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An Assessment of the Small Wars Manual as an Implementation Model for Strategic Influence in Contemporary and Future Warfare

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An Assessment of the Small Wars Manual as an Implementation Model for Strategic Influence in Contemporary and Future Warfare

 

Bradley L. Rees

 

This article is published as part of the Small Wars Journal and Divergent Options Writing Contest which runs from March 1, 2019 to May 31, 2019.  More information about the writing contest can be found here.

 

The United States has ceded the informational initiative to our adversaries.  As Shakespeare said, “Whereof what is past is prologue.”  If the DoD is to (re)gain and maintain the initiative against our adversaries, its actions are best informed by such a prologue.  An analogy exists between how, in Shakespeare’s The Tempest, Antonio encourages Sebastian to kill his father in order for Sebastian to become king and how most within the DoD think about responsive and globally integrated[4] military information and influence activities.  Antonio’s attempts at conveying to Sebastian that all past actions are purely contextual – an introduction or prologue –  is meant to narrow Sebastian’s focus on the future rather than the past[5].

 

The Department likely finds value in viewing that anecdote entirely relevant when attempting to answer what it means for Information to be a Joint Function in contemporary and future warfare.  If the Department seeks to (re)gain and maintain the initiative, appreciating history is a valuable first step, while critically important from a contextual perspective, is second only to how society today holds operational and strategic information and influence activities at a much higher premium than in years’ past.  With that, there is much to learn from the U.S. Marine Corps’ (USMC) development of its Small Wars Manual (SWM).

 

Today, many may question what the relevance and utility are of a 1940 USMC reference publication that focuses on peacekeeping and counterinsurgency (COIN) best practices collected from the turn of the 20th century, particularly in relation to contemporary and future warfare framed by Information as a Joint Function, strategic influence operations and their nexus with technology, and long-term strategic competition.  However, the SWM is one of those rare documents that is distinct within the broader chronicles of military history, operational lessons learned, and best practices.  It is not doctrine; it is not an operational analysis of expeditionary operations, nor is it necessarily a strategy.  Its uniqueness, however, lies in how it conveys a philosophy – an underlying theory – that addresses complexity, the necessity for adaptability,  and the criticality given to understanding the social, psychological, and informational factors that affect conflict.  The SWM reflects how ill-defined areas of operations, open-ended operational timelines, and shifting allegiances are just as relevant today, if not more so than relative combat power analyses and other more materially oriented planning factors have been in most of two century’s worth of war planning.  More so, the SWM places significant weight on how behavior, emotions, and perceptions management are central in shaping decision-making processes.

 

Currently, the DoD does not have the luxury of time to develop new philosophies and theories associated with military information and influence as did the USMC regarding small wars.  Similarly, the Department cannot wait an additional 66 years to develop relevant philosophies, theories, strategies, and doctrine relating to information warfare as did the U.S. Army and the USMC when they released COIN doctrine in 2006.  The Department does, however, have within the SWM a historiographic roadmap that can facilitate the development of relevant theory relating to Information as a Joint Function and strategic influence relative to long-term strategic competition.

 

The DoD does not intrinsically rest the development of defense and military strategies on an overarching philosophy or theory.  However, it does link such strategies to higher-level guidance; this guidance resting on a broader, more foundational American Grand Strategy, which academia has addressed extensively[6][7][8],  and on what has been termed the “American Way of War” and the broader institutional thinking behind such American ways of warfighting for more than a century[9].  Such grand strategies and ways of warfighting are best informed by deductive reasoning.  Conversely, in the absence of deductive reasoning, practitioners usually rely on induction to guide sound judgment and decisive action[10].  Despite this fact, a considerable dearth of DoD-wide organizational, institutional, and operational observations and experiences burden the Department’s ability to fully embrace, conceptualize, and operationalize globally integrated information and influence-related operations.

 

While the USMC did not have a century’s worth of thinking on small wars,  their three decades of experiences in peacekeeping and COIN served as the foundation to the SWM.  Throughout those three decades, the Marine Corps paid particular attention to the psychological and sociological aspects of the environment that impacted operations.  They realized that military action was doomed for failure if it was undertaken absent a well-rounded understanding of what the DoD now refers to as systems within the Operational Environment[11][12].  The SWM has an entire section dedicated to the psychological and sociological aspects that potentially motivate or cause insurrection[13].  Such considerations are just as relevant today as they were in 1940.

 

Today, the DoD lacks a straightforward and applicable information and influence roadmap that can be used to navigate long-term strategic competition.  The SWM provides such a navigational guide.  Studying it can provide the insights on a wide variety of factors that the Marine Corps recognized as having a significant influence on the ever-changing character of the conduct in war, the relationships and interaction between a philosophy or theory to military practice, and how its understanding of small wars impacted the development of strategy and campaign planning.  The SWM can inform the DoD on how to quickly and effectively address Information as the Seventh Joint Function, strategic influence, and long-term strategic competition in contemporary and future warfare.

 

End Notes

 

[1] Joint Staff, Joint Publication 3-0, Operations, pp. xiii, III-1, III-17 through III-27, (Washington, D.C., United States Printing Office, October 22, 2018).

[2] Office of the Secretary of Defense, The 2018 National Defense Strategy of the United States of America, (Washington, D.C., United States Government Printing Office, January 19, 2018).

[3] Joint Staff.  Joint Publication 2-01.3, Joint Intelligence Preparation of the Operational Environment, pp. III-19 to III-26, (Washington, D.C., United States Government Printing Office, May 21, 2014).

[4] Joint Staff. (2018), Chairman’s Vision of Global Integration [Online] briefing.  Available:  www.jcs.mil\Portals\36\Documents\Doctrine\jdpc\11_global_integration15May.pptx [accessed March 17, 2019].

[5] Shakespeare, W. (1610), The Tempest, Act II, Scene 1 [Online]. Available:  https://www.folgerdigitaltexts.org/html/Tmp.html#line-2.1.0 [accessed March 16, 2019].

[6] Weigley, R. F., The American Way of War:  A History of United States Strategy and Policy, (Bloomington, Indiana, Indiana University Press, 1978).

[7] Biddle, T. M., “Strategy and Grand Strategy:  What Students and Practitioners Need to Know,” Advancing Strategic Thought Series, (Carlisle Barracks, Pennsylvania:  Strategic Studies Institute and Army War College Press, 2015).

[8] Porter, P., “Why America’s Grand Strategy has not Changed:  Power, Habit, and the U.S. Foreign Policy Establishment,” International Security, Vol. 42, No. 4 (Spring 2018), pp. 9–46, (Cambridge, Massachusetts, MIT Press, 2018).

[9] Weigley.

[10] Bradford, A. (2017), Deductive Reasoning vs. Inductive Reasoning [Online]. Available:  https://www.livescience.com/21569-deduction-vs-induction.html [accessed March 17, 2019].

[11] Joint Staff.  Joint Publication 2-01.3, Joint Intelligence Preparation of the Operational Environment, pp. III-38 to III-40, (Washington, D.C., United States Government Printing Office, May 21, 2014).

[12] Ibid, p. xi.

[13] Department of the Navy, Headquarters United States Marine Corps. Fleet Marine Force Reference Publication 12-15, Small Wars Manual, (Washington, D.C., United States Government Printing Office, 1940).

About the Author(s)

Bradley L. Rees is a retired United States Army Lieutenant Colonel, retiring in March 2013 as a Foreign Area Officer, 48D (South Asia).  He has served in general purpose and special operations forces within the continental United States and in numerous combat deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan.  He is a graduate of the United States Marine Corps Command and Staff College and their School of Advanced Warfighting, and the Army War College’s Defense Strategy Course.  He presently works at United States Cyber Command where he is the Deputy Chief, Future Operations, J35.  Divergent Options’ content does not contain information of an official nature nor does the content represent the official position of any government, any organization, or any group.  The opinions expressed in this assessment are those of the author, and do not represent those of the United States Government, Department of Defense, Air Force, or Cyber Command.

Comments

In further support of my arguments here, consider:

1.  The following from Section II, "Strategy," Paragraph 1-9, "National War," Page 15, of the 1940 USMC Small Wars Manual:

"g. The initial problem is to restore peace. There may be many economic and social factors involved, pertaining to the administrative, executive, and judicial functions of the government. These are completely beyond military power as such unless some form of military government is included in the campaign plan. Peace and industry cannot be restored permanently without appropriate provisions for the economic welfare of the people. Moreover, productive industry cannot be fully restored until there is peace, Consequently, the remedy is found in emphasizing the corrective measures to be taken in order to permit the orderly return to normal conditions." 

2.  The following from Section III, "Psychology," Paragraph 1-17, "Summary," Page 32, of the 1940 USMC Small Wars Manual: 

"b. The purpose should always be to restore normal government or give the people a better government than they had before, and to establish peace, order, and security on as permanent a basis as practicable."

http://www.au.af.mil/au/awc/awcgate/swm/ch01.pdf

3.  The following from the 2009 Matthew Hoh U.S. State Department resignation letter:

"If the history of Afghanistan is one great stage play, the United States is no more than a supporting actor, among several previously, in a tragedy that not only pits tribes, valleys, clans, villages and families against one another, but, from at least King Zahir Shah's reign (Afghanistan's first "modernizer?"), has violently and savagely pitted the urban, secular, educated and modern of Afghanistan against the rural, religious, illiterate and traditional.  It is this later group that composes and supports the Pashtun insurgency". 

(Item in parenthesis is mine.)

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-srv/hp/ssi/wpc/ResignationLetter.pdf

And, finally,

4.  The following from a recent Harvard study: 

"Rising support for populist parties has disrupted the politics of many Western societies. What explains this phenomenon? Two theories are examined here. Perhaps the most widely-held view of mass support for populism -- the economic insecurity perspective -- emphasizes the consequences of profound changes transforming the workforce and society in post-industrial economies. Alternatively, the cultural backlash thesis suggests that support can be explained as a reaction against cultural changes that threaten the worldview of once-predominant sectors of the population ... The conclusion highlights several main findings. First, the results of analyzing the demographic and social controls confirm that populist support in Europe is generally stronger among the older generation, men, the less educated, the religious, and ethnic majorities, patterns confirming previous research."

(Google: Harvard University's "Trump, Brexit, and the Rise of Populism: Economic Have-Nots and Cultural Backlash" and see the Introduction and the Conclusion at Page 29.)

Bottom Line Thought -- Based on the Above:

"Modernization" efforts undertaken by governments -- which do not accommodate huge, ensconced, powerful and influential population groups (for example, see "the rural, the religious, the less-literate, the more-traditional, the older generations," etc.; to wit: powerful and influential "old orders" that are to found in both the Global South (see my Item No. 3 above) and in the Global North (see my Item No. 4 above) -- 

These such "development projects" should not be undertaken without "appropriate provisions for the economic welfare of the people" (see my Item No. 1 above) -- and for their cultural considerations as well.

Thus, in order to rectify these matters -- both here at home and there abroad -- this would seem to require that we "restore a normal government" -- or "give the people a better government than they had before" (see my Item No. 2 above).

Herein, a "normal government" -- or "a better government than they had before" -- these being such governments that -- re: their "development projects" -- make adequate provision for these such significant, and most adversely effected, population groups.  

If such a "make adequate provision" effort had been made in the first place -- based on good old common sense, extensive experience and a significant number of similar cases from the past (see the 1940 USMC Small Wars Manual identified above?), then it is much less likely that:

a.  The Marines/the military would need be be deployed; this, so as to address/to rectify these such (hard to believe in the current age) contemporary government/governance failures; which are found now both in the Global North and in the Global South? And/or:

b.  That our enemies could use our/these such amazing government/governance "screw-ups" against us?

(Note:  Given that the 1940 USMC Small Wars Manual can be said to have been designed to deal with such  government/governance failures as I have identified above[?], does this suggest that this such manual could, indeed, be used as an "implementation model for strategic influence in contemporary and future warfare?")

So: 

Having suggested that the problem that "strategic influence" must "get after"/must "deal with" -- both here at home and there abroad today -- is populations who do not necessarily support -- and indeed often vehemently oppose -- the political, economic, social and/or value "change" demands that today are being/have been made by their governments

(Political, economic, social and/or value "development"/"progress" "change" demands which -- minus basic, common sense and corresponding government "cushioning" efforts --  routinely tend to undermine and eliminate such things as a populations' way of life, their way of governance and/or their long-standing values, attitudes and beliefs associated with same.  And, which, thus, tend to alienate the populations and "leave them out in the cold?")

Having made such a suggestion -- and suggested that such unstoppable(?) things as "globalization" play a/the key role in these such activities today -- consider the following from the White House Office of the Press Secretary, in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, by then-National Security Advisor Sandy Berger, way back in October 15, 1997. 

(Note: This excerpt is rather long but -- re: the matters we are discussing here -- it may be invaluable.)  

BEGIN QUOTE

Both the speech this morning at Sao Paulo and the event at the school this afternoon at Mangueira bring together as the President embraced them the elements of the President's larger vision about how you grow and lead in a global economy. And perhaps he captured it best in the speech this morning when he said, we must embrace the global economy while preserving the social contract. If I would annotate that sentence, I would say, we must embrace the global economy; that is we must compete in the global economy on a level playing field while preserving the social contract -- that is, recognizing that the benefits and the burdens of open and expanding trade don't fall evenly and the government has to cushion the blow and the shocks and equip its people to join the mainstream with education and training and other assistance.

And what's interesting is that the larger context within which the President is speaking -- that is the context of what is happening in the Americas -- parallel very much the debate that is going on in the United States, or fast track. And

I will come back to that -- because both of these are debates about how you embrace the global economy while maintaining the social compact.

So what are the elements of this strategy that the President laid out today I think as distinctly as he has in the past? First, it's a recognition that you can't stop globalization and you can't stop global integration. We saw that yesterday at Sao Paulo. We heard President Cardoso say Brazil is going to be a global trading nation. We've seen that Argentina -- has become the number one export market for Argentina has become Brazil, whereas, throughout their history these were two countries that had very little commerce.

Second, U.S. growth is not threatened by the growth of others. It benefits from that growth. And we heard the President say that both this morning and yesterday at the press conference with President Cardoso. Since we are 4 percent of the world, in order for us to be able to grow we have to have not only markets, we have to have growing markets. We have to have wealth being created elsewhere for us to benefit from that wealth. This is not a zero-sum game, the President is saying, between us and Brazil. And that is the way it has been defined by Brazilians, certainly, and by Americans I think for decades, if not centuries.

Third, the President is saying that this economic integration and the mutually reinforcing growth that I spoke about is important not only to our economy, but it's important to peace and stability and democracy. It's not an accident that economic growth and democracy have emerged in this hemisphere in tandem. They reinforce each other. The more prosperous these countries become, the more stable they become. And the more their leaders can prove that democracy delivers, the stronger democracy becomes.

But fourth -- and this really shifts us to this afternoon, although the President spoke about it this morning -- the President also recognizes that globalization creates winners and losers, that a rising tide does not lift all the boats equally -- if I can misquote a great President -- and that we must also pursue strategies to promote social cohesion and to close the gap both in the United States and certainly throughout the Americas.

In Brazil, we see President Cardoso doing this, and we saw it I think vividly illustrated at the school today, which not only is a school, not only teaches sports, not only is a health clinic for the community, not only is a vocational training program for people in the community, it is a model of how to achieve upward mobility in an economy like Brazil that is growing at a very rapid rate. And this has been an important value of President Cardoso.

And it's the same philosophy the President has brought to the United States, by doubling worker training, by creating empowerment zones, by increasing funding for education. In both cases, we're dealing essentially with the same equation, 

Which is that, if we want to sustain global growth, we must compete in this economy; we cannot turn back the tides of globalization any more than King Knute could turn back the tides.But we also have to recognize that in order to sustain that progress towards open markets that creates growth, we have to deal with often the unequal distribution of benefits and burdens that fall on our people.

END QUOTE

https://clintonwhitehouse5.archives.gov/WH/new/SAmerica/19971015-9450.html

Bottom Line Thought -- Based on the Above:

Both here at home -- and elsewhere in the world today also -- the populations of the world have seen their governments:

a.  Put forth tremendous, and indeed amazing, efforts to "open markets that create growth" while: 

b.  Generally turning a "blind eye" to such things as "preserving the social contract," "leveling the playing field," "making sure the benefits and the burdens of open and expanding trade fall evenly" and otherwise "cushioning the blows and the shocks" associated with these such "development" activities.  

It was/is these (all to common?) "progress"/development" done half-assed/done wrong = alienation of the population" circumstances which, might we agree, 

a.  The 1940 USMC Small Wars Manual was designed to deal with?  And which:

b.  We are now forced to deal with also -- in our case today -- both at home and abroad?

(Q:  So what, more correctly, is it that [see the first sentence in our article above] "the United States has ceded to our adversaries?" A: The "social contract" with one's own -- and with the world's -- populations, as described, for example, by Sandy Berger above?)

Let me pose my question below possibly another way:

Kilcullen, in his "Counterinsurgency Redux," has noted that today's (more unique?) "defend the status quo" revolutions/revolts; these are different from the (more common?) "achieve a new political, economic, social and/or value order" revolutions/revolts of the past; this given that -- in today's (more unique?) "defend the status quo" revolutions/revolts --  

a.  It is the governments that take on the "revolutionary" role.  (And, thus, must be seen as the "insurgents" today, as only the insurgent can initiative "revolutionary" activity).  And:

b.  It is the populations today -- seeking to maintain and defend the status quo -- or achieve a status quo ante if too much unwanted change is thought to have already taken place -- who must, in this context, be seen as the "counteringents." 

(In addition, and in consideration of my initial comment below, note Kilcullen's reference to unstopable "globalization.")

BEGIN QUOTE

... Galula asserts that "whereas in conventional war, either side can initiate the conflict, only one — the insurgent — can initiate a revolutionary war, for counterinsurgency is only an effect of insurgency".  Classical theorists emphasize the problem of recognizing insurgency early. Sir Robert Thompson observes that "at the first signs of an incipient insurgency…no one likes to admit that anything is going wrong. This automatically leads to a situation where government countermeasures are too little and too late".  

But, in several modern campaigns — Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan and Chechnya, for example — the government or invading coalition forces initiated the campaign, whereas insurgents are strategically reactive (as in "resistance warfare"). Such patterns are readily recognizable in historical examples of resistance warfare, but less so in classical counterinsurgency theory. 

Politically, in many cases today, the counterinsurgent represents revolutionary change, while the insurgent fights to preserve the status quo of ungoverned spaces, or to repel an occupier — a political relationship opposite to that envisaged in classical counterinsurgency. Pakistan’s campaign in Waziristan since 2003 exemplifies this. The enemy includes al-Qa’ida (AQ) linked extremists and Taliban, but also local tribesmen fighting to preserve their traditional culture against 21st century encroachment. The problem of weaning these fighters away from extremist sponsors, while simultaneously supporting modernization, does somewhat resemble pacification in traditional counterinsurgency. But it also echoes colonial campaigns, and includes entirely new elements arising from the effects of globalization.

END QUOTE 

https://pdfs.semanticscholar.org/e7f3/f7fd5e525d6dfe177357a894839bc770348b.pdf (See the bottom of Page 2 and the top of Page 3.)

Question:  

Re: this such (more unusual?) "conflict environment" -- which, as I note in my initial comment below, is being played out -- uniquely today -- BOTH in the Global North AND in the Global South.  (And, thus, uniquely today, BOTH here at home AND abroad.)

a.  Re: this such "different" "conflict environment," 

b.  Does the information and guidance provided by the 1940 USMC Small Wars Manual apply/is it relevant?

Answer:

Suprisingly enough, the answer here may be a resounding "Yes."  In this regard, consider the following from Section III: Psychology,

First: From Paragaph 1–10. "Foreword," see subparagraph "f" on Page 18:

"The motive in small wars is not material destruction. It is usually a project dealing with the social, economic, and political development of the people. It is of primary importance that the fullest benefit be derived from the psychological aspects of the situation. That implies a serious study of the people, their racial, political, religious, and mental development." 

Next:  From Paragraph 1–13. "Revolutionary tendencies," see subparagraph "b" (at the bottom of Page 19) and "c" (at the top of Page 20): 

"Not having succeeded in developing progressively, or in adapting themselves to changes of environment, they are likely to react violently when such adaptation becomes inevitable.

Revolution is the term generally applied to sudden political changes, but the expression may be employed to denote any sudden transformation whether of beliefs, ideas, or doctrines. In most cases the basic causes are economic."

http://www.au.af.mil/au/awc/awcgate/swm/ch01.pdf

Bottom Line Thought -- Based on the Above:

As the above discussions from the "Psychology" section of the USMC Small Wars Manual seems to indicate, populations -- routinely it would seem -- react negatively to the political, economic, social and/or value "development"/"change" demands/requirements of inevitable "progress;"

Political, economic, social and/or value "development"/"change" demands which are being (properly?) made by their governments -- either proactively or reactively -- this, due to, shall we say, forces beyond these governments' control.  (In this regard, today think of such things as globalism, globalization and the global economy?) 

Thus, today, BOTH here at home AND abroad:

a.  We face these self-same "standing in the way of necessary progress" populations and revolts.  And, thus, BOTH here at home AND abroad:

b.  The knowledge, information, understanding, advice, etc. -- provided by the 1940 USMC Small Wars Manual re: such "standing in the way of necessary progress" populations and revolts -- these, indeed, may prove useful?

From our article above:

BEGIN QUOTE

Today, many may question what the relevance and utility are of a 1940 USMC reference publication that focuses on peacekeeping and counterinsurgency (COIN) best practices collected from the turn of the 20th century, particularly in relation to contemporary and future warfare framed by Information as a Joint Function, strategic influence operations and their nexus with technology, and long-term strategic competition.  However, the SWM is one of those rare documents that is distinct within the broader chronicles of military history, operational lessons learned, and best practices.  It is not doctrine; it is not an operational analysis of expeditionary operations, nor is it necessarily a strategy.  Its uniqueness, however, lies in how it conveys a philosophy – an underlying theory – that addresses complexity, the necessity for adaptability,  and the criticality given to understanding the social, psychological, and informational factors that affect conflict.  The SWM reflects how ill-defined areas of operations, open-ended operational timelines, and shifting allegiances are just as relevant today, if not more so than relative combat power analyses and other more materially oriented planning factors have been in most of two century’s worth of war planning.  More so, the SWM places significant weight on how behavior, emotions, and perceptions management are central in shaping decision-making processes.

END QUOTE 

Today, it might be suggested that the "factors that affect conflict" -- IMPORTANTLY BOTH HERE AT HOME AND ABROAD -- are often: 

a.  The way of life, the way of governance, the values, etc. "change" demands that today are being made by governments around the world (these, so as to better provide for, and better benefit from, such things as globalism, globalization and the global economy).  And  

b.  The recent revolts against these such unwanted government activities -- which have become manifest both here at home in the Global North (see the Brexit and the election of President Trump) -- and in the Global South also (see such things as the rise of AQ, ISIS, etc., in the Greater Middle East). 

Question:

Re: this such ("all enemies foreign and domestic?) "conflict environment," does the 1940 USMC Small Wars Manual adequately address such things as the:

a.  (Unique to this conflict paradigm?) "social, psychological, and informational factors that affect conflict?" And the:

b.  (Unique to this conflict paradigm?) "behavior, emotions, and perception management" requirements of same?