Small Wars Journal

SOF Support to Political Warfare

Thu, 03/12/2015 - 12:42pm

SOF Support to Political Warfare, United States Army Special Operations Command White Paper, Final, Dated 10 March 2015.


Let me suggest that we address the issue of political warfare (and special operations force support to same) in another way -- but in a way that will be all but too familiar to us old farts, to wit:

As a new Cold War.

In this context (a cold war), does not political warfare -- and special operations force support to same -- :

a. Make the most perfect sense? And is it not, thus,

b. Made much easier to both "do" and understand?

In this regard to consider, for example, this definition of political warfare:

"Political warfare utilizes all instruments short of war available to a nation to achieve its national objectives."

Sound like, to you, what goes on during a "cold war?"

If not, then consider this definition of a "cold war:"

"A state of political hostility between countries characterized by threats, propaganda, and other measures short of open warfare."…

Thus: Political warfare = what goes on during a cold war?

So, and as per my suggestions below, after 25 years of exposure to both our soft and our hard power (as wielded by Presidents Bush Sr, Clinton, Bush Jr and Obama), a new "cold war" -- and old cold war (plus) adversaries -- is what we have to show for our quarter-century effort and example?

Given this new "cold war" result (as confirmed by "their" and "our" return to political warfare), this does not seem to say much for either our (a) post-Cold War soft power attributes or our (b) post-Cold War hard power efforts.

(In this stark context, one might say that reality -- and the bucket of cold water thus received -- sucks.)


Wed, 04/29/2015 - 4:31pm

So I find myself in a peculiar state since reading this White Paper. On the one hand I have a hard time disagreeing that there is plenty of conflict to be had between Paradise and force-on-force battle to the death, much of which would involve alliances, influence, sabotage, etc. On the other hand, I find the idea of "Political Warfare" as constructed somewhat repulsive, especially in modern usage. How simplistic does a mind have to be that in order to impress upon it the burdens of political competition everything that is not idyllic paradise is to be called warfare?

Calling all inter-state conflict "warfare" is akin to calling any interpersonal disagreement a fight. It adds nothing to understanding the conflict space, and clouds everything with the adversarial, no holds barred, everyone-not-me-is-my-enemy type of cynicism.

At first I thought perhaps it's just an unfortunate term. But as I read through the white paper, its logic became apparent and even more disagreeable. As it went through the future environment - the unrestricted warfare of the Chinese, the asymmetric warfare of the Iranians, etc.- the concept started to borrow the terminology of our adversaries. "Political Warfare" then becomes our version of "Unrestricted Warfare". Which brings me to this question: if war is unrestricted competition for power, does that mean every state at all times in history is in a state of war? If that is the case, then we should accept that there are no limits beyond Sovereign interest, international law is only relevant to the extent that it is useful, and all states, be they allies or whatever are adversaries.

I don't necessarily have any problem with this philosophical stance, but we have to be honest with ourselves about it, because that is the logical conclusion of "Political Warfare". And that means our allies have everything to fear from us if they take us at our word (as they should be). Making a term of art out of it where it applies to this but not that, and it doesn't really mean the same as real warfare, etc, is pointless and silly.

Final note on the definition of Political Warfare from the paper:
"Political Warfare requires “co-operation of the [armed]services, aggressive diplomacy, economic warfare and the subversive field-agencies, in the promotion of such policies, measures or actions needed to break or build morale.” Finally,Political Warfare “must be geared to strategy.”1"
I can't tell a difference between that and war. Honest to goodness can't. If it needs to be explained then it isn't a definition. The definition should make this distinction apparent.

Again...I am on board with the ideas behind "Political Warfare", but latching onto terminology developed by the Brits a century ago because it mimics our adversaries' discourse, and just plain sounds cool, is an intellectual cop-out.

Bill C.

Tue, 04/28/2015 - 3:13pm

In reply to by Bill C.

In the introductory letter to his 2015 National Security Strategy, President Obama, among other things, addressed: (1) the diverse problems/crises outlined by COL Maxwell above, (2) how our nation might deal with these such matters, (3) what would guide our strategic approach and (4) the constraints that we would face in achieving our strategic goals.

**** As to my item (3) above -- What Would Guide Our Strategic Approach -- consider the following important passage:

"Underpinning it all, we are upholding our enduring commitment to the advancement of democracy and human rights and building new coalitions to combat corruption and to support open governments and open societies. In doing so, we are working to support democratic transitions, while also reaching out to the drivers of change in this century: young people and entrepreneurs."

Thus, what the President would seem to be saying here is that:

a. In order to transform outlying states and societies more along modern western lines. This, so as to

b. Deal with the problems presented by states and societies that, today, are not so organized, ordered and oriented. We would, quite specifically

c. Reach out to our "natural allies" in these such matters, to wit: those members of the population that are thought to be most susceptible/vulnerable/ attracted to our such "change" agenda, to wit: "the young people and the entrepreneurs."

(Herein, the President seeming to say, by omission, that our "natural enemies" -- in these such state and societal "change" endeavors -- would be the older, more-ensconced, more-conservative members of the population, to wit: those members of the population that are traditionally entrusted with guarding and preserving the values, attitudes, beliefs, institutions, etc., of their time-honored, different and diverse civilizations and ways of life? Anyone, other than me, see the basis for civil/civilizational wars here?)

**** As to my item (4) above, to wit: -- What Stands in Our Way Re: This "Change" Agenda -- consider this additional quote from the President's introductory letter to his 2015 National Security Strategy:

" ... as powerful as we are and will remain, our resources and influence are not infinite. And in a complex world, many of the security problems we face do not lend themselves to quick and easy fixes. ... we have to make hard choices among many competing priorities, ... in the long-term, our efforts to work with other countries to counter the ideology and root causes of violent extremism will be more important than our capacity to remove terrorists from the battlefield."

To conclude:

Thus, and via the information provided above, we can see:

a. The problems/crises that we must deal with (see COL Maxwell's and/or the President's list),

b. Their common "root cause" (the "primitive"/different/"retro" organization, ordering, and/or orientation of certain states and societies),

c. Our strategy to deal with such difficulties (transformation, via the help of our "natural allies" and the overcoming of our "natural enemies" [both outlined above]).

d. And (for the very first time?) an honest assessment and appraisal of the constraints that we face in this such endeavor (limited power, limited resources, limited influence, the need to prioritize, and an admission and understanding that simply removing our opponents from the battlefield will not get the job done).

It is against the backdrop and context offered above, I suggest, that we might consider the common reason why both our opponents -- and we ourselves -- now have come to consider both political warfare and special operations force support to same.

This common reason being, that neither our "soft power" -- nor our "hard power" -- as wielded in the past quarter century -- has been able to get the state and societal transformation job done.

Thus, and in acknowledgement of this disturbing, disappointing but glaring reality, we have come to believe that we must, indeed, saddle up both political warfare -- and special operations force support for same -- once again.

COL Maxwell said:

"From our perspective today, the great twentieth-century struggle against communism appears quite different from the current condition. During the Cold War, “winning” was defined as a broad approach to limit, diminish or defeat Communism. No comparable definition of “winning” exists today, as the U.S. struggles to integrate responses to crises as diverse as Ukraine, ISIL, Iranian nuclearization, African Islamist militancy, and even Ebola into a coherent strategy."

Let me suggest that there is, indeed -- if not a comparable -- then certainly a well-known definition of "winning" today.

And let me do this by addressing what our foreign policy and national security people seem to say these diverse crises -- that COL Maxwell describes above (the Ukraine, ISIL, Iran going nuclear, African Islamist militancy, Ebola) -- have in common.

This being: That all these problem/crises occur in -- and/or emanate from -- states and societies that are not, or have not as yet been, sufficiently organized, ordered and oriented along modern western political, economic and social lines.

(Note here that, in fact, NONE of these such problems occur in, emanate from or exist in the modern Western world? Thus, they exist only outside the modern Western world? Agree?)

Thus, to suggest that, should the rest of the world, much like the modern Western world, come to be organized, ordered and oriented more along modern Western political, economic and social lines, then -- at such a time -- it is believed that these such diverse problems and crises, as COL Maxwell describes above, would cease to exist.

Make sense?

Seen in this specific light, then a clear and understandable definition of "winning" today does appear to exist.

This being: The successful transformation of outlying states and societies more along modern western political, economic and social lines.

This to be achieved via a very different "broad approach" than "containment;" but via project(s) of similar size, scope and effort.

In this regard, should we say that such things as political warfare, unconventional warfare, etc., -- and special operations force support to same --

a. As in the Cold War (and re: "containment"),

b. Likewise have usefulness and utility today (and re: favorable outlying state and societal transformation)?

(More on this tomorrow.)

(Edited somewhat and added to)


a. The context within which political warfare was waged during the Cold War and

b. The very different(?) context within which political warfare -- or no -- is contemplated today.

I commend to everyone the following document; which in its entirety is exceedingly interesting.

Specifically, I wish to point to the 1993 address to the National War College, contained therein, by Ambassador Paul Nitze (who essentially drafted NSC-68?). Herein, in this item's Part III: "Beyond Containment" (which begins at Page 131), Ambassador Nitze suggests, post-the Cold War:

a. Where the United States should be going strategically and

b. Where we should not go (this in consideration of, shall we say, our "historic inclinations").

In this regard, consider the following excerpt from Page 135 in the subsection entitled: "The Objectives of U.S. Leadership:"

"The lessons of the past era and the needs of the future argue that the fundamental U.S. foreign policy goal should be accommodating and protecting diversity within a general framework of world order. We should seek a global climate in which a large array of political groupings can exist, each with its own, perhaps eccentric, ways. We should seek to eliminate force and intimidation as acceptable means of resolving disputes between these groupings. To assure progress toward this set of goals we should seek to foster cooperative efforts among the diverse groupings necessary to a resolution of common problems. An emphasis on diversity provides certain guidelines for handling problems that are truly internal to individual nations. THE OVERRIDING PRINCIPLE MUST BE A RESPECT FOR SOVEREIGNTY: THERE SHOULD BE NO EFFORT TO IMPOSE POLITICAL, ECONOMIC, OR SOCIAL PREFERENCES ON OTHERS. ... "

(The capitalizing of the words in the last sentence of this quote is done -- for emphasis -- by me.)

Colonel Maxwell, and Colonel Jones, especially, I believe -- and due to their emphasis on and significant beliefs in "self-determination" -- will appreciate these thoughts by Ambassador Nitze.

From my point of view, however, these thoughts point to the fact that the Ambassador Nitze knew well his opponents, to wit: those who would push, post-the Cold War, for a strategic outline that (a) did not respect sovereignty and (b) sought to impose our political, economic and social preferences on others.

Now to ask ourselves the critical question:

Within which of these two competing strategic outlines is our return to political warfare today being contemplated? And, therefore, SOF support thereto?

To help us come to a conclusion, let us ask a different but related question: Within which of these two competing strategic contexts might we best see and understand the way our enemies/opponents -- such as: Russia, China, and various entities within the greater Middle East -- (a) see our strategy and our related actions and (b) have reacted thereto? (The answer here is obvious.)

(Here is the new, added section to my comment here; which is based on some further research:)

With regard to the specific strategic approach that Ambassador Nitze suggested that we adopt, to wit: that of embracing political diversity, consider this thought from the ambassador in his earlier and related article entitled "America: An Honest Broker;" which is to be found in the Fall 1990 issue of Foreign Affairs Pages 1-15 (sorry, I do not have a link):

"The emphasis on diversity derives from one of the most important lessons of the past few years: the near impossibility of erasing cultural ties, ethnic identities and social practices in a world where communications and ideas cannot be suppressed. Despite the efforts by communist leaders for decades to impose a common culture and society on their subjects, a Europe with a rich mix of nationalities and cultures in once again reviving. A similar process is occurring on other continents as well."

Thus, and re: political, etc., diversity, to:

a. Stand in the way, adopt a West v. the Rest approach, swim upstream, get run over and pay the price; much as was the case with the communists in the second half of the 20th Century (Nitze's specific "lessons of the past era") or

b. Adapt and lead -- by embracing diversity.

Such a decision must be made, I suggest, before we can (a) adopt (IF NECESSARY!) a meaningful "political warfare" approach to our goals and (b) tailor (IF NECESSARY!) SOF support to such an effort.

(My enduring contention? The decision has been made -- and it ain't diversity -- thus, we have our marching orders and must comply accordingly.)

The West's retreat from political warfare, its preference for large-scale combined arms operations and "regime change" and its reliance on public diplomacy for "telling America’s story;" all this can be explained, I believe, within the context of our post-Cold War belief in such things as "universal values," the "end of history" and "everyone wants to be like (and join) the West."

Post-the Cold War, we came to believe that the United States/the West could achieve its historic political objective -- of "converting" one's adversary(ies) over to our way of life, our way of governance, etc. -- by simply (a) liberating the populations from their outdated and oppressive regimes and by (b) giving these liberated populations (who all wanted to be like us) a good "development" leg up.

The problem with this post-Cold War foundational idea was that we learned, the hard way, that once these diverse populations were liberated from their outdated and oppressive regimes, they wished to organize, order and orient themselves -- not as per Western interests -- but as re: their own diverse and conflicting ideas and goals.

It is because of this unexpected turn-of-events that our operations in such places as Afghanistan and Iraq (and now Syria and Libya?) became (or are now considered?) prohibitively costly and politically unsustainable.

And so it is for this exact same Cold War-like reason (then as now, we cannot count on either the rulers/regimes or the populations) that the United States/the West is now considering a return to political warfare.

To sum up:

Much as in the days of the Cold War, the United States/the West now understands -- as we did back then -- that in such hostile environments as these (not welcoming as we recently believed), the United States must employ "all the means necessary -- short of war -- to achieve our national objective" (to wit: the converting of one's adversary[ies] over to our way of life, our way of governance, etc.).

Why such drastic measures? Because it appears that both (1) these hostile rulers/regimes and (2) these hostile populations need further "convincing," "compelling and/or "softening up." This, if we are to expect to be able to achieve our political objective in a way other than (much too costly) war.

Bottom Line?

In discarding such things as "political warfare," post-the Cold War, we jumped the gun. Neither many rulers/regimes -- nor many populations as we believed -- are ready, as yet, to throw off their own individual aspirations, ways of life, values, attitudes and beliefs, etc., and -- in the place of these -- adopt modern Western ways.

It appears that much more time -- and much more effort -- is needed to "prepare the ground" (via such approaches as "political warfare") so that these such transitions may be achieved more-peacefully and, thus, with acceptable cost.

Dave Maxwell

Sat, 03/14/2015 - 5:03pm

Double post

Outlaw 09

Sun, 03/15/2015 - 7:08am

In reply to by Dave Maxwell

While everyone seems to use the term hybrid I like staying with the actual translation of the Russian which is "non-linear warfare" why non-linear---it is not in a straight line development of a "political war" rather as Dave points out it is an "fully integrated SOF/conventional whole of government approach" that allows that government to scale up and or down the eight phases as it approaches a specific problem set.

We need to fully analyze every single step/development that occurred in the Ukraine since the Maidan from both views of the two parties--why the Maidan--I fully believe that the threat of the Arab Springs and colored revolts struck fear into the heart of the Putin led Russian government.

Why do I say that---look at what the Russian general of the Russian General Staff used as his analysis platform in order to come to the concept of non-linear warfare. Arab springs and colored revolts coupled with a healthy dose of "how does the US Army and SOF do their things".

Heck after his analysis they created their own SF and USSOCOM --a nice compliment to the US SOF community and they focused on a massive push to get into new weapons systems the likes of which we do not even have in the inventory AND they are using eastern Ukraine to extensively field test those systems--now of which has been mentioned in the western mainstream media.

You saw this in their 2012 and 2013 engagements with the US 7th Army in conducting two "peacekeeping" Bde/BN staff level exercises with the last one clearly focused on taking each step of the Army decision making process and related decision making tools/reports straight into the Russian Army processes---they were after the "how do we make decisions coupled with how do we do support--their inherent weak points"--down to layering our reports and templates into the Russian decision making meaning US know how using Russian terms so their officers would fully engage correctly which what they wanted was the ability to "speed up their own inherently slow decision making processes"---they got could at it by the way.

Would highly suggest going back and reviewing the CSIS over hour long video on their Lessons Learned that I posted here and on the Ukraine military thread from recent Ukraine trips as a way to grasp fully just what Russia has accomplished with non-linear warfare.

#HybridWar in Ukraine: Lessons Learned …

The beauty of it is that they can scale up, down, sideways, backwards--virtually any direction to either determine the forward progress of their political warfare or simply just counter the opponents moves and "freeze" if needed with a fast responding "whole of government approach" that by the way we will never be able to match.

On the other hand I would argue that if thoroughly analyzed you will start to see four distinct areas of single points of failure as the opponent in this case the Ukraine is also Slavic in mindset and has actually countered well a number of times causing these single points of failure to inadvertently occur.

The core question is now after Russia has intently allowed the US to both understand their doctrine, their military capabilities and the "whole of government approach concept" can it in fact work in other countries.

It took the US over a full year to get this SOF document out onto the street for discussion and if coupled to the argument that the US must immediately develop a C-UW strategy and a strong UW deterrence even this discussion has been wasted in my view as many in the US political system still do not get it and the years spent on arguing the concept of "soft power" ie diplomacy will not counter non-linear warfare.

Right now there has been some of the best open source social media analysis done concerning Russian military activities from cross border shellings, movements of Russian armored convoys inside the Ukraine to clear evidence of Russian military presence to yesterday the release of a series of sat photos that clearly depict the Russian 4 armored Bde advances into the Ukraine in August 2014 in order to "rescue" the failing "separatist movement" which was in fact on the verge of defeat---proving even with a rag tag military a sovereign nation can if there is no outside "assistance" defeat" a "separatist" movement.

If one thinks about it "non-linear warfare" is very similar to an IED---the IED was the insurgents preferred method to breach the last 300 meters where we had fire superiority without losing his manpower---the Russia non-linear warfare is the same--it plays to their strengths and reduces our perceived superiority without "losing them the war".

Sometimes we tend to make things far more complicated than they really are.

The SOF article goes a long way to deconflict the current debate.

BUT there is one area of the Russia non-linear warfare that has been 600% successful and we have nothing like it---"informational conflict" or what we would call informational warfare.

Inside the Kremlin Troll Army Machine: Templates, Guidelines, and Paid Posts…

As expected, the Russian media story about Rusyns in western Ukraine demanding autonomy from Kiev was fake news

Dave Maxwell

Sun, 03/15/2015 - 12:08am

In reply to by Move Forward

Move Forward, no worries on using my first name, I do prefer it. I am a civilian now too :-)

I concur 100% that political warfare, unconventional warfare, and counter-unconventional warfare are not war winners by themselves. I too worry about those who think small footprints are the answers to everything. You point out some important excerpts though I would interpret them a little differently but I fully understand your point and share your concerns.

Regarding current Russian operations. One of the things that I really admire in their New Generation Warfare and this is well laid out in their eight phases is that they do not rely on SOF or little green men. I think they have been very effective at integrating SOF and conventional forces. But that is also because we have ceded the initiative in this space. There are myriad actions we might have taken long ago that might have prevented escalation. But we are slow to act and we are not at all comfortable operating in this space. And we have to be effectively diplomatically and informationally and not just with the military instrument (though we hurt our diplomacy and informational instruments after time we publicly self restrain our military instrument - either direct us, indirect use or the provision of support to friends, partners, and allies).

The bottom line is that political warfare is not about SOF. It is bigger than SOF and SOF provides some niche capabilities. The real purpose of the white paper is to drive some critical strategic thinking. You are looking critically at this and that is good. The only think I would ask is to not view this as if it is only about SOF. Yes SOF wrote this but if they did not who would. No one has really embraced this since George Kennan and his 1948 policy planning memo.

Move Forward

Sat, 03/14/2015 - 10:48pm

In reply to by Dave Maxwell

Dave, as always I risk experiencing the danger of "viewing the world from the safety of my couch" (no desk, laptop). Nevertheless, here's hoping you forgive me using your first name since I have been a civilian since 1992. That doesn't mean any lack of utmost respect for you and yours, both SF, SOF, and non-SOF types who have experienced more recent and frequent forward deployments and in many cases actual combat in several theaters.

It is that respect that drives me try to counter the narrative that seems to predominate SF/SOF, the USAF, and this administration that a smaller footprint with airpower, UW, FID, Counter-UW, and Political Warfare (with a Hybrid twist) are somehow ultimate solutions to the current and future operational environment. The implication is a less costly form of warfare is possible in terms of blood and treasure if we just embrace the potential of the Revolution in Military Affairs and apply it to SF/SOF and airpower so that ground mass no longer is required in warfare. You can say this paper implies only SOF "support" but other civilians in charge see what they want to see---less need for lots of boots on the ground, since limited war and whole of government sanctions can fix anything.

I get that impression from this white paper in many places but will cite only quotes in the first four pages:

Para 1-1: <blockquote>Political Warfare is a strategy suited to achieve U.S. national objectives through reduced visibility in the international geo-political environment, without committing large military forces.</blockquote>

This was the first of many document references implying that committing large military forces is not required as part of Political Warfare to achieve U.S. national objectives. Yet General Shinseki correctly predicted, the Powell doctrine backed up, and subsequent problems affirmed that Iraq required more troops for stability operations than the actual initial conflict that achieved regime change. The surge in Iraq also assisted the Anbar Awakening’s success. Yet today we see the exact opposite approach of a small footprint not doing much to win Sunni or Kurd hearts and minds or create major revolts (except Kurds) against ISIS or concurrence with the Shiite majority.

Para 1-2: <blockquote>When those adversaries practice a form of Hybrid Warfare employing political, military, economic, and criminal tools below the threshold of conventional warfare, the U.S. must overmatch adversary efforts—though without large-scale, extended military operations that may be fiscally unsustainable and diplomatically costly. </blockquote>

Again, this ignores that deterrence in the style of forward deployed ground forces can be a component of Political Warfare as it has existed in both Korea and Germany for decades. Likewise, we have had extensive ground troops in the Balkans since the 1990s and in the Sinai since the 1980s, and Marines on Okinawa since WWII. Yet paradoxically, the next quote seems to point out that we went away from such Cold War deterrence:

Para 1-2a.: <blockquote>From our perspective today, the great twentieth-century struggle against communism appears quite different from the current condition. During the Cold War, “winning” was defined as a broad approach to limit, diminish or defeat Communism. No comparable definition of “winning” exists today, as the U.S. struggles to integrate responses to crises as diverse as Ukraine, ISIL, Iranian nuclearization, African Islamist militancy, and even Ebola into a coherent strategy. Additionally, a massive defense infrastructure and budget to support technologically advanced and highly destructive weapons systems were considered integral to anti-Soviet strategy—to the point that the size of the arsenal and accompanying budget was used to signal U.S. prioritization of containing and rolling back communism. Likewise, the U.S. leadership periodically prosecuted large-scale, sustained conventional campaigns along the margins of the communist world—Korea, and Vietnam are examples of these, as was the basing and reinforcement of U.S. forces in Central Europe.</blockquote>

The new Army Operating Concept describes the need to “Win in a Complex World.” Yet there is no reason why Ukraine and the Baltics could not be handled with the same forward deployed ground deterrence that worked in the Cold War exemplified in part of this paragraph’s last sentence. ISIL could be defeated rather easily with a ground assault, yet we subsequently would face the same lack of self-rule problems that exist under current state boundaries. African Islamic militancy is unique but now aligned with ISIS so SOF support there would be most appropriate along with airpower support. Finally, Ebola is not a problem that SOF medics alone ever could solve, or for that matter the military. Therefore the strategies for each situation are not identical, nor is the one for the Philippines or other Asian areas outside Japan and South Korea.

Para 1-2a.<blockquote>During the cold War era, the West’s political and military leadership knew well that the ultimate center of gravity consisted of the cognitive and affective fields of the Human Domain. </blockquote>
I didn’t understand this sentence. Cognitive and affective fields of the Human Domain? AirLand Battle described the ultimate center of gravity as close, deep, and rear military objectives requiring dedicated main and supporting efforts and if anything Desert Storm and OIF proved those key military CoGs to be correct ones. Those military CoGs primarily have shifted to now include Stability Operations intermixed with Offensive and Defensive Operations as part of Decisive Action.

Para 1-2b.<blockquote>Rather, it can be argued that the U.S. has “gotten out of the habit of waging political warfare since the end of the Cold War.” With a residual preference for large-scale combined arms operations reminiscent of Operation Desert Storm, the U.S. entered the post-September 11, 2001 world with a reliance on “public diplomacy aimed at ‘telling America’s story,’” in order to diffuse anti-American animus in the Muslim world. Likewise, military responses to post-9/11 challenges emerged as sustained, large scale deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan, in addition to frequently reactive counterterrorism (CT) and COIN.</blockquote>

<blockquote>Given the emerging threat environment, however, as well as the prohibitively costly and politically unsustainable nature of most kinds of extended, large scale military operations, the time has come for Political Warfare to recapture a predominant position in U.S. national security policy and execution.</blockquote>

Desert Storm was measured in hours because no attempt was made at regime change or subsequent stability operations. Thus the “Win in a Complex World” was deferred to OIF, then squandered with our premature departure, and now being worsened by the belief we can “win” on the cheap with just small ground forces not allowed much outside the gate and using limited primarily sea-based airpower. Major fail.

Para 1-3:<blockquote>The operating environment that has emerged since the end of the Cold War has also demonstrated the intellectual and policy futility of a dichotomous understanding of war and peace and of traditional understandings of <strong>military-dominated, openly declared, force-on-force armed confrontation as the predominant mode of warfare.</strong></blockquote>

Again, this ignores that had we maintained a policy of forward-deployed strength and attempted to rectify systemic problems introduced by colonial or post WWII borders, many of these Hybrid Approaches would have been marginally effective. It’s one thing for Putin to attack Ukraine which is not part of NATO. Attacking Baltic States that are NATO members would add another military-dominated, openly declared, force-on-force armed confrontation. Same applies in South Korea and main island Japan. Smaller East China Sea Japan, South China Sea, and Taiwan islands might be more aligned with this concept of Political Warfare. However, at some point would evolve to the same areas highlighted in bold in the paragraph above.

Para 1-3.a.<blockquote>Since the early spring of 2014, Russia’s form of Political Warfare has emerged as intensive Hybrid Warfare in Ukraine. Russia currently employs special operations forces, intelligence agents, political provocateurs, and media representatives, as well as transnational criminal elements in eastern and southern Ukraine. Resourced and orchestrated by the Kremlin and operating with differing degrees of deniability or even acknowledgement, Russian Hybrid Warfare uses such “little green men” for classic UW objectives. These objectives include causing chaos and disrupting civil order, while seeking to provoke excessive responses by the state’s security organs, thus delegitimizing the Kiev government. Additionally, Russian elements have organized pro-Russian separatists, filling out their ranks with advisors and fighters. Russia’s UW has also included funding, arming, tactical coordination, and fire support for separatist operations.</blockquote>

This description fails to admit that Putin has actual combat forces inside Ukraine that are not UW-related. Watch Dr. Karber’s presentation. Read the link by the <strong>Russian</strong> tanker that Outlaw posted earlier. They are not just “little green men” and the deniability only exists if we fall for Kremlin propaganda.

And that is just through page 4. There are other implications about small footprints being associated with Political Warfare, such as one about El Salvador and claims of only 55 U.S. personnel and $6 billion involved without mentioning that it was all of 21,000 square kilometers and had ample Salvadoran Army personnel at various points to cover the smallish insurgency in a country at the time of just 4.6 million. Likewise, Fabius would have us compare Northern Ireland with just 13,843 square kilometers and under 2 million folks as an example of successful counterinsurgency.

Implied is that ISAF in Afghanistan was not successful despite far fewer casualties and much more assistance than the Soviets experienced and provided. Plus, Afghanistan is 47 times the area of Northern Ireland and 17 times the population which naturally would require a larger footprint to cover the area and respond rapidly with enablers and logistics. The same major differences exist in the Arab world between the small limited-area Dhofar Rebellion in Oman and the much larger challenge in size and population of Iraq. Finally, I suspect you would admit that your SF OEF-Philippines successes are not comparable in scope and scale with either Iraq or Afghanistan where forces had to be trained from scratch and governments were new.

Dave Maxwell

Sat, 03/14/2015 - 5:06pm

In reply to by Move Forward

Meant this in reply to Move forward. Hard to make comments on the iPhone.

Please note that this is SOF SUPPORT to political warfare. I don't think your will find anything specified or implied about SOF stopping armored attacks. As always we have to use the right forces with the right capabilities for the right missions. The problem is we are getting our asses kicked (or those of our friends, partners, or allies) in this gray area of hybrid warfare between peace and war because we are not developing policy and strategy to operate in this area. This is one reason why adversaries gravitate to this area because we can't or won't operate there. I am not advocating acting like the Russians or Iranians or others but we cannot let them operate in this space uncontested. USASOC has put forth a white paper to drive thinking about operating in this area. Yes USASOC is showing what SOF should be able to do in this area of warfare but the words SUPPORT to political warfare were deliberately chosen to emphasize that this is not exclusive to SOF but is bigger than SOF. This is a white paper to drive discussion and critical thinking.

Move Forward

Sat, 03/14/2015 - 3:17pm

Read through this quickly last night. Found good points but also problems made clear by Outlaw’s CSIS video link posted in one of his comments below. In it Dr. Phillip Carver gave an hour-plus brief on the Ukrainian-Russian war based on his multiple travels there. What became clear is that this has morphed from political war to full scale conflict. He cited one of the most extraordinary mobilizations and movements by the Ukrainian Army in recent history, matched by equally impressive movements of Russian battalions from great distances.

In his brief he presented slides showing that Russia purposely moved some 52 battalion tactical groups with maneuver, artillery, and air defenses with primarily professional contract troops and volunteers. This allowed his conscripts to fill out the remaining two battalions in brigades left behind in other military districts farther east and south. What was transported ended up being his most elite troops and a quoted 970 tanks, 2571 IFVs/APCs, 1067 artillery tubes, 763 MLRS launchers, 126 attack helicopters, and 230 combat aircraft to Ukraine and its borders.

Thus, the idea that SOF alone could halt the Russian armor is pretty far-fetched at best. SOF working with Ukrainian armor might be more plausible but Karber cited that 85% of casualties to Ukrainians were due to Russian artillery and MLRS rockets with DPICM, scatterable mines, top attack munitions, and fuel-air explosives. Targeting coordinates were provided by unmanned aircraft with one instance cited where a Ukrainian commander warned that the sound and visibility of an unmanned aircraft meant they had about 10 minutes to move or be destroyed by artillery. It ended up taking 15 minutes but fortunately they moved in time, although no explanation was given as to why the “drone” did not follow their movement and retarget.

Dr. Karber also showed images of Russian armor parked next to individual homes and urban areas to preclude Ukrainian targeting with their own artillery. Those 13 “humanitarian relief” convoys of white trucks we saw repeatedly closely paralleled lulls in Russian fighting caused by lack of supplies followed by a resurgence in attacks after the convoys returned to Russia. He pointed out that the Ukrainian Army had inflicted 3-4 times as many casualties as the Russians. However, that was surprising since he also mentioned that Ukrainians lacked ATGMs with tandem warheads able to blast through reactive armor on Russian tanks. He said the ATGMs they did have only functioned about 1/3 of the time with many duds. The Russian winter offensive ended along a river bank. Karber mentioned that if crossed once the ground dries and rivers lower there would be few natural obstacles to the Russians to moving farther west.

Thus, our SOF could sneak and peak and politic all they like, attempting to train Ukrainians who appear to know what they are doing. Without NATO air support, however, and without the ATGMs, counterbattery radars, and air defenses to go with that “political warfare” UW, Russian armor would likely prevail. As Outlaw quoted below, Dr. Karber said “Ironically, the most successful Western sanction has been in preventing a friendly country from defending itself”---kind of like the Kurds in Iraq and Syria.

There was a quick rush through alarming slides (I paused it) and some discussion at the end about Russia’s tactical nuclear weapons. Dr. Karber mentioned entire Ukrainian battalions being wiped out in a matter of minutes in motor pools targeted presumably by Iskanders and MLRS with top attack munitions and fuel-air explosives. They showed images of burned out armor parked together in mass. True, SOF are smaller and harder to find targets, but are vulnerable with little armor. If teamed with Ukrainian armor they are more easily found. Plus, their coalition firepower alone is not likely to help Ukraine's military much unless their Army also has weapons able to battle Russian armor and artillery. He specifically cited Javelins and TOW 2s would have sufficed early in the conflict. Now, he said, something more mobile is required. He mentioned giving Ukrainians excess Bradleys which hardly seems politically likely under President Obama with European leader objections to boot.

That last point illustrates that while political warfare sounds great in theory, it depends on an administration’s willingness to take a chance using it and deploying more overt and covert support. Movement of one hundred pieces of U.S. armor and additional airpower back to Europe is one good signal to Putin that is clear and unambiguous. In contrast, UW alone would bring out the worst in Putin who already believes that Maiden revolts were prompted by covert U.S. action. If Putin’s paranoia has some basis in reality, who knows what he might do. However, Dr. Karber mentioned that despite sending his best troops to Ukraine, Russians have experienced numerous losses. He downplayed the ability of Russia to send conscript battalions away from the Chinese border and questioned their effectiveness in a major attack on NATO or west Ukraine if we did better arm the Ukrainian Army and other Baltic states.

Dave Maxwell

Sat, 03/14/2015 - 5:05pm

In reply to by Bill C.

Wrong location

Outlaw 09

Sat, 03/14/2015 - 5:28am

In reply to by Bill C.

Bill--two things to think about;

1. since 1991 the studies on US universities around the topics of nationalism, fascism, neo imperialism or imperialism, use of warfare to gain political advantages in general all fell out of favor as one felt that those terms had become outdated and when it did occur starting again 2008 it was basically ignored.

AND political warfare was another of those terms that was no longer "in" thus also ignored.

Why because who could get a job in those areas if nothing was happening--not even the intel community valued the foreign languages of French, German, Russian. globalization was the mantra as it was to resolve all problems.

2. someone recently made and interesting comment "I am a socialist because our governmental system and political system simply is not working but I am a patriot because we the US have nothing to be ashamed of".

Both interesting thoughts.

In both peace and war, the United States seeks to transform other states and societies more along modern western political, economic and social lines.

In this regard, consider this from Henry Kissinger re: George Kennan and his "X" article:

"What conferred a dramatic quality on the X article was the way Kennan combined it with the historic American dream of the ultimate conversion of the adversary. Victory would come not on the battlefield nor even by diplomacy but by the implosion of the Soviet system."…

(Herein to suggest that -- for the United States -- there is, indeed, a very well-known "definition of winning;" one that transcends the Cold War.)

Thus, it is to achieve this well-known definition of "victory" and "winning" (to wit: "the ultimate conversion of the adversary") that, for the United States,

a. Political warfare must "get after" during times of peace. And

b. Military warfare must "get after" during times of war.

(Thus, to understand "the perpetual rhythm of [America's] struggle, in and out of war.”)


So what is it that a return to political warfare might tell us today?


a. That the United States/the West has been unable to achieve the "historic American dream" of "the ultimate conversion of the adversary" via "soft power" alone.

("A country may obtain the outcomes it wants in world politics because other countries – admiring its values, emulating its example, aspiring to its level of prosperity and openness – want to follow it." Joseph Nye.)

b. And that, accordingly, the United States/the West has had to return to the use of "hard power" (as exemplified by the return to both political and military warfare?) to achieve its outlying state and societal transformation/conversion goals.

Outlaw 09

Sat, 03/14/2015 - 6:34am

In reply to by Outlaw 09

The effects of Russian "informational conflict" on a target civil society.

Russia has shown its mastery of propaganda war. Ukraine is struggling to catch up

Outlaw 09

Fri, 03/13/2015 - 12:49pm

A 1.24 hour long video from CSIS on the Lessons Learned out of the Russian hybrid warfare fighting in eastern Ukraine---in all aspects to include the latest weapons being used.

When released by CSIS this week---Russian trolls jumped all over it trying to minimize it.

Well worth the read and ties in nicely to the article.

#HybridWar in Ukraine: Lessons Learned …

Interesting takeaway from one of the points being made:

"Ironically, the most successful Western sanction has been in preventing a friendly country from defending itself."

Outlaw 09

Fri, 03/13/2015 - 6:36am

This below is why the release of this document is timely--looks like the fighting will be starting again towards the 15 March timeline with both Russia and the mercenaries making outlandish claims that they claim are in Minsk 2 agreement and the Ukraine has been violating.

No. of ceasefire violations up to 61 today from 49 yesterday, #Ukraine's military says. Last ceasefire collapsed completely at 100+ attacks.

If one seriously thinks about it---the current US strategy if there is one of soft power via diplomacy and sanctions has not worked at all and if there had been a C-UW strategy with a creditable UW deterrence in place --this might have gone in a different direction.

But there was nothing in place and we know where this is headed.

Outlaw 09

Thu, 03/12/2015 - 3:03pm

In reply to by Dave Maxwell

Dave--both your article and the SOF White Paper are extremely timely for the simple reason--we now have over an year's worth of experience with the Russian non-linear warfare model and a year of experiencing the Russian "informational conflict" as a practical basis to work with/from.

This is a great example of why we need a C-UW strategy;
Russia not to blame for loss of territorial integrity by Ukraine — Foreign Ministry

We can for example now take the Russian eight phase non-linear model and layer it literally over just the open source side--not even considering the classified side and define what worked and has not worked so well for the Russians and did they improvise anywhere along the way.

Crimea and eastern Ukraine have literally given us a living breathing non linear warfare day to day experience in real time and that is rare these days.

I do not from Russian social media commenters see that they have realized just how much they have revealed and in some ways that has provided the West some breathing room to mull over a response and C-UW is that response--but and there is always a but--it requires a "whole of government approach" built on speed we simply have not been able to put together in a coherent fashion.

Right now there from my steady watching of events four distinct single points of failure or some might call them centers of gravity that have actually not worked well at all for the Russian non linear warfare--going forward it will be interesting to see if they improvise to overcome these points of failure or are they so "blinded" by their current success to the point them will simply over look them.

One of the single points of failure --ie what about blowback after the fighting ends and how do you control them inside the Ukraine which is still a major problem inside the mercenary units plus many are not getting paid on time if at all:…

A second single point of failure has been the unusually high loss of Russian manpower at the hands of a rag tag military and how do you then handle the loses back in the "motherland".

List of Russian military units in Ukraine by Igor Sutyagin @RUSI_org… …

Another critical key is that they have now taken their military doctrine a step further and merged their non linear warfare (UW) model together with their newly released nuclear use doctrine and that is a development that was not seen coming a year ago as they had just updated it in 2012/2013.

US cannot defend itself from Russian nuclear attack, claims deputy PM Dmitry Rogozin. Int' Business Times 28 Jan 2015…

Dmitry Rogozin 29/11/2011: "If NATO improves its defense shield we must unfortunately sharpen our swords".

Dave Maxwell

Thu, 03/12/2015 - 1:17pm

Sharing my comments from my blog,…

I know we are deathly afraid of terminology such as political warfare and unconventional warfare. I often hear from military personnel that the civilian leadership and congress do not look favorably on such terms as people recall the friction over the re-invention of irregular warfare post 9-11 (and from a congressional point of view we should recall Congressman Thornberry's recent words in this article with his emphasis on UW:…).

The common refrain from those in the military who are opposed to the use of political warfare and UW is that our civilian interagency partners do not want to be associated with "warfare." However, I recently attended a conference that was composed of US government civilian and military leadership from desk officers (military and civilian) to assistant secretaries to general officers and ambassadors and I was happy to hear senior civilian US government officials not only using political and unconventional warfare terminology but embracing the concepts. Chatham House rules prohibit naming names but I was gratified that there was no pushback among civilian officials on the use of warfare - both political and unconventional.

This contribution by USASOC should assist in understanding the phenomena we are facing in warfare - it is hybrid, unrestricted, political, and unconventional (resting on the foundation of revolutions, resistance, and insurgency) and all of what is routinely experienced between peace and war. I asked three questions of the participants of the conference I attended:

1. Are we going to get comfortable operating in the space between peace and war that is described by political and unconventional warfare?

2. Are we willing to do strategy in that space to achieve our policy objectives?

3. Are we willing to inform the national leadership that we have the will and capability to operate in that space between peace and war and conduct our own forms of political and unconventional warfare?

I hope that this paper will help contribute to answering those questions and most importantly understanding how political and unconventional warfare can contribute to developing and doing strategy and support achievement of our national policy objectives.

The paper can be downloaded here:

Key excerpts:

Political Warfare emerges from the premise that rather than a binary opposition between “war” and “peace,” the conduct of international relations is characterized by continuously evolving combinations of collaboration, conciliation, confrontation, and conflict. As such, during times of interstate “peace,” the U.S. government must still confront adversaries aggressively and conclusively through all means of national power. When those adversaries practice a form of Hybrid Warfare employing political, military, economic, and criminal tools below the threshold of conventional warfare, the U.S. must overmatch adversary efforts—though without large-scale, extended military operations that may be fiscally unsustainable and diplomatically costly. Hence, the U.S. must embrace a form of sustainable “warfare” rather than “war,” through a strategy that closely integrates targeted political, economic, informational, and military initiatives in close collaboration with international partners. Serving the goals of international stability and interstate peace, this strategy amounts to “Political Warfare.”

How does the United States counter and deter the asymmetric and hybrid warfare employed by our state and nonstate adversaries during both “war” and “peace” across the spectrum of conflict? How can the U.S. respond optimally to hybrid and asymmetric challenges while accounting for fiscal limitations and political sensitivity to large-scale operations? What is the best means to fully synchronize Joint, Interagency, Intergovernmental, and Multinational (JIIM) responses to hybrid challenges?

U.S. policy makers require a suite of complementary options enabling them to counter and deter hybrid and asymmetric warfare practiced by state and nonstate adversaries. As hybrid and asymmetric warfare rely on surrogates, proxy forces, insurgents and supporting influence operations, effective U.S. policy responses require capabilities to a) comprehensively mitigate the effect of subversion, UW, and delegitimizing narratives in partner countries targeted by adversaries; and b) dissuade adversaries from conducting hybrid warfare by increasing the cost of such activities to the point that they become unsustainable. The former effort involves strengthening the capabilities, capacity, and legitimacy of partners, while the latter involves aggressively countering subversion and UW waged against friendly states, proactively employing coercive diplomacy, legal-economic measures, and UW against adversaries, and aggressively prosecuting a battle of narratives to undermine adversary legitimacy among critical populations.

The U.S. and its partners can indeed overmatch adversaries practicing hybrid warfare and achieve escalation dominance against future adversaries—but only through a thoroughly whole-of-government approach informed by unity of effort and purpose expressed through integrated strategy and cohesive policy options. This all amounts to Political Warfare, a supple, synergistic, and evolving use of “both overt and covert” tools at America’s disposal, with an emphasis on coercive diplomatic and economic engagement, Security Sector Assistance (SSA), information and influence activities (IIA), and diverse forms of unconventional warfare (UW).

A thoroughly whole-of-government endeavor, Political Warfare is by no means the preserve of SOF. Given its diplomatic and economic content and its focus on achieving political ends, Political Warfare is likely best led by agencies beyond DoD.[i] Indeed, Political Warfare can only succeed if it is conducted in a way to “elevate civilian power alongside military power as equal pillars of U.S. foreign policy.”[ii] Yet, as SSA, UW and IIA hinge on skill sets cultivated by SOF, the latter are uniquely positioned to support both the joint force and America’s agencies beyond DOD leading Political Warfare strategies. Furthermore, SOF are unique in the Department of Defense, suited to integrate Political Warfare’s activities across the JIIM spectrum. Army Special Operators have a proven track record of bridging indigenous forces, local populations, Joint Force components, U.S. agencies, and coalition partners needed for an effective Political Warfare response to hybrid warfare. SOF must be the expert practitioners of this form of warfare to lead DOD's contribution.

[i] See this discussion in the State Department context nearly a decade ago: Dave Kilcullen, “New Paradigms for 21st Century Conflict,” State Department eJournal, June 2007, found at
[ii] Department of State & USAID, Leading Through Civilian Power: The First Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review (Washington, DC: 2010), Executive Summary, 2:

Outlaw 09

Fri, 03/13/2015 - 9:20am

In reply to by Dave Maxwell

Dave---checked the relevant pages and while it fits the military and it talks about DoS's role --the core problem with a US counter informational conflict campaign is that it will never get off the ground and be as effective as the Russian disinformation and informational warfare.

With a single point of control Russia gets maximum impact as it has a central messaging point that all players adhere to whether it is their trolls on the social media side, whether it is their Russian and overseas TV and radio programs, whether it is paid and or unpaid news pundits and or so called "experts" or countless online news media outlets such as the one below coupled with the three main Russian news agencies, TASS, Interfax and RIA.

A robust Russian 700M USD yearly budget just for Russian TV and radio in 113 countires can never be matched by the US or for that matter even the entire NATO.

The ability to coordinate focused messaging and change that messaging almost immediately is profound and we can never match it regardless of how hard we try.

Right now a hardy band of European social media bloggers have in fact caused the Russian informational warfare far more pain than anything the entire western media and or national leaders have done.

Russia has spent a massive amount of push back time with them and they have been very effective in calling out Russian fake reporting and or destroying Russian myths around MH17 and Russian troops not being in eastern Ukraine with little to no assistance from western media and or western leaders.

Dave Maxwell

Thu, 03/12/2015 - 1:30pm

In reply to by Outlaw 09

Outlaw 09 - check out pages 22-28 as well as the liberal references to Information and Influence Activities (IIA) through the document.

Outlaw 09

Thu, 03/12/2015 - 1:12pm

Yes..........SOF has to take the lead just as does the Russian SF/GRU leads their efforts.

Finally movement towards C-UW and an understanding of political warfare driven by non linear warfare ie UW.

The study hit all the points that has evolved over the last year in Crimea and eastern Ukraine and includes the Chinese developments as well.

What is now missing is a coherent counter "informational conflict" ability that encompasses a rapid response "whole of government approach" based on truth however good or bad it is using all media forms---ie from social media to TV and radio 24 X7 365 and not just in "bad times".