Small Wars Journal


Journal Articles are typically longer works with more more analysis than the news and short commentary in the SWJ Blog.

We accept contributed content from serious voices across the small wars community, then publish it here as quickly as we can, per our Editorial Policy, to help fuel timely, thoughtful, and unvarnished discussion of the diverse and complex issues inherent in small wars.

by Aly Verjee | Sat, 04/04/2020 - 2:34am | 0 comments
As the coronavirus pandemic continues and new behavioral practices—from social distancing to avoiding handshakes and hugs—become expected norms overnight, there are crucial policy lessons to be learned from struggles against previous outbreaks of disease in Africa.
by Anonymous All-Sourcer | Fri, 04/03/2020 - 6:58pm | 0 comments
Words mean things. The mantra of the best Senior Intelligence Analyst I know has a curt humor to it, but in our business, it is advice worth remembering. In a recent opinion piece for "Foreign Policy", political scientist and author, Micah Zenko describes the leadership shortcomings of the Trump administration throughout the COVID-19 crisis. The article’s title? “The Coronavirus Is the Worst Intelligence Failure in U.S. History.” Words mean things.
by William J. Long | Fri, 04/03/2020 - 4:32pm | 0 comments
In his book “Pandemics and Peace,” published in 2011 by USIP Press, Dr. William Long contended that infectious disease control presents an unparalleled opportunity for American leadership in global public health. Long looks back at the recommendations he made for U.S. global health policy and how they are relevant today and at how other outbreaks in recent years have led to increased cooperation.
by Chris Telley | Fri, 04/03/2020 - 8:12am | 0 comments
U.S. military leaders, at home and abroad, champion the idea that the United States military is the “partner of choice” for security relations in its competition with revisionist actors like Russia and China. But, is it, really? For the first time in thirty years, a peer competitor is challenging US influence in the western hemisphere; hard questions and innovative actions are required to ensure that security customers in the region choose us.
by SWJ Editors | Wed, 04/01/2020 - 2:33pm | 0 comments
This document is a summary of 16 key research and game findings focused specifically on the characteristics of civil-military response to a pandemic scenario. The numbered bullets below correspond to more detailed explanations of findings presented later in the document. While these findings are in no way definitive or complete, they are a sampling of relevant guidance based on research, gaming and expert opinion. It is our hope that these 16 findings will contribute to improving civilian and military effectiveness in humanitarian assistance and disaster response operations.
by James T. Houser | Wed, 04/01/2020 - 3:21am | 2 comments
Sun Tzu’s injunction to “know your enemy” is never more critical than in counterinsurgency (COIN) warfare. During its COIN conflicts in the last hundred years, the United States military has fallen especially prey to the thinking trap of lumping all its opponents into the same category. COIN expert David Kilcullen identified this phenomenon as “accidental guerrilla syndrome” in his 2009 book of the same name.
by Andrew Watkins | Mon, 03/30/2020 - 9:09am | 0 comments
For years, the U.S. military pursued a "divide and defeat" strategy against the Afghan Taliban, attempting to exploit the supposedly fragmented nature of the group. Drawing on the academic literature on insurgency, civil war, and negotiated peace, this report finds that the Taliban is a far more cohesive organization than a fragmented one.
by W. R. Baker | Sun, 03/29/2020 - 1:26pm | 0 comments
While March 29th is National Vietnam War Veterans Day, the “official” federal remembrance day (August 18th in Australia and New Zealand), each of us who went to war will probably remember not only the date we left the United States and the date we returned, but also certain events in-between that occurred in the land which President Reagan called “…100 rice paddies and jungles in a place called Vietnam.”
by David Retherford | Sun, 03/29/2020 - 10:04am | 0 comments
Historical publications on pandemic disasters have generated considerable traction in the last few years, months, and just last week.
by Thomas M. Hill, by Nate Wilson | Sat, 03/28/2020 - 7:36pm | 0 comments
What’s next for Libya’s civil war and how can the U.N. and European Union (EU) play a constructive role in bringing the conflict to a close? USIP’s Nate Wilson and Thomas Hill discuss the EU’s effort to enforce an arms embargo, the impact of the conflict on Libyan society, Turkey’s involvement in Libya and more.
by Michael D. Phillips, by Thomas A. Drohan | Fri, 03/27/2020 - 11:16am | 0 comments
Warfare has become all-domain, all-effects, and all-information. This reality is well outside the conventional wisdom of a “threshold of armed conflict.” Operations in and across land, sea, air, space, and the electro-magnetic spectrum (cyber-plus) depend on information and more importantly, create information. Our combined arms approach to warfare focuses on operationalizing information. That is, using information to support all-domain operations. To win wars in the Information Age, we must complete the other half of the job: informatizing operations. That is, we need to use operations to create superior information effects.
by Scott Smith | Thu, 03/26/2020 - 9:37pm | 0 comments
U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s effort this week to bring the parties together failed and led the U.S. to reduce aid to Afghanistan. Amid all this uncertainty, Afghanistan is beginning to see the signs of a coronavirus outbreak, which could devastate the country given its poor health infrastructure and pollution problems. USIP’s Scott Smith explains how the coronavirus could further exacerbates an already complex situation.
by Jonathan Pinckney, by Miranda Rivers | Wed, 03/25/2020 - 8:55pm | 0 comments
As the coronavirus has grown into a global pandemic, many movements that have relied on street protests have struggled to know how to respond. The evidence of a global slowdown in public protests is striking. As news of the virus spread and public health authorities began recommending a stop to public gatherings with large numbers of people in early March, the number of public protests around the world dropped precipitously.
by Rachel Vandenbrink | Wed, 03/25/2020 - 6:05am | 0 comments
China’s move to expel U.S. journalists from the country last week comes at a time of great need for accurate information about COVID-19. The move is part of a broader Chinese effort to control the global narrative about the pandemic and is especially dangerous right now—as cracking down on foreign media further undermines trust in China’s ability to respond to the pandemic with transparency.
by Jonathan F. Lancelot | Mon, 03/23/2020 - 7:03am | 0 comments
No generation on Earth currently has experienced any crisis event like the one we are living in today, just fantastic images from the imagination of screenwriters. This does not excuse the international community, economic institutions, and individual nation-state governments from being unprepared.
by Mona Yacoubian | Sun, 03/22/2020 - 9:59am | 0 comments
As the world grapples with the dangerous and evolving coronavirus pandemic, the impact on the most vulnerable populations—the homeless, prison populations, and the impoverished—cannot be overestimated. In the Middle East, a region already ravaged by conflict and suffering from inadequate services and poor governance, the novel coronavirus could have untold consequences.
by Fouad Pervez | Sat, 03/21/2020 - 1:02am | 0 comments
With COVID-19 officially labelled a global pandemic, the focus for many countries has turned toward protecting their most vulnerable populations. But what about camps for refugees and internally displaced persons (IDPs)? Many camps lack the resources to maintain their already poor infrastructure, and the threat of a COVID-19 outbreak puts millions of displaced persons in a dangerous position.
by Irina Tsukerman | Fri, 03/20/2020 - 12:28pm | 0 comments
The political bloc of Oman, Qatar, and Iran is working together to legitimize Houthis politically and to facilitate Houthi leadership travel to Iran, as well as training for the fighters. All of that serves to benefit Iran's agenda in the region and undermines the GCC even as GCC was created to counter jointly Iran's security threats to the Gulf Arab states in the 1980s.
by Jonathan F. Lancelot | Fri, 03/20/2020 - 11:42am | 0 comments
What are the current implications for US national security? The first implication is our open market view of cyberspace and the sale of data by private social network companies like Facebook. Our national security is encumbered when private companies can use the data of citizens to sell to any entity who can pay, like the Cambridge Analytica case.
by Max G. Manwaring | Wed, 03/18/2020 - 3:36pm | 0 comments
A multi-polar world in which one or a hundred non-state and state actors are exerting differing types and levels of power, within a set of cross-cutting types and levels of power, is extremely volatile and dangerous. The security and stability of the global community is threatened, and the benefits of globalism could be denied to all.
by Brandon C. Patrick | Tue, 03/17/2020 - 4:22pm | 0 comments
Putin’s effort to divide NATO through the recruitment of Erdogan has run aground in Syria, where the Russian-backed forces of Bashar al-Assad were recently battered by superior Turkish aircraft and weaponry. After Syrian and Russian aircraft attacked a Turkish column and killed 33 (some report as many as 100) Turkish troops, Erdogan’s forces downed Syrian fighter planes, destroyed Syrian tanks and artillery pieces and killed Syrian soldiers.
by Harry Verhoeven | Mon, 03/16/2020 - 5:58am | 0 comments
When Eritrea’s president last month hosted the leaders of Ethiopia and Somalia to discuss “regional cooperation,” that initiative drew few global headlines. Still, Eritrea’s move should be noted by policymakers and others working for stability in the Horn of Africa and the Red Sea region.
by Elie Abouaoun, by Alberto Fernandez | Sun, 03/15/2020 - 8:13pm | 2 comments
Without question, the role of the media in peace and conflict is becoming ever more important. While terror groups like IS have been proven effective in their use of media for their sinister agendas, has the rest of the world caught up?
by Mona Yacoubian | Fri, 03/13/2020 - 8:22am | 0 comments
The engagement of external actors has protracted the conflict and Syrians civilians continue to bear the brunt. USIP’s Mona Yacoubian discusses the dreadful toll on the Syrian population and what the battle for Idlib means for the trajectory of the conflict.
by Colin Cookman | Thu, 03/12/2020 - 11:21am | 1 comment
Approximately five and a half months after Afghanistan held nationwide presidential elections in September 2019, incumbent President Ashraf Ghani and runner-up Abdullah Abdullah have held parallel inauguration ceremonies this week, with each side claiming the authority to form the next government. The current political crisis complicates efforts to open up broader power-sharing talks with the Taliban called for under an agreement signed in Doha at the end of February, as President Ghani seeks to consolidate his authority, and Abdullah and his supporters seek to claim a seat at the negotiating table.
by Kevin Gentzler, by Ken Turner | Thu, 03/12/2020 - 3:16am | 0 comments
Command is different from any other leadership challenge an officer may face. Command is more demanding than simply accepting the organizational colors. Command is different because of the level of authority, responsibility, and accountability inherent in command, the expectations placed on the commander, and the changes required in a how a commander must think to solve the problems faced by the organization. Successful commanders understand the role of commandership.
by Justin Baumann | Wed, 03/11/2020 - 12:36pm | 1 comment
This article attempts to produce a framework that can help public health officials and military leaders develop strategies and operations to counter and eradicate Covid-19 type viral pandemics or other future bioweapon threats we might face on the hybrid-warfare battlefield.
by Emilio Iasiello | Wed, 03/11/2020 - 8:18am | 0 comments
The question of attribution has always remained a murky effort, largely because of the difficulty in proving direct links between the activity and a specific state, but it appears that over the past few years the threshold for that rigor has significantly decreased.
by Nancy Lindborg | Sun, 03/08/2020 - 9:42pm | 0 comments
On International Women’s Day, reflecting on the long road ahead to equality—and how far we’ve come.
by Joseph J. Collins | Sat, 03/07/2020 - 5:45am | 0 comments
SWJ Book Review of Jason Bohm’s "From the Cold War to ISIL: One Marine’s Journey".
by Mark Knight | Thu, 03/05/2020 - 12:28pm | 1 comment
A dilemma is now facing western militaries, in-so-far as, the contextual terrain has shifted to such an extent that their enemies refuse to engage them in a manner that would ensure their own destruction. Focus on this modern Sphacterian-dilemma has led to discussions and debates that are encapsulated within the ‘War amongst the people’ arena.
by Lee Taylor | Thu, 03/05/2020 - 12:42am | 0 comments
An understanding of this particular case offers not only relevant lessons for the U.S. in our continuing small wars operations, but also on national interests in Colombia—including economic considerations and counter-narcotics efforts—could become threatened by FARC’s dissident groups.
by Morgan Smiley | Wed, 03/04/2020 - 10:40am | 0 comments
The “thousand-yard stare” from an infantry officer talking about his time in Iraq; routine bursts of anger from a former soldier who watch his friend step on an IED; a seasoned NCO who exited his track only to turn around and desperately scream to get back inside. Despite the myriad of training maneuvers, large-scale training center rotations, life-fire exercises, shoot-house drills, etc... nothing in training really prepares one for the visceral ugliness of combat.
by Robert S. Ehlers, Jr, by Patrick Blannin | Tue, 03/03/2020 - 11:01am | 0 comments
While the IE appears new as a reality and a concept, it is not. In fact, it is merely the latest defi-nitional means for making sense of how human beings use information to influence the direc-tion and outcome of competition and conflict.
by Andrew J. Bibb | Mon, 03/02/2020 - 9:47am | 0 comments
"The U.S. Army lacks sufficient doctrine and training on how conventional forces should productively engage with, or talk to, local populations across the range of military operations...The result is units that are unable to effectively interact in the human domain and unable to understand and influence their area of operations."
by Vikram J. Singh | Sun, 03/01/2020 - 8:11am | 0 comments
President Trump’s recent trip to India yielded no progress on a bilateral trade agreement, one of the main issues both leaders hoped to address. Despite the trade impasse, both President Trump and Indian Prime Minister Narenda Modi used the two-day trip to reinforce the positive relationship between the U.S. and India, as official discussions finalized several defense and energy deals. USIP’s Vikram Singh looks at the state of trade talks, the possibility of U.S. mediation in Kashmir, India’s regional stance on the Afghan peace process, and how China’s growing global influence impacts U.S.-India relations.
by Keith Nightingale | Sun, 03/01/2020 - 6:30am | 0 comments
Many people achieve positions of responsibility and manage their position but they don’t lead. Others may be superb leaders and be responsible for very little but significantly influential. It all depends on how the personality impacts the people within the sphere of influence and exposure.
by Mona Yacoubian | Sat, 02/29/2020 - 4:53am | 0 comments
Coinciding with Lebanon’s worst financial crisis in decades, popular protests in the country have been ongoing for more than four months. The protests were initially sparked by a government tax on the popular WhatsApp messaging service. They quickly evolved into Lebanon’s largest, sustained peaceful protest movement. The demonstrations were notable for being geographically diverse and starkly anti-sectarian.
by Hesham Youssef | Fri, 02/28/2020 - 5:05pm | 0 comments
The Trump administration’s vision for addressing the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has provoked diverse reactions from the parties and the international community, leaving opponents and supporters continuing to analyze the initiative and chart their next immediate moves. But taking the long view, some implications of the plan can be glimpsed on the horizon.
by Scott Harr | Thu, 02/27/2020 - 12:42pm | 1 comment
Iran, since the Islamic Revolution in 1979, has prioritized and dedicated significant resources to protecting the ruling regime from UW threats from within while (leveraging its empirically won UW principles) projecting highly capable UW forces abroad.
by Thomas A. Drohan | Wed, 02/26/2020 - 9:15am | 0 comments
A cultural “firebreak” between what is broadly branded as political, and what is narrowly construed as military, is undermining effective strategy and values. The firebreak is—military leaders avoiding political issues—being non-political. Military operations occur in deeply political contexts and narratives with long-term causes and effects, but senior military leaders generally don’t go there. The causes of this avoidance appear to be cultural, and cultural transformation tends to lag technology and threats. The firebreak shows up in policy, strategy, and doctrine — which leadership can change.
by Sean Parrott | Wed, 02/26/2020 - 5:59am | 2 comments
The United States Army is training to fight the wrong war. At the tactical level, units are preparing to meet near-peer threats in open terrain. A typical field exercise sees soldiers patrolling the woods or fighting pitched tank battles in the open desert. What you will not see is a rifle squad clearing a city block or practicing urban breaching techniques.
by Chris Bosley | Tue, 02/25/2020 - 1:05am | 0 comments
Governments and communities worldwide are facing the increasingly daunting challenge of what to do when citizens who participated in violent extremist conflicts return home. With ISIS’s territorial caliphate extinguished, more than 100 countries could face the task of not only having to reintegrate their citizens, but also preparing their communities for a future with them living next door. This is a society-wide challenge that will engage a cross-cutting spectrum of stakeholders deploying a range of peacebuilding and other tools to build communities and individuals who are more resilient to violent extremism.
by Robert S. Ehlers, Jr, by Thomas A. Drohan | Mon, 02/24/2020 - 12:17am | 0 comments
There is still disagreement and outright confusion about what the IE is, why it matters, how to operate within it, and how to develop a terms and definitions relating to it. While terms and definitions comprise the primary focus of this article, it is most useful to discuss them in the context of interactions between information, competition, and strategy.
by Larry Kay | Sun, 02/23/2020 - 5:33am | 0 comments
Why are conspiracies so prevalent? Why are facts and truth so elusive to so many today? Why are people so susceptible to disinformation? Why is the current political climate so peculiar, turbulent, and divided? It is clear that there is a relationship between the disinformation that people ingest and the vitriol that some seem to spit out. These puzzling circumstances may be the result of a growing trend of postmodern thought in the United States and the world.
by John S. Turner | Sat, 02/22/2020 - 8:16am | 0 comments
Last Wednesday, the Pentagon announced the Army’s 1st SFAB (SFAB—Security Force Assistance Brigade) would deploy within the coming weeks to conduct train, advise, and assist missions in select African countries. This is a good move as it sustains U.S. military presence, and reinforces U.S. commitment to regional security partners as they work to beat back violent extremist and strategic competitor gains for influence.
by Adam Gallagher | Fri, 02/21/2020 - 8:51am | 0 comments
After a year and a half of negotiations, the U.S. and Taliban have reached an interim agreement to reduce violence for a period of seven days. If that agreement holds, the two sides will formalize a pact that would lead to intra-Afghan negotiations and a phased U.S. troop withdrawal. Although the reduction in violence is an important achievement, it is but one step on a long, rocky road to peace, noted current and former senior U.S. officials on February 18 at the U.S. Institute of Peace.
by Cooper Strand | Fri, 02/21/2020 - 12:38am | 0 comments
While the termination of the VFA does not necessarily mean a complete end to cooperation between the Philippines and the United States, it does set a precedent that makes continued cooperation more doubtful. Certainly, the Philippines has the right to self-determination. But withdrawing from the VFA could have overwhelmingly negative consequences for the country itself as it grapples with insurgent forces. Additionally, these repercussions could be felt in the Asia-Pacific region as a whole by emboldening Chinese military activity in the region.
by Scott Smith | Thu, 02/20/2020 - 12:51pm | 0 comments
The agreement offers an opportunity to start a process to end the war—but there is much to be done to get there. USIP’s Scott Smith examines the U.S.-Taliban deal and what comes next.
by Franklin C. Annis | Thu, 02/20/2020 - 8:52am | 0 comments
The technological advancements that has allowed for the use of drones, has largely sharpened the existing ethical concerns of military conflicts. As the longer loiter times of drones have allowed for more positive identification of targets, so has the demand to ensure targets are appropriately identified. As drones have allowed for minimizing collateral damage, so has the demand for less collateral damaged has increased. In this way, many of the legal and ethical concerns surrounding drones are simply a re-examination of the classical ethical concerns of armed conflict heightened by advanced technology.