Small Wars Journal

Populace-Centric Engagement

Populace-Centric Engagement

A Positive Change of Strategic Perspective for Winning the Long War

by Colonel Robert C. Jones, Small Wars Journal

Populace-Centric Engagement (Full PDF Article)

How one looks at a problem shapes the solution sets that are developed to resolve it. To date U.S. engagement for the Long War has focused on the defeat of Al Qaeda and a growing number of affiliate non-state Violent Extremist Organizations (VEO). This strategy recognizes that populaces are important, but places that importance below that of efforts to capture or kill senior VEO leadership and the development of counterterrorist capacity in the existing governments of the countries where these VEOs reside. This strategy naturally lends itself to a family of engagement that requires a Department of Defense lead, with Department of State in support. Populace-Centric Engagement shifts the focus to understanding and supporting populaces around the world, and assisting them in attaining good governance on their own terms, and produces positive secondary effects.

Populace-Centric Engagement (Full PDF Article)

About the Author(s)

Robert C. Jones is retired Army Colonel of Special Forces.  He has served as a principle strategist at United States Special Operations Command, both in and out of uniform, for over a decade and has been a qualified special operator for 30 years.  The views expressed in his articles are his alone, and do not reflect the positions of the United States Special Operations Command or the Department of Defense.


Bill C. (not verified)

Fri, 02/04/2011 - 11:55am

1. If we believe that populace-centric engagement will change the world as we require (provide that various states, societies and regions become more open, more accessable and better configured for use by the United States re: its economic and political interests), then this approach would seem to have merit.

2. If, however, we believe that populace-centric engagement is likely to result in various states and societies remaining -- or becoming -- more closed, less accessable and not better aligned re: US requirements, then this approach would not seem to be in the United States best interests.

3. Accordingly, the United States is likely only to "understand and support populaces around the world, and assist them in attaining good governance on their own terms" if this such efforts meet the criteria of Para 1 above (provide for more open, more accessable and properly configured -- from our point of view -- states and societies).

4. It is unlikely that the United States will understand, support or assist populaces whose desire is to remain -- or to become -- more isolated, more exclusive or ordered, organized or configured such that they might provide an alternative way of life that could come to threaten our own.

slapout9 (not verified)

Fri, 02/04/2011 - 9:49am

Bob(R.C.Jones) you forgot to add it is all my fault!(LOL)

Bob's World

Fri, 02/04/2011 - 8:53am

Long before I had heard of "Population-Centric COIN" I had been developing a concept that I (tragically) termed as "populace-centric engagement."

The idea was that in the emerging global security environment, that old models were inadequate to the mission at hand. We had a State Department that was designed for Government-Centric engagements and we had a Defense Department that was designed for Threat-Centric Engagements, but we were ill-equipped for dealing with powerful non-state organizaitons and tended to get way too focused on defeating named threats without dealing with why those threats exist.

Given recent events in Tunisia and Egypt, I figured it might be time to dust this off and bring it back up to the top of the deck. There was considerable discussion in the tread titled "How to Win" at the time of initial publication.

The real question being, how do we change to deal more effectively with an evolving world, where governments have far less control, and where non-state orgs and populaces have far more relative power?