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Words Matter: Re-imagining Irregular Warfare
by David Gayvert
Download the Full Article: Words Matter: Re-imagining Irregular Warfare Current doctrine framing Irregular Warfare is wrong -- historically, semantically and conceptually -- and should be reexamined to enable decision-makers at all levels to better identify emerging threats, vulnerabilities, and opportunities, better allocate resources, and in the process, enhance our national defense.
Much of the debate over the proper balance between and relative importance of what are now binned as "Irregular" vs. "Conventional" capabilities in our national security strategy reflects a paradigm sorely in need of revision. Rather than the current context that is fundamentally linear, and focused on things and component categories, we need a systems-oriented perspective, centered upon understanding and influencing complex, dynamic relationships and environments that constantly interact and give rise to ever-changing threats to our national interests. Treating Irregular Warfare -- or as I will propose as an alternative descriptor, Evolving Threat Operations -- as a collection of defined capabilities, distinct from traditional warfare, rather than as a context and way of thinking about a fluid threat environment, impedes our ability to effectively address questions critical to our collective future. These include, but are certainly not limited to:
How do we better integrate component military competencies, weapons systems and TTP to be able to more quickly, agilely and synergistically counter threats across and against the full spectrum of operational settings and adversaries?
How do we better coordinate, integrate, and employ non-military, and even non-governmental knowledge and capability within this threat environment?
How can we evoke preferred actions and responses in adversaries, and lure/maneuver them onto "battlefields" of our choosing -- or better, achieve Sun Tze' "highest skill" of defeating an enemy without a fight?
Perhaps most important, how do we identify and counter threats, and reduce or exploit vulnerabilities that may fall outside the scope of all military activities, at least as currently conceived? In other words, to what extent are we "looking where the light is good" instead of where the real emerging threats and vulnerabilities are developing? To use the parlance of a former Secretary of Defense, how do we get better at responding to "known unknowns" and reducing the universe of "unknown unknowns?"
This essay will argue that what in official publications are now referred to as "irregular threats" and the capabilities necessary to respond to them should neither be defined nor understood as things fundamentally different from or in opposition to the threats and capabilities included under the rubric of "conventional" or "traditional" warfare; that words matter -- how they are used both reflects and informs thinking; and that we indeed need to think about "irregular warfare" -- and all threats to our national interests -- but in a significantly different context than that contained in current doctrine. Finally, it will briefly outline one possible alternative framework for doing just that.
Download the Full Article: Words Matter: Re-imagining Irregular Warfare
David Gayvert is an avid reader of Small Wars Journal, and he currently works as a program consultant within the Department of Defense. The views expressed in this essay are his own, and do not reflect the positions or policies of the US Department of Defense.