of Counterinsurgency:  A Summary and Update,” SWJ Magazine and Small Wars Journal,, 2008.   Also see:  Smith, Utility, 2007.

[[4]] J. Boyer Bell, Dragonwars, New Brunswick, NJ: Transaction Publishers, 1999, pp. 21-33.

[[5]] Phil Williams, From the New Middle Ages to the New Dark Age:  The Decline of the State and U.S. Strategy, Carlisle Bks, PA: Strategic Studies Institute, 2008.

[[6]] Sun Tzu, The Art of War, trans. Samuel B. Griffith, London: Oxford University Press, 1963, p. 122.

[[7]] Thomas X. Hammes, The Sling and the Stone:  On War in the 21st Century, St. Paul, MN:  Zenith Press, 2006.  Also see:  Alvin and Heidi Toffler, War and Anti-War:  Survival at the Dawn of the 21st Century, New York: Little, Brown and Company, 1993, pp 33-37.

[[8]] B.H. Liddell-Hart, Strategy, second revised edition, New York: Signet, 1974, p. 333.

[[9]] Clausewitz, On War, p. 75.

[[10]] Hammes, Sling, 2006.

[[11]] Steven Metz and Douglas V. Johnson II, Asymmetry and U.S. Military Strategy: Definition, Background, and Strategic Concepts, Carlisle Bks, PA: Strategic Studies Institute, 2001, p. 10.

[[12]] Author Interviews.

[[13]] Max G. Manwaring, “New Kinder and Gentler Revolutionary Lessons from Peru,” The Complexity of Modern Asymmetric Warfare, Norman, OK:  University of  Oklahoma Press, 2012, pp. 30-50.

[[14]] Clausewitz, On War.

[[15]] Qiao Liang and Wang Xiangsui, Unrestricted Warfare, Beijing: PLA Literature and Arts Publishing House, 1999, pp. 6; 17.

[[16]] Ibid., p. 109.

[[17]] Ibid., p. 123.

[[18]] Over the period 2000 through 2012, the author traveled to Colombia often, and interviewed well over 100 senior U.S. and Colombian civilian and military officials.  This and subsequent assertions made throughout this paper are consensus statements based on observation and those interviews.  The intent of consensus statements is to allow anonymity for those who object to their names being made public.  In subsequent notes, these statements are cited as Author Interviews.

[[19]] Author Interviews.  Also see:  Thomas A Marks, Colombian Army Adaption to FARC Insurgency, Carlisle Bks, PA:  Strategic Studies Institute, 2002; Sustainability of Colombian Military/Strategic Support for “Democratic Security,” Carlisle Bks, PA, 2005; and Maoist Insurgency since Vietnam, London:  Frank Cass Publishers, 1996. 

[[20]] Author Interviews.  Also see:  Douglas Farah, “The FARC’s International Relations:  A Network of Deception,” NEFA Foundation Report, September 22, 2008; and Douglas Farah, Traditional Organized Crime, Criminalized States and Terrorism in Latin America, Carlisle Bks, PA  Strategic Studies Institute, 2012.

[[21]] El Tiempo, “El PC3, la maquina de infiltracion de las FARC,” February 16 2012—at; and  PC3 Secretariat, “Rebirth of the Revolutionary Masses,” Semana, August 16, 2008.   Also: Author Interviews.

[[22]] Ibid.

[[23]] Ibid.  Also see:  Jorge Verstrynge Rojas, La Guerra periferica y el Islam revolucionario: Origines, reglas, y etica de la Guerra asimetrica,  Madrid: El Viejo Topo, 2005.  Also, Lenin said that a “new society” will only be created by gradual and systematic application of agitation and propaganda.  See:  V.I. Lenin, “The Tasks of the Russian Social Democrats,” in Robert C. Tucker, ed., The Lenin Anthology, New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 1975, p. 4.

[[24]] Ibid.  Also see:  Sibylla Brodzinsky, “Is Colombia’s FARC on the Ropes?” Christian Science Monitor, May 21, 2008; and Chris Kraul, “Alarming Surge of Displaced People,” San Francisco Chronicle, December 4, 2008.

[[25]] Douglas Porch and Maria Jose Rasmussen, “Demobilization of Paramilitaries in Colombia:  Transformation or Transition?”  Studies in Conflict and Terrorism 31, no. 6 (2008), pp. 520-540; Douglas Porch, “Uribe’s Second Mandate, the War, and the Implications for Civil-Military Relations in Colombia,” Strategic Insights 5, no. 2, February 2006; and David Spencer, Colombia’s Paramilitaries:  Criminals or Political Force?  Carlisle Bks, PA:  Strategic Studies Institute, 2001.                                     .

[[26]] Colombian Minister of Defense, Carlos Pinzon, presentation entitled, “Colombia’s Strategic Overview: From National Security to Public Safety,” given at the U.S. National Defense College in Washington, DC, 24 April 2013.  Also see:  International Crisis Group, Latin America Report, no. 20, Bogota/Brussels, May 10, 2007; and Carlos Augusto Chacon Monsalve, “La Guerra Asimetrica en Colombia:  Elementos  para Buscar  la Victoria a traves de la Legitimidad y Effectividad del Estado,”  thesis for the Comando General Fuerzas Militares Escuela Superior de Guerra, 2012. 

[[27]] Author Interviews.  Also see:  David C. Jordan, Drug Politics:  Dirty Money and Democracies, Norman, OK:  University of Oklahoma Press, 1999, pp. 165-167.

[[28]] Ibid.  Also see:  “El PC3,” and PC3 Secretariat, “Rebirth,” Semana, August 16, 2008.

[[29]] Jordan, Drug Politics; and PC3 “Rebirth.”

[[30]] Ibid.  Also see:  Thomas A. Marks, “Urban Insurgency,” Small Wars and Insurgencies, Autumn 2003, p. 146.

[[31]] Author Interviews; “Colombia’s Strategic Overview,” 2013; and Chacon Monsalve, 2012.

[[32]] Ibid. 

[[33]] Robert J. Bunker, “Battlespace Dynamics, Information Warfare to Net War and Bond Relationship Targeting,” in Non-State Threats and Future War, Robert J. Bunker (ed.), London: Frank Cass, 2003, pp. 45-53.

[[34]] “Colombia’s Strategic Overview,” 2013.  Also see:  Chacon Monsalve, 2012.

[[35]] Robert J. Bunker, “Grand Strategic Overview:  Epochal Change and the New Realities for the United States,” Small Wars & Insurgencies, December 11, 2011, pp. 728-733.

[[36]] Ibid., and Jordan, Drug Politics, 1999.

[[37]] Verstrynge, La Guerra, 2005, pp. 51; 148.

[[38]] Abraham Guillen, Philosophy of the Urban Guerrilla:  The Revolutionary Writings of Abraham Guillen, trans. and ed. by Donald C. Hodges, New York:  William Morrow, 1973, pp. 233; 279.

[[39]] Italics mine.  See:  Stephen D. Krasner and Carlos Pascual, “Addressing State Failure,” Foreign Affairs, July/August, 2005, pp. 153-163.

[[40]] Ibid.

[[41]] Qiao and Wang, Unrestricted War; Smith, Utility; Hammes, Sling; and John T. Fishel and Max G. Manwaring, “The SWORD Model of Counterinsurgency: A Summary and Update,” Small Wars Journal, December 20, 2008.

[[42]] Smith, Utility, pp. 275-79.  Also see:  Max G. Manwaring and John T. Fishel, “Insurgency and Counter-Insurgency,” pp. 272-310.

[[43]] Sun Tzu,, The Art of War, trans. Samuel B Griffith, London: Oxford University Press, 1963, p. 73.

[[44]] Smith, Utility, 2007, pp. 19-20.

[[45]] Ibid., pp. 269-307.

[[46]] “Colombia’s Strategic Overview,” 24 April, 2013; and Chacon Monsalve, 2012.

[[47]] Ibid.

[[48]] Colombia COIN Consultative Team Report for Commander, USSOUTHCOM, dated 17 September 2012, pp. 1-26.  Also see:  Comprehensive Lessons Learned, Army Capabilities Integration Center, Ft. Monroe, VA, August, 2009, pp. 1-10.

[[49]] Metz and Millen, Future Wars, 2003.

[[50]] Clausewitz, On War, p. 596.

[[51]] Max. G. Manwaring, The Complexity of Modern Asymmetric Warfare, Norman, OK:  University of Oklahoma Press, 2012, pp. 136-156.

[[52]] Ralph Peters, “Constant Conflict,” Parameters, Summer, 1997, p. 10; and “The Culture of Future Conflict,” Parameters, Winter, 1995-1996, pp. 18-27. 

[[53]] Daniel C. Esty, et al., “The State Failure Projects: Early Warning Research for U.S. Foreign Policy Planning,” in John L Davies and Ted Robert Gurr, Preventive Measures: Building Risk Assessment and Crises Warning Systems, New York: Rowman and Littlefield, 1998.  Also see:  Joseph S. Nye, Jr., “Restoring American Leadership through Smart Power,” Global Strategic Assessment, Washington, DC: National Defense University, Institute for National Strategic Studies, 2009, pp. 474-476. 

[[54]] Smith, “Utility,” 2007.

[[55]] Author Interviews.  Also see:  Nicolo Machiavelli, The Art of War, New York: Da Capo Press, 1965, pp. 7-8; 84-85;122-123.

[[56]] Ibid.

[[57]] Sun Tzu, p. 63.

[[58]] John T. Fishel and Max G. Manwaring, Uncomfortable Wars Revisited, Norman, OK:  University of Oklahoma Press, 2006.   Also see:  Fishel and Manwaring, “The SWORD Model,” 2008.

[[59]] Ibid.

[[60]] Ian Beckett, “Forward to the Past:  Insurgency in Our Midst,” Harvard International Review, Summer 2001, p. 63.

[[61]] Manwaring, Complexity, 2012.

[[62]] Boutros Boutros Ghali, An Agenda for Peace, New York: United Nations, 1992, and “Global Leadership after the Cold War,” Foreign Affairs, March/April, 1996, pp. 86-98.

[[63]] Qiao and Wang, Unrestricted War, p. 169.   

[[64]] Clausewitz, p. 88.


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