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Small Wars Preparations in Support of the Joint Operational Environment 2035

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Small Wars Preparations in Support of the Joint Operational Environment 2035

David B. Parker

The Joint Operational Environment 2035 (JOE 2035) posits globalization, evolving ideological conflict, alternative hubs of authority, and the rise of privatized violence as key contributors towards future conflict and instability.  As a result of these drivers of instability, the U.S. military must prepare across the spectrum of small wars, while maintaining its capacity to transition from one emerging challenge to another with poise and intellect.  Viewing types of small wars as distinctly separate and mutually exclusive is a flawed and myopic vision since the world is an interconnected place and the types of small wars the joint force may encounter in the future will often occur simultaneously and as a result of transnational destabilizing factors.  Therefore, preparations for future small wars must holistically account for stability operations, Foreign Humanitarian Assistance (FHA) and peace operations, and counter-insurgency (COIN) operations and counterterrorism.

Preparations for stability operations in the JOE 2035 are critical for the entire U.S. military. These preparations must include bolstering interagency and international cooperation and integration in order to achieve desired political outcomes.  The goal of stability operations is to apply various instruments of national power by, with, and through host nations and local communities in order to address the drivers of conflicts as identified in the JOE 2035, foster resiliency at home and abroad, and set conditions for sustainable peace and security.  The joint force must prepare to work with interagency, international, and non-governmental partners to effectively support U.S. government efforts to provide for humanitarian relief, the reconstruction of critical infrastructure, the allocation of essential governmental services, and the maintenance or reestablishment of a secure environment.  Some would argue preparations for future stability operations necessitate a comprehensive look at force structures and specializations.  This option will likely prove untenable in a fiscally-constrained environment with force strength limitations.

Likewise, the U.S. military should resist the temptation to lump stabilization efforts solely under Phase IV of the Joint Operations Planning Process.  Stability operations often occur across the conflict spectrum before, during, and after conflict.  In essence, stability operations are conducted in order to avoid high-end kinetic conflict.  Any member of the U.S. military may find themselves conducting stability operations, which necessitates training across the force for the eventuality of these types of operations.  When properly built into the National Security Strategy, Unified Campaign Plan, integrated country strategies, and theater campaign plans, stability operations in Phase 0 (Shape) and Phase 1 (Deter) are instrumental in mitigating the drivers that can erupt into kinetic conflict.  Evolutions in the U.S. military’s preparations for stability operations in the JOE 2035 should be grounded in intelligent doctrine and policy from which tailored plans are developed in order to address the nuances of each unique situation.  Likewise, the joint force must account for the importance of civil-military cooperation and exercise this integration regularly.  Foreign Humanitarian Assistance (FHA) and peace operations are the perfect vehicles to prepare the U.S. military for the whole-of-government unity of effort required for successful stability operations in the future operating environment.

The U.S. military is never in the lead during FHA and peace operations; the joint force is in a supporting role.  This defining characteristic is a stark reality the U.S. military must become comfortable with in the JOE 2035.  During FHA missions, U.S. military presence results from requests for support from a host nation (HN), the United Nations (UN), and/or an interagency lead or civilian authority.  Assistance provided by the U.S. military during FHA is limited in scope and duration and remains purposed to complement and supplement HN efforts.  Likewise, consent by the parties in a truce is also a fundamental requirement for the presence of UN peacekeepers and peace enforcement operations.  The Geographic Combatant Commanders and components thereof must prepare their forces to meet the challenges of these traditionally non-combat missions across the conflict spectrum.  The future operating environment will, without a doubt, be marked by natural disasters, resource scarcities, disease epidemics, refugee crises, mass migrations, and tenuous peace agreements.  The U.S. military must be prepared to expertly function despite the fog and friction associated with its supporting role, while often times donning the moniker of diplomat, guest, and logistician rather than warfighter during FHA and peace operations.  In fact, many of the 15 fundamentals of peace operations are also requirements for the effective prosecution of counterinsurgency operations in the future operational environment.

The future security environment is ripe for insurgencies and terrorist organizations.  Global urbanization will stretch thin limited resources, create conditions for the expansion of ungoverned urban areas, and place cities as influential actors on the global stage.  Evolving ideological conflict characterized by a declining legitimacy of state authority, rapidly shifting group identities, and increasing ideological polarization will further accelerate regions towards instability.  These aspects coupled with a rise in alternate hubs of authority will pit the U.S. military against a multitude of adaptive, irregular sub-state adversaries who will likely collude against the joint force and harness the power of diffused technologies, strategic messaging, and global Internet connectivity.  The U.S. military and civilian leadership must tread wisely, cautiously, and lightly when it comes to combating and preparing for these instability contributors, insurgencies, and transnational threats.  These types of conflicts are never quick military victories; fighting insurgencies and transnational threats necessitates a long-war strategy in addition to enduring public resolve and support.  Countering insurgencies and terrorist organizations requires a population-centric approach anchored by careful analysis of the political, military, economic, social, information, infrastructure, physical environment, and time dynamics of a given operational environment and the drivers of conflict.  In the JOE 2035, the U.S. military must carefully evaluate these aspects of the operational environment and continuously and proactively reevaluate campaign plans against them.  The U.S. military and its civilian masters must avoid empirically-supported tendencies to solve a social or political problem with military force or kill their way out of an insurgency or transnational problem-set. As evidenced by the ongoing conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan, the U.S. military is expert at planning for Day-One of a military conflict, but afterward, the U.S. military and whole-of-government apparatus are not well prepared to mitigate complex Day-Two issues.  On many occasions, the presence of the U.S. military can actually feed an insurgent or terrorist narrative, further, destabilizing a situation and placing political goals farther out of reach.  Additionally, fighting an insurgency or a transnational threat cannot be conducted on a time-phased strategy. Well-conceived strategies to counter listed threats in the JOE 2035 must draw from lessons learned in Iraq and Afghanistan, posit salient political objectives and end-states; target the supporting resources, radical ideologies, core grievances, and populations that garner strength for insurgents and terrorist; and transition on conditions-based, rather than time-based, objective attainment.  Comprehensive U.S. Government efforts during implementation of country-specific strategies, enduring stability operations, security cooperation, foreign internal defense, FHA, and peace operations can effectively mitigate many of the precursors and grievances among the population which often lead to the rise of insurgencies and terrorist organizations in the first place.

Preparations for future small wars described in the JOE 2035 must account for stability operations, FHA and peace operations, and counter-insurgency and counterterrorism operations. Viewing these types of small wars as distinctly separate and mutually exclusive is a flawed perspective; the world is an interconnected place and the types of small wars the joint force may encounter in the future will often occur simultaneously and as a result of one another. Globalization, evolving ideological conflict, alternative hubs of authority, and the rise of privatized violence will continue to be key contributors towards future conflict and instability.  In order to prepare for future small wars, the U.S. military must institute plans to combat and mitigate the drivers of instability before tinderboxes ignite, while realizing mitigation requires a comprehensive, integrated, and well-practiced international, whole-of-government, and civil-military approach.


About the Author(s)

Major David B. Parker is a communications officer currently serving at Headquarters Marine Corps. During his 17 years on active duty, he has participated in NATO operations in Kosovo, security cooperation exercises with the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit, the Korean Incremental Training Program, and counter-insurgency and foreign security force advisory missions in Afghanistan and Iraq.



The JOE 2035 quote I provide immediately below,

This comes from the very beginning of Section 1 - The Future Security Environment 2035 -- part of this document.


From the "Introduction" of the JOE 2035 document:


“The first, the supreme, the most far-reaching act of judgment that the statesman and commander have to make is to establish . . . the kind of war on which they are embarking.”

The emerging security environment can be described by two distinct but related sets of challenges. The first is contested norms, in which increasingly powerful revisionist states and select non-state actors will use any and all elements of power to establish their own sets of rules in ways unfavorable to the United States and its interests. The second is persistent disorder, characterized by an array of weak states that become increasingly incapable of maintaining domestic order or good governance. These twin challenges are likely to disrupt or otherwise undermine a security environment that will remain largely favorable to the United States, but less overtly congruent with U.S. interests.


For comparison, let us consider certain "kind of war that we are embarked upon" thoughts of the not so distance past; first, from the Old Cold War and, next, from the Post-Cold War:

a.  The Old Cold War:

"The United States and the Soviet Union face each other not only as two great powers which in the traditional ways compete for advantage. They also face each other as the fountainheads of two hostile and incompatible ideologies, systems of government and ways of life, each trying to expand the reach of its respective political values and institutions and to prevent the expansion of the other."

(See Hans Morgenthau's 1967 Foreign Affairs" article entitled: "To Intervene or Not to Intervene.")

b.  The Post-Cold War:

"Throughout the Cold War, we contained a global threat to market democracies; now we should seek to enlarge their reach, particularly in places of special significance to us.  

The successor to a doctrine of containment must be a strategy of enlargement -- enlargement of the world's free community of market democracies

(See then-National Security Advisor Anthony Lake's 1993 "From Containment to Enlargement.")

(After 9/11, of course, the gloves would come off, and the U.S./the West, thereafter, WOULD INDEED [a] seek to expand the reach of our political values and institutions and this, indeed, [b] by more forceful means.)

Based on the information I have provide here (see my items "a" and "b" above), one might suggest that:

a.  The "kind of war that we were embraked upon" -- both during the Old Cold War and thereafter --

b.  Contained both "expansionist" and "containment" elements to them.  

In stark contrast, should we note that -- in the JOE 2035 "Introduction" excerpt that I provide above -- one does not seem to find this such "kind of war that we are embarked upon" understanding, explation or criteria?  Which seems to beg the question:

If, today, 

a. Neither "expanding the reach of our own political values and institution"

"This cannot mean a return to the failed policies of the past. The days of Britain and America intervening in sovereign countries in an attempt to remake the world in our own image are over.”

b.  Nor "preventing the expansion of the other's political values and institutions"

“We do not expect diverse countries to share the same cultures, traditions, or even systems of government, but we do expect all nations to uphold these two core sovereign duties: to respect the interests of their own people and the rights of every other sovereign nation.”

“Strong sovereign nations let diverse countries with different values, different cultures, and different dreams not just coexist, but work side by side on the basis of mutual respect.” 

Then, what IS the "kind of war we are embarked upon" -- now/today-- and through 2035?

("Contested norms;" "persistent disorder?")

Given the (similar?) "return to the status quo ante" efforts/movements -- that we are witnessing in both the Global South and in the Global North today.  (Re: these such efforts/movements in the Global North today, see, for example, the Brexit and election of President Trump.) -- 

"Return to the status quo ante" efforts/movements, thus, which appear to have a common nature, a common appeal and a common cause. (In this regard consider, for example, the similarities between the "Caliphate" and the "Make America Great Again" movements?) 

Given the such -- clearly now more-"global"/more-"universal" nature and appeal of these such similar "resistance to further unwanted change"/"return to the status quo ante" movements -- found now both in the Global South and in the Global North -- how might this such:

a.  More clear, comprehensive and complete (?) understanding of our "conflict environment" today.  And:

b.  The clear "all enemies foreign and domestic" implications of same,

c.  Effect (if at all) such things as:

1.  Our view of "the drivers of instability" -- today and going forward to 2035?

2.  Who can (and both has and will) manipulate and exploite same?  And:

3.  What, accordingly, must we must do in relation to these such difficulties and circumstances?