Small Wars Journal

The Need to Understand and Conduct UW

Mon, 05/25/2015 - 2:54am

The Need to Understand and Conduct UW

Octavian Manea

Interview with retired US Army Special Forces Colonel David S. Maxwell.

David S. Maxwell is the Associate Director of the Center for Security Studies in the School of Foreign Service of Georgetown University.  He is a retired US Army Special Forces Colonel with command and staff assignments in Korea, Japan, Germany, the Philippines, and CONUS, and served as a member of the military faculty teaching national security at the National War College.  He is a graduate of Miami University in Oxford, Ohio, the Command and General Staff College, the School of Advanced Military Studies at Fort Leavenworth and the National War College, National Defense University.

SWJ: Insurgency, counterinsurgency, foreign internal defense, terrorism, counterterrorism - does this spectrum of possibilities fall within the larger framework of Unconventional Warfare (UW)?

David Maxwell: Terminology is important. But since 9/11 we have embarked on an effort to rename wars, rename conflicts and come up with new doctrinal terms trying to explain old things in new ways. As Clausewitz said before you embark on a war you first must understand the war. But in America there is this tendency to first must name the war and in order to understand the war we have to name the doctrinal terms that we are going to use. We spend more time on naming than on understanding. When it comes to counterinsurgency, counter-terrorism I subscribe to Collin Gray who said that the strategist needs to understand his subject, which is not COIN, not CT, but strategy for its particular challenge in COIN or CT. I think we spend more time on arguing about COIN and CT than we really do trying to devise effective strategies to protect our national interests some of which includes either defending against terrorism through CT or helping others to conduct counterinsurgency which I still think is a very necessary capability that our military needs. Although the way we have conducted counterinsurgency in Iraq and Afghanistan must be thoroughly examined, whether this is the right or wrong way.

At the same time, seeing everything through only the lens of terrorism really misses the point. Looking at everything as a terrorism problem has hurt our strategic thinking. 9-11 was a tragic event and there are people out there that are conducting terrorist acts, trying to harm the West, the US, and western interests. But terrorism is not the only problem. Naming Al Qaeda a terrorist organization is correct from a legal point of view, but what they are really conducting is more of a form of unconventional warfare. UW is a form of warfare that has been conducted for generations and for millennia. It is part of the nature of war. The phenomena we are really facing emanates from a fundamental aspect political-military operations and that is revolution, resistance, and insurgency.  Clausewitz described the paradoxical trinity and UW falls within it. But we have this tendency trying to put everything into a box - terrorism, insurgency, hybrid conflict, conventional war, nuclear war – when we really need to look at and understand the strategies of the organizations and nation-states conducting warfare. I fear that we don’t spend enough time understanding strategy. Do we understand the strategy of ISIL, of Boko Haram? We have to do a better job of thinking strategically. And one weakness is our inability to observe and understand the strategies of our opponents.

SWJ: What are the key components/dimensions of UW?

David Maxwell: The US has a definition of UW, which is simply “activities to support or enable a resistance or an insurgency to coerce, disrupt, overthrow a government or an occupying power through and with an underground auxiliary guerilla force in a denied area.” This is the basic definition.

The definition should be viewed in three parts, the first at the campaign plan level, the second as a strategic decision requiring the application of a combination of the elements of national power, and the third as tactical employment.  “Activities conducted to enable a resistance movement or insurgency” require an integrated campaign plan executed by a designated task force usually under the command of a geographic combatant commander.  A strategic or national level decision is required to “coerce, disrupt or overthrow a government or occupying power.”  This has to be nested in national policy.  Tactical employment is conducted by special operations forces and elements of the intelligence community working “through and with an underground, auxiliary, and guerrilla force in a denied area.”  Unlike most other doctrinal military definitions this special operations mission requires policy direction, strategic decision-making, campaign planning and tactical execution.  Again it is both simply defined and a complex operation.  However, there is one more important aspect of this definition.  It is not US centric nor exclusively a US concept.  In fact, a number of countries and non-state actors are conducting various forms of unconventional warfare.

Everyone thinks that the UW as being simply about overthrowing another government. That may be one purpose, but there is also the concept of  coercing and disrupting. One of the things that we wanted to be able to do when developing the UW definition was to build the focus on other entities in addition to formal governments, specifically on non-state actors (which behave like occupying powers). If we look at ISIL forces they are clearly occupying territory in Iraq and Syria so they are an occupying power. The Taliban in parts of Pakistan and Afghanistan is an occupying power.  

Using a resistance or insurgency to coerce and disrupt, or overthrow a government or occupying power, is a strategic option and this might be something that we are called upon to do in support of our national security strategy. Clearly what we should be doing in Syria (if an assessment shows that it is feasible) would be to conduct UW to enable some resistance within Syria to fight against the Islamic State and perhaps Assad. That would be a UW mission. Instead we are focusing on a train and equip program, which I think is too narrow and fraught with difficulty. We cannot hope that just a train and equip program will be successful.  However, what I think is most problematic and something that we should take as lesson is that we might have started with too little, too late.  If we had decided to conduct UW in Syria three years ago we might have enabled a resistance to overthrow the Assad regime.  Although there is no way to say what might have happened, the possibility must be considered that had a Syrian resistance been successful ISIL might not have been able to develop into what it is today, at least perhaps in Syria.  A key takeaway is that you cannot conduct UW “in-extremis” or after a crisis occurs unless there has been sufficient prior preparation.  Our post 9-11 UW campaign to oust the Taliban from Kabul was of course “in-extremis” but we were able to capitalize on and exploit the long term relationships and trust established by the CIA.  So I would adapt the fourth SOF Truth, “Competent Special Operations Forces cannot be created after emergencies occur” to create a UW truth: “Effective UW cannot be conducted without sufficient prior preparation and investment in relationships.”

The tactical component of UW which is practiced by Special Forces and the CIA is executed through and with an underground, an auxiliary and a guerilla force in a denied area. That is where there is the real execution of UW by  Special Forces and CIA, or of a combination of the two together occurs. While everyone focuses on the guerilla force and the tactical fighters the real essence, the key element of UW, lies in the underground. This is where the intelligence work and the political mobilization is done, from where the shadow government emanates. Understanding this is very important, particularly regarding the shadow government and its aims and objectives because if we are going to support or enable an insurgency or resistance we must really try to figure out what comes next, especially when they are successful. Understanding and having a relationship with the underground and the shadow government will provide us with the ability to try to align resistance and US interests in the short and long term.

UW is not only being practiced by Al-Qaeda, it is clearly practiced by the Russians through so-called new generation warfare or non-linear warfare, in Ukraine. It is classic UW or what George Kennan would say political warfare:

Political warfare is the logical application of Clausewitz's doctrine in time of peace. In broadest definition,political warfare is the employment of all the means at a nation's command, short of war, to achieve its national objectives. Such operations are both overt and covert. They range from such overt actions as political alliances, economic measures (as ERP--the Marshall Plan), and "white" propaganda to such covert operations as clandestine support of "friendly" foreign elements, "black" psychological warfare and even encouragement of underground resistance in hostile states.  (

His 1948 memo to the Policy Planning Staff was prescient and although really focused on the establishment of the CIA and the operations it should be charged with it did and still does provide a template for political and unconventional warfare.  Although we never really embraced and implemented much of what he said, others did and now do: for example the Russians, the Iran Action Network in the Middle East (and other parts of the world), and the Chinese in Three Warfares. In this context, we also need to have the capability to counter the unconventional warfare that is conducted by our adversaries. Focusing today on the UW aspect gives us a much better strategic framework and can help in our strategic thinking about the problems of terrorism and insurgency by providing the tools to assess, to organize, and to support either resistance or insurgencies or to counter adversaries’ UW operations to exploit revolution, resistance and insurgency that are counter to US interests.

Another example of unconventional and political warfare is Giap’s strategy of Dau Tranh, an integrated political and military struggle with its three vans:  action among your people, actions among the enemy’s military, and action among the enemy’s people.  This should be seen as an adaptation of Kennan’s political warfare concept but perhaps with Vietnamese characteristics.

While we want our friends, partners and allies to increase their capabilities and to defend themselves we shouldn’t consider them as fighting for us. We want them to secure themselves. Some of the things that troubled me over time was the rise of the security forces assistance, and for some a replacement for FID (foreign internal defense). FID is really a strategic, whole of government effort to help friends, partners, and allies in their internal defense and development programs to defend themselves against lawlessness, subversion, insurgency and terrorism. This is a good strategic framework for how we can help our friends and allies when they are faced with these problems. But the problem with the security force assistance is that it is more focused on the military aspects of foreign internal defense, which includes training foreign forces.  A problem with UW and FID is that form many in the military they exclusively associated with the Special Forces and Special Operations.  Both require support and action from other military forces and civilian government agencies as part of an integrated campaign plan and holistic strategy. We need to break down the stovepipes and silos and look at using all the tools to include UW and FID.

UW, countering UW, and FID are some of the best doctrinal and theoretical constructs (note: countering UW is not a doctrinal concept) that really can help us thinking strategically. The biggest weakness of UW and FID is that they take time. Americans are very impatient people. These are concepts that are taking a long time and don’t achieve success quickly or even very thoroughly because they are dependent on so many factors. We seem to favor the strategy that is the least costly, the least politically damaging, and fastest which often translates to the least effective.

One important point to keep in mind.  FID is not simply the reverse of UW and vice versa.  FID is a holistic strategy to help a friend, partner, or ally with its internal development of defense programs to defend itself against subversion, lawlessness, insurgency and terrorism.  FID and countering UW are also not synonymous though they are of course closely related.  Countering UW is focused on attacking an enemy’s UW strategy – how that enemy say, for example, the Russians or the Iranians, are exploiting resistance movements.  While the host nation needs to focus on countering a resistance movement or insurgency we must look broader at the major powers or non-state actors who are exploiting resistance and insurgency for its interests that are beyond the host nation insurgency.  Counter-UW brings an offensive component to the strategy by attacking the enemy’s UW strategy while FID is more defensive in perspective by helping a friend, partner, or ally defend itself (though offensive military operations by the host nation should be a part of FID).

To really delve into these areas I strongly recommend two projects for students.  First is the work that the US Army Special Operations Command (USASOC) has done in partnership with the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Lab call the “Assessing Revolution and Insurgent Strategies Project” (ARIS) (  The second is also work from USASOC in the white paper called “SOF Support to Political Warfare” ( where the concepts of traditional UW, countering UW, and proactive fashion UW are the foundation for ways to operate in the strategy gap between peace and where that some call the gray zone or the “missing middle.”

SWJ: Can we say the Al Anbar Awakening and the Sons of Iraq as examples and outputs of UW? In the end, it was about harnessing, supporting, enabling a resistance to coerce, disrupt, an occupying power (AQI).

David Maxwell: Yes, but it was an expedient measure and you can see how it played out. The Iraqi government was not committed to that initiative. We created and supported the rise of that organization and it accomplished a short term objective for us. But for this reason I think you need to take a UW perspective to understand the intensions and the nature of these organizations and what they are going to do. If we are supporting the Iraqi government in their sovereign country and create a paramilitary organization that is not under that government’s control, that can turn out to be problematic. The technique and the intent may be useful, but it has to be embedded and synchronized with the larger strategy. An objective assessment might have showed that yes this is a short term expedient, but it is going to have long-term problems. From the beginning you have to be thinking about the end and what is going to happen after successful execution of operations and the campaign. If we create the force maybe we can demobilize the force. UW takes you from the initial assessment through demobilization, which it really has to have a plan for how you transition this force.  But you have to think  through to the desired end and be able to balance short and long term obejctives.

SWJ: What would the contours of a UW campaign against ISIL look like?

As mentioned, you have to first determine the feasibility of a UW strategy or a UW component of a campaign plan.  The assessment is arguably the single most important aspect of UW because upon it will rest the strategy and campaign plan and most importantly the decision even to execute a UW campaign.  ISIL is a complex problem.  As mentioned in terms of Syria the train and equip program being executed now may be too little too late.  We are also under significant self imposed constraints that hinder any UW campaign plan in Syria.  Had we identified the UW potential (which I am sure that the CIA and SOCCENT did three or more years ago focusing on overthrowing the Assad regime) and executed a UW campaign we might have had a chance to prevent the evolution of ISIS (though there is of course no way to prove that).  Now we are in a difficult position because of the myriad groups and interests with the most important problem being whether we can find resistance groups whose interests and objectives sufficiently align or are compatible with US interests and objectives.  ISIL in Iraq has assumed de facto state status and is certainly at least an occupying power.  The assessment should be underway to determine if there is resistance potential within these occupied areas and whether it is feasible to support that resistance in support of a broader campaign by the Iraqi government with US and coalition support to defeat ISIL and take back the lost territory.  UW is not a silver bullet and will not succeed in Iraq or Syria alone but it can offer an important adjunct to a campaign plan and broader strategy.

SWJ: Are we at that point when UW and FID should become skills to be practiced beyond the narrow specialized segments, also by conventional forces?

David Maxwell: As I said UW and FID are not silver bullets. They are not activities that we should employ in every situation. We have to develop a strategy that informs the ways and means to accomplish our ends. But UW and FID are tools that should be considered by our national leadership. FID in particular should be a mission beyond Special Forces and Special Operations Forces. It takes joint military capabilities to employ as well as important contributions from US government agencies outside of DoD.  But most importantly we need policy makers and strategists who have an understanding of and appreciation for UW, countering UW, FID and Political Warfare and know that they are potential strategic options to be employed in the right conditions.

SWJ: To what extent is Edward Lansdale a model for FID?

David Maxwell: Sometime in my lectures I show a chart that shows General Pershing in the Philippines (that was of course a military occupation conducting pacification vice counterinsurgency), Edward Lansdale which was really just a small advisory mission while the main effort were the Filipinos, and OEF-P which is really in the middle of those. It provided more support than Lansdale did, a larger US presence, but like Lansdale, the military operations were all executed by the Filipinos. In OEF-P we looked to Lansdale as a role model for how to advise and how to help the Filipinos to help themselves. But we must take the lessons of Lansdale and look at them with caution. When he went from the Philippines to Vietnam his methods were not appropriate in Vietnam. This is I think the big lesson: there is no template, there is no cookie cutter solution. We need to study the history, to look to all the lessons but the key thing that we did in the Philippines as Lansdale did, is that we effectively assessed the situation from the strategic to the tactical level. We started in Manila, looking at their national strategy, then we went to their equivalent combatant command in Mindanao and assessed what their capabilities were and most important what the problems were; what they understood the problems were.  Then we assessed the tactical units and the situation on the ground. Eventually we did local surveys of local villages, talking to the people and collecting large amounts of data. This informed how we wrote the campaign plan which was developed by then Colonel and now retired LTG David Fridovich, in conjunction with the Filipinos, under the auspices of now retired Lt Gen Donny Wurster at Special Operations Command Pacific, briefed to Admiral Blair (Commander of the Pacific Command at the time) and ultimately approved in DC. That campaign plan formed the foundation for what we continue to do today (despite the Joint Special Operations Task Force Philippines being stood down on May 1st as keys tasks from the campaign plan will continue to be executed under the command of the Joint US Military Assistance Group - Philippines) . You first have to have the ability to understand the problem that you have and then apply the right ways and means to address the problem in accordance with national policy and strategy. The important thing is that we cannot look to any model to copy. I am really resistant when I hear people talking about models. The conditions may be different. You just don’t apply models. You’ve got to develop a unique strategy for each situation.

SWJ: What was Lansdale’s approach in order to enable and incentivize Magsaysay and the political local elites to do the necessary reforms in order to target the conditions that were supporting the insurgency?

David Maxwell: The Lansdale and Magsaysay relationship was very unique. I don’t think that Lansdale told him what to do. What I would like to believe is that Magsaysay developed these ideas, that they were homegrown though I imagine a lot of discussion probably late at night occurred between Lansdale and Magsaysay that influenced the development of the land reform and political conflicts that contributed to defeating the insurgency. The ideal thing is not how to tell people how to do things but for them to develop their own solutions. The governance solutions that were developed were appropriate for those conditions. The real key is that governance and political structures have to be developed by the host nation. They cannot be imposed externally when conducting UW, state building, stability operations or FID. Our focus on governance is really wrong. We have to help them develop their own but recognizing always that developing their own governing system is messy, difficult and time consuming. It doesn’t happen overnight. For example I am looking at North Korea as a person that is starving for a long time. You can’t take such a person to an all you can eat buffet and eat as much as they can because they just get sick. You need to develop slowly, to recover. The same thing applies to a failed state where there is no governance. You’ve got to start small and slow. The problem is that we want immediately to bring stability, democracy and raise everyone’s standard of living overnight and often what is worse is to try to recreate societies (to include government structures and their military and security forces) in our image. That may not be in accordance with their customs, history and traditions and thus it may lead to further conflict and possibly failure.

SWJ: What were the specific lines of operations for OEF-P?

David Maxwell: We had four synchronized lines of operations which were developed from the very beginning of the campaign in 2001 well before FM 3-24 came into being. Obviously, advising and assisting Philippines security forces to enhance their capabilities to be able to conduct operations against terrorists and insurgents.  We used the term security forces very deliberately because the problem required more than military, it required effective law enforcement as well.   The second line of operation was targeted civil-military operations to really affect the conditions that exist where there is no effective  governance, where there are no essential services. The Philippine military worked with the local governing bodies as well as the Mindanao Economic Development Corporation (MEDCO) and its US counterpart USAID.  They would go in and build schools and bridges, providing public goods on behalf of the state. The other purpose of the civil-military operations was that they were targeting contested areas that are in conflict. Targeted civil-military operations were really an important foundation leading to security. The third line of operations was really one way that we made a significant contribution-intelligence. We were able to fuse Philippine and US intelligence, establishing fusion cells at their combatant command level, at their task force level, and at their battalion level and really use that information to support operations. The fourth line of operation was what we call influence operations: the foundation was about ensuring the legitimacy of the Philippine government and military. OEF-P was designed to target on multiple levels the population and the threats. We would go through a cyclical assessment process-daily, weekly, monthly. We used surveys (67 standard questions) extensively to understand the political, security, economic, infrastructure, health issues of a community that would help the government and the military to prioritize resources and gain a better understanding of the environment. It is about supporting local host nation government, helping them to help themselves. If you are going to take lessons from the Philippines these would be assessments, not being in charge, really being able to truthfully advise and assist without operating under a façade of doing it for them.  We never had to say things like put a Filipino face on operations because the Filipinos were absolutely in charge and conducting their own operations.

Although we were not conducting UW we were informed by UW and the study of revolution, resistance, and insurgency.  Special Forces soldiers used their UW training and knowledge to develop plans that supported the Philippine government and security forces.  The ability to work through and with myriad local governments and security forces, to conduct area assessments to understand the evolving conditions and to be concerned with respect for host nation sovereignty all come from Special Forces’ UW training and education.

SWJ: Does the T.E. Lawrence’s legacy matter for the practitioners of UW?

David Maxwell: T.E. Lawrence should be studied, but we shouldn’t follow his example exactly. We should understand the history and the context. He was conducting unconventional warfare. He was trying to use Arab tribes in order to achieve military objectives, supporting the strategic objectives of a larger war. It was a form of unconventional warfare. But he doesn’t provide a template.

We need to realize the vast distinctions in all these different cases throughout history. There is no template, there is no cookie cutter. We have to understand each situation for the conditions as they really exist, and not try to fit them into a narrow box that we have constructed and made ideal.

More important than Lawrence, I like to say that any complex military problem can be found by reading Sun Tzu and Clausewitz. You wouldn’t find the answers in those books, but they teach you how to think. If you study and continuously read them then you will come up with the answer to include strategies for unconventional and political warfare.  I actually wrote about this in the 3d volume of Small Wars Journal in October 2005, “Timeless Theories of War in the 21st Century” (

SWJ: This indirect approach for advising and assisting makes sense when the host nation government operates a decent functional administrative and institutional machinery. What if there is no such strong state capacity? There may be circumstances when US may be called to assume this effort of state-building.

David Maxwell: I think we should avoid what we have come to call nation-building ourselves and we should focus on being able to conduct effective post-conflict stability operations. The mistake I think we might have made in Iraq and Afghanistan was not taking a formal surrender and saying whomever is there that this is your country.  Many said we should know how to do this based on our experiences in Germany and Japan but if we were to use those examples we would have sought a surrender from the remnants of the existing government and then helped them reestablish their own government while we provided initial security and essential services in accordance with the law of land warfare and our doctrine for post conflict stability operations.  Instead in both countries we tried to at least partially recreate them in our image.  We should have approached this from the perspective of: We are going to restore essential services, we are going to provide security but you have got to build your government. It was a mistake to bring in the CPA and really usurp their sovereignty and embark on a social experiment. They were (and are) a sovereign country and should figure out their own government. The biggest mistake is to try to re-make others – either governments or militaries – in our image.

The indirect approach is also being criticized for the situation in Yemen.  One of the things that I think we should consider in Yemen is that we were focused on AQAP using US unilateral CT forces and unmanned aerial systems and at the same time training Yemeni forces to be able to conduct partnered or unilateral CT operations against AQAP.  In effect we were using the Yemeni forces as proxies in our war on terrorism.  Yet we did not help the Yemeni government with its internal defense and development programs in order to defend itself against lawless, subversion, insurgency, and terrorism even though SOF in Yemen recognized and reported the threats to the Yemeni government.  We self –constrained our forces in Yemen because we did not want mission creep and did not want to address threats that were outside the terrorism threat to the US.  Yes we faced and still face a very real threat from AQAP but the Iranians were and still are conducting a form of UW that has resulted in civil war in Yemen, relief and sanctuary for AQAP, and the loss of military bases and forces from and with which to conduct US and partnered CT operations.  Our failure to assess the broader threats (in particular the Iranian UW threat) has resulted in a set back for our CT operations.  Again the blame does not fall on the US troops in country because they recognized the threats.  This was not a failure of the indirect approach.  The blame has to be on our policy and strategy and the myopic focus on terrorism.

SWJ: Does NATO need a UW doctrine to help Ukraine help itself?

David Maxwell: In Ukraine we need to help the local government to be able to counter UW. What it is really important about Russia’s use of UW is that they are making a very good use of integrated special operations and conventional forces. They emphasize the orchestration of various joint military and interagency capabilities to achieve the desired effects.  And all of this is supporting their political objectives. That is the one thing in the West we talk about the importance of political objectives, but we really don’t understand the politics. The Russians are using their military in a way that supports their political objectives. We are not so good at that part. That’s why I emphasize the need for us to be able to understand UW, political warfare and develop the capabilities to counter it. NATO should do the same because Russia is going to use these techniques and this doctrine to achieve its political objectives without going to direct conflict.     

I would close with saying that a lot of us are averse to Unconventional Warfare, from policy makers to politicians, from strategists to conventional military leaders and even some within the SOF community.  But to borrow, paraphrase, and update one of Trotsky’s famous quotes I would say “America may not be interested in unconventional warfare but UW is being practiced around the world by those who are interested in and who have a great understanding of and appreciation for it.”  We had better catch up.

About the Author(s)

Octavian Manea was a Fulbright Junior Scholar at Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs (Syracuse University) where he received an MA in International Relations and a Certificate of Advanced  Studies in Security Studies.


I need some help here from COL Maxwell, COL Jones, Bill M., Outlaw, et al; this, with respect to:

"The need to understand and conduct unconventional warfare" (and political warfare also?); this, at a time when the United States seems to have:

a. Abandoned its vision and efforts to transform the outlying states and societies of the world more along modern western political, economic, social and value lines,

b. Abandoned the populations of the world that wish to pursue this objective and would have helped us achieve same. And, instead of these, seems to have:

c. Adopted a vision that suggests that the United States does not care on what basis the states and societies of the world are now organized, ordered and/or oriented; this, so long as such states and societies are peaceful and "stable" (to wit: have their populations, and thus law and order, well in hand?).

As to this apparent "sea change," re: the United States' long-term strategic goals, might I ask you folks to comment on what this idea of, shall we say, "stability is our goal"/"stability at any price;" what this does to our arguments re:

a. The need to conduct political warfare?

b. The need to conduct unconventional warfare? And

c. Our ability to do either or both?

In this regard, and from our article above, let me first quote what appears to be a COL Maxwell "foundational" thought -- which might apply not only to "the need for unconventional warfare" but also to "the need for political warfare." This such "foundational" thought to be found in COL Maxwell's first quoted paragraph in our article above:

"When it comes to counterinsurgency, counter-terrorism I subscribe to Collin Gray who said that the strategist needs to understand his subject, which is not COIN, not CT, but strategy -- for its particular challenge in COIN or CT."

And, next, to quote the final sentence, in this case, from COL Jones May 31, 2015 - 12:02 pm comment below -- a quote which addresses how the "insurgent energy of the population" is key to unconventional warfare operations:

"UW must be centered on efforts to leverage the insurgent energy of a population other than one's own. That is the core, the energy that makes UW work. How that manifests is shaped by all the variables involved."

Thus, in consideration of my two quoted items immediately above (from COLs Maxwell and Jones respectively), let me re-state my question of how does such a major change in U.S. strategy -- from (a) transforming states and societies more along modern western political, economic, social and value lines to (b) "we are only interested in peace and stability; not on what political, economic, social and value, etc., basis other states and societies achieve peace and stability" -- how do these such changes effect:

a. Our NEED to conduct political and unconventional warfare?

(Are these such requirements still necessary? Or, by this strategic goal change, are they now obsolete/no longer needed/OBE?) And,

b. Our ABILITY to conduct political and unconventional warfare? If these such needs, in fact, still exist.

(Having abandoned the "insurgent energy" found in many [most?] of the populations of the world; this, re: a desire for our way of life, our way of governance, our values, attitudes and beliefs, etc. -- an "insurgent energy" that we have [a] cultivated literally for centuries and [b] put to great and effective use -- by this such abandonment, what, equally available, equally capable, etc., "insurgent energy" will we now tap into; this, to meet our political and unconventional warfare needs? [Again, should these such needs still exist; this, in the "age of stability"/"the age of stability at any cost."])

Outlaw 09

Wed, 06/03/2015 - 10:49am

This is why we need to fully understand UW and political warfare.

For those news pundits, SWJ commenters and western leaders who professed to believe that a war in Central Europe was impossible--well think again we are at war now in Central Europe and one side has over 800 tanks and hundreds of artillery and MRLSs.

AND just what do we hear from Obama, Hollande and especially Merkel-TOTAL silence.

If there had been a national level UW and political warfare strategy we would not be standing 10 seconds from 1914.

Minsk Agreement Officially Over? Ukraine's General Staff Says They Are Redeploying Heavy Weapons To The Front

Gen Staff authorized Ukr Armed Forces to return fire w/ artillery near Maryinka due to enemy offensive

Statement Of The General Staff of Ukraine: Militants broke Minsk agreements…

Ukraine informed OSCE monitors: We are ready to use all means, Maryinka.

BREAKING Ukrainian forces say massive new assault on Marinka happened just twenty minutes ago at 17:00 local time

AND the Russian propaganda 4Ds kicks right in as always:
DPR: "At least 15 of our soldiers killed. Total breakdown of Minsk Agreement. Kiev is to blame for it". Sure...déjà vu again in Ukraine.

NOTE: there are many that say why is the Ukraine worth it or it is not a strategic interest for the US--my answer has always been--simply give a European map a quick glance--what is the linchpin nation that sits between the NATO eastern flank and the NATO southern flank that can if it cranks up it's agriculture can feed a large majority of the world with over 56M tons of grain?

AND you do not think Putin knows this??

Bill M.

Tue, 06/02/2015 - 9:51am

In reply to by Robert C. Jones

I find that depiction very useful as an explanation of why gray zones exist and their implications. It actually is a concise problem statement that can exist between current conditions and desired conditions using design terminology. Once we determine what desired conditions are we can start developing a viable strategic approach.

Robert C. Jones

Tue, 06/02/2015 - 8:23am

Key thought on "Gray Zones" is that this is where "black" actors exploit virtual space of law, policy, etc created by "white" actors to advance their interests.

Step one must be to reduce these zones. Growth of gray activity is a powerful metric of a lag in keeping law and policy current. Sending the military into this space to attempt to sustain the status quo is typically folly unless supported by bold political action.

Bill C.

Wed, 06/03/2015 - 11:10am

In reply to by Move Forward

As to my background, etc., it is enough for you to know that I am (1) an old fart (will turn 65 in September), (2) retired U.S. Army, (3) a Vietnam veteran with (4) skin in the game (son, 1SG in an Infantry Division, with many many deployments in the past 12 or so years).

Now, back to the issues:

First, you must know that the Russian's concern with NATO expansion transcends Putin and extends all the way back to Yeltsin:

"One of the observations I made in the Nation article was that after NATO expansion was announced, even Boris Yeltsin—the most pro-Western Russian leader in recent memory, in some ways a weak and, to many Russians, incompetent defender of Russian national interests—even his administration took steps to organize a counter-alliance to NATO. This notion that Putin represents an aberrant nationalist response—that response was already evident even under a much more Western-oriented or compliant Russian regime."…

Second, you must know that, as per your very own Kissinger quote above, Kissinger did not disagree with Kennan, to wit: he acknowledged -- outright -- that (1) NATO expansion might (2) alienate Russia/Russians.

Kissinger: ... "The fear of alienating Russia against the danger of creating a vacuum between Germany and Russia in Central Europe."

Thus, all that Kissinger said, re: this proposed NATO expansion choice, was that he found the real possibility of alienating Russia/Russians to be the lesser of the two evils.

Thus, the United States, both KNOWINGLY AND WILLING, voted with Kissinger -- and against Kennan -- therein, both KNOWINGLY AND WILLING:

a. "Turning their back on the Russian people" (Kissinger does not disagree) and

b. Courting a new Cold War. (Again, I believe Kissinger understood this.)

Now, and in seeming to acknowledge this new Cold War context (which has been bought and paid for by the United States via such things as its decision to expand NATO) we see COL Maxwell, in his interview here and in earlier products of SWJ, reaching back George Kennan and his Cold War definition of political warfare.

"Political warfare is the logical application of Clausewitz's doctrine in time of peace. In broadest definition,
political warfare is the employment of all the means at a nation's command, short of war, to achieve its national
 objectives. Such operations are both overt and covert. They range from such overt actions as political alliances, economic measures (as ERP--the Marshall Plan), and "white" propaganda to such covert operations as clandestine support of "friendly" foreign elements, "black" psychological warfare and even encouragement of underground resistance in hostile states."


Thus, and in the context of:

a. The end of "common goals and values" thinking (see my worldview "a" above) and

b. The advent of this new Cold War thinking (see my worldview "b" above)

All this makes sense to me.

Move Forward

Tue, 06/02/2015 - 5:13pm

In reply to by Bill C.

In 1998, Kennan was 94. Henry Kissinger (74 at the time) and many others more current to world diplomacy appeared before the Senate in October 1997 and nearly overwhelmingly supported expansion. Henry Kissinger made these of many comments on October 31, 1997:

<blockquote>NATO expansion therefore represents a balancing of two
conflicting considerations: The fear of alienating Russia
against the danger of creating a vacuum between Germany and
Russia in Central Europe. Failure to expand NATO is likely to
prove irrevocable. Russian opposition would only grow as its
economy gains strength. The nations of Central Europe would
drift out of their association with Europe. So I would strongly
urge the Senate to ratify NATO enlargement.</blockquote>

I will close in pointing out that Vladimir Putin did not start the first of his many rules until 1999, a year after George Kennan expressed his displeasure with NATO expansion. Thankfully, the Senate and others listened to the overwhelming majority who favored NATO expansion given subsequent events in Chechnya in 1999 (and earlier), Georgia in 2008, Crimea, and now Ukraine that illustrate that although the USSR no longer exists, Russian expansionist tendencies still do.

We have not turned our backs on the Russian people who were not harmed in any way by NATO expansion until sanctions occurred following Russian expansion into non-NATO areas. The fact that so many of the best and brightest of Russia come to the West illustrates that those who pay no attention to Russian propaganda, know the deal about who are the good guys and who are not.

Out of curiosity Bill C, we never hear anything about your background and areas of expertise and experience. How are we to know that you are not part of the Russian propaganda machine?

Bill C.

Tue, 06/02/2015 - 4:07pm

In reply to by Bill M.

Bill M said:

"Bill (C.) likes to buy into the Putin narrative that NATO is threatening Russia, yet the reality is NATO's military capacity has been greatly reduced and the remaining part of it has not been focused on Russia. Russia is the country that threatens their neighbors, and understandably they reach out to the West for protection."

Here is what George Kennan said about NATO expansion -- as early as 1998:

''I think it is the beginning of a new cold war,'' said Mr. Kennan from his Princeton home. ''I think the Russians will gradually react quite adversely and it will affect their policies. I think it is a tragic mistake. There was no reason for this whatsoever. No one was threatening anybody else. This expansion would make the Founding Fathers of this country turn over in their graves. We have signed up to protect a whole series of countries, even though we have neither the resources nor the intention to do so in any serious way. [NATO expansion] was simply a light-hearted action by a Senate that has no real interest in foreign affairs.''

''What bothers me is how superficial and ill informed the whole Senate debate was,'' added Mr. Kennan, who was present at the creation of NATO and whose anonymous 1947 article in the journal Foreign Affairs, signed ''X,'' defined America's cold-war containment policy for 40 years. ''I was particularly bothered by the references to Russia as a country dying to attack Western Europe. Don't people understand? Our differences in the cold war were with the Soviet Communist regime. And now we are turning our backs on the very people who mounted the greatest bloodless revolution in history to remove that Soviet regime.

''And Russia's democracy is as far advanced, if not farther, as any of these countries we've just signed up to defend from Russia,'' said Mr. Kennan, who joined the State Department in 1926 and was U.S. Ambassador to Moscow in 1952. ''It shows so little understanding of Russian history and Soviet history. Of course there is going to be a bad reaction from Russia, and then [the NATO expanders] will say that we always told you that is how the Russians are -- but this is just wrong.''

''This has been my life, and it pains me to see it so screwed up in the end.''…

Note here that:

a. As early as 1998, Russian/Soviet expert George Kennan suggested that Russia will think that is being threatened -- by NATO expansion -- and that it will react accordingly; this, resulting in a new Cold War. And note that:

b. A new Cold War is:

1. The model I used to base my worldview "b" on,

2. The model I used to suggest that worldview "a" has been discredited/discarded and

3. The model that I used to explain, accordingly, both "their" and "our" return to such Cold War-like methods as political warfare, unconventional warfare, etc. (If not a new Cold War, how else would you explain this?)

Note: Your suggestion that we are only in conflict with contrary regimes -- and not with contrary populations -- this such argument seems to have been disproved; this, for example, by such cases as Egypt, Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria, Libya, etc. Russia also, given that, as George Kennan said, we have -- via NATO expansion -- "turned our back" on the Russian people? (In this regard, see Mr. Kennan's second paragraph above.)

Outlaw 09

Tue, 06/02/2015 - 12:25am

In reply to by Bill M.

Bill--spot on--in fact if one really looks at the ongoing events in the Ukraine--Russia is failing exactly because what is trying to "sell" is now being rejected by those he "claimed to be protecting" AND he is displaying a deep contradiction in his own country that could possibly bring him down

Recently read this sentence that takes in all you say here--in an interview with those now under mercenary control--one woman stated.

"democracy and human rights is far better than language and ethnicity"--I will go with the Ukraine as they appear to be really trying not like before under the old President.

"Democracy and human rights over language and ethnicity"--an interesting statement from a war zone.

Couple it with a proper vision that people can understand and Russian non linear warfare is destined to fail for that matter all forms of UW.

Bill M.

Mon, 06/01/2015 - 7:04pm

In reply to by Outlaw 09

We know what happened when Germany and Japan pulled out of the league of nations. We're not wrong attempting to enforce an international order underscored with the values of self-determination and human rights. There is no major rejection of those values, that major rejection is only in Bill C's imagination. What people do object to is when we overreach and actually violate our the values we claim to support. When we attempt to mandate and enforce a particular form of government, a particular form of economic system, etc., then it will be resisted. Bill likes to buy into the Putin narrative that NATO is threatening Russia, yet the reality is NATO's military capacity has been greatly reduced and the remaining part of it has not been focused on Russia. Russia is the country that threatens their neighbors, and understandably they reach out to the West for protection. Of course Bill would call that people rejecting our values. Not sure what twisted road he took to get there. China is imposing its will in the South China Sea and numerous countries in the region are looking to the U.S. for protection, not just protection of their sovereignty, but protection of the international order we all depend upon for our economic well being. Enough of the unsubstantiated claims on every thread.

Outlaw 09

Mon, 06/01/2015 - 3:50pm

In reply to by Bill C.

Or Bill C--it is the "Russian World" (their own term) against the "Western World" (viewed as being decadent neo liberal lead by the US)--Russia's own view.

In looking over Outlaw, Bill M. and COL Maxwell's discussion below, I noted one thing. This being:

a. That we now appear to look at the world not through the rose-colored glasses of the recent past. Thus, not through the lens of universal goals and values; not through the lens of an international community of mutual respect, cooperation and support; and not through the lens of a world order wherein everyone accepts that the United States/the West will lead.

b. Rather having been, in recent years, "mugged by reality," we now have come to accept that the world (much to our chagrin) is much the same as it was during the Cold War, to wit: a place of opposed goals, conflicting values, diverse communities and a world wherein various powers and parties vie for, if not world, then certainly regional control, exploitation and leadership.

When worldview "a" above was in vogue, our foreign policy and use of force concepts were directed at liberating populations from their oppressive regimes, and in providing "whole of government" support to populations who, we believed, would -- thus liberated -- readily, rapidly and mostly on their own adopt modern western ways.

Now that worldview "a" above (and especially its underlying/foundational concepts) have been "mugged by reality" (have been proven to be false), we have adopted, with a very heavy heart, the reality of worldview "b." To wit: a worldview that much resembles our view of the world during the Cold War (one of opposed goals, conflicting values, diverse communities and competition for world/regional control and leadership).

In this exact light (a return the more-accurate/more-correct Cold War-like worldview described at "b" above), to both see and understand "their" -- and now finally "our" -- return to such things as political and unconventional warfare.

("Universal values" and "the End of History? For the time being, this stuff would seem to be most likely to be found in File 13.)

Let me ask the following question:

Given that "universal values" and "the end of history" have proven to be invalid concepts,

Then for what purpose do we need to "understand and/or conduct unconventional warfare?"

This due to our understanding, now, that the problem is:

a. Not so much with the regimes (who we have shown we can easily coerce, disrupt, overthrow and replace) but, rather,

b. With the populations, (who, due to inadequate inspiration, have shown themselves -- even with our help -- to be unwilling and/or unable to transform their states and societies more along modern western political, economic and social lines.)


a. If the real problem (as described in paragraph "b" immediately above) is with the populations, then

b. Why would we need to "understand and conduct unconventional warfare;" to wit: an approach which appears to be used for and directed at regimes?

I guess an answer to the above question might be: To cause there to be a regime, present within the target country, that CAN/MIGHT adequately inspire the population.

The problem with this answer, of course, is that such a ruler would immediately be seen to be illegitimate; this due to the obvious fact that such a ruler would be seen to be working to (1) accommodate our interests and to (2) thwart the very different wants, needs and desires of the populations. (Thus, inspiration, as we have seen so often recently, in the wrong direction.)

Herein, to remember that "universal values" and "the end of history" have proven themselves to be invalid concepts; this, re: their ability to adequately inspire populations to adopt our -- rather than some other -- way of life, way of governance, etc.

All the above seems to call into question the usefulness/the utility of:

a. Needing to "understand and conduct unconventional warfare;" this, so as to address

b. The population (not the regime) problem at hand.

Outlaw 09

Mon, 06/01/2015 - 8:19am

In reply to by CBCalif

Bill--if we take the concept that political warfare is in fact either a geo political stated or non stated "end state" then we must take non linear warfare ie UW to be the "means" by which one achieves their stated or non stated "end state".

UW really needs to be reworked to include the untold capabilities we are currently seeing--we talked about "money as a weapons system in Iraq" but did we use the term "weaponization of money"??--is corruption a weapons systems sub set of "weaponization of money" which in turn is a sub set of the general term "economics"?

While the political warfare discussion hinges on say the general topic of "economics" as an example--what are the sub-sets that one will anticipate seeing and or is seeing currently. It is the sub sets where true UW is playing in support to political warfare and very few fully understand the sub sets or the subtle differences between the sub sets.

I would argue that building islands in the middle of the SCS where actually there were only reefs with waves washing over them is a not a to subtle form of UW--then adding artillery is another step--then stating for the press that the islands "will be used for international services without defining what those services are" is a form of information conflict straight out of the UW handbook and then to take that statement an evolutionary step further and then state "hey we are now going to declare an air space defense zone because 1) an island exists, 2) we have artillery on it and 3) it is ours" is in fact all evolutionary steps of UW leading to the undeclared end state "control of the SCS.

There is an inherent thread in all the different forms of UW--take the inherent concept of straight UW then blend it with the national culture of a specific nation and out comes a "new form" which in theory is actually an old form just homogenized. It would be an interesting white board session in charting first the core concept as we view of UW and then blend in the various different forms seen already--seriously doubt if the core of UW actually changes--it is the cultural aspects that make it "appear to be different" when it is not. It is that cultural "difference" we need to understand not UW or political warfare is Dc smart enough to see that??

IMHO no---their not even grasping the importance of UW or political warfare and culture--how many in the current higher DoS/DoD levels speak Chinese, Russian or for that matter German, Polish or Ukrainian??

Perfect example--some of us recognized a phase two guerrilla war ongoing in Iraq but because of the generational differences we tried to get the IC to see it--their answer was it does not exist this is all about COIN end of story--had we treated in 2004/2005 Iraq as an UW environment we might not be where we are in Iraq today--QJBR/AQI/IS did and they fully understood political warfare.

What is far more interesting is how does each of the identified UW concepts--Russia, Iran, Chinese, IS and a number of others--how do they stay under the "red line of war" that is in itself an art not a specific skill set.

UW/political warfare while solid ideas are really hard to maintain in a coherent fashion as it is just as open to outside influence/drivers that the originator cannot anticipate--thus an art not a skill set.

Putin is seeing a potential fourth or fifth order of effects he never ever anticipated.

Will be interesting to see if Russian sits down and analyzes the identified single points of failure that are being seen now.

Then we will know if their form of political warfare and UW has legs for the 21st century. Same goes the Chinese and Iranians--IS is definitely modifying on the go and incorporating their lessons learned.



Mon, 06/01/2015 - 12:41am

In reply to by Outlaw 09

If one hasn't read it, "China: The Three Warfares" study prepared in 2013 for the DOD Office of Net Assessment is rather interesting. while it is rather long, only about 200 pages of it address the topic -- which is China's "Three Warfare's Strategy" for taking control of the South China Sea.

It is a rather clever strategy which is described as "a dynamic three dimensional war-fighting process that constitutes war by other means ... [which] proceeds in a dimension separate both from the well-worn 'hearts and minds' paradigm and from the kinetic context in which power projection is normally gauged and measured by US defense analysts. The Three Warfares envisions results in longer time frames and its impacts are measured by different criteria; its goals seek to alter the strategic environment in a way that renders kinetic engagement irrational."

Is it Unconventional War -- Chinese style? I'll leave that to others to decide.

It is a strategy of expansion which requires any nation attempting to stop that advancement to assume the role of an aggressor, i.e. to have to attack the Chinese -- and who is going to proceed in that manner. The Chinese leadership thinks and acts in a strategic manner, one far superior to that exhibited by this nation's leaders.

It is available as a free PDF, and at least in my opinion a least worth skimming if one wants to understand the strategic approach guiding China's actions in the South China Sea. It makes one wish we could exchange our leaders for theirs.

Bill M.

Mon, 06/01/2015 - 7:06pm

In reply to by RantCorp

Since China produces a largest carbon footprint than we do that would seem an appropriate ending to their adventure in the SCS :-).


Mon, 06/01/2015 - 3:36pm

In reply to by Bill M.

Bill M,

First up, thanks for your recommendation on 'The Savage Continent' by Keith Lowe. Amazing how such a vast strategic political sea-change in the heart of Europe has received so little detailed academic attention in English. I found it left me with a disturbing 'heart of darkness' sentiment that I'd normally associate with the Medieval history of the region - not events in living memory.

Second point - I think we should wait until the end of the typhoon season before we cast judgement on whether the PRC's 'Internationalist Duty' building on tidal reef is strategically astute. IMO a typical typhoon or two might result in the PRC's 'little green men' asking to be rescued in the midst of Category 5 tempest and 100 feet waves by the USN.

Their political warfare might end up an Under Water version of UW. The sea has a nasty habit of turning on those who choose to build below the high water mark in the middle of blue water.


Bill M.

Mon, 06/01/2015 - 7:11pm

In reply to by Outlaw 09

I read a couple of assessments on their information campaign. It is successful within Russia, and it has gained some traction with some far right elements in Europe, but for the most part it is not resonating with external audiences. I have listened to their news and read some of their material and it doesn't seem sophisticated to me. In fact a lot of their propaganda is actually comical.

We have a lot of folks in the government and outside the government who have been watching and understand it. Our weakness is a lack of synergy in responding, and it doesn't help when you listen to the unsophisticated talking points coming from Department of State. Not only does she fail to grasp the Islamic State issue, she doesn't grasp what Russia is doing either. In peacetime (whatever that actually means), State has the lead on strategic communications. Probably worthwhile to get on their webpage and see what they're saying.

Outlaw 09

Mon, 06/01/2015 - 3:06pm

In reply to by Bill M.

Bill--I am not so sure all understand the complexity of what we are seeing on a daily basis especially the informational warfare piece the Russians call information conflict--it is like a jacket that covers both political warfare and UW---meaning it has a strategic level and a tactical level.

Especially when they move from tactical informational warfare into the realm of strategic deception.

Even DoD does not quite grasp the complexity of social media in this fight.

Social Network Analysis Reveals Scale of Kremlin's Twitter Bot @LawrenceA_UK…

A 20,000 bot network driving globally multiple messages tied to a strategic deception plan--supported by an active whole of government approach that has the ability to change on a dime.

We can only dream of this as we will never achieve anything close to it as our governmental form just does not support something of this magnitude.

Bill M.

Mon, 06/01/2015 - 1:41pm

In reply to by Dave Maxwell

Agree wholeheartedly with the way he explained it, and agree we need to continue to push on developing a much more holistic strategic approach to operating in what SOCOM currently identified as the gray zone.

Break Break

While continuing to push to develop new (and reintegrate much of the old into the new) approaches for the gray zone, I also we need to re-conceptualize our views on war and peace, and develop a construct that captures current reality. This doesn't need to impede with current efforts to evolve, but I think ultimately it will improve our strategy development.

I'm actually excited that the community is moving in this direction, and there is no other command (or other agency) capable of facilitating the level of interagency collaboration necessary to make this new approach effective.

Dave Maxwell

Mon, 06/01/2015 - 1:31pm

In reply to by Bill M.


Here is what the Commander of USSOCOM has said in his March 2015 congressional statement. We should probably start there.

, “Statement Before the House Armed Services Committee,” March 26, 2015,

Second, our success in this environment will be determined by our ability to adequately navigate conflicts that fall outside of the traditional peace-or-war construct. Actors taking a “gray zone” approach seek to secure their objectives while minimizing the scope and scale of actual fighting. In this “gray zone,” we are confronted with ambiguity on the nature of the conflict, the parties involved, and the validity of the legal and political claims at stake. These conflicts defy our traditional views of war and require us to invest time and effort in ensuring we prepare ourselves with the proper capabilities, capacities, and authorities to safeguard U.S. interests

As an organization that deals with crises that occur in the “gray zone,” I believe
USSOCOM has an important role to play in facilitating interagency discussion. For example, we
hosted senior policymakers last year from across the interagency to discuss options to address
transnational organized criminal networks. Just this past February, we hosted a similar event in
Tampa on behalf of the National Counterterrorism Center to discuss the strategy to counter ISIL.
Challenges such as these will continue to evolve – and so must our approach to dealing with

Bill M.

Mon, 06/01/2015 - 12:48pm

In reply to by Dave Maxwell


After reviewing your post it appears you're making a case we can conduct warfare without being in a war. Yet warfare is normally a form of force (fighting (irregular or traditional), economic, etc.) to impose our will upon another. Where is the line drawn, when does it depart from the middle space and become war?

Clausewitz, first paragraph in "On War," I believe, talks about how important it is to study war as a whole. In his letters, and in parts of "On War" he seems to make room for an argument that his theory is not complete, and there may be entirely different approach to war, although he found it doubtful in his time. Chinese authors who wrote unrestricted warfare, Russian authors who wrote their non-linear warfare doctrine, and various Iranian and al-Qaeda writings all refer to war via other means, implying they see all elements of their power, not just military as part of a larger war strategy. Seems like the buzz phrase the U.S. uses to describe this is the middle space between war and peace. In reality, there is a continuum between cooperation, competition, confrontation, and conflict (armed conflict) that seems to be missed when we discuss war as a separate phenomenon in the 21st Century that artificially separates it from its whole. Is it only war when we deploy conventional forces to achieve pure military objectives?

Are there any other terms, doctrinal or non doctrinal, that address this so called middle space between peace and war?

Dave Maxwell

Mon, 06/01/2015 - 5:58am

In reply to by Bill M.

The PRC is not conducting UW in the SCS but it is conducting its form of political warfare which it calls Three Warfares. I would recommend reading the USASOC SOF Support to Political Warfare White Paper to get a sense of Political Warfare. UW is but now subset of political warfare. And no SOF does not conduct political warfare, it provide support to it in myriad ways.

You can download the white paper from my blog at this link:…

If you have not read it I recommend you do.

But George Kennan has still provided the best description of Political Warfare in his 1948 policy planning memo. I am sure the 2 PLA colonels who wrote Unrestricted Warfare built on this.


The Problem

The inauguration of organized political warfare.


1. Political warfare is the logical application of Clausewitz's doctrine in time of peace. In broadest definition,
political warfare is the employment of all the means at a nation's command, short of war, to achieve its national
objectives. Such operations are both overt and covert. They range from such overt actions as political alliances, economic measures (as ERP--the Marshall Plan), and "white" propaganda to such covert operations as clandestine support of "friendly" foreign elements, "black" psychological warfare and even encouragement of underground resistance in hostile states.

2. The creation, success, and survival of the British Empire has been due in part to the British understanding and application of the principles of political warfare. Lenin so synthesized the teachings of Marx and Clausewitz that the Kremlin's conduct of political warfare has become the most refined and effective of any in history. We have been handicapped however by a popular attachment to the concept of a basic difference between peace and war, by a tendency to view war as a sort of sporting context outside of all political context, by a national tendency to seek for a political cure-all, and by a reluctance to recognize the realities of international relations--the perpetual rhythm of struggle, in and out of war.

3. This Government has, of course, in part consciously and in part unconsciously, been conducting political
warfare. Aggressive Soviet political warfare has driven us overtly first to the Truman Doctrine, next to ERP, then to sponsorship of Western Union [1-1/2 lines of source text not declassified]. This was all political warfare
and should be recognized as such.

4. Understanding the concept of political warfare, we should also recognize that there are two major types of
political warfare--one overt and the other covert. Both, from their basic nature, should be directed and
coordinated by the Department of State. Overt operations are, of course, the traditional policy activities of any
foreign office enjoying positive leadership, whether or not they are recognized as political warfare. Covert
operations are traditional in many European chancelleries but are relatively unfamiliar to this Government.

5. Having assumed greater international responsibilities than ever before in our history and having been engaged by the full might of the Kremlin's political warfare, we cannot afford to leave unmobilized our resources for covert political warfare. We cannot afford in the future, in perhaps more serious political crises, to scramble into impromptu covert operations [1 line of source text not declassified].

6. It was with all of the foregoing in mind that the Policy Planning Staff began some three months ago/2/ a
consideration of specific projects in the field of covert operations, where they should be fitted into the structure
of this Government, and how the Department of State should exercise direction and coordination. END QUOTE

Robert C. Jones

Sun, 05/31/2015 - 1:02pm

In reply to by Bill M.

Agree with Bill. I don't see UW in what China is doing in the South China Sea (other than whatever efforts they may be making to leverage and exploit the long-standing grievances and suppressed insurgency in Luzon. The NPA are far more threatening to current Philippine governance than the Muslim grievances the US has been so focused on; and more important, the caste system left by the Spanish is the real point of friction. China being smart will certainly add a UW component to what they are currently doing at sea).

When people attempt to make everything UW, they make UW into nothing. It becomes as useless of a concept as Irregular Warfare was made to be. We need to avoid that.

UW must be centered on efforts to leverage the insurgent energy of a population other than one's own. That is the core, the energy that makes UW work. How that manifests is shaped by all the variables involved.

Bill M.

Sun, 05/31/2015 - 12:38pm

In reply to by Outlaw 09

I don't see the PRC approach to SCS as UW, rather a very sophisticated nonconventional leveraging lawfare, fishing boats, and its Navy in an incremental manner that like Russia's comparatively crude approach stays below the redline until the objective is achieved. At this point, our competing strategies change poles.

Russia desired Crimea, while China desired more control over the South China Sea, so to obtain these ends they each had to develop and execute a positive strategy (a strategy to take something or change the status quo). Our strategy was appropriately negative (prevent an adversary from taking something from us), it was to prevent this from happening, at least in the SCS situation. Now that it is a fait accompli, and assuming these events are not acceptable, our strategy must now shift from negative to positive, and vice versa for Russia and China.

The significance is that the degree of political will required to conduct a positive strategy is greater than a negative strategy for liberal democracies. We have now lost the strategic initiative in both cases (at least up to this point). I have no way of knowing if this was China's and Russia's intent, but in hindsight, whether intentional or accidental, it has certainly presented us with a strategic challenge. When I refer to we, that I do not mean the U.S. alone, and in fact the we may not even involve us; however, I suspect it will. I only propose this as one lens to view the problem through, there are certainly others.

Outlaw 09

Sun, 05/31/2015 - 11:41am

In reply to by Outlaw 09

Chinese annexation of the South China Sea is in progress using their UW strategy ie the “means” for their political warfare “end state.” just as does Russia use their UW strategy in the Ukraine.

China could set up air defense ID zone over disputed South China Sea, says Chinese admiral.… …

Outlaw 09

Sun, 05/31/2015 - 4:19am

If this does not motivate the white House, NSC and DoD about the importance of understanding UW and political warfare and in the value of having national level UW strategies--then we are in some serious trouble which we are in right now as nothing is not a strategy.

Obama’s New ISIS War Plan: Nothing

Ash Carter talks tough on South China Sea. China is not impressed @joshrogin… …

From Chinese side:
PLA Adm. Sun: S. China Sea construction for purpose of providing “international public services."

Outlaw 09

Sat, 05/30/2015 - 1:55am

In reply to by Bill C.

Bill C---the article is interesting because if one brings it up to date (2015) there is in fact a third way and it has been staring us in the face since the winter of 2014--the "Maidan".

If you go back at look at a lot of my comments around this topic--I have often stated--Putin has a great really great fear of the "Maidan".

Why--it is the middle path between what you mention above--it combines aspects of both approaches and if allowed to "develop" on it's own we might in fact be seeing a development that shows the way forward for a lot of countries in the ME, eastern Europe and Asia.

By the way the "third way forward" incorporates a lot of what Robert Jones has also be mentioning here.

I will write more on this later due to being at a customer site all day--but think about it---combine the two thoughts and then intently look at what has been developing from day one in the Ukraine and the middle path is so vividly clear to one and all.

That is the true fear Putin has of the "Maidan" when he looks at his own civil society.

I will track for you the Putin developmental path he has been own since the "Maidan" and you will see as vividly his path to counter the "Maidan".

He is not strictly anti-US, NATO or the EU--but he is strictly anti-Maidan and we need to ask ourselves the simply question which is also staring us in the face--Why is that?

What is it about the "Maidan development" that shocked him to his ever being KGB corrupt criminal core?

THEN go back and reread your article--it is all there.

We are making this way way to hard intellectually speaking--it is simple and Robert mentions this a lot--it is all about civil societies and how they want to develop.

Bill M.

Fri, 05/29/2015 - 7:26pm

In reply to by Bill C.

Bill C.,

You hit upon a point I have been harping on for years, which is one of the key reasons I think the CIA is largely incompetent in this regard. They're not savvy, instead they find a proxy and throw millions of dollars at him like they did with Karzai. The Soviets (the communists, not the current breed of Russian operators) were much better of subverting and giving people a cause they wanted to fight for. Communism was a lie, but nonetheless it was a secular religion that inspired people to fight corrupt governments.

The new Russian approach is as amateur as ours, they focus on buying corrupt officials and leverage organized criminal organizations to pursue their ends. Our civil affairs, pysop, intelligence efforts to facilitate garnering support are very superficial when you take a hard look at them. We have a message, we have a system, and we have ideas that many people will fight for, but instead we fall back on trying to buy love instead of romancing. There is a big difference between a prostitute (proxy) and a lover (a real partner).

I found the following item -- written in 1962 -- to be a very interesting read.

The article is entitled: "Unconventional Warfare: American and Soviet Approaches" by Colonel (U.S. Army Reserve) Slavko N. Bjelajac who, in the article, is said to be an expert on unconventional warfare and, as such, is said to have lectured on unconventional warfare at the Special Warfare Center and the National War College.

The entire article is very illuminating. I found, however, the following excerpt, at Page 79 of the article, to be of significant interest:

"Communists, although champions of materialism, have succeeded in perfecting a method of exploiting human factors, which they regard as being of primary importance. On the other hand, the Free World, inherently less materialistic, tends to think and act more in terms of the material elements of a given situation, and less out of consideration of human factors."

In trying to re-phrase this passage -- so that I might understand the phrase "human factors" here -- I thought of the passage in our Bible wherein Jesus states, "man does not live by bread alone."

This suggesting that material inducements and possessions are significantly insufficient/inadequate and, therefore, much subordinate to spiritual needs.

Thus, as per COL Bjelajac above, and as early as 1962, we see the Free World as being on the wrong track. This, by trying to win friends and influence people more via material rather than spiritual (ideological?) inducements? Thus, the constant push, then as now, for materialistic "development?"

The enemy, however, being on the right track. This, by trying to win friends and influence people more via spiritual/ideological inducements.

Looking back over the last 10 years or so, can we say that we have made the same mistake again today as we did during the Cold War?

Herein, trying to win allegiance of the population via material things (road, bridges, wells), rather than, first and foremost, winning the population over, shall we say, "spiritually" i.e., via the appeal of our ideology (democracy, human rights, capitalism, secularism, etc.)?

Thus, to understand our "defeats" -- and their "victories" -- more in terms of getting the cart (material stuff) before the horse (spiritual/ideological stuff) and, thus, violating the "man does not live by bread alone" principle/prerequisite?

To wit: the "human factor/human domain" environment [spiritual; ideological] within which our enemies -- now as in the past -- consider as its priority and, thus, operates within so much better than we do?

(Of course the other way of looking at our such approach -- of prioritizing, emphasizing and introducing first and foremost our material rather than our ideological inducements -- is as an acknowledgement of and admission that our specific "spiritual"/"human factor"/"human domain" elements are so radically different from the values, attitudes and beliefs of other states and societies as to have inadequate appeal, and/or to be more likely to repel rather than to attract populations.)

Outlaw 09

Fri, 05/29/2015 - 1:58pm

In reply to by Outlaw 09

And just what exactly did the "pivot" get us??--seems we vastly underestimated the Chinese UW strategy--also seems they have judged the US to be basically weak and will not respond to this rather direct affront.

Just in: #China placed artillery on artificial islands in #SouthChinaSea

Agence France-Presse ✔ @AFP
#BREAKING China deployed artillery on manmade island in S.China Sea: US

This happens when there is not a strategy in place--any kind of strategy.

Outlaw 09

Fri, 05/29/2015 - 9:48am

In reply to by Outlaw 09

Russia, Iran and the Chinese all have per doctrine their own designed UW strategies tailored to each of their "political warfare" goals.

It seems that the Chinese have basically deduced the US --is weak based on the US responses which have been actually weak in the Ukraine ---meaning it will not challenge Putin with force if it comes to that in the Ukraine.

So the following does not surprise me--BTW the Iranians have deduced the same thing when they recently captured in neutral waters a US flagged container ship and the US did not respond.

VIDEO Is #China like #Russia w military aggression?Now lays claim to South China Sea …

Outlaw 09

Thu, 05/28/2015 - 2:06pm

Seems the Chinese UW doctrine and the UW strategy being implemented by the Syrian resistance front--- is in full swing--and we need reasons for understanding UW??

Check the statements of the US/China in the enclosed pic.twitter---and we even debate the need to understand UW?

US-#China standoff over disputed islands escalates w/competing pledges to stand firm

#Syria #Idlib #Ariha What is the Arabic term for Blitzkrieg

Outlaw 09

Wed, 05/27/2015 - 4:15pm

In reply to by Outlaw 09

To balance the previous article----has a great pdf document attached to this link.…

The devil is in the details. Information warfare in the light of Russia's military doctrine

Point of View


Jolanta Darczewska

By highlighting informational threats and giving them a military dimension, the authors of the Russian Federation's military doctrine have outlined the concept of information warfare. It is a kind of combat conducted by both conventional and indirect methods, open and concealed, using military and civilian structures. It has two dimensions: broader ("non-nuclear containment", i.e. combat waged on various levels - political, economic, diplomatic, humanitarian, military) and narrower (as an element supporting of action).

An analysis of these issues enables us to identify several rising trends over the period 2000-2014 in Russian security policy. These boil down to a blurring of the boundaries between internal and external threats, introducing non-military methods and organisational structures to armed combat, and conferring an ideological character on this combat. This leads to a blurring of the contours of inter-state conflicts, which allows Russia to take part in armed conflicts in which it is not officially a party

Outlaw 09

Wed, 05/27/2015 - 3:48pm

In Russian propaganda and or disinformation there are the famous 4Ds, distract, distort, dismiss and dismay.

A sub set that we are now seeing in the Ukraine is the concept of I will take your statements and flip them around and confront you with your own words. Example --you state you have been shelled 45 times--we argue we have been shelled 45 times--if you say something you are not planning to do ie not attack me then I will turn around and state you are in fact planning to attack me. Distract and distort straight forward.

The following is an interesting article as it is the first time Russia is attempting to down play our use of the term hybrid warfare by distorting and distracting the basis of their own military doctrine by attempting in this case to use the argument that there are pressing internal factors at play that the West is overlooking.

Yet missing the simple fact that if the eastern portion of the Ukraine was so rabid proRussian then out of a fighting force of 34,000 mercenaries there are only at last estimate 4,000 local Ukrainians and the Russian FSB officer that kicked the whole thing off Strelkov aka Girkin often complained bitterly he could not get anyone to volunteer to fight for New Russia.

Also notice how he nicely defines it as a civil war but ignores that it was a Russian FSB team that kicked everything off.

Well worth the read as this is a good enough reason to fully understand UW and political warfare.

BTW--EVEN US SF gets a mention.

Be sure to check the author as he sits in a position of knowing about his own UW military doctrine and yet seemed to completely overlook it.…

Nothing 'Hybrid' About Russia's War in Ukraine

By Ruslan Pukhov
May. 27 2015 00:00

Russia's actions in Crimea and eastern Ukraine over the past year gave rise in the West to a widespread theory about some kind of "hybrid war," an innovative form of military intervention that Moscow created specifically for this crisis. However, upon closer inspection, the term hybrid war is more a propaganda tool than hard fact and any attempt to fully define it strips the idea of any novelty.

One Western attempt at defining the term states that hybrid war is a combination of overt and covert military actions, provocations and diversions in conjunction with denial of involvement, significantly complicating any full-scale response to those actions.

A more extensive definition of hybrid war appears in the editor's introduction to "The Military Balance 2015" published by The International Institute for Strategic Studies. It describes hybrid war as "the use of military and non-military tools in an integrated campaign designed to achieve surprise, seize the initiative and gain psychological as well as physical advantages utilizing diplomatic means; sophisticated and rapid information, electronic and cyber operations; covert and occasionally overt military and intelligence action; and economic pressure."

It also points out that during the Crimean operations in February-March 2014 "Russian forces demonstrated integrated use of rapid deployment, electronic warfare, information operations (IO), locally based naval infantry, airborne assault and special-forces capabilities, as well as wider use of cyberspace and strategic communications. The latter was used to shape a multifaceted and overall effective information campaign targeted as much at domestic as foreign audiences."

In eastern Ukraine, Moscow demonstrated the ability to quickly create "pressure groups" composed of "elements of the local population" but that are managed and supported from outside, and that such a tactic can be used to defend ethnic minorities.

In this regard, the document stated that NATO considers hybrid warfare a serious challenge because it takes place in a "gray zone" of the alliance's obligations and could lead to a split between its members.

It is not difficult to see that these definitions of hybrid war, and especially the characterization of Russia's actions in 2014 as such, are out of touch with reality. For example, it is unclear which special "information" and "cyber operations" — much less which "wider use of cyber space and strategic communications" Moscow employed during its operations in Crimea. No information has come to light concerning "cyber operations" in Crimea — and what need was there for them considering the archaic condition of the Ukrainian armed forces?

Russia conducted only a sluggish propaganda campaign in support of the Crimea operation, for both foreign and domestic audiences. In fact, Moscow did not so much broadcast its actions in Crimea or the reason behind them as keep silent on the subject, concealing its end game.

As a result, the annexation of the peninsula came as a surprise to many. The de facto justification for those actions also seemed like an afterthought. The annexation of Crimea enjoyed wide popular support in Russia without much propaganda because most Russians already believed that Crimea is Russian land. On the other hand, Russian forces occupying Crimea apparently waged an active propaganda campaign aimed at the besieged Ukrainian soldiers there, proposing that they switch allegiance to the Russian side.

That effort was successful. Only about 20 percent of those Ukrainian soldiers decided to retain their allegiance and evacuate Crimea, while the other 80 percent either joined the Russian army or deserted.

At the same time, this success was due more to the fact that most of the military personnel on Crimea were residents of the peninsula and had no desire to leave than to any particular merits of the propaganda employed.

The actions attributed to so-called hybrid warfare are fairly standard to any "low intensity" armed conflict of recent decades, if not centuries. It is difficult to imagine any country using military force without providing informational support, using methods of "secret warfare," attempting to erode enemy forces, exploiting internal ethnic, social, economic, political or other divisions in the enemy camp, and without the use of retaliatory economic sanctions. These have been the fundamentals of war since antiquity.

The widely accepted definition of a hybrid war as using a combination of overt and covert actions, including the deployment in Crimea of "polite men in green" ignores the unique nature of that military operation. In Crimea, Russia relied on the nearly total support of the local population and the resultant complete isolation of the Ukrainian forces there.

It was this fact that made it possible for soldiers in unmarked uniforms to remain in place as long as necessary. However, that is also specific to the situation in Crimea. Such polite men in green would not last long if they showed up in, say, Poland or the American Midwest. In that case, simply concealing their origins would not help them.

In fact, there is a long history of soldiers concealing their identities and using unmarked uniforms for limited military actions and special operations, just as there are historical precedents for claiming that regular army soldiers are actually local "volunteers."

In essence, history shows that any external military intervention by a foreign army into another country's civil war has inevitably involved similar practices. Neither is this the first time that a government has used both regular army and rebel forces together. Such practices are standard when deploying military resources under specific conditions. Recall that one of the main tasks of the U.S. Special Forces is the organization and support of "friendly" rebel and guerrilla movements.

With this in mind, the current Ukrainian conflict bears less resemblance to Germany's annexation of the Sudetenland in 1938 — where, by the way, German irredentist militia were active — and more to the United States' Mexican War of 1846-48 that led to the accession of Texas and a number of other Mexican states to the U.S., and also to the Italian Risorgimento that unified Italy in the mid-19th century.

In both cases, the reason for an irredentist war is evident, as well as the fact that the "mother country" could not openly intercede militarily on behalf of the irredentists. That is why they used the widest possible array of methods to support the irredentist cause — by supporting and replenishing their fighting formations, sending large numbers of real and alleged volunteers, as well as camouflaged units of their armed forces, and by staging limited interventions.

Thus, the novelty of this so-called hybrid war begins to fade upon a closer look at history. Russia's hybrid war is simply a modern application of an age-old set of military and political practices.

It is the presence of forces friendly to the outside power that makes it possible to employ methods that have now become known as "hybrid." In applying the term hybrid war to the conflict in Ukraine, modern observers use politically biased wording to overstate the importance of external factors in the conflict and to downplay the significance of internal factors.

That attempt to downplay the significance of internal factors in the Ukrainian conflict goes over very well in the West, and explains why it persists in suggesting that Russia's hybrid war is something new.

Ruslan Pukhov is director of the Center for Analysis of Strategies and Technologies and publisher of the journal Moscow Defense Brief.

Robert C. Jones

Wed, 05/27/2015 - 2:39pm

The essence of UW is the leveraging of latent or active insurgent energy within an identity-based population that is under someone else's system of governance in such a way as to help secure or advance one's own interests.

That is not doctrine, but that is the fundamental activity US UW doctrine is written to address. In the current environment it is essential that we open our minds far beyond the constraints of doctrine, and of the institutional limitations of every organization, to include USSOCOM and USASOC, who own some part of how this LOO might be applied as a component of a comprehensive approach to foreign policy.

UW to overthrow is the best known application, but invariably results in producing governments fatally lacking in popular legitimacy necessary to get to a durable, resilient, natural stability.

UW to coerce is less well understood, and can often leave a population who in desperation accepts our support vulnerable to massive and devastating retaliation once our goals are met and our support is withdrawn.

UW to enhance deterrence seems very promising to me, as a way to shore up economic, conventional and nuclear aspects that are increasingly inadequate for creating a deterrent effect on rising powers looking to advance their own interests and sovereignty in a dynamic world.

Countering the UW campaigns of others is also an area we need to embrace. AQ has conducted a distributed, networked approach to UW for 20 years, and our symptomatic CT response puts more energy into the system than it removes. ISIS is beginning their own UW campaign, competing WI AQ for influence as a nascent state actor. Russia conducts UW as a major state actor in Ukraine. Countering strategies rather than tactics should serve us better than our current reactive responses.

UW is important, as there is tremendous latent and active revolutionary energy out there in this dynamic era. But first we need a new strategy that describes and maps out a US foreign policy that is more in step with our founding principles, one that accepts more risk in allowing for others what we demand for ourselves, and that frames a game we can play to win, not simply not to lose.

Outlaw 09

Wed, 05/27/2015 - 1:15am

Dave--a very well put together argument--for me the take away is the following;

I would close with saying that a lot of us are averse to Unconventional Warfare, from policy makers to politicians, from strategists to conventional military leaders and even some within the SOF community. But to borrow, paraphrase, and update one of Trotsky’s famous quotes I would say “America may not be interested in unconventional warfare but UW is being practiced around the world by those who are interested in and who have a great understanding of and appreciation for it.” We had better catch up. UNQOUTE

I would just add--we meaning the SOF community at large and the whole of government are so behind the power curve on this it is not funny any more and we do no have the time available to spent long hours on discussions.

Reference the Russian UW--this is probably one of the best debriefs of a Russian Spetsnaz mission set/team and the impact on UW that has been in the open domain in years. Just check the number of rear area actions run by just this single team and multiple it by a 220 man BN with 10 or more teams active in the rear areas as well as preparing the battlefield for coming ground assualts.

Secondly, yesterday the Chinese released their new Defensive Strategy for the PLA coupled with the US intel overflight arguments with China,the Philippine open complaints towards the Chinese actions, and the recent Russian Chinese naval exercise in the Med--we are in fact in a non linear warfare environment with the Chinese and to call it anything else is a utter waste of time--and our national civilian leadership does not even recognize it--why--they have no clue what political warfare even "looks like".

Hate to say it--it is a generation thing.

Another form of new generational warfare (UW)—this time Chinese non linear warfare.

Philippines President: " We will defy China's airspace claim in West Philippine Sea"

China says U.S. South China Sea actions 'irresponsible, dangerous'

Xi Jinping may cancel US visit in event of South China Sea incident

China publishes first White Paper on military strategy, & sets out goals & missions of PLA

Important development: White paper outlines China's 'active defense' strategy - Global Times

We as a nation are as exposed to UW/political warfare as I have never seen before and right now we have absolutely no national strategies being defined by our civilian leadership.

Unless national civilian leaders read this article and fully understand the threat we are in fact in trouble--soft power while a great "idea" needs to be urgently replaced as it does not work in the world of political warfare which is using UW as the "means".

"But we have this tendency trying to put everything into a box - terrorism, insurgency, hybrid conflict, conventional war, nuclear war – when we really need to look at and understand the strategies of the organizations and nation-states conducting warfare. I fear that we don’t spend enough time understanding strategy. Do we understand the strategy of ISIL, of Boko Haram? We have to do a better job of thinking strategically. And one weakness is our inability to observe and understand the strategies of our opponents."

I come at this somewhat differently; herein, suggesting that we do not spend enough time looking at and understanding our (rather than their) strategic objective and our (rather than their) strategy for achieving this such strategic objective, to wit:

a. Our strategic objective: To gain greater (or retain present) power, influence and control throughout the world.

b. Our strategy (writ large): By transforming outlying states and societies more along modern western political, economic and social lines.

Only now, with this paramount understanding before us, to move on, look at and understand:

a. How our opponents might feel threatened by (1) our such strategic objective and (2) our such method designed to achieve same. And

b. How our opponents might adopt "countering" strategies; this, to prevent the U.S./ West from achieving, via the method outlined above, our such strategic objective.

In this reverse Cold War context (we now the ones with the expansionist agenda and related strategy; they now the one's with the containment/roll back agenda and related strategies) to both see and understand the contemporary challenges we face today (terrorism, insurgency, hybrid conflict, conventional war, political warfare, unconventional warfare, nuclear war threats, etc.).

Question: Is there not merit (as we certainly did during the Cold War?) from looking, thus, at both sides of the conflict coin; thus both our (today) expansionist agenda and related strategy and their (today) containment/roll back agenda and related strategies?

Thus, "the need to understand and conduct UW" to be enhanced by an understanding of "our" strategic objective, and related strategy; rather than by a contemplation of only "theirs?"

Bill M.

Mon, 05/25/2015 - 10:56am

Another excellent SWJ interview. As for Dave's comments, I'm in line with 95% of them. His response to the first question regarding strategy was spot on. Yet, based on his comments regarding strategy, I found his comments regarding we could have conducted UW in Syria as incongruent with his points about strategy. He stated,

"If we had decided to conduct UW in Syria three years ago we might have enabled a resistance to overthrow the Assad regime. Although there is no way to say what might have happened, the possibility must be considered that had a Syrian resistance been successful ISIL might not have been able to develop into what it is today, at least perhaps in Syria."

He appropriately adds the caveat we have no way of knowing, but since war involves probability and chance, an argument can certainly be made his suggested possible was never probable. As he knows better than I, war is subordinate to policy. While we had a short lived policy that Assad needed to go until reality soon trumped fantasy. Even if we supported the few thousand moderates, and even if they managed to overthrow Assad (unlikely at the time, since there was no central leadership of the moderates, and it takes time to build that consensus), then what?

The only resistance forces that were politically organized were the fundamentalists that extremist groups rapidly leveraged. Tossing out Assad would have still resulted in a long bloody civil war. Advantages to the U.S. for conducting UW may have included: sustaining U.S. leadership in the region, potentially reducing Iran's influence, and by providing overt support to the warring party opposing extremist groups perhaps a better opportunity to reduce the influence of ISIL. Disadvantages may have included: the U.S. getting the blame internationally for creating another humanitarian disaster (Iraq, Libya, and Syria), potentially strengthening Iran's already strong position in Iraq, and giving the greater global jihad movement more cred as it battles what they would call U.S. surrogates instead of their current situation where they are killing brother Muslims. As Dave said, no one knows how this would have played out. I'm just leery of using Syria as a potential could have model, because probability wasn't on our side.

The only other point I don't agree with entirely is that we can't do UW in response to a crisis. Historically we have, including our UW efforts during WWII. However, if Dave is implying that when it is crisis response it is more at the tactical level (guerrilla warfare), and when it is deliberate it is more strategic (more focus on the underground's activities) then I agree. Then again we can evolve from crisis to deliberate if the conflict persists long enough (like Syria).

In my opinion we need to be prepared to do both crisis GW and strategic UW. We're somewhat prepared to do crisis response to guerrilla warfare, I don't think we have the policies in place yet to conduct effective deliberate UW. Perhaps that is due to our artificial divide between peace and war in our lexicon? Lenin considered peacetime as an opportunity for subversion. His policy hasn't changed, but the character of the war he conducted did. Dave refers this as statecraft, all activities short of war (or s political warfare). Not every state and non-state entity buys into our definition of war, for some it all one continuum with armed conflict simply being one aspect of war. They see many ways they participate in the Clausewitzian dual in addition to armed conflict. We now it call it the space in the middle, which doesn't garner interagency and policy support. We need a clearer explanation of what is we're talking about. We understood this as a nation during the Cold War, but now it seems as Dave correctly implied we have become astrategic and confuse operational concepts like CT and COIN with strategy.