Small Wars Journal

Thoughts on the Future of Special Operations

Sun, 11/03/2013 - 12:16pm

Thoughts on the Future of Special Operations - Okay, days ago you read the SWJ article, now go back and read the comments.


Some background:

When one views the territory of less powerful states and societies today, as in the past, one often encounters ways of life and ways of governance which are vastly different from that of the more powerful and more ambitious nations of the world.

And if these different ways of life and ways of government tend to deny the great nations of the world optimal access to and utilization of the resources within these less powerful states and societies, then this can create a problem.

The great nations often see the less powerful states and societies -- more specifically, their human and other resources -- as a means to better provide for the prosperity and security of their (the more powerful nations') citizenry.

This often compels the great nations to act to "transform" and assimilate these under-utilized assets and bring them more "on line."

(Herein, the great nations also feeling that they can "cure," via transformation and assimilation of the lesser states and societies, many of the problems found therein, such as: genocide, poverty, hunger, insurgency, terrorism, humanitarinan crisis, etc.)

The less powerful (and very different) states and societies, however, are frequently unwilling or simply unable to trade their "sacred" way of life and way of governance for the "profane" way of life and governance of the great nations; regardless of the material or other benefit that, via this process, they might realize. In their view, the cost is not worth the benefit.

This decision, however, by the less powerful states and societies -- not to be transformed and assimilated -- does not often deter the great nations.

When this is the case, then the less powerful states and societies understand they must find a way -- within their limited resources and ability -- to deter the great nations.

It is within this context, I believe, that we may wish to understand unconventional warfare between the great nations and the less powerful states and societies -- yesterday and today. Herein acknowledging that those things that the great nations desire most are not necessarily the same things by which other peoples wish to orient, organize and order their lives.

Bottom line: If we believe that, within the span of human history, unconventional warfare should be viewed as "timeless," then we must likewise acknowledge that the conditions which give rise to UW between (1) great nations and (2) less powerful states and societies (as described above) also may be viewed as timeless and, therefore, worthy of consideration as to our circumstances today and the employment of our SOFs.

Robert C. Jones

Mon, 11/04/2013 - 10:13am

I do believe we suffer as a nation from a good mix of inappropriate strategic inertia of obsolete Cold War perspectives, policies, programs and treaties that push us into problems we could otherwise avoid or deal with more effectively in the current strategic environment; and newer, post-Cold War strategic thinking in recent versions of our National Security strategy that to me seems far too ideological in nature and broad in scope to serve what are truly our vital interests as a nation. But while it is important that strategists think about the strengths and weaknesses of our strategic guidance, all of that is largely moot as to what UW is, what CounterUW might be, or how either might be applied, or what effects either is employed to achieve. Both are frameworks, or tools for securing our interests. Neither defines what those interests are, and both can be employed in appropriate situations to address any interests we are tasked to advance.

Doctrine and Definitions are necessary evils. They guide and clarify; but also canalize and confine in equal parts. We do well to appreciate those dynamics and to maintain our intellectual flexibility to the degree possible.

Military doctrine gives me a definition for UW and no definition for counter UW. That does not mean that the former only exists in the manner as defined by the US Army, not that the latter does not exist simply because the US Army does not recognize the concept. I'm ok with that (though many who guard the gates of doctrine certainly are not. I'm ok with that as well).

In most fundamental terms, UW is any effort to leverage the insurgent energy of someone else's populace to advance one's own interests. Counter UW are those efforts to prevent, disrupt, deny, frustrate or defeat some organization or individual's efforts to conduct UW. (My definitions, reasonable minds can and will differ, but this is how I think about this topic)

This is not rocket science, this is human science. There is no single set of mathematical steps that will produce an answer, or dogmatic steps that will generate some repeatable result. Human nature provides a certain framework of predictability, but human behavior, culture, history, choice, etc., etc., make every case infinitely unique. This is high art and requires a certain aptitude, maturity and experience to apply successfully. This is why Special Forces conduct the type of assessment and selection that they do. It is why Special Forces have the rank structure that it does. The goal is to produce teams with the appropriate aptitude, training, maturity and experience to successfully be able to assess a situation and apply these military arts in a manner that ultimately advances the interests and mission at hand.

Overthrowing regimes in clean black and white, old school approaches to advancing interests is a crude, in-artful approach to advancing interests in the modern environment. While it is easy to crush a weaker government and military, even Clausewitz might observe "Ahh, yes, but what about the people"?? What about the people, indeed. The American approach to the events of 9/11 has lacked, to be nice, has not been very subtle. Nor has it been very appropriate. The results have been a dozen years of frustration and expenses, with our egos satiated only by our tactical successes and reliance on tactical metrics to measure our progress.

It is time to be a bit less tactical, and a great deal more subtle. Carefully tailored UW and CounterUW operations offer a ways to pursue our interests that is both more strategic in nature, and more subtle in character - but only if artfully applied.

Outlaw 09

Sun, 11/03/2013 - 5:01pm

In reply to by Bill C.

Dave---will give you an example of just how the concept of globalization plays in the ME and within AQI/ISIS and other related Takfari groupings.

Had a 52 year old detainee in Abu G who had been picked up by JSOC who had been married to the sister of the AQI Emir in Mosul who had fled to Syria in 2006 under pressure from JSOC.

This individual-a well educated Sunni, was a business man with a shoe factory in Mosul who had actually been supporting AQI outside Iraq under Saddam before 2003 and then fully supported financially AQI after 2004.

When I was first introduced to him during the first interrogation I got for the first two hours nothing but complaints from him on how the Chinese had been killing his shoe business in Mosul and Baghdad because Chinese sandals were selling for 1.50 USD per pair and he could not produce on his old 50s shoe machines for less than 5 USDs.

It was hurting his business and he could not hire more employees as he was not earning anything-AND he blamed the US for the Chinese competition because under Saddam there had been no Chinese sandals allowed into Iraq.

Now that argument even caught be by surprise---it goes to the hear to the question of globalization.

Outlaw 09

Mon, 11/04/2013 - 9:09am

In reply to by Bill C.

Bill C--would argue that yes the UW of old is not the UW of new---but guess what dust it off and one notices it is like an old French wine---gets better with age.

UW is UW both historically and currently---what is being missed by the strategic level is that those we have disagreements with tend to have a strategy whether we like it or and whether we even recognize that it is even a strategy.

UW/CUW by whatever definition gives the strategic level a set of tools that one can ratchet up or down--- depending on which direction the strategic decision makers want to go.

I will give you an example taken from 1993 vs today (Philippines).

Myself and a second OB WO were tasked to conduct in 1993 what we called UW staff training for all BN/Regts staffs (officers/NCOs) of the 7th Infantry Light Ft. Ord CA. Why UW--because it was the core of the projected fight in Korea and still is projected to be a UW fight in Korea and it was still Soviet doctrine with Spatznaz.

These were the early days of the 286 PCs that the Army had just introduced---guess what there was no canned scenario available anywhere in the Army that we could fall back on built around UW or for that matter anything on insurgency/guerrilla warfare.

Myself an interrogator WO with a deep SF UW background and a VN vet proposed to the OB WO that we take a canned NEO scenario and flip it to an UW exercise using Abu Sayef as the insurgent group operating at that time in the Philippines. Who in the heck even knew in DOD that AS was an up and coming future AQ supporting insurgency in 1993?

Well over 3000 hand jammed injects later for a 2 week training session we had BN/Regt staffs fully understanding tactics and techniques of Abu Sayef and indicators that one must see in an UW fight in order to counter the insurgent. AND we introduced UW strategy to them in order to place the tactics seen into perspective.

Guess what it was one of the most fulfilling exercises for the both of us and the 7th loved it---we were able to rotate the entire division through just prior to them deploying to Panama---they came back and reported the ease they had in Panama as they "saw" nothing that surprised them as elements of the training were actually seen there.

Fort Huachuca AZ got wind of the exercise and wanted a copy---when they got it their response was "hey it is great stuff but the future is not UW for the Army" and they slid it into the storage container of history.

AND ten years later what were we seeing?

It has nothing to do with democracy, open societies and or capitalism---it has to do with a group of people any group of people getting angry about something inside their own country and that country not addressing for whatever reason that anger.

There is a SF saying built into their entire training and goes to the core of UW and CUW---"to free the oppressed".

Robert had an interesting comment in the last couple of days---CUW even if it means defending the insurgent from his own government---an interesting comment.

Bill C.

Mon, 11/04/2013 - 8:47am

In reply to by Bill C.


Thus, while yesterday we understood and could explain UW (and "Det-A," etc.) within the old context/strategy of containing, rolling back and defeating communism. (Herein, the US possibly being seen as the protector of others way of life.)

Today, I would suggest, we must understand and discuss UW within our new context/strategy of promoting and expanding democracy, "open societies" * and capitalism. (In which case we may now be seen as the ones who are threatening the way of life of others.)


Bill C.

Sun, 11/03/2013 - 11:28pm

In reply to by Dave Maxwell


Understand that you do not accept my thesis.

And understand that you will not be producing essays advocating UW for such purposes.

But, hopefully, the example I have provided will cause you and the commenters to consider addressing -- in some more thorough and meaningful way -- the context within which the approach you advocate will be undertaken.

What matters most, I guess, is whether my thesis is more or less accurate.

If it is, then, whether we like it or not, the approach that you are advocating will be viewed -- by our "powers that be" (and by those on the receiving end) -- through that lense.

That is something, I believe, that we must take into consideration.

At the heart of unconventional warfare, as you have noted, is resistance/resistance movements.

At the heart of resistance/resistance movements, I believe, resides one or more reasons.

In looking for this/these reason(s), I believe that we must look at the deep political convictions of the United States and determine whether our actions taken on these our deep political convictions have threatened, scared and alienated both the governments and the ordinary citizens of other countries.

In attempting to transform -- so completely and so suddenly -- other states and societies, have we underestimated the deeply ingrained conservatism of our targeted countries and populations?

Is the reason that "different" states and societies resist as they do today because they have been driven to the point of rebellion by our actions and our policies -- which are clearly designed to unhinge them from their present way of life and way of government and to harness them to ours?

Understanding these things matter.

Dave Maxwell

Sun, 11/03/2013 - 4:22pm

In reply to by Bill C.

Bill C: I do not accept your thesis that it is in our interest to "intentional to transform (sic) 'different" states and societies along modern western lines." Therefore you will not read essays from me advocating using UW for such purposes.

Missing, I would suggest, from both the article and the comments is something that would tie unconventional war and counter-unconventional warfare, more directly, to our currently defined interests and national security strategy. Thereby, and via this connection, making this proposal more understandable and relevant.

Let me provide an example:

1. In the introductory letter to our current national security strategy, President Obama emphasized the following terms and concepts:

a. Globalization.

b. Global markets.

c. Open markets.

d. Global leadership.

e. International system.

f. International order. And, most importantly,

g. The current "era of globalization."…

If we look at previous national security documents, by this or the last few presidents, I believe we will see similar terms and emphasis used.

2. How do we view "self-determination" within the context of globalization? These remarks by President Obama on the Middle East and North Africa would seem to clarify that "self-determination" means that people have the right to a western-like way of life, to include: rule of law, freedom of the press, democracy, elections and open markets:

a. "That story of self-determination began six months ago in Tunisia."

b. "In too many countries, power has been concentrated in the hands of a few. In too many countries, a citizen like that young vendor had nowhere to turn -– no honest judiciary to hear his case; no independent media to give him voice; no credible political party to represent his views; no free and fair election where he could choose his leader."

c. "And this lack of self-determination –- the chance to make your life what you will –- has applied to the region’s economy as well. Yes, some nations are blessed with wealth in oil and gas, and that has led to pockets of prosperity. But in a global economy based on knowledge, based on innovation, no development strategy can be based solely upon what comes out of the ground. Nor can people reach their potential when you cannot start a business without paying a bribe."…

3. So where does unconventional warfare fit into this picture, wherein: (1) globalization is the context and (2) "self-determination" (but only as defined above) is the goal? Here is a suggestion:

a. We understand that both goverments -- and/or populations -- may not wish to abandon their current or traditional way of life and adopt, in the place of these, our modern western ways.

b. Likewise governments and/or populations have before, are now and will again in the future resist such unwanted transformation requirements; most often, using unconventional means (due to their weaker status).

c. Therefore, to secure our interests, we must be prepared to use:

(1) Unconventional warfare measures to deal with those governments (ex: N. Korea; Iran) who do not wish to make this necessary transition to the western way of life and

(2) Counter-unconventional warfare measures to deal with populations who do not wish to undergo the state and societal changes that we desire.

To sum up:

Our strategy and interests, writ-large, are seen as (1) using globalization as a vehicle by which to transform outlier states and societies along modern western lines; (2) peace and prosperity for all the nations and peoples of the world to be best realized via this process. We understand that our efforts to secure these interests -- via this strategy -- will meet with resistance from both governments and populations using unconventional means. We must prepared, therefore, to defeat these resisting goverments and/or populations using unconventional warfare skills, strategies and capabilites which are up to the task.

Thus, one way to view the increased relevance of UW in the currrent "age of globalization" and, by extention, the increased relevance of the SOFs, is via (1) "our" intentional to transform "different" states and societies along modern western lines and (2) "their" intention to resist such unwanted transformation -- primarily by unconventional means.