Small Wars Journal

Book Review: Resistance Operating Concept

Mon, 06/21/2021 - 11:12am

Book Review: Resistance Operating Concept


Reviewed by Bayasgalan Lkhagvasuren


Resistance Operating Concept (ROC). By Otto C. Fiala. MacDill Air Force Base, Florida.: Joint Special Operations University Press, 2020; 284 pages. Available online from Joint Special Operations University, at / ISBN: 9781941715437.


Countries choose their friends but not their neighbors, and geography is destiny for small nations. The Russia-Georgia War in 2008 seemed to prove that a minor country cannot stand up to a superpower in a conventional war.  The defeat of the Georgian Armed Forces, fighting alone against the superior Russian military, was a warning signal to other small nations, not just in eastern Europe, but around the world. Since then, small states have been struggling to plan how to deter and resist aggressive superpowers.  Now, Dr. Otto C. Fiala’s “Resistance Operating Concept (ROC),” may have the answers they need.  Fiala’s “ROC” serves as a master text for a whole-of-government approach to national self-defense. In this approach, it is wrong for political or military leaders to think that defending their country is a job only for the armed forces, intelligence services, or government ministries.  The strategic decision-makers of a country with a small population would benefit from understanding the “total defense” concept and its key factors, and Fiala ably provides this.

In “Resistance Operating Concept,” former U.S. Army colonel turned strategic analyst Fiala bases his requirements for country resilience on relevant historical events and studies of civil society.  The author’s writing style is fluent and understandable, even to a lay reader without any military background.  Well-designed graphics explain the “total defense” concept. To illustrate the meaning of “resilience” Fiala considers historical case studies from World War II to present-day Russian actions in Ukraine, explaining throughout the difference between “resistance” and “resilience.”  Similarly, he describes the various methods and terminology of resistance warfare—such as the underground, guerrillas, and the auxiliary.  Further concepts supporting unconventional warfare, such as intelligence networks, cyber conflict, information operations, and covert operations, are illuminated as well.  Detailed appendices cover topics ranging from legal considerations of resistance to Russian ‘hybrid warfare’ tactics, methods of non-violent resistance, the Swiss ‘total defense’ model, and assessing resilience.

There is a general focus in “ROC” on European countries’ means of protection from aggressive military occupations, and conduct of clandestine stay-behind operations.  However, Fiala also touches on how a country might deal with a “silent occupation,” such as economic debt-trap, and similar employment of soft-power or smart-power influences.  The breadth and depth of the coverage of these subjects and case studies in “ROC” is uncommon in the curricula of most military academies and staff and war colleges, and has no modern equal in a single unclassified book-size publication.  For the leadership of small nations – in government, the military, law enforcement, and in the citizenry itself – Otto Fiala’s “Resistance Operating Concept” is the best guide available now for understanding the concept of national resistance and resilience.  Implementation of the key tenets of preparing for “total defense” may provide the best result for a small country with a big neighbor:  deterring any aggressor from attempting an invasion and occupation.


About the Author(s)

Lieutenant Colonel Bayasgalan Lkhagvasuren serves on the J5 staff of the Mongolian Special Forces Command.  He is a graduate of the U.S. Army Command and General Staff College, and is presently studying for a master’s degree in Defense Analysis at the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, California.



Wed, 09/22/2021 - 4:38am

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