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 Stephen B. Young | Wed, 11/28/2018 - 8:18am | 7 comments
Clausewitz defined war as “a continuation of politics by other means” linking war with political objectives. But what if kinetic violence to break the will of an enemy is systematically organized but has no conventional political objective? Would it still be war? Its objectives might well be to control people and territory; to provide unquestioned order for a community; to regulate behaviors.
by Tamim Asey | Tue, 11/27/2018 - 9:52am | 5 comments
The Afghan government and its allies are winning battles in Afghanistan but not the war. The Afghan war started as the “good war” and as President Obama termed it later as “war of necessity” and was won in less than two months. Quickly the success of the Afghan war was termed as an international model for fighting global terrorism. It was hailed as a model of international cooperation but what has happened since then? Why is it now at worst a “lost war” and at best a “forgotten war”? Is this war winnable? Who is the enemy we are fighting? What are the costs of inaction and withdrawal and what are the costs of winning? What does victory look like? And finally, how we can achieve victory? Do we have the right means both on the Afghan side and on the side of the international community to win it and how long would it take to win this war?
by David S. Maxwell | Fri, 11/23/2018 - 4:54pm | 1 comment
Yesterday, on Thanksgiving Day, we lost a true national treasure, Colonel (Retired) John Collins, Warlord Emeritus at age 97. There are very, very few who have had such an impact on US national security thought as Colonel Collins. Please read his books on military strategy and military geography, special operations (he is the creator of the Five SOF Truths) and small wars and others. From his service in World War II to being General Westmoreland's planner to teaching at the National War College to his second career at the Congressional Research Service he was a prolific writer and exceptional leader, teacher, thinker, and mentor. His lasting legacy is the creation of the Warlord Loop during which for almost two decades he mentored approximately 500 national security practitioners from the military, foreign service, intelligence community, and other government agencies as well as scholars and journalists.
by Colette Rausch, by Tina Luu | Fri, 11/16/2018 - 6:18am | 4 comments
If we want to increase the chances of our missions succeeding, we must first understand the complexity of what we are dealing with and plan accordingly. Moreover, we need to treat planning not as a one-time activity but as an ongoing, iterative affair that is responsive to the continual and multifaceted changes characteristic of complex crises.
by Franklin C. Annis | Wed, 11/14/2018 - 5:36am | 3 comments
Via The Cove - The good news is that the rise of the independent producers of PME might be the solution to “fill the gap” between the credentialed “official” military training and the educational opportunities that soldiers really need.
by Falko Ernst | Tue, 11/13/2018 - 8:28am | 0 comments
This essay is an excerpt from a longer field investigation conducted by Falko Ernst in Michoacán in 2015. The author met with this sicario four times to interview him about his life story. The full story was originally published as “The Life and Death of a Mexican Hitman” on 17 October 2018 by the International Crisis Group.
by Salem Solomon | Mon, 11/12/2018 - 4:29am | 2 comments
The Central African Republic might seem like an unusual venue for Russia’s evolving strategy in Africa. The CAR doesn’t boast Ethiopia’s booming economy or Angola’s deep oil reserves. It lacks a developed mining industry like Zambia or a strategic location like Djibouti.
| Sun, 11/11/2018 - 5:16pm | 2 comments
Mexico’s cartels have become a global problem. From the manufacture and sale of drugs, to human trafficking, turf wars, among other criminal acts, narcos have an international footprint. Ioan Grillo’s "El Narco: Inside Mexico’s Criminal Insurgency", is an account of how Mexico’s cartels were once drug smugglers who later radically transformed into “paramilitary death squads”
by Marc W.D. Tyrrell | Fri, 11/09/2018 - 4:49pm | 0 comments
This essay has been written specifically for Small Wars Journal—El Centro as part of an ongoing Los Caballeros Templarios de Michoacán research project that will be published as a future eBook.
by Army News Service | Thu, 11/08/2018 - 11:23am | 0 comments
Now based at the New Kabul Compound in the middle of the country's capital city, SGT Zabi Abraham is one of the most impactful advisors within the brigade's 5th Battalion. Often, he is at the battalion commander's side, translating conversations between him and senior Afghan leaders.
by Karl Umbrasas | Thu, 11/08/2018 - 10:40am | 2 comments
Mass hysteria may occur within cohesive groups that share information. The nature of twenty-first century media, coupled with frank information manipulation, may create conditions favorable for mass hysterical reactions.
by Brian E. Frydenborg | Wed, 11/07/2018 - 11:34am | 2 comments
Trump and his enablers do enough damage in America and to their direct targets, but the indirect effects are also quite serious, not least of all in the Middle East. Two very current, sad examples are Saudi Arabia and Israel.
by Larry Kay | Tue, 11/06/2018 - 12:02pm | 1 comment
Some would consider it incredulous to believe that thoughts could possibly be the cause of so much pain and grief in the world. Disappointingly, they are not trying hard enough to solve the problem and fail to recognize that the history of the world is indeed a history of thoughts, shaped by ideas before it is even shaped by events.
by James Torrence, by Joseph Pishock | Tue, 11/06/2018 - 5:58am | 0 comments
The Army Signal Corps is at a crossroads. Is the purpose of the Signal Corps to comply with network security directives or accomplish the mission while accepting prudent risk? The answer is not clear. The conflicting priorities of security and mission accomplishment create an environment where Signal Corps leaders are uncertain as to where they can assume risk.
by Nazia Hussain | Mon, 11/05/2018 - 12:50am | 0 comments
To map potential scenarios resulting from risks associated with contemporary challenges, we need to consider alternative explanations to scarcity-induced contention and dystopic visions of conflict in cities.
by Malcolm Beith | Sat, 11/03/2018 - 2:21pm | 0 comments
Brazilian President-elect Jai Bolsonaro’s reverence for the military is well-known, but he’s unlikely to bring Brazil back to a military dictatorship after taking office on Jan. 1. How he tackles the country’s crime and corruption problems is another question. There were more than 63,000 homicides in Brazil in 2017, and the military has become the primary force against the gang problem.
by Teun Voeten, by Maaike Engels | Fri, 11/02/2018 - 5:16pm | 0 comments
In 2016, Voeten and Engels made the documentary ‘Calais: Welcome to the Jungle’, a multilayered documentary on a squalid refugee camp in Northern France ( ). For Canvas TV in Belgium they made ‘Sacrifice’ in 2017 as a short documentary on rituals in the Mexican Drug Violence for which they interviewed sicarios in Ciudad Juárez and Culiacán.
by Gary Anderson | Fri, 11/02/2018 - 2:25pm | 2 comments
The United States does not face existential threats to its sovereignty if caravans of Central American asylum seekers are permitted to cross the Mexican and United States borders with impunity - but - in the case of crossing the U.S. border, it would signal that American laws regarding immigration are no longer being enforced.
by Douglas A. Livermore | Fri, 11/02/2018 - 1:45am | 1 comment
China’s increased security engagement in the Horn of Africa has important implications for United States’ policies equally in the region and globally. China’s expansion presents both risks and opportunities that the United States should judiciously consider and leverage to ensure continued stability and the advancement of interests shared between the U.S. and China.
by Abdul Rahman Rahmani, by Noor Afshan Lawrence | Thu, 11/01/2018 - 1:35pm | 1 comment
When General Abdul Raziq, the Provincial Police Chief of Kandahar Province, was assassinated the effective physiological warfare carried out by the Taliban and their backers in Pakistan prevented a moment in which all Afghans, government officials and the civil populace alike, could have united in their sorrow and grief over losing two national heroes. Instead, people quickly overlooked the damning brutality of the attack, giving credence to the counter claim, and with it, their implicit support to the Taliban.
by T. Nelson Collier | Thu, 11/01/2018 - 12:44am | 1 comment
Several months after the Niger ambush, the President of the United States issued the 2017 National Security Strategy (NSS). The 2017 NSS strategy toward Africa reiterates the rule of law as a priority. Rule of law is integral to the military’s mission, but rule of law requires an understanding of operational law, particularly local law and cultural norms.
by Teun Voeten, by Maaike Engels | Wed, 10/31/2018 - 12:35pm | 0 comments
Transcripts of a prison interview of ‘Jaime’ conducted by Voeten and Engels, two Dutch documentary filmmakers—one of whom is a cultural anthropologist who recently completed his PhD focusing on the Mexican drug war, at VISITA CERESO CD, Ciudad Juárez, October 2016. It is an excerpt from the PhD thesis by Teun Voeten, titled: The Mexican Drug Violence: Hybrid Warfare, Predatory Capitalism and the Logic of Cruelty. 279-280. See also: Maaike Engels and Teun Voeten, Sacrifice. Belgian Canvas TV, 2017.
by T. Nelson Collier | Tue, 10/30/2018 - 9:24am | 2 comments
The 2017 NSS allows undue risk. A parsing of the NSS strategy toward Africa helps make the point: the NSS defers to ends and means and leaves ways unclear. The Lykke model of military strategy (ways to apply means to ends) is brilliant in its simplicity. But this model fails as a construct of national strategy.
by Fredrik Sunde, by Marius Kristiansen | Mon, 10/29/2018 - 2:41pm | 0 comments
This paper is based on a qualitative study of NORSOF. In the study, twelve high ranking officers in NORSOF and the Norwegian military were interviewed according to an interview template, thereby ensuring consistency in the research. The interviewees participating in this research generated original primary source data, enabling unique insight to the subject. The sample group consists of some of the most experienced people in Scandinavia with regard to SR, in addition to the central leadership in NORSOF. There are no existing publications with such a comprehensive sample group looking into this subject, thus the qualitative data that will be presented in this paper provides a notable insight.
by Teun Voeten, by Maaike Engels | Mon, 10/29/2018 - 12:56am | 0 comments
Transcripts of a prison interview of ‘Daniel’ conducted by Voeten and Engels, two Dutch documentary filmmakers—one of whom is a cultural anthropologist who recently completed his PhD focusing on the Mexican drug war, at VISITA CERESO CD, Ciudad Juárez, October 2016. It is an excerpt from the PhD thesis by Teun Voeten, titled: The Mexican Drug Violence: Hybrid Warfare, Predatory Capitalism and the Logic of Cruelty. 276-279. See also: Maaike Engels and Teun Voeten, Sacrifice. Belgian Canvas TV, 2017.
by Jonathan C. Nielsen | Sun, 10/28/2018 - 7:36am | 1 comment
It is time to refocus military innovation. How can military leaders today and tomorrow effectively design and implement effective innovative solutions at the critical moment under challenging circumstances?
by Peter Polack | Sat, 10/27/2018 - 12:33am | 0 comments
There are very few guerrilla leaders to have a popular song made about them nearly one hundred years after their death, but this was just the case with the Afrikaans singer Bos van Blerk’s 2006 album, de La Rey. Boer General Jacobus Herculaas de la Rey more popularly called Koos, a shortened Dutch form of Jacob, also widely known as Lion of the West or Western Transvaal, was memorialized by the song that attracted a groundswell of support from young South African Boers seeking a leader from the past.
by Frud Bezhan | Sat, 10/27/2018 - 12:23am | 0 comments
In an attempt to prevent the widespread fraud that has marred previous votes, the authorities introduced computerized voter lists at each of the country's 4,900 polling stations. At the very last minute, they launched a biometric voter-verification system. But instead of helping transparency, the new systems added to the chaos and ultimately undermined the credibility of the vote.
by Kate Kingsbury | Fri, 10/26/2018 - 7:02am | 0 comments
An abbreviated version of this article appeared as “Deciphering the Narcotheology of the Knights Templar Mexican Narcocult” at Patheos on 13 October 2018. It has been written specifically for Small Wars Journal—El Centro as part of an ongoing Los Caballeros Templarios de Michoacán research project that will be published as a future eBook.
by Jeff Moore | Thu, 10/25/2018 - 4:50am | 6 comments
Despite America shifting its national security focus from global terrorism and insurgency to conventional, near peer threats such as Russia and China, Irregular Warfare (IW) isn’t going away. Official US national security strategy will still aim to counter global movements such as ISIS and al Qaeda, Foreign Internal Defense will remain a key US Special Forces mission, and IW will continue to be a part of Russian, Iranian, Pakistani, and Chinese hybrid warfare strategies.
by Dave Pinion | Wed, 10/24/2018 - 12:09am | 1 comment
The pace of global commercial technology development cannot be stopped, so the question is whether the Marine Corps will change in order to capitalize on emerging technology, or if change will be forced on us in catastrophic ways.
by Tony M. Kail | Tue, 10/23/2018 - 5:37am | 0 comments
This essay has been written specifically for Small Wars Journal—El Centro as part of an ongoing Los Caballeros Templarios de Michoacán research project that will be published as a future eBook.
by Franklin C. Annis | Tue, 10/23/2018 - 5:27am | 0 comments
About five years ago, I stumbled upon the audiobook of ‘Aeroplanes and Dirigibles of War’ by Frederick A. Talbot while searching through the free audiobooks available on While at the time this book was written it might have been more closely aligned to the popular mechanics genre, it is one of the most fascinating military history books I have encountered.
by State-USAID-DoD Stabilization Assistance Review (SAR) | Mon, 10/22/2018 - 6:50am | 1 comment
Kevin Melton, Peter Quaranto, Patrick Quirk, Sara Reckless and Kelly Uribe - State-USAID-DoD Stabilization Assistance Review (SAR) - As we completed the SAR, far more than breaking new intellectual ground, we were more interested in breaking bureaucratic barriers.
by George C. Kraehe | Mon, 10/22/2018 - 6:32am | 0 comments
This article argues that Islamic law should be enlisted in the fight against narcotics trafficking in the Sahel, rather than being displaced by the western counter-narcotics regime. An understanding of Islamic law’s distinction, however nuanced it may be, between drug use and trafficking is crucial to assessing, developing, and implementing, at both the macro and micro level, a counterdrug regime in a majority-Muslim region.
by Teun Voeten, by Maaike Engels | Sat, 10/20/2018 - 6:30am | 0 comments
This interview of “Edgar” was conducted by Voeten and Engels, CeReSo, Ciudad Juárez, October 2016. It is an excerpt from the PhD thesis from Teun Voeten, titled: The Mexican Drug Violence: Hybrid Warfare, Predatory Capitalism and the Logic of Cruelty. 274-276. See also: Maaike Engels and Teun Voeten, Sacrifice. Belgian Canvas TV, 2017.
by W. R. Baker | Fri, 10/19/2018 - 7:52am | 7 comments
The Easter Offensive of 1972, coming at the end of the Vietnam War, is usually an afterthought in most histories of the conflict, primarily because most U.S. troops had already left the country. This does a great disservice to the American and South Vietnamese militaries who remained, particularly to those killed or wounded in-action.
by R. Andrew Chesnut | Thu, 10/18/2018 - 8:09am | 0 comments
This essay has been written specifically for Small Wars Journal—El Centro as part of an ongoing Los Caballeros Templarios de Michoacán research project that will be published as a future eBook.
by William McHenry | Thu, 10/18/2018 - 12:33am | 1 comment
President Trump seems to have accepted that the risks of withdrawal outweigh the costs of perpetuating a military commitment to a conflict without a coherent plan to end it. It is one of his more cynical foreign policy decisions, but it has many precedents throughout US history.
by Nicholas Mercurio | Wed, 10/17/2018 - 11:20am | 2 comments
Once we accept the fundamentally communicative purpose of terrorism, it becomes clear that strategic communication should be the preeminent tool in the counter-terrorism toolbox. The trouble is, the U.S.-led approach to counter-ISIS strategic communication is hamstrung by reliance on a flawed paradigm that I call narrative jamming. The good news is that there is a potential solution and it comes from an unlikely place: recent research on climate change communication.
by InSight Crime | Wed, 10/17/2018 - 1:16am | 0 comments
Reports that criminal groups in Colombia are increasingly recruiting migrants from Venezuela shows how these armed actors are taking advantage of those fleeing the neighboring country’s economic crisis in order to strengthen their criminal structures.
by Todd Johnson | Tue, 10/16/2018 - 12:13pm | 1 comment
Africa’s cities are an assault on the senses. They are filled with a flow of human activity that can appear equal parts vibrant and dystopian. One need only transit Lagos’s Third Mainland Bridge or Kinshasa’s Boulevard Lumumba to get a sense of this frenetic pace and the complex ecosystem of social and economic interaction that allows African urban dwellers to survive and even thrive.
by Gregory Bishop | Mon, 10/15/2018 - 12:46am | 0 comments
Exploring the expansion of the online learning model, this article examines how this expansion has influenced the military student. Looking at the online and for profit expansion and ensuing lull, the underlying reasoning for declining enrollment, increasing attrition, and non-completion rates among these schools are explored.
by Franklin C. Annis | Mon, 10/15/2018 - 12:33am | 0 comments
Long I have searched for the true virtues of manhood. While there are a tremendous number of philosophies that provide countless list of virtues to follow, like Benjamin Franklin’s thirteen virtues or Aristotle’s Ethics, I wanted to find those at the very heart of manhood. What are the virtues that a man cannot dare to live without? Let us strip the flesh from the bone and find the virtues are the very marrow of manhood. What are the virtues that could see a man through combat, pull him out of poverty, and ensure success in a board room?
by José de Arimatéia da Cruz, by Travis Howard | Sun, 10/14/2018 - 12:19am | 0 comments
What lessons could strategic warfare masters tell us about 21st century insurgent cyber warfare, where superpowers could be brought low by small cells of cyber warriors with limited funding but lots of time? This article distills the wisdom of two military strategists: Chinese General and 6th century Taoist military philosopher Sun-tzu, and Carl Philipp Gottfried von Clausewitz, Prussian general and theorist of psychological and political aspects of warfare as well as revolutionary thinkers such as Mao Tse-tung, Carlos Marighella, and Ernesto “Che” Guevara.
by Jerritt A. Lynn, by Assad A. Raza | Fri, 10/12/2018 - 5:38am | 6 comments
For Civil Affairs forces to better support a broader operational approach, they must be able to plan population-centric operations to support all ranges of military operations and integrated USEMB strategies.
by David L. Harrell | Thu, 10/11/2018 - 12:02pm | 1 comment
Public releases of smartwatch mapping data have recently been identified by the U.S. military to be a threat to operational security, resulting in changes to Department of Defense policies and restrictions on usage. Operational security lapses, like the aforementioned smart watch data release, aren't the result of a lack of training or knowledge, but rather a military mindset that's confident in superiority over "third-world countries" and seemingly not concerned by data-driven peer competitors.
by James Howcroft | Wed, 10/10/2018 - 10:12am | 1 comment
Military operations in an urban area are not normally thought of as a 'Small Wars' concern, yet they are an important capability that will remain relevant. SWJ Editor's Note: This Small Wars Journal article was originally published on 20 July 2014.
by Richard W. Gibson | Wed, 10/10/2018 - 1:13am | 0 comments
There is still much work needed for U.S. forces to not be hamstrung by the capabilities of peer and near-peer competitors. China over the last decade has become a peer adversary. Much of this change in status is due to its investment in emerging technologies, specifically huge strides in space launch and spacecraft capabilities. Of concern is emerging counter-space capabilities.
by SWJ Editors | Tue, 10/09/2018 - 8:07am | 0 comments
Small Was Journal is pleased to announce the addition of Michael L. Burgoyne, Irina A, Chindea, Max G. Manwaring, and Robert Muggah as El Centro Fellows.