A Conceptual Framework for Analyzing and Understanding the Theory and Practice of Insurgency and Counterinsurgency
by James A. Gavrilis, Small Wars Journal
One of the most profound changes the U.S. military must make to be effective at countering insurgency is to shift strategic centers of gravity from the physical to the human aspects of warfare.
The nature of counterinsurgency, or unconventional warfare, differs from conventional warfare in a very important way: the population is the center of gravity. We say this, but what does it mean? How does it change operations? How do we implement this idea? Many of our military leaders are still trying to answer these questions. Our military has a predisposition to focus on enemy forces and capabilities and the confrontation between friendly and enemy forces, with little emphasis on the social or political context within which the confrontation takes place.
The change to seeing the population as the center of gravity is a major shift for conventional forces. It is a serious adjustment from our current and predominantly conventional military thinking about warfare. Although this idea has been discussed and debated in military and academic circles for at least a decade, the shift has not been made by all. However, this critical re-focusing is required for successful counterinsurgency campaigns, for countering terrorism in the long term, and for successful conduct of stability operations, or any form of irregular, hybrid, or population-centered warfare.
This focus on human factors in warfare has major implications for how the U.S. trains, organizes, and equips its forces, as well as where resources are allocated in order to better prepare for and conduct counterinsurgency. And this shift runs counter to the thinking that military hardware and high technology can solve military problems, which may be true if the military problems are kinetic. But technological and physically-defined solutions can be void of human factors, factors which underpin successful counterinsurgency. I have found that technology can enable counterinsurgency operations, but population-centered operations are not dependent on technology. The recent demands for increasing the number of U.S. Civil Affairs units are an indicator that some operational leaders recognize that a population-centered approach has merit.