Small Wars Journal

Bad Idea: Assuming the Small Wars Era is Over

Bad Idea: Assuming the Small Wars Era is Over by  Alexander Evans and Alexandra Evans - CSIS’s Defense360

To see where the foreign policy winds in Washington are blowing, look to D.C.’s graduate schools, where aspiring civil servants and future defense strategists compete for national security jobs. In 2010, entering students studied counter-insurgency strategies and terrorist networks, polishing language skills in Arabic, Pashto, and Dari. In 2015, their successors enrolled in classes on grey-zone warfare and limited interventions in order to get to the field’s cutting edge. Security studies students matriculating in 2020, however, know the market demands have shifted. What Washington wants now is expertise in strategic competition.

“After being dismissed as a phenomenon of an earlier century, great power competition [has] returned,” the 2017 National Security Strategy declared. Concerned by Russian revanchism in Eastern Europe and growing tensions with China in Asia, U.S. scholars, commentators, and policymakers alike have convened conferences, tested historical metaphors, and probed the origins of the term itself. “For all the acrimony in Washington today, the city’s foreign policy establishment is settling on a rare bipartisan consensus: that the world has entered a new era of great-power competition,” Center for a New American Security CEO Richard Fontaine recently wrote in Foreign Affairs. 

This revived interest in great power politics (and the attending risk of major war) comes with an important, if oft unstated, corollary: the problem of small wars, waged between asymmetric adversaries and through low-intensity but often prolonged campaigns, is now of secondary importance. From President Obama’s declaration that “America must move off a permanent war footing” and his administration’s vaunted “pivot to Asia,” to President Trump’s rhetoric of ending “endless wars,” the message is the same: the era of counter-insurgency, humanitarian interventions, and peacekeeping is fading, and a new period of great power competition has begun…

Read on.