Small Wars Journal

Irregular Warfare: Network Warfare and the Venture Capital Green Beret

Thu, 04/04/2013 - 3:30am


“The Human Domain is the totality of the physical, cultural, and social environments that influence human behavior to the extent that success of any military operation or campaign depends on the application of unique capabilities that are designed to fight and win population-centric conflicts.[1]

Population-centric conflict is about people, about ever evolving, investment intensive, highly complex networks of personal relationships, meaning, on the most fundamental of levels this warfare is about establishing and maintaining shared purpose and obligations between individuals over protracted periods of time. The purpose of this article is to propose a partial solution to the three interwoven limitations confronting SOF when conducting this type of Human Domain warfare at the level of the Operator. The first is the ‘Last-mile’ effect, whereby the investment required when building and maintaining a core infrastructure, though prohibitive, is infinitesimal compared to the investment required to establishing and maintaining connections between that core and the ever expanding number of individuals out beyond the Edge or Last Mile. The second leads from the first and is the requirement for the Operator to employ highly innovative and cost-effective strategies, drawing upon all Seven Elements of National Power simultaneously, as they conduct the work of establishing and maintaining the near infinite number of relationships necessary to effective Network vs. Network Warfare. Third is the constant struggle to recruit and develop in sufficient numbers those rare individuals capable of full-spectrum Human Domain thinking, a struggle only made more difficult by the requirement to retain the life-long commitment and contributions of those few who go through the rigorous process and become an Operator but go on to find success elsewhere.


“The environment continues to evolve as a result of strategic trends, including demographic shifts, globalization and financial crises, technological change, and resource scarcity.[2]

As urbanization and population densities increase globally, as financial and economic decline progress in the West, as power shifts from West to East and as warfare shifts from holding geographic terrain to holding Human Terrain, USSOCOM finds itself in a place where it must evolve far beyond traditional roles and capabilities. The full scope and scale of the evolution of SOF is far beyond this paper, however central to most changes is the need to engage in Network vs Network Warfare, the success of which is highly dependent on an extensive base of personal relationships at the level of the individual SOF Operator. However, traditional government, military and SOF investment, asset development and return on investment models are inadequate to the task of putting in place the necessary networks of relationships to meet the enemy where they are now already well entrenched in the Human Terrain. What is required is a new conceptual framework allowing for a network of networks approach whereby SOCOM may realize the greatest multiple gain from existing and emerging local assets and individuals with only minimal direct investment in manpower and capital expenditure. Of course this will also require a new breed of SOF Operator, one trained and skilled at investing minimally available resources to the development and maintenance of personal relationships and to long-term, self-sustaining and expanding networking. Fortunately there is a well developed framework for this type of investing consisting of more than sixty years of proven practice that is readily adaptable to address the specific limitations inherent in Net on Net Conflict and which would provide for rapid fielding of the next generation SOF Operator, one that is a master of the Human Domain.

In the three articles previously published with Small Wars Journal[3] I put forward the concepts which will be discussed in this paper with respect to the importance of adding the mind and body of practice of the Venture Capital Investor to the SOF Operator and in particular the Special Forces Warrant Officer Corps. This paper will discuss these ideas in greater detail as they specifically relate to the Special Forces Operating Concept and in particular the Network vs. Network concept put forward by ADM McRaven et al. Emphasis in this paper will be on how adoption and adaptation of the Angel and Seed investor model (VC empowerment of the Entrepreneur and innovation) will directly address some of the inherent limitations to this type of  warfare, namely funding, manning, training and fielding of the full-scale human domain SOF Operator and on establishing highly effective, enduring and self funding and expanding Networks.

Network vs. Network Warfare

“The goal of the SOF Operating Concept is to enable enhanced, low cost, innovative, and small/discrete footprint solutions to complex national security requirements, fulfilling a key imperative of US national military strategy.[4]

The greatest threat to SOCOM’s investment in Net vs. Net Warfare is the fact the Network of Networks which are the Core (those committed to the rule of law and support of the modern world) will never possess sufficient resources to address the near limitless capacity emerging from the Last Mile (those who do not currently benefit from, who push back against or who wish to co-opt and control the globalized world). This critical resource shortage is only made more acute by the fact SOCOM must concurrently pursue three separate lines of Net on Net Warfare, which are each distinct one from the other but which are also interwoven in our globalized world.

  • The first is Sustainment – defensive network warfare: Dedicated to engaging existing and emerging Core resources to limit, and where possible, prevent attacks from the Last Mile into the Core.
  • The second is Capacity Building – offensive network warfare: Dedicated to integrating Near-Last Mile resources (e.g., ally or partner nation forces and capacity) with those of the Core with the purpose of further expanding the infrastructure, reach and resources of the Core into the Last Mile.
  • The third is Find, Fix, Finish – surgical network warfare: Focused on enabling highly targeted, time and resource limited strikes from the Core into the Last Mile with the sole purpose of greatly enhancing both Sustainment and Capacity Building.

Each of these inter-related fields of Net on Net Warfare, though mostly dependent on their own unique network of networks and internetworking, do share much common infrastructure and many common requirements, challenges and limitations.

Central to SOCOM’s success along all three lines of Net vs Net Warfare is mastering and benefitting from an endemic property of networking and that is Emergence, the tendency for independent actors in the Last Mile to organize and reorganize themselves into a near infinite number of new networks with very little, if any, intentional organizational imperative. The nature of these Emergent Networks is they organize themselves to address a limited number of needs (even when not intentionally structured) which determines the nature of, scope and scale, as well as the composition of the network. Though all networks arise with the purpose to provide advantage to its members, most are local only in nature and are intended to provide support for local people in their daily life. However, a wide array of networks emerge which are intentionally structured and organized with the purpose of attaining such size and reach as to benefit from the globalized world, through:

  • Integration with Core based networks (governments, businesses, financial or charitable institutions, etc.);
  • Through displacement of Core based networks (political parties and movements, innovative new companies or products); or
  • Destruction of the Core in order to take control of the assets the Core is based on.

The difficulty of course is there are no distinct lines delineating any of these Last Mile networks one from the other, or differentiated purpose from differentiated purpose, which is due to the fact no single network exists solely independent of others or even for any single purpose. Nor are there distinct lines between the Core and the Last Mile. Each network is only the summed interactions and obligations of its members and at any time any of these networks can reorganize or realign itself, along with others into something which was only moments before a non-threat into a network that is now a nascent or immediate threat. A thorough understanding of Emergence and how to influence and harness such is critical to SOCOM’s success in population-centered conflict. As well as mastering and learning to benefit from Emergence, SOCOM must also successfully address the Threshold Effect, whereby threat networks conduct the far greater volume of their activities and networking well below or just beyond the Investment Line – the line where it is economically feasible for the Core to invest its finite resources.

The Investment Line is not a physical or geographic space as threat networks do not conduct their activities only in the failed, third-world or ideologically supportive nations of the world but directly in the cities and communities of the advanced nations which are themselves actively combating these networks.  The reason the Threshold Effect exists is due to the disparity between investment and return on investment requirements of the Core networks and those of the Last Mile, a disparity evidenced by the large sums of Capital, manpower and planning SOCOM and its many domestic and international partners invest in any single mission for marginal gain while the threat network need only invest minimally for maximal gain (1% Return vs 500% Return). The Threshold Effect is further compounded by the fact the Core simply does not have the resources to be in all places at all times and must carefully determine where to invest its assets for real returns, a lengthy and costly process in itself. At the same time, threat networks operating below or beyond the investment line, alone, or in conjunction with other threat or even with non-threat networks, can emerge almost anywhere, anytime for one-off or prolonged operations which only need step above the Investment Line (also conceptualized as the awareness line) long enough to commit a specific attack or action. As well, a natural property of Emergence is its minimal Return on Investment requirements which means a large percentage of the threat network individual investments can meet with failure and still be a success or substantial threat over time, whereas SOCOM must be assured of success before investing any of its own assets.

SOCOM’s efforts to expand the global SOF Network through better integration with partner forces and other government agencies, standing up as its own Global Combatant Command, as well as the re-tasking of resources to better provide Find, Fix, Finish capabilities will reduce the time to target cycle while both compressing the Investment Line and further extending Core capabilities into the Last Mile. However these alone are not capable of fully addressing the ‘Last Mile’ effect, whereby the Core, despite its immense resources, does not possess the manpower or funds to invest in establishing the requisite number of connections between itself and the vast number of individuals living in the Edge necessary to early identify and influence Emergence. The only means available to address the ‘Last-mile’ effect is the establishment of an enduring human infrastructure in the Last Mile, not around the traditional network nodes of the Core such as embassies and military installations but directly out in the many communities of the world where threat networks recruit, train, find support and influence Emergence. This human infrastructure must address the ‘Last-mile’ effect by harnessing the innovative and entrepreneurial capacities of individuals living within the Edge through the employment of minimal Core resources in conjunction with Edge-based and entrepreneur provided resources and productivity. Meaning, those SOF Operators tasked with this Last-mile networking must be capable and comfortable with conducting all Seven Elements of National Power concurrently, in highly innovative ways, with emphasis on employing Economics and Finance with the purpose to both recognize and influence Emergence.

Embedded and forward engaged, these Operators will focus their efforts on establishing relationships with individuals, businesses and investors in the Last Mile which possess the right potentials and on matching these with Core-based resources and networks in order to expand the reach and access of the Core. However, instead of the traditional top-down (or Core to Last Mile) approach, these Operators will employ a bottom-up (or Last-mile to Core) approach and thereby harness the near limitless resources and innovative capacities of Emergence (the entrepreneurial spirit) to the task of further integrating Last-mile Networks with those of the Core with the purpose to develop enduring, self-sustaining and expanding networks.  These Last-mile to Core networking efforts will lower or push back the Investment – Awareness Line providing for early warning in the event a threat network emerges, as well as provide for a counterpoint to existing threat networks or to those attempting to create a threat network or networks in the area.

Venture Capitalist Green Beret

“An understanding of the local culture and society, language, economy, history, politics and leadership, physical and virtual terrain, as well as the enemy is essential.[5]

Every single aspect of the modern world, of what is now the Core, is a direct result of Emergence, and was once an Emergent Threat to the Core systems-networks that came before. Emergence is critical to the introduction of new products and services that address unmet need as well as to the evolution of existing Core systems-networks, and often to the complete remaking and replacement of inefficient systems-networks. Where Emergence has been harnessed, by those few skilled and experienced in doing so, great expansion has been realized in areas such as political stability and standards of living which are represented by many new connections being made between what was the Last Mile and the Core. Where Emergent trends and networks are not early identified, harnessed or shaped, threat networks arise and destroy immense volumes of wealth and stability when investment is made to counter, or which destroy political stability and wealth in the process of becoming the new or a new Core network. Despite this, the traditional practices and resources of the Core are dedicated to pushing back against Emergence, at protecting and sustaining the status quo and not on harnessing or shaping Emergence to the improvement of the Core itself. However this is changing, the need to early identify, support and convert Emergent Threat Networks to Core Network assets is a growing part of major corporation’s product and market development efforts. To add this mission enhancement capability to the SOF community, the ability to harness and convert potential Threat Network to Core Asset, will require at least some Operators are trained and empowered to think and act as Venture Capitalists.

In the under or undeveloped, uncertain and high Risk very early-stage business environments in which Angel & Seed Venture Capitalists invest, the VC must master two interwoven capacities in order to realize the all essential sustainable and self-expanding wealth creation and growth (Return on Investment – represented as a former Threat Network conversion to Core Asset or Network). The first capacity requires a thorough knowledge and experience in the investor’s space, and that is the ability to quickly see (in real time and often in advance) the trends and movements within the particular industry and those many industries and participants the investor’s investment touches, interacts with and is dependent upon. The successful VC is highly skilled at perpetually pulling an immense number of minute and most often random pieces of information from a vast array of sources, qualifying against experience in order to develop highly sophisticated actionable maps, with the sole purpose to effectively allocate an ever shifting array of internal and external resources. The second is the critical base of the first, and that is the VC is highly adept at building, sustaining and expanding interwoven networks of relationships, from the lowest level office employee all the way up through the entrepreneur and the corporate executive, to academia, government and political figures, regulatory bodies and law enforcement, and to banks, investment banks, investment funds and to very high net-worth individuals. These are not static, unidirectional contacts but rather dynamic relationships where both parties contribute to a mutual interest, supporting one another and where needed gaining and providing access to the many other participants, information and external partners and resources necessary to the success of any single investment or business. 

Collectively these two abilities, each requiring immense effort and years of practice to perfect, sustain and improve, provide the VC with the ability to rapidly recognize both talent in the individual and to recognize ideas (as represented by a business or business plan) with the right potentials to become Core enhancing networks. Before any investment can be made, recognition is followed with extensive due diligence and careful analysis leading to a thorough vetting of every aspect of the business (network), from management, to business opportunity, to the marketplace, market, product and business model and strategy, legal and regulatory matters, inside and outside investors, and a lot more. The real power and contribution of the VC is not the Capital investment they eventually place, but their access to markets, partners, vetted and proven managers and talent, vendors and suppliers, funding and other investors, legal and accounting firms, and most importantly their ability to mentor management as they go to market and pursue growth and expansion of their business. For the Angel & Seed Venture Capitalist all of these efforts, collectively and over time, are driven by the imperative to take what was a nascent or potential only Edge or Last-mile network and bring it through the initial vetting, relationship building and business development and growth process necessary to becoming a Core asset.

Driving every aspect of the Angel & Seed investor’s analytics, investment decisions and mentoring is the immutable fact the entrepreneur and the investor cannot directly compete with the customer base, relationships, funds and resources of established competitors and that the entrepreneur must develop and employ highly innovative solutions to succeed. This is the real strength and advantage of the Venture Capitalist and the VC mind, an understanding of how to work collaboratively with management, empowering the entrepreneur with minimal resources so that the entrepreneur may develop into a genuine Core asset despite all the challenges inherent to such. If SOCOM hopes to be successful at enabling enhanced, low cost, innovative, and small/discrete footprint solutions to complex national security requirements it must, in addition to its many other efforts, adopt the mind and practices of the masters of this type of investment and where SOF operates the most appropriate model being that of the Angel & Seed VC. As with the corporate world, the only means by which to effectively address the work of increasing the linkages between the Core and the Last-mile is to harness the highly innovative and productive capacities of Emergence and the individual entrepreneur.

SOF for Life: Generation Two

“SOF must also make prudent and effective use of limited assets while preserving our most valuable resource – our individual SOF warriors and their families.[6]

As SOCOM aggressively adapts itself to meet the 21st Century challenge of population-centric warfare the single most limited asset of all is not the funds to build out and maintain a global infrastructure and foot-print but rather the uniquely skilled, full-scale Human Domain capable SOF Operators required to staff it. In the post Iraq and Afghanistan world, as SOF shifts its emphasis away from kinetic warfare, traditional recruitment, development and promotion models are not sufficient to the task of fielding and sustaining the volume of Operators necessary to conduct population-centric warfare or to realizing the vision and purpose of the Global SOF Network. And though SOCOM will gain broader human capacity through better integration with partner nation and ally SOF forces, these gains alone will fall far short with respect to fielding enough Operators to meet the enemy out beyond and below the Investment Line. This critical shortage of uniquely talented and skilled Operators is the direct result of the confluence of three mutually supporting requirements which must be directly and intentionally addressed before the Global SOF Network can become an effective reality.  And though somewhat simplified for brevity, these three requirements are the following: i) Personality & Skills-based Tasking, ii) Retention & Promotion, and iii) Recruitment & Placement. As with the other concepts put forward herein, a thorough detailing is well beyond the scope of this paper, however a brief discussion of each will follow.

Personality & Skills-based Tasking – Unlike the private sector which draws from an immense field of individuals possessing resumes denoting self driven and directed education, skills, relationships and experience, SOF is relegated to drawing only from within, from an increasingly limited pool of vetted Operators whose skills, relationships and experience are almost solely derived from schools and postings within SOF and the broader military alone. Despite this limitation, present and future SOF Operators are required to master an ever wider array of highly technical specialty skills and tradecraft, skills which are best suited to some personality types and talents and not to others, and which in many cases are skill-sets not native to the military or SOF but are well developed and in high demand in the private sector. Addressing the issue of the limited pool as well as ensuring the right volume of unique specialty skills trained and capable SOF Operators will require the personality and native talents of the Operator be taken into account, early identified and the Operator’s career directly based on such. The Operator’s career must be carefully mentored throughout from the very beginning to enhance existing and nascent talent and ambition with specific schools and assignments that progressively develop the Operator into a well honed and broadly skilled, experienced and vetted asset. In the era where SOF must field n number of Operators with A, B, C specialty skills, relationships and experience in and over N current and future timeframes to fill X positions and meet Y needs in Z units at T times, a targeted and highly efficient human resources system must be adopted and put in place. 

Retention & Promotion – The nature of any high level organization is that the most talented are far too limited in number and are very much in demand by organizations and agencies and by business and the financial worlds where they can make considerably more money and provide better for their families than in the military and SOF.  This means inefficiencies in developing the individual Operator, in carefully matching personality traits, skills and ambition against specific training and needs only further exacerbates the ability to retain the best talent.  Many highly talented individuals come to SOF drawn to the purpose and mission and by their intentions to move up through the ranks and make increasing contributions through the appropriate application of their natural abilities and ambitions improved as a result of specific training, assignments and missions.  Far too many of these highly talented individuals leave SOF after only contributing a limited number of years, due to the leadership and promotion structure of the Military and to the fact their personal abilities and futures are not being mentored and shaped in such a fashion as to gain the greatest advantage from and for themselves.

With the substantial investments which must be made in each individual, with the length of time required to mature the Operator, and as a result of the far too limited internal only pool of individuals from which SOF has to draw its future Operators, the loss of any single vetted human asset results in a major impact on capabilities.  Success of the Global SOF Network will be highly dependent on better matching the best and brightest with the right combinations of schools, assignments and leadership positions necessary to gain their commitment not only over multiple enlistments in SOF but over a lifetime. This lifetime commitment needs be sustained regardless of whether the Operator serves thirty years or three, whether they go on and continue to contribute in one of the many contracting or teaching positions, go on to other agencies or organizations within DOD, DOS or broader government or should they leave the Greater SOF Community completely and find success in the private sector.

Recruitment & Placement – Meeting many of the demands being placed on SOF in the conduct of increasingly population-centric warfare will not only require more efficient Operator development and retention practices but will also require recruitment of individuals with already highly developed skill-sets and experience from outside the normal channels, to include with respect to some skill-sets from outside the military and government altogether. Success of the Global SOF Network will be dependent on more specifically targeted and efficient recruitment and retention practices, emphasizing the rapid and sustained fielding of skills and experience not native to SOF but which are demanded of full-spectrum Human Domain warfare. And in addition to better integration with the many government agencies, military organizations and non-government agencies and partner and ally SOF forces, all of which collectively participate in Human Domain warfare, SOF must establish close working relationships with the private sector, in particular with business and financial institutions and organizations whose direct involvement is critical to the success of sustainable population-centric conflict.

The real power and strength of an organization is not derived from its current members but from its far larger alumni network and the exponentially larger pool of resources, assets, access, knowledge and experience made accessible through alumni members and their often lifelong dedication. The first generation of SOF for Life is successfully benefitting from the contributions of many SOF alumni through employment with the wide array of companies providing contracted services to SOF, the DoD and other related organizations. The next generation of SOF for Life need focus on recruiting those now essential but non-traditional skills, such as business and finance, on shaping the careers, education and training of those with the aptitude and interest with the purpose of not only benefitting from their service while in uniform but more importantly when these Operators go on and become alumni. Particular emphasis need be providing these highly capable and sought after individuals with opportunities and career development within SOF which do not put them at a disadvantage to their private sector peers such that they may go on from service and find employment with leading businesses and financial institutions and thereby add greatly to the capabilities of the SOF Alumni Network.


“Rapid urbanization is propelling growth across emerging markets and shifting the world’s economic balance toward the east and south. By 2025, it will create a “consumer class” with more than four billion people, up from a billion in 1990. Nearly half will live in the emerging world’s cities…440 largely obscure urban areas that will account for close to 50% of expected global GDP growth between 2010 and 2025…[7]

As the demographic and economic centers of gravity and power shift from traditional Core nations to the developing world, away from rural to urbanized life, towards population-centric conflict, SOCOM finds that in addition to sustaining traditional requirements, it must also increasingly field full-scale human domain SOF Operators over long periods of time. These Operators must be masters at employing all Seven Elements of National Power concurrently, in employing unconventional methods and thinking in highly innovative ways with the purpose to establish enduring relationships and infrastructure directly in those many communities of the developing world. Central to these efforts is the need to both influence and benefit from the near limitless capacities and resources made available through emerging networks in the Last-mile, from harnessing the creative power of randomness and the immensely powerful property of networks and networking, Emergence. Success in these efforts will be dependent on the adaptation and adoption of a functional model and body of practice and to the fielding of those few SOF Operators skilled at engaging Emergence to increase the reach and capacities of the Core. To this, the new breed of SOF Operator must be a master of early identifying, embracing and shaping Emergence as relates to Emergent Threat Networks (non-core networks) directly at the tactical level and long before such networks go on to require immense investments to counter. This means fielding Operators highly skilled at developing and maintaining vast numbers of relationships and in engaging Venture Capital thinking, practices and resources in the task of integrating emerging Last-mile networks with those of the Core. 


[1] Special Operations, Whitepaper, undated, US Army John F. Kennedy Special Warfare Center and School, Fort Bragg, NC.

[2] The Joint Operating Environment 2010, United States Joint Forces Command, February 2010

[4] Special Operations Forces Operating Concept: Expanding the Global SOF Network, White Paper, September 2012,  United States Special Operations Command, McDill Air Force Base, FL.

[5] Posture Statement of Admiral William H. McRaven, USN, Commander, US Special Operations Command, before the 112th Congress, Senate Armed Services Committee, 6 March 2012

[6] Special Operations Forces Operating Concept: Expanding the Global SOF Network, White Paper, September 2012,  United States Special Operations Command, McDill Air Force Base, FL.

[7] Richard Dobbs, Jaana Remes, and Fabian Shaer, Unlocking the Potential of Emerging-market Cities, McKinsey Quarterly, September 2012


About the Author(s)

Mr. EM Burlingame has raised investment for his own entrepreneurial ventures in Silicon Valley and has lived and worked as an executive in the US, Asia and the EU as a Venture Capitalist and Investment Banker primarily focused on very early-stage technology, telecommunications and internet media companies. He recently returned from Eastern Afghanistan, where his ODA conducted Village Stability Operations, and is now serving with 1st Battalion 1st Special Forces Group. EM has continued as Founder and Managing Director of the Emerio Foundation, a non-profit dedicated to empowering entrepreneurs through education and to increasing the rate of investment in very early-stage companies directly in emerging markets.


Bill C.

Wed, 05/08/2013 - 12:33pm

Regarding the author's statement that the objective is to "expand the reach and access of the Core" (a matter which I attempt to address in my comment immediately below) consider the following from C.E. Caldwell's Small Wars, Chapter 2: Causes of Small Wars:

"The great nation which seeks expansion in remote quarters of the globe must accept the consequences. Small wars dog the footsteps of the pioneers of civilization in regions afar off. The trader heralds almost as a matter of course the coming of the soldier and the commercial enterprise in the end generally leads to conquest."

Today, however, it would appear that the "consequences" (due to access to modern technology, etc.) may be (1) much more severe and (2) hit much closer to home than was possible in Caldwell's day.

Should this give us caution -- or greater resolve -- re: attempting to "expand the reach and access of the Core?"

Thus, should we innovate -- or abandon -- the idea of advancing "civilization in regions afar off" via traders and soldiers?

Bill C.

Mon, 04/29/2013 - 10:12am

From the last paragraph of the major section entitled "Network v. Network Warfare:"

"Embedded and forward engaged, these Operators will focus their effort on establishing relationships with individuals, businesses and investors in the Last Mile which possess the right potentials and on matching these with the Core-based resources and networks IN ORDER TO EXPAND THE REACH AND ACCESS OF THE CORE." (Capitalization of this last part provided by me.)

I guess one cannot ask that someone be more honest and more straight-forward than this.

This would appear to be consistent with the first sentence of the Introduction to FM 3-07 The U.S. Army Stability Operations Field which states:

"Today, the Nation remains engaged in an era of persistent conflict against enemies intent on limiting American access and influence through the world."

It would appear that, post-the Cold War, nations, societies, civilizations, populations, etc., are no longer allowed to limit -- much less deny -- the United States and the other nations of the Core access to one's individual self, to one's village, to one's community or to one's country.

These rights are now eliminated.

This makes it a little easier to understand how, given such an environment, "networks" might "emerge;" whose common goal and purpose is to retain -- or to regain -- the right to limit or deny access to the United States, to the Core or to anyone else that they might desire.

Thus, Network (of those that demand access, to wit: the Core) v. Network (of those that demand the right to limit or deny access) (1) revealed and (2) battle lines drawn.

The Venture Capital Green Beret -- in the camp and/or country of those who might wish to retain or regain the right to limit or deny access to the Core (or to certain others) -- to thus be seen:

a. As a clear and present threat,

b. As a clear and present danger and

c. As a clear and present enemy?


Tue, 05/07/2013 - 9:05pm

In reply to by Ned McDonnell III

We can only be a broker or mediator if all parties to the dispute accept us as such, which in this case is not likely. If we start trying to go back up and make up for every historical oversight or mistake, we're likely to create way more problems than we solve.

As a general rule, I think we'd be well advised to stay out of other people's problems to the greatest possible extent.

Ned McDonnell III

Tue, 05/07/2013 - 4:27pm

In reply to by Dayuhan


Thanks, I tend to agree with your points. On Syria, we have to be very careful and transparent in a narrow focus on our interests (e.g., ¿in a stably policed country in the long-run?). We did not create this mess almost a century ago; other elements of NATO should take the lead.

On Kurdistan, my desire stems from President Wilson not standing up for the Kurds in 1919 and 1920. It is not a problem as much as an opportunity for us to be honest brokers again, without boots on the ground.

What is most interesting is an observation a very senior diplomat and expert on the region to me over coffee as I bragged away: this 'nested autonomy' for the Kurds, as I call it, was pretty much what the Ottomans did. So much for being original....¡rats!



Mon, 05/06/2013 - 9:32pm

In reply to by Ned McDonnell III

There may at some point be US involvement in Syria. It's not an idea I like, but I don't make these decisions or have any influence over them. That involvement, if it happens, would likely involve SOF and might well involve training police or security forces. I very much doubt that it would or should have anything to do with the ideas advanced in the discussion of the "Venture Capital Green Beret" concept.

I understand the arguments in favor of some sort of Kurdish autonomy, or at least in favor of some sort of fundamental change in the relationship between the Kurds and the governments that govern them. I don't understand how it's a problem that the US needs to fix or to interfere in.

Ned McDonnell III

Sat, 05/04/2013 - 10:36pm

In reply to by Bill M.


Come on. I was answering a straight-forward question on how I would assess this possible downside and unexpected consequences as well as how to envision ‘how’ such a program for entrepreneurial development would manifest in current hot spots. Imputing arrogance and ignorance to me expands the scope of the discussion far beyond the answer of a straight-forward question on application only, not appropriateness; I think you two know better than to shift the discussion to a platform for emotionalism. In a sense, in any discussion of the appropriate use or projection of power into sinuously sensitive situations to the U.S. national interest, I would be one person among many expressing what the government should do. Needless to say, my opinions on what to do would likely be quite different from what I answered to LTC Martin. But, I think you know that.

Dayuhan, I take specific difference with the issues of Kurdistan and Syria. First Syria, since Kurdish nested autonomy is largely irrelevant to this article, to the discussion and to my previous preliminary answers to LTC Martin’s legitimate hypothetical questions. Syria may well be a location for an SOF intervention. As one person among many, I would propose that, if we consider the application of military (specifically SOF) power, arguments should focus on the swelling refugee communities in neighbouring countries with a view toward protecting our ally in Jordan as well as two more fragile and tentative democracies of Iraq and Lebanon. The skills learned by the SOF in current police training in Afghanistan, as mentioned by ADM McRaven, could prove to be transferable and helpful.

That program could not only seek to stem the intimidation that often works with radicalization of communities (to muzzle the moderates), but also to train the core of a civilian force to re-enter Syria and assume the policing function. Additionally, I would argue for a limited intervention into Syria itself, with explicit timelines and force levels, to assure delivery of humanitarian supplies and to facilitate a longer-term intervention of peace-keeping troops from disinterested nations with substantial Muslim populations, preferably outside of the region (Malaysia, Indonesia, Tanzania, Morocco, etc.). In each case, the conditions would have to be propitious; there would have to be a desire for peace across all parties (including the U.S.), and a willingness to honour the intervention as a short-term, impartial facilitation only.

Now onto nested autonomy. The Kurdish region of Iraq thrived, despite limitations of isolation, etc., during the years of the no-fly-zone and after its “liberation” (their words, not mine) by President Bush. Apparently, a cultural autonomy is emerging among the Kurds in Kurdish regions in Syria. The Kurdish Regional Government could become a vanguard for the rest of Iraq, or the country may lapse into a civil war with with the Arabs, predominantly the Sunnis. Part of the problem lies in the fact the Coalition Provisional Authority’s Transitional Administrative Law (53A), issued via fiat by AMB Bremer nine years ago, planted those seeds of contested territory (e.g., definitely Kirkuk, probably Mosul), still in force under the current Constitution (138).

For various reasons, the four nations directly involved in the Kurdish question do not want to see an independent Kurdistan, something that would be consistent with self-determination. So the world is facing the frustration of one of the underpinnings of the nation-state model, itself only about three or four centuries old. The dilemma could be (not is) that if one country grants independence, it will become a staging area for the forced rebellion, secession and civil war of the other three. The history of Turkish and Arab oppression (in Turkey and Iraq) is well documented. The lot of Kurds in Syria may now be one of cultural autonomy but it is hardly enviable. Iran? Know little about that.

This autonomy seeks to balance the national security and resource interests of the dominant host countries with a sense of Kurdish identity. Such a tentative peace may be arising now in Turkey. It would take some time to negotiate and such taxing efforts could easily fail. Nevertheless, with the erosion of the nation-state paradigm in viewing many of the conflicts taking place around the world, something that balances the interests of all eight parties (four nations, four Kurdish communities) may avert future bloodshed and, in the example of Iraq, permit the prosperity of three million barrels a day of crude pumped out of the Kurdish region for that lovely region, really one of the most beautiful I have ever seen, and convey benefits to the rest of Iraq, as stipulated by under the country’s Constitution (108), a document which the Kurds themselves approved.

In negotiating this peace, the U.S. could play a role in aiding the implementation, if the country were invited and chose to so. The parameters of such an intervention, beyond my imagination at this moment, would have to be negotiated and acceptable to at least to the nine key parties (eight previously mentioned plus the U.S.). Other stakeholders would likely have a say. Hard to do? For sure. Impossible? No. Implausible? To be determined after exploratory discussions.


Bill M.

Sat, 05/04/2013 - 1:08pm

In reply to by Dayuhan

This assumption offers further evidence that we don't understand the true nature of most countries we intervene in. We apply a cookie cutter approach based on invalid assumptions. They Syrians know how to be entrepreneurs, prior to their uprising their economy was soaring. BMW and other luxury car dealers couldn't keep up with demand their due to the rising middle class. The issue isn't lack of know how, but that some groups were excluded, and other groups have different goals based on their religious beliefs for Syria. Teaching them how to be entrepreneurs (how arrogant on our part) won't address why they're fighting.


Sat, 05/04/2013 - 4:54am

In reply to by Ned McDonnell III

You wrote, re Colombia:

<i>"my proposal would be to boot-strap this program onto a larger effort to use the SOF to integrate the FARQ into local police forces and integrate lower level narco-traficantes and local populations into a this program for jump-starting the local economy"</i>

If the Colombian Government is the client, wouldn't they be the ones proposing the program? Why would we assume that what they want is what we (or you) want, or that any American would be proposing the course of action or defining the intended outcome?

Assumption is precisely the problem. If we assume that "we", however defined, can establish or direct the establishment of an autonomous Kurdistan... well, we could accomplish something unique. We could get Turks, Syrians, Iraqis, and Iranians to agree on something. Unfortunately, they'd agree on wanting to kill us.

The thought of instructing Syrian refugees in the entrepreneurial arts raises the somewhat amusing prospect of sending Green Berets who have never actually engaged in business to instruct Syrians who have been in business all their lives, until their businesses were blown up or their customers were killed. Might make us feel good about ourselves, but I can't see it accomplishing much, and I can't see the refugees being all that impressed. Syria is not exactly a tribal backwater with no history of business or entrepreneurship.

Ned McDonnell III

Mon, 04/29/2013 - 2:31am

In reply to by Dayuhan


These were answers to specific questions as to how the V.C./G.B. framework would be applied in various situations; NOT whether or not any intervention is appropriate nor what the kinetic activity should be. The comments about Colombia assumed that the client would be the Colombian government; slight oversight there.



Sun, 04/28/2013 - 7:01pm

In reply to by Ned McDonnell III

<i> my proposal would be to boot-strap this program onto a larger effort to use the SOF to integrate the FARQ into local police forces and integrate lower level narco-traficantes and local populations into a this program for jump-starting the local economy. Such an idea would have to be coordinated with Bolivia and Mexico.</i>

Might want to coordinate it with Colombia as well. Last I looked it was a sovereign nation.

<i>create a region of Kurdish autonomy nested within and among the territories of the four host countries.</i>

Sarcasm fails.

Apologies for the sarcasm, but since when does the US have the right or the need to force policies like this on other sovereign nations? There are things that are not ours to decide... rather a lot of them, in fact.

I can't see why you'd assume that Syrian refugees are suffering from a deficiency in entrepreneurial skills. Many of them could probably give instruction to the "Venture Capital Green Berets" on the subject. They just have a little problem with trying to do business in the midst of a war.

About the only circumstance in which sending military personnel to do development work would be even possible - not necessarily wise, but possible - would be in an occupation scenario. I'm not sure that's something we want to be preparing for.

Ned McDonnell III

Sun, 04/28/2013 - 4:37pm

“How can this model be applied in a future North Korea, Syria, Iran, or Colombia? What are its limitations? What would we have to trade for doing this (there are always trade offs and negative second and third order effects)?”

I will answer the questions reverse order. First, second order effects and trade-offs. As far as second-order effects, I would look at what the impacts of other village stability operations have been, particularly those that have eroded that stability further and unintentionally. Try to look for others that succeed and take their common elements. Hopefully, there is enough information to establish upper-lower bounds and modify the program as necessary, if that is possible. The trade-off should be small since this program pool draws from only 200 participants (if I counted things right) and, at least as I understand things, more of an elective for those interested.

Second, in trying to understand the limitations of the program. One thing I would do in looking for limits is look for correlations with past success and failures (similar to the first answer above). Other limitations I would look for would include – and this is a small subset of other questions others would bring to the table – the following questions.
• How much literacy and numeracy are required and where does the average villager stand with respect to these thresholds in the country where this program is being implemented (target area)?
• Are there cultural ramifications in the target area that require adaptation (i.e., making sure that R.o.I. is not viewed as usury and making the discipline shari’a-compliant)?
• Are there financial requirements needed down the road and are they budgeted and accounted for?
The last question focuses on the fact that teaching and mentoring the fruition of the discipline may be inexpensive. If, however, there needs to be a threshold of infrastructure, education or other investments, the situation might end up being more de-stabilizing if these investments stop progress abruptly; like leading a horse to water and finding out it was a mirage. As Dayuhan points out, this or any new program may create more instability at the village level where (I would guess) a traditional culture and its mores are at their strongest; there is likely to be at least some resistance to its implementation. If that resistance is overcome but the program stops dead in its tracks due to unfunded investments, the fall-out from such disappointment could be negative. That would argue for a coordinated hand-off to development agencies to make those investments.

Third, how the program would be tailored to various settings.
NORTH KOREA. Probably not a suitable setting. With the closing of the free trade zone just North of the de-militarized zone, one possibility for a pilot program has slipped away; assuming a command economy and tyrannical government like that of the North would allow such freedom. Otherwise, this would have to start following an invasion and occupation of that country which, I hope to God Himself, does not occur.

SYRIA. In this case, I would consider starting the program in the current refugee camps in Lebanon, Turkey and Jordan, almost as occupational therapy, with the intention of people taking these skills into a post-Assad Syria. I would also consider this idea, following a little time (wee-little) time spent in Palestinean refugee camps started in the 1940s-1970s. (They are not tents but established, if not economically viable, population centers). Depending on how long this civil war goes on, these new centers may become similar population centers. Putting the rudiments of a local economy in place through this program might be helpful to future economic sufficiency. The program would have to be part of a larger aid effort to protect these refugees and to try to avoid their radicalization through building hope. If the desperado of Damascus hangs on, which may well happen, then all of those jihadists currently in Syria will be fleeing into the refugee camps (if they have not been doing so already as safe havens). Programs like these may give these dispossessed refugees an alternative.

IRAN. Honestly, I would be stumped. Iran is one of the more fertile grounds for capitalism in view of its largely peaceful, merchant past. Beyond that, I am not sure what Iran really is doing that is so bad, outside of resisting our encroachment into the region, building the same weapons we have in abundance (as does our key regional ally) and sometimes going way off the deep-end with genocidally ant-semitic rhetoric. That last element merits our concern more than the other two actions. (To put my perspective into perspective, Pakistan having roughly 150 warheads is a much bigger threat to world peace than Iran obtaining ten or twenty.) The one idea, that I doo have, on how to tailor this program would also impact on other conflict zones (Iraq and Syria) as well as on a fairly dependable ally over time, Turkey. That would be to create a region of Kurdish autonomy nested within and among the territories of the four host countries. Each Kurd would have dual citizenship (Kurd and the host country where he or she lives). Inside that region, Kurds would have free mobility. There are some (quite possibly insurmountable) hurdles:
• the defective sovereignty of the Iraqi constitution thanks to AMB Bremer; and,
• the necessity for credibly sustainable cease fires to be in place for a long enough period to make proceeding worth the risk.
Otherwise, such a program would have to be initiated following an invasion and occupation of the country which, I hope to God, does NOT occur.

COLOMBIA. With our history of ‘Plan Colombia’, we have some familiarity with the country. First, we should decriminalize drug use in the U.S. to try to take some of the profits out of the trade. Then my proposal would be to boot-strap this program onto a larger effort to use the SOF to integrate the FARQ into local police forces and integrate lower level narco-traficantes and local populations into a this program for jump-starting the local economy. Such an idea would have to be coordinated with Bolivia and Mexico.

Ned McDonnell III

Wed, 04/17/2013 - 12:21am

Please delete; supposed to be a response to G. Martin's interesting note.

Ned McDonnell III

Wed, 04/17/2013 - 12:22am

In reply to by G Martin


First off all, it has been one Hell of a day with a data integrity exercise involving 4000+ accounts. Simple data-base; ugly work for many hours. So much for the mellow life of the Peace Corps. So, a great deal of thanks for your brain-food. You bring up many good points; lurking behind them, however, is a whopper: ¿what do we mean by different words we use? In addition to proper vetting of any idea and testing its assumptions against criticisms, for which you argue persuasively (if one wants to be taken seriously), key terms should be spelled out.

Truthfully, I am not familiar with emergence; but I know it has a special meaning in this discussion. For me, linearity and non-linearity are tied, in my narrow mind at least, to predictiveness of outcomes and the level of confidence one can hold in his or her forecasted results. For me, then, 'just try it' intends to say that one should not bank on results; anything may happen. It is important to perform the thorough testing and review of a proposed program to try to avoid a waste of resources or an otherwise detectable debacle.

If the program moves ahead after proper due-diligence, I submit that it would be wise let go of, then adapt to, the results. That requires a lot of intellectual honesty and close monitoring. Old-fashioned decision rules may help. Nevertheless, the whole concept of non-linearity seems to go far deeper than I had imagined. NOW TO YOUR BIG QUESTION: ¿how to apply this idea in Korea, Syria, Mali, and elsewhere? Well, damned if I know. Afghanistan and Iraq are my only frames of reference. After two and half years in México, I can tell you, I still learn a little more about the culture every day.

One point that I still believe in is that we experiment in Afghanistan with inexpensive and low-hazard programs. As much as I hate to agree with you, I think we are politely biding our time in Afghanistan so we can leave; I always had the deep, dark suspicion that the Surge in Afghanistan was intended to lend the impression ‘a good college try’ so we could leave with honor. If that cynicism is at all true, then I am ashamed we are putting good people in harm’s way for the sake of appearance.

So I close this note of thanks with an especially wise thought you imparted, "Why talk 'emergence' if one is only allowing for one effort- why not truly harness 'emergence' by allowing each ODA to come up with their own plan of action and logic for improving the areas they are in (i.e.- free to take on or discard the VC concept as they see fit?) as long as they are acting within higher's guidance?" One thing I now can say with confidence is that our soldiers are a bright group; they can figure out what to do and when to do it far better than I. They need arrows in the quiver.

Ned McDonnell.

G Martin

Mon, 04/15/2013 - 12:17pm

In reply to by Ned McDonnell III

I think the framework proposed is linear- with some non-linear components (i.e., small teams executing larger strategy). The "framework" as defined by me is the logic behind his thesis. His causal logic is in my admittedly ignorant mind very linear (peace comes from guys having jobs which comes from venture capital which can come from external entities, etc.). Non-linear implies multiple causes- to such an extent that tracing the effect to any and all causes is inherently impossible.

So, a truly non-linear approach would allow for multiple causes for "peace" (actually, a truly non-linear approach would question the usefulness of the term "peace", but that's a little deeper than I think we have to go in this discussion). Thus, a venture capital approach could be considered a part of a non-linear approach IF the overall approach allowed for the possibility that some areas would not benefit from a VC approach, that some areas would not increase jobs from VC investment, etc.

I am vehemently against using our "remaining time" in Afghanistan to try any ideas out- if only because our population is against us being there anymore. Without that key piece, it doesn't make sense to me to do much of anything- beyond the very limited things our politicians have decided to do.

So, to wrap-up, I would recommend dropping the Afghanistan example in favor of talking about future efforts. How can this model be applied in a future North Korea, Syria, Iran, or Colombia? What are its limitations? What would we have to trade for doing this (there are always trade offs and negative second and third order effects)? What are some instances in which this would possibly fail? Why talk "emergence" if one is only allowing for one effort- why not truly harness "emergence" by allowing each ODA to come up with their own plan of action and logic for improving the areas they are in (i.e.- free to take on or discard the VC concept as they see fit?) as long as they are acting within higher's guidance? Are there other possibilities towards peace other than economic (i.e.- are there examples of peace where the economy is "bad")? How about other paths towards jobs than the VC approach? Any examples wherein external entities and/or the VC approach were an obstacle to development? I would submit addressing these subjects would make the concept more robust and get away from the "snake oil salesman" tone promising heaven.

Ned McDonnell III

Sun, 04/14/2013 - 11:49pm

In reply to by G Martin


An elegantly crafted answer and very thought-provoking. Thank you. As for my being a wide-eyed ideologue: if that be the case, shame on me. A mentor, who was as ardent a conservative as I have ever come across, once said to me, in effect, "Ned, I believe what I believe but I never forget that ideology breeds idiocy..."

"I'd recommend SF (and the entire Army for that matter) get away from pushing any one paradigm to begin with." Your statement says it all. My support for this idea is one of experimentation in principled pragmatism. What I like about that idea is that it is relatively inexpensive and is executed in the field. A non-linear approach, as you argue, is appropriate.

The framework proposed, I believe, is non-linear. The remaining time in Afghanistan does create an opportunity to try out this idea and other proposed tactics for village stability operations. You are right, however, in saying that criticisms and possible negative consequences need to be aired and debated. Where we may disagree is when.

Laying out the complex proposal of E.M. Burlingame may suffice since the commentaries can raise these criticisms and argue them. So, my apologies for being dismissive about your criticisms; it seems I mistook them for ad-hominem attacks against my friend and his proposal. Thank you, as well, for taking up my in-your-face question on what you would do.

Ned McDonnell.

G Martin

Sun, 04/14/2013 - 10:56pm

In reply to by Ned McDonnell III

Actually- if you want to be taken seriously, you have to address criticisms- whether or not you find them constructive or useful. A serious academic paper would naturally bring up the most likely criticism. The fact that these VC/GB papers seem to ignore any issue at all is probably the most troubling: "true believers" from my viewpoint are those who fancy that their ideas are both self-apparent and unburdened by any possible negative consequences- and you both seem to me to be "true believers". The wide-eyed ideologue, in my experience, is the most dangerous...

I still posit, as I did the first time, that this VC/GB concept simply proposes an alternative paradigm- and that this paradigm is just as faulty as the current one.

As to what I would propose- well, I'm not sure Burlingame's main thesis was "to get the job done in Afghanistan"- so let me address first what I thought his thesis was- and that is how to make our efforts during COIN more effective. Instead of adopting a new paradigm (in this case- that to get peace we must develop economies through the actions of Venture Capitalists and to do that best we need to educate SF warrant officers to be "VC"-enabled (and "harness emergence as well...)), I'd recommend SF (and the entire Army for that matter) get away from pushing any one paradigm to begin with. I think ODAs are largely successful because they for the most part ignore doctrine, career enhancement and paradigmatic concepts about how best to establish peace and instead figure out what needs to get done and execute.

Unfortunately, those synching their efforts at the higher levels currently operate under- from my understanding- an Enlightenment Era paradigm: that man can solve any problem with hypothesis positions, scientific experimentation, observation, data collection, and analysis- that man can even solve "social" problems in this manner (so, in short- they believe that everything in the entire world operates under universal linear (or "near-linear") causality laws and all we have to do is discover these laws). I, as others have, submit that social problems resist paradigms: they are hyper adaptive and are able to adjust to any one approach (in this case, Burlingame's VC/GB concept).

Instead, I submit that we would be much more successful if we attempted to look at each situation as a unique one and allow our different hierarchies to experiment with multiple paradigmatic approaches. I would, however, caution us to mostly avoid linear causality paradigms, as I hold the Burlingame concept to be. Emergent forces, from my readings of them, eat linear causality paradigms up quite easily (On a further note- his thesis might be strengthened if he adjusted it to state that in some cases, a larger US policy objective might be reached if some ODAs were allowed to encourage bottom-up emergent-type economic activity- and some of that to possibly include venture capital-type efforts. This would make it less hubristic and more "harnessing of emergence"- as opposed to a blanket paradigmatic, one-size fits all strategic/policy approach).

As to Afghanistan- I'd pull out as quick as possible- which is what I thought the President has basically been pushing for awhile now. The theory of Emergence- from my take on it- would hold that a complex situation like Afghanistan is best not handled by a central authority, and, unfortunately for us, we do not have the capability to support anything else- either militarily or politically. We have been doing the exact opposite of an "emergent" approach. So, pull out and let emergent forces take over and see what happens. Surely if the Taliban come back and take control of areas and offer some of those areas back up to AQ- they'd be a lot easier to target than they are in Pakistan and Yemen. I wouldn't encourage SF to stay and do VC/GB ops- or even do select micro efforts due to the fact that I don't think the American people buy into the connection between us being there and U.S. interests. Regardless of how great a concept is- or is thought to be by anyone- it should never IMO trump the American polity.

Ned McDonnell III

Thu, 04/11/2013 - 10:29pm

In reply to by G Martin

Your withering sarcasm is clever, as ever. Nevertheless, criticism without suggestions is neither constructive nor useful. Tell me -- no, tell us all -- what you propose to do to "get the job done in Afghanistan" as President Obama set out to do?

G Martin

Thu, 04/11/2013 - 5:36pm

As Mr. Burlingame continues to push his concept, I have to smile at this latest one. Either he is learning very quickly how to spark the interest of the SOCOM bureaucracy or his pretentious (IMO) language just naturally matches our doctrinal publications. The new (and old) buzz-words are all there: CoGs, pop-centric, human domain, elements of national power, innovation, enduring relationships, influence, creativity, networks, and emergent threat networks. He even throws in some emerging buzz-words: "emergence" and "randomness", although I'd argue that he may have used emergence incorrectly- and I'm not sure he understands randomness.

What concerns me is the almost religious fervor found in the article in the belief in venture capitalists. As always, I'm still not following the logic that has supported the entire series: the IA and our population will be okay with soldiers engaging in venture capital type activity -> ODAs can advise and/or assist in identifying venture capital opportunities -> host nations and locals will be okay with this -> the advice/assistance more often than not actually has a positive economic effect that outweighs any negative effects and this effect is relatively easily traced to its source (the ODA) -> this positive economic effect is always tied to U.S. and/or regional and/or HN political interests -> peace necessarily follows from these cumulative effects. I would think a critical paper would at the least address the possible flaws in logic- but attempts to encourage this in the past have been met with a wave of dismissal. One response even pleaded for people to "just try it". Sorry, I'm not sure that is a good way to sell the concept.

At the end of the day he has lost me with the hubristic language, though. "These Operators must be masters at employing all Seven Elements of National Power concurrently..." and "the need to both influence and benefit from the near limitless capacities and resources made available through emerging networks in the Last-mile, from harnessing the creative power of randomness and the immensely powerful property of networks and networking, Emergence." Really? I'm wondering if we'll be able to pay these super-human guys enough money...

Seriously, though- the thing about emergence is that it defies centrally managed change, many times resists it, and is very difficult to detect prior to it happening. It comes from multiple sources, many which are difficult if not impossible to trace back to, and are usually long term in nature. Thus, asserting that one could identify, shape, and embrace a complex abstraction like "emergence" borders on the fantasitic. But, to think that DoD and/or SOCOM- centrally-managed entities if there ever were some- could shape "emergence" IS fantastic.

I did, however, notice an interesting point- and maybe this gets to the heart of the series. "SOF must establish close working relationships with the private sector, in particular with business and financial institutions and organizations whose direct involvement is critical to the success of sustainable population-centric conflict." Ignoring the obvious issue with someone in the government who is also involved in venture investment arguing that both groups must become closer and employ ex-government personnel long after they leave (SOF for LIFE), this, to me, raises serious questions of interest.


Thu, 04/18/2013 - 2:15am

In reply to by Ned McDonnell III

I'm not at all sure that the venture capital model is "a good one to consider", for reasons I've gone into ad nauseam elsewhere. For one thing, venture capital arrangements work (when they do) in our society for a number of reasons. Venture capitalists and the companies they fund interact, in our society, as equals. They come from the same business culture, they speak the same language in both the business and linguistic senses, they define return on investment in similar ways and have similar goals. None of these conditions apply in the circumstances under discussion. It's also worth noting that "benefits to the community" are at best an incidental outcome of successful venture capital investment. The venture capital investment is in the business of choosing sides and picking winners. Playing that role in another country and another culture raises all sorts of possibilities, not all of them appealing.

This cuts I think to the heart of the issue:

<i>Here is the BIG PROBLEM: ¿if not the Army and the Green Beret, who will do this development work? There are not enough civilians out there to take up that side of the whole-of-government effort. </i>

First, there aren't really enough Green Berets to be doing this development work either. Second, it's not in any way clear to me that anyone needs to do it. We know that economies develop and that wounded economies heal. The role that external "economic development" assistance plays in these processes is a good deal less clear, and I cannot think of any case in which the presence or absence of foreign assistance has been a major or even a significant determinant of whether an economy develops or does not. I simply don't believe that a "whole of government effort" by the US directed at changing or "developing" another country or society is ever necessary or desirable. The aid industry has worked overtime to convince us that it plays a vital role and that without it development would not occur, but I'm not sure I see much empirical evidence to support that contention. Not that I'm advocating eliminating aid, but I do not believe that it ever has been a "make or break" factor in economic development. To the extent that development aid is necessary or desirable, it can be developed through civilian means, government and non-government. There is no need for the military to move into a role that it is inherently poorly fit to fill.

To me we don't need better ways to "do" occupation and nation-building, we need to get it through our heads that this is not something we should be doing in the first place.

Ned McDonnell III

Wed, 04/17/2013 - 1:11am

In reply to by Dayuhan

I agree with the pitfall of fixating on the success of a venture capitalist. Only one or two investments will carry the whole portfolio of twenty to forty companies. Nevertheless, the model is good one to consider. It is not a magic potion. By simplifying the basic investment concepts thoughtfully and by emphasizing many times over the low probabilities of success but the benefits to the community of those few entrepreneurial successes may give the local villagers something to think about. It may not.

If Afghanistan is to change after her generation of darkness and death, it is these villagers who will lead that change; giving them an economic stake may be the stimulus needed to start the long, slow process of cultural regeneration and hope. And, whatever tactics soldiers pursue with village stability, outcomes will be what they are; likely beyond what one can imagine or even expect. At that point, the people in the field have to try to adapt that outcome toward the larger policy being pursued. This answer to your question on “what problem this program is meant to solve” is admittedly circuitous.

Honestly, Dayuhan, I lack confidence in my ability to identify any problem or to align a suggested solution with it. My view of the term of “limitless capacity” is that it is likely futile to figure out how the last mile will react. Jeez, it is very difficult to understand how that second-to-last mile will react. My take-away from the sentiment expressed in the proposal is that we need to be ready and willing to adapt to what does happen in an effort to align the next steps afterward toward our policy objectives.

In my article about the whole-of-government-effort, I basically agreed with your assertion that, ideally, the U.S. Army and the Special Forces should not be strapped down in development work, except as it relates incidentally to providing immediate security to stanch the blood-flow. The Commander’s Emergency Response Fund can achieve this incidental development in ways like stocking up medical supplies but not in construction projects, etc.

The effectiveness of a military intervention tends to dissipate after a relatively short time. Here is the BIG PROBLEM: ¿if not the Army and the Green Beret, who will do this development work? There are not enough civilians out there to take up that side of the whole-of-government effort. Actually, there are many who would be just great but the screening protocol seems emphasize a high I.Q. or some largely irrelevant degree over the right type of personality or willingness to assume risks.

While some civilians with whom I have had the privilege of serving in the field rank the among the best and most honorable people I have worked with, anywhere, many, if not a majority, tend to be mediocre, lazy and feeling entitled to large salaries off of other people’s money at low risk. Not exactly a recipe for success, is it? This fact of field-life must be especially galling to professional Foreign Service Officers who, for the most part, work almost as incessantly as their Army counterparts.

Dayuhan, as always, I appreciate your candor, even if I contest it. You make an interesting point that any new program in the field, outside of the traditional mission, may be a ‘hit’ or ‘MESS’ proposition. The development work in whatever form it takes will be inadequate to the need. Personally, my hope is that such work can be crafted and delivered in a manner where people can use it for their own purposes; on their own terms; and, by doing so, set an example for others to join them over the long stretch of time.



Mon, 04/15/2013 - 8:18pm

In reply to by Ned McDonnell III

I would not call myself a renaissance man either. Nor do I think most venture capital investors are renaissance men. I think you’d find that most of the consistently successful ones are specialists, focusing on a particular industry and economic niche in which they have substantial expertise. Again, there is nothing to be gained by deifying venture capitalists or exaggerating their abilities or the success rates of venture capitalism.

I am not at all certain what problem all this is meant to solve. The article makes sweeping assumptions without supporting them, from the assumed “financial and economic decline of the west” to the assumed future prevalence of “population-centric” and/or “network vs network” warfare to the assumed inherent conflict between “the core” and “the last mile”. All of these assumptions are highly debatable. A statement like this one…

<i>“the Network of Networks which are the Core (those committed to the rule of law and support of the modern world) will never possess sufficient resources to address the near limitless capacity emerging from the Last Mile (those who do not currently benefit from, who push back against or who wish to co-opt and control the globalized world)”</i>

…is almost beyond comprehension to me. What “near limitless capacity” are we talking about here? Who is “pushing back against” the globalized world? This seems aimed at vastly exaggerating the dangers emanating from this “last mile” and creating a perception of need for programs with scant chance of success, given the size of the “last mile” and the resources available.

The core question here is whether it is necessary or even desirable for the US military to be engaged in economic development work. I believe that it is not. This is completely outside the expertise of the organization and the structure and methods of the organization, necessarily imposed by the organization’s primary purpose, are not conducive to such efforts.

The idea that the world will be a better safer place if this “last mile” experienced economic development and prosperity is of course a lovely one, but there is no recipe for producing such development and the idea that a few hundred “operators” dispersed into the vastness of the “last mile” are going to somehow flick a magic development switch that has been overlooked by the myriad of economic development efforts over the last few generations seems beyond optimistic to me.

I do not think this project in itself is dangerous, just futile. The idea that the military needs to remodel itself or any part of itself into an economic development enterprise does seem dangerous to me, both to the organization and to the places they propose to develop. I’ve lived most of my life in that “last mile”. If anyone proposed to send soldier/venture capitalists to my neck of the backwoods (tribal, with a hint of insurgency), my suggestion would be “please don’t”. The probability of mess seems greater than the probability of gain.

Ned McDonnell III

Wed, 04/10/2013 - 3:09pm


In reference to your comment, I refer you to Mr Burlingame's thoughtful response of earlier today, the article by MAJ Brown and my fourth point below (from last night): The point I made is nearly unintelligible because I was trying to save space. That point is simple and answers your point. Taking a V.C. out of Silicon Valley and telling him or her to ply the trade as practiced in California, Route 128 or Austin in Nangarhar, Macarena Province or Mindanao will surely fail.

What you are doing, however, is hardening the analogy into the exact mode of implementation. Mr Burlingame is not proposing that sure failure; instead he is applying different concepts to a vexing challenge since the more traditional approach has not matched expectations, as MAJ Brown documented so well in his essay. E.M. is integrating these new ideas from quantum physics into the ground-truth he knows from Paktika.

Arguably, those conditions in Afghanistan calling for a return to V.S.O. so late in the intervention better reflect the 'fuzzy' world of quantum physics than the Newtonian neatness underlying traditional problem-solving through precise engineering. Only a wide-open, renaissance mind can hope to fathom all of this while making decisions on incomplete information. Successful venture capitalists tend to have these minds.

Using that mind-set as an expansive model, not as a narrow mode, makes sense when more traditional world-views are not working well. These V.C.s are a very rare breed, like Mr Burlingame himself. Only 5-10% of the investments make the 'big money' to create a 40% or more return on the much larger portfolio. So, we face sheer speculation -- the not knowing. Rolled out on a pilot basis, this program can work through the bugs in the training and selection quickly.

The key to the full roll-out is communication so people across the area of operations find out what seems to work and what does not; that collaboration or open innovation enables the experimentation to continue until people get it right. Absolutely, if the warrant officer and the financier were to switch places, both would fail and fail badly. Yet, if they cross-fertilize, then not only success, but disruptive success (i.e., vitiating the insurgency), becomes all the more likely.

Dayuhan, your doubts, as always, are well articulated and display a highly valuable sensitivity to uncertain situations and the unexpected consequences of breaking new ground amid traditional cultures. Yet, if we are all honest with ourselves, we have doubts about things we do every day. As an introspective and more contemplative type, I can permit doubts to dictate that I do nothing; never take a risk; never fail. What a dull life that would be. Who loses? Everybody loses!

There is no greater uncertainty than that facing a young soldier on foot-patrol in a hotly contested area. He has doubts of the highest order. Will he get to marry his hometown-honey? Celebrate Junior’s first birthday? Be on hand for his parents’ twenty-fifth wedding anniversary? None of those outcomes are certain. Yet, he and a million others walk through these doubts and into a red zone. Each does it by courage.

Replacing bullets whizzing by almost randomly with electrons and photons whirring around in seeming chaos, an arguably large measure of manliness is likewise required to pursue this untested, risky mission proposed by E.M. Burlingame that just may be the element of V.S.O. that makes it a revolution in counter-revolutionary doctrine.

Thank you and best regards,
Ned McDonnell,

P.S. Truth in packaging: I am NOT a renaissance man.


Mon, 04/15/2013 - 7:53pm

In reply to by emburlingame

There is nothing at all new or revolutionary about NGOs involved in microfinance; that's been going on for decades. They have their successes and their failures. They work best in areas where economies are already growing and improving, and it's often very difficult to judge the extent to which total improvement is due to the intervention of NGOs. I do not believe there has ever been a case in which economic development on a scale significant enough to affect matters of war and peace could be attributed to external intervention. The idea that we can "fix" a place by "fixing" the economy is superficially attractive, but the reality is that nobody, anywhere, knows how to "fix" an economy. It has never been done by an outside party. Economies do heal, given appropriate conditions, but I don't see armed Peace Corps Volunteers making a substantive difference.

For reasons I've gone into in excessive detail elsewhere, I don't think it's necessary or desirable for the Army to engage in economic development work at all, beyond immediate reconstruction. It's not their area of expertise and their structure and organization are not conducive to the requirements of that kind of work.


Thu, 04/11/2013 - 7:07am

In reply to by Dayuhan

I should like to draw your attention to organizations such as Kiva and even more directly analogous, The Acumen Fund ( and While my ODA was busy fighting the Taliban in Eastern Afghanistan, the founder of the Acumen fund was on the other side of the Pakistan border in Waziristan making small VC investments. Now imagine the same improvements in the local standard of living being expanded to areas where even Kiva and Acumen can't go just yet, and how such reduces the enemy's ability to recruit and find succor in those communities.

The proposition that the skills and methods of American venture capitalists can be successfully applied to the problem of stimulating economic development in the radically different environments currently contested by armed forces in the developing world remains largely unsupported and IMO very much questionable.


Wed, 04/10/2013 - 4:43pm

In reply to by Sparapet

Thank you for your thoughts and response. With respect to your comments collectively I should like to address what I believe is the underlying counterargument and that is the inability to master Emergence due to the well stated fact there is no such thing as three distinct or concentric circles (or really any circles at all).

My thinking with respect to the Core, Edge and Last Mile is not that these are distinct spaces but rather conceptual place holders allowing the reader to provide for a quick map they can then follow in their own fashion. In my own work and investments I have found Calabi Yau Manifolds, and in particular their application in modeling multidimensionality in Superstring Theory, to be the most beneficial representation of these amorphous spaces and the highly fluid boundaries between such. (

I cannot agree more in that Emergence is never something to be Mastered, as it in itself is not a single thing, or even a known or predictable compilation of things. However, if we move away from deterministic or Newtonian/Core models to probabilistic or Quantum/Last Mile models we find we can earlier see and with a higher degree of certainty benefit from Emerging trends and movements. And in some cases, we can influence what eventually emerges, though not always 'determine' either success or eventual composition and posture.

Ned McDonnell III

Wed, 04/10/2013 - 12:16am

In reply to by Sparapet

This article is challenging for a lay-reader like me since it integrates thinking new to me into the larger counter-insurgency discourse. Yet, this fresh perspective of E.M. Burlingame is important to consider. Sparapet made an interesting observation that the sophisticated SOF Operator functions much like the Guardian-Philosopher King of Plato. Indeed, only a renaissance man could take on this framework and manifest it successfully in the field.

While much of E.M. Burlingame’s article is new to me, from my limited view, this article presents a powerful paradigm, especially when one takes into account MAJ Mark Brown’s interesting essay from almost two weeks ago, “Village Stability Operations: An Historical Perspective from Vietnam to Afghanistan”. In response to what else has been written in the commentary, I would like to make the following points.

First, this schema is very powerful. The ‘last mile’ idea applies well to Afghanistan, my frame of reference. The place is a no-man’s land. Who wants Afghanistan? I suspect one reason why the place is a grave-yard of empires is because those empires did not need the place. After all, three of those doomed empires defined the country’s current borders; call these borders, if one will, the historical investment lines of the erstwhile Persian, Russian and the British empires

Second, since Afghanistan will never be the jewel in the imperial crown of N.A.T.O. or anybody else, the perspective of counterinsurgency shifts one from the traditional war of attrition (what happened for eight years in Afghanistan, with little to no success) toward Village Stability Operations. To use a medical analogy, there is a big difference between the medieval practice of bleeding a patient (i.e., a war of attrition carried out by the traditional army) and building internal anti-bodies (i.e., a V.S.O. presence).

Third, since only Afghans are likely to want Afghanistan, resistance should best come from within. Like antibodies adapting themselves against diseases within the body, the proposed framework gears in the flexibility for local economies and populations to adapt to emergent threats of morphing networks, defusing them by generating rudimentary commerce and granting people a stake in their future. Learning to make something from nothing requires mentoring; that is where the SOF comes into play.

Fourth, the endearing artifice of hardening an analogy – such as the modern Green Beret using the mind and matter of venture capitalism – into the value proposition underlying the framework so as to refute the analogy, rather than criticize the argument itself is a classic straw-man maneuver. Additionally, like any other dynamic reality, a description of this framework has the same distorting effect of trying to capture a photon, collapsing a wave into a point.

Fifth, the flexibility of the framework proposed enables the villages in Afghanistan to become ‘mini-cores’ of economic activity in a manner that accommodates traditional values; that creative adaptation reduces the alienation of the discipline being taught. Thus, these cores can co-opt the last mile over time. This is speculation, just like venture capital. Except that the SOF makes the same investment in different ways in different villages to plant the seed of success in some, of emulation in others.


Tue, 04/09/2013 - 5:02pm

Three thoughts....

1. This article presents an interesting parallel between a Venture Capitalist's successful behaviors and those of a full-spectrum special operator. Industry knowledge, due diligence, management vetting, and understanding the competition all have parallels in warfare. In fact, I would say in all human endeavors that approach the complex. There is, however, another word for Venture Capitalism, a word that captures a VC industry reality that VC is to be engaged in by those with a lot of capital. That word is speculation. That is, it is measured risk, as opposed to a ruinous gamble. Risk on the scale of corporate investment, even at the low end of the spectrum, is measured in many thousands of dollars and not much else. If a venture capitalist is skilled at spreading the risk of an investment, he can do with putting less of his own capital at risk.....but it is still speculation.

The reason it is speculation has to do with what the article repeats to the point where the word seems to lose meaning: emergence. Emergence, a property of complex systems, is by definition unpredictable. It can only be speculated at, no matter how much risk mitigation is done. While risk mitigation lowers the risk profile, it is not fool proof. What's more, emergent properties can act on unimaginable scales. Humanity has a tool box to deal with emergence. It is experience combined with education that help the operator define the limits of possible outcomes and therefore make the task of problem solving simpler. Intelligence is the delivery system of the experience and education munitions. If the munitions are poor and the delivery system isn't well maintained the results will be poor every time.

In other words, emergence cannot be mastered. I would say that this formulation is probably misleading. The only thing one can master is an environment, and emergence is the change of an environment. Which means one who seeks to succeed in an environment prone to unpredictable change, must be skilled at adapting to many environments. Which takes brains and resources. Which leads to my second thought...

2. The Core, Last Mile, and the Edge as described in the article bring to mind three concentric circles with fuzzy transitions. This model seems static. It implies three domains between which one may move. Or rather, a network can move or span. Yet it does seem rather limiting, which I would argue is a dangerous feature for a model to have when it describes an emergent environment. Let's take the 'ol Afghanistan circa Aug 2001 example. Taliban is the core of the state (or what passes for a state on the territory in question). Northern Alliance is the Last Mile. We come in, disrupt this "system" and make a version of the Northern Alliance the Core, and then, over a short period of time, push its remnants into the Edge in order to promote a new Core centered on the old Taliban's old turf and people. In a complex environment like that, applying a rigid three-circle model to try to understand how its networks interact would be absurdly confusing. I am not sure if this jargon is en vogue at SOCOM at the moment, but if it is, then I am disturbed that an organization that is supposedly the smartest and fittest of the lot is so susceptible to classic technocratic failings.

3. There are two implications that I find inescapable if EM Burlingame's conclusion is to be realized. First, the SOF Operator of the future is virtual renaissance man. Or the very least around 50 years old with a lifetime of learning and experience. One of the key features the article ascribes to a Venture Capitalist is an understanding of the industry. Population centric warfare (an absurd concept to begin with, as all warfare is always population centric until we fight the Ceylons) requires an understanding of everything that here back home we call governance. In other words, if we have such SOF Operators then we should aim to make every one of them a member of the Executive Branch, POTUS to the last GS-13, to run the country. Understanding network theory and analysis may lead you spot trends and start predicting them with better accuracy, but it will never tell you what to do to shape them. Social network study is almost exclusively an ex post facto endeavor, for example. It looks at why something happened, not what should be done to achieve an X result. (I know practitioners imagine that they can predict, but I have yet to see good evidence of it).

Which brings to this concluding thought. Emergence comes in two flavors according to current theories, strong and weak. Weak emergence can be explained AFTER it is described (after it happens) by looking at its proximate causes. Strong emergence is definition. Network theory does a fair shake of exploring weak emergence, but it is an ex post facto endeavor. What the SOF community needs are highly intelligent, well educated (in the humanities as well as hard sciences) operators. The VC community may have a few lessons to teach about risk analysis, but it isn't a model for problem solving in warfare, the most complex and consequential of human endeavors.

From the Abstract:

"Population-centric conflict is about people, about ever-evolving, investment intensive, highly complex personal relationships, meaning, on the most fundamental level, this warfare is about establishing and maintaining shared purpose and obligations between individuals over protracted periods of time."

OK. That being the case, then:

a. What exactly is the "shared purpose and obligation" that will become the "glue" that binds various peoples together -- over protracted periods of time -- and which will become the foundation of these strategically important relationships and networks? And

b. What will be the thing that will tend to cause these strategically critical relationships and networks to (1) not be able to be formed in the first place or, having been formed, (2) fall apart?

For the sake of this discussion, let us say that this shared purpose and obligation will be:

To improve the success rate of American public and private international development projects and to, thereby, more quickly, more dramatically and more drastically alter and improve both the way of life and the way of governance of the people living in less modern/less developed countries.

Likewise, for the sake of this discussion, let us say that the matter that will cause these relationships and networks to be unable to be formed -- and/or will cause these relationships/networks to not endure -- is the fact that different populations groups (to the point of actual warfare) often are unwilling and/or simply unable to abandon their more traditional way of life and way of governance.

This being the case, then how and, more importantly, to what end, does one form relationships and networks of modernizers in lands in which the vast majority of the population does not wish to be modernized?

(Herein, would our such actions serve no positive purpose, but only serve to paint a target on these too-few and/or insufficiently motivated and committed pro-modernizers' backs?)

I'm honestly becoming a bit annoyed by this deification of the venture capital investor. While I acknowledge that venture capitalists play a vital role, they are far from infallible. Even working in their own business culture in conditions far more conducive to success than those to be faced by the proposed venture capital Green Berets, US venture capitalists fail as often as they succeed; more often according to some:…

<i>About three-quarters of venture-backed firms in the U.S. don't return investors' capital, according to recent research by Shikhar Ghosh, a senior lecturer at Harvard Business School.</i>

In the US venture capital world that's acceptable, as the return on investment from a successful VC investment can be large enough to cover a substantial number of failures... but how well will that work in an operational environment?

That's aside from numerous previously stated objections pointing out that the challenge and the need seem very substantially oversimplified.

Bill C.

Fri, 04/05/2013 - 8:15pm

In reply to by emburlingame

Our overall goals and objectives seem to be in conflict with one another and seem to make the building of enduring relationships something of a difficult or impossible task.

Let me attempt to explain:

a. On the one hand, we wish to mitigate the conditions which make populations susceptible to adverse things such as extremist ideologies.

b. On the other hand, we are determined to work with, for and through investors, etc., to drastically, dramatically and immediately change the way of life and way of governance of these same populations. This, seeming to require that these populations:

1. Abandon the values, attitudes and beliefs upon which their current way of life and way of governance are based and

2. Adopt alien values, attitudes and beliefs; those which tend to accommodate -- not so much the wants, needs and desires of these less modern people -- but more so the wants, needs and desires of investors and the more modern world.

How is it that we unable to see the conflict between these goals ("a" and "b" above) and understand that:

a. Not poverty but, indeed, our determination to alter the way of life and way of governance of other populations to meet our needs. This being, in fact,

b. The very real and actual "adverse condition" which actually does -- not mitigate - but give rise to and help sustain radical extremism and the increased threat to ourselves, our allies and our interests?

(This explanation also helping to explain why ever-increasing numbers of SOF are needed to keep these populations in check?)


Thu, 04/04/2013 - 8:21pm

In reply to by Bill C.

This is taken from the article itself and demonstrates a 'Total Awareness' is required by the VC to be successful. As well, this Total Awareness is what is discussed when talking about full-scale Human Domain Operators and Operations, which go far beyond simply the M in the DIMEFIL...

"The first capacity requires a thorough knowledge and experience in the investor’s space, and that is the ability to quickly see (in real time and often in advance) the trends and movements within the particular industry and those many industries and participants the investor’s investment touches, interacts with and is dependent upon. The successful VC is highly skilled at perpetually pulling an immense number of minute and most often random pieces of information from a vast array of sources, qualifying against experience in order to develop highly sophisticated actionable maps, with the sole purpose to effectively allocate an ever shifting array of internal and external resources. The second is the critical base of the first, and that is the VC is highly adept at building, sustaining and expanding interwoven networks of relationships, from the lowest level office employee all the way up through the entrepreneur and the corporate executive, to academia, government and political figures, regulatory bodies and law enforcement, and to banks, investment banks, investment funds and to very high net-worth individuals."

At page 7 and 8 of Footnote Number 5, Admiral McRaven discusses the operational context or environment in other nations and the importance of knowing such things as the indigenous societies' culture, history, beliefs, values and motivations, etc.

Might I be so bold (or so dumb) as to suggest that this is really only about one half of the operational context or environment.

The other half of the operational context or environment being the beliefs, values, motivations and, most specifically, the agenda, of the foreign powers (to include the United States/the western world) operating in the area.

Understanding of both of these integral parts of the puzzle seems necessary.

This more complete picture would seem to provide us with such things as (1) a more accurate description of the operating context or environment and (2) an idea of where conflict might be expected and/or agreement more easily found.

With this more complete understanding of the operational environment, then we might also have a better way of understanding how the global trends noted by EM (see his introduction) may impact any or all parties concerned -- and their agenda and preferred way of life.