Small Wars Journal


Journal Articles are typically longer works with more more analysis than the news and short commentary in the SWJ Blog.

We accept contributed content from serious voices across the small wars community, then publish it here as quickly as we can, per our Editorial Policy, to help fuel timely, thoughtful, and unvarnished discussion of the diverse and complex issues inherent in small wars.

by Marius Kristiansen, by Njaal Hoem | Sat, 01/11/2020 - 9:18pm | 0 comments
For small states with limited military capabilities, such as Norway, it is important to prioritize how we utilize our capabilities in order to generate intended strategic effects. Norway cannot contribute and/or prepare for everything, we must choose. And, in some respects we already have – whether it is intended or not – subsets of Security Sector Assistance (SSA) has become a preferred option for us to create short- and long-term strategic effects.
by Tal Tovy | Sat, 01/11/2020 - 11:20am | 0 comments
Throughout most of the 19th century, the American Army fought a series of battles of various scopes against the Indian tribes, thereby accruing much experience prior to the Great Sioux War. However, the lessons learned were never consolidated into an appropriate doctrine; instead, the American Army prepared itself for battle with a regular army. This article will attempt to answer the question of why the American Army operated in this manner.
by Cooper Strand | Sat, 01/11/2020 - 10:17am | 0 comments
Catatumbo seems to be a singular location where some of Latin America’s biggest problems converge, and the local population is suffering for it. This paper intends to take stock of the war’s history, its current status, and to make an argument that the War in Catatumbo deserves more attention from the international community than it is currently receiving.
by John P. Sullivan, by Robert Bunker | Fri, 01/10/2020 - 9:01pm | 0 comments
Mexican criminal cartels have been using a range of improvised armored fighting vehicles (IAFVs) since about 2010-2011. These improvised fighting vehicles range from retrofitted armored sports utility vehicles to more specially built units. The lower range vehicles are developed by adding armament and simple armor to pick-up trucks and sports utility vehicles. The more complex versions involve artisanal armor (blindaje artesinal) applied to a range of vehicle platforms.
by Jacob Loel | Fri, 01/10/2020 - 10:19am | 0 comments
To maintain peace in the Arctic, the United States should promote international trade in the Arctic, especially with Russia while simultaneously incentivizing growth in the American Arctic. The biggest threat to peace in the Arctic is not Russian military buildup, nor Chinese investment, but Sino-Russian cooperation and coordination in the Arctic and across the Eurasian continent.
by Christopher M. Rance | Fri, 01/10/2020 - 9:55am | 0 comments
In late 2018, the United States Army Sniper Course cadre took a hard look in the mirror and asked the all-important question, “what is the role of the sniper when it comes to large scale, ground combat warfare? How do we train the next generation of snipers to be effective force multipliers on the battlefield?”
by Matthew P. Arsenault | Fri, 01/10/2020 - 8:21am | 5 comments
All too often academics and practitioners concern themselves with the latest theory or framework addressing some aspect of security studies, in this case insurgency and counterinsurgency. An excessive focus on the “now” does a disservice to the knowledge and hard work of those thinkers who came before. Often times the “new” drowns out the voices of the recent past who may have pushed against the current tide and offered an alternative to what may have become common wisdom.
by Elie Abouaoun, by Sarhang Hamasaeed | Thu, 01/09/2020 - 6:21pm | 0 comments
With tensions between Iran and the U.S. already simmering, the January 3 U.S. airstrike that killed powerful Iranian commander Qassem Soleimani is sure to have ripple effects across the region. Maj. Gen. Soleimani, the commander of Iran’s Quds Force, coordinated Iran’s military operations and proxies across the Middle East.
by Louis René Beres | Thu, 01/09/2020 - 11:59am | 2 comments
Following recent events in Iraq, most notably the US assassination of Iranian General Qassem Soleiman, President Donald Trump is apt to seek some sort of larger or longer-term “victory” over Iran. Though his favored operational stance is more likely to be incremental than sudden – that is, than some substantial “bolt-from-the-blue” war-initiating strike - there will still be multiple dangers of an uncontrolled escalation.
by John P. Sullivan, by Robert Bunker | Thu, 01/09/2020 - 4:25am | 0 comments
The largest anti-gang operation targeting MS-13 in New York State history culminated in 96 defendants indicted in Suffolk County, Long Island and a total of 230 arrests of gang members and associates throughout the United States and in El Salvador. Over 10 MS-13 cliques operate in Suffolk County, and leaders of 9 of those cliques were indicted as a result of a two-year, multiagency investigation, which significantly impacts the ‘New York Program’ of the transnational gang.
by Alex Deep | Wed, 01/08/2020 - 12:29pm | 3 comments
The decision to kill the commander of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps – Quds Force is part of a broader US policy to change Iranian activities that threaten US interests and the forces that work to achieve those interests. Yet in this regard, the United States faces a fundamental misalignment of ends and means.
by Russell W. Glenn | Wed, 01/08/2020 - 9:50am | 0 comments
It is all well and good for Multi-Domain Operations to be military-centric. It is less acceptable for it to swing the pendulum to the extreme of armed conflict at the expense of guidance that recognizes and addresses the armed forces’ roles throughout the range of an ever-present conflict environment articulated in the concept as competition-armed conflict-return to competition.
by Robert Bunker, by David Kuhn, by John P. Sullivan | Tue, 01/07/2020 - 1:11pm | 0 comments
The potentials spread of FARC explosives [both devices and tactics, techniques, and procedures – (TTPs)] to the Mexican crime wars is now clearly evident. Prior warnings of the spread of FARC tradecraft to the Mexican situation are unfolding. CISEN had previously assessed that papas bombas based in the FARC template were being integrated into cartel TTPs.
by Rosarie Tucci | Sat, 12/21/2019 - 8:58am | 0 comments
For almost 15 years, Jacqueline O’Neill, now Canada’s first ambassador for women, peace and security, pondered a question that dogs policymakers everywhere and bears heavily on her work: How can governments speed up the implementation of major shifts in policy?
by Scott Smith | Fri, 12/20/2019 - 4:30am | 0 comments
The problem was not that U.S. officials lied to the public—it’s that for so long many believed that the war was winnable.
by Gary Anderson | Thu, 12/19/2019 - 2:57am | 1 comment
Any successful Russian thrust into one or more of the Baltic States depends on the calculus of speed. They need to make the action a fait accompli before NATO reinforcement can arrive. A 2016 Rand war game indicated that current NATO capabilities cannot properly offset the Russian 6-1 armor advantage in the Baltics in a timely manner. However, if key Baltic urban areas can be turned into potential urban fortresses, the equation changes radically.
by Theresa Cross, by Aaron Bazin, by Montgomery Erfourth | Wed, 12/18/2019 - 1:35pm | 0 comments
This article provides an analysis of the 2017 National Security Strategy (NSS) and the national interests described within. First, this article discusses American interests in the context of past and then details a logical categorization of these interests by criticality (vital, important, or peripheral). Finally, this article discusses the implications of these interests through a regional lens.
by Christian M. Bills | Wed, 12/18/2019 - 3:55am | 0 comments
Many locations where our military branches and intelligence agencies currently operate are nations are as complex and hostile as the terrorist organizations themselves. Afghanistan, Somalia, Iraq, and Libya are just a few that are infested with well-armed, well paid, and highly motivated terrorist groups. For all the threats and challenges that face Americas defense planners one of the greatest hurdles that must be overcome resides in Pakistan.
by Cameron Evers | Tue, 12/17/2019 - 5:30am | 0 comments
The task of rethinking East African counterterrorism cooperation has gone through many phases but remains limited in scope. Kenyan, Tanzanian, and African Union counterterrorism centers exist, but they are principally research and policy centers or local one-country interagency apparatuses. Other limitations are highlighted by the lack of multi-country intelligence operations uniquely designed for East African counterterrorism writ large, i.e. tackling the regional al-Shabaab threat in a simultaneous permanent fashion at one location.
by Charles J. Dunlap, Jr. | Mon, 12/16/2019 - 9:06am | 0 comments
Recently, an active duty lieutenant colonel and two retired lieutenant colonels – all military lawyers – penned separate, highly-derisive essays about President Trump’s actions in several military cases. While I personally would not have recommended his most recent actions, the two essays are both deeply flawed but for somewhat different reasons. As somehow who spent more than three decades as a military lawyer including service as military prosecutor, defense counsel, and trial judge, allow me to explain what these three officers got wrong.
by Thomas A. Drohan | Mon, 12/16/2019 - 5:16am | 0 comments
Japan’s security strategy is a uniquely regarded admixture of isolation and engagement. This blend is common to many countries but poses a stark dilemma for Japan’s citizens. Theirs is a country whose economic zone is five times the size of China’s, that is dependent on external sources for over 90 percent of its energy needs, and which is supposed to react to threats in self-defense under a constitution imposed during a postwar occupation (1945-1952). The so-called Peace Constitution (1947) forever renounces: war; the use or threat of force to settle disputes; military forces; and war potential.
by Aziz Amin Ahmadzai | Sun, 12/15/2019 - 12:45pm | 0 comments
Following the prisoner swap between the Afghan government and the Taliban – a deal facilitated by the United States, Qatar and Pakistan – it appears that the Afghan peace talks may soon resume. US envoy Zalmay Khalilzad is reportedly in Qatar holding informal talks with the Taliban. While the year-long marathon peace talks failed for several reasons, a new round of talks may present an opportunity to redress the mistakes.
by Jonathan Fagins | Sat, 12/14/2019 - 5:00pm | 1 comment
In the book "Invisible Armies: An Epic History of Guerrilla Warfare from Ancient Times to the Present", Max Boot provides an insightful look into conflicts where revolutionary movements and guerrilla forces out-maneuver and out-strategize conventional armies that are exceptionally larger.
by Pasar Sherko | Fri, 12/13/2019 - 10:10am | 0 comments
Abu Ibrahim al Hashimi al-Qurayshi is a new alias for ISIL’s new leader designed to obscure his identityand prevent targeting by counter-terrorism forces. There is a good chance that Amir Muhammed Sa’eed al-Mawla, also known as Hajji Abdullah al-‘Afri, is the new ISIL emir. This article explains what this succession means for ISIL and the world, and what we can glean from the announcement of the new leader.
by Robert Bunker | Thu, 12/12/2019 - 5:53pm | 0 comments
"Gangs and Organized Crime" is a major new book effort—aimed primarily at the university book market—by veteran authors and gang specialists George W. Knox, Gregg W. Etter, and Carter F. Smith.
by Andrew Shaughnessy | Thu, 12/12/2019 - 3:49am | 0 comments
Against the backdrop of a generation of Soldiers who grew up tethered to smartphones, the Army remains rigidly analog in many of its systems. While there are numerous potential examples of how smartphone applications could make Army systems more accessible, few seem as immediately viable for disruption as unit maintenance.
by Thomas A. Drohan | Thu, 12/12/2019 - 3:02am | 0 comments
Complex warfare is high stakes competition in learning, and the United States is being out-thought and out-fought by China. Why is this so, and what can we do about it?
by Kevin Duffy | Wed, 12/11/2019 - 5:33am | 0 comments
That the practice of human trafficking—with its concomitants of forced labor and sexual exploitation—is alive and well in the contemporary world is a shocking fact, one that strikes at the conscience and stretches credulity (can this really still be happening in the twenty-first century?). That said, cases involving the practice are regularly laid bare for all to see.
by Hesham Youssef | Wed, 12/11/2019 - 5:10am | 0 comments
The Israeli-Palestinian conflict has fallen down the list of political priorities in recent years as regional and global powers have been preoccupied with more pressing issues—including tensions with Iran; wars in Syria, Yemen and Libya; unrest in Lebanon, Iraq and Algeria; the rise of intestate competition, including with Russia and China, in the region; and a host of internal issues affecting the countries of the region. The conflict, however, has not gone away.
by Travis Zahnow | Tue, 12/10/2019 - 10:23am | 0 comments
In "Why American Loses Wars", Professor Donald Stoker, Fulbright Scholar and academic, persuasively argues warfare has changed over the last 75 years and the United States no longer knows how to approach war correctly. As a country, our over reliance on limited war and a failure to adequately conclude with them has left us incapable of winning, forever mired in endless wars.
by Irina Tsukerman | Tue, 12/10/2019 - 9:21am | 0 comments
… All of this leads to the reasonable conclusion that not only was Qatar likely informed by Iran about the plan to attack the Aramco sites in September, but likely had coordinated with Iran and helped make it happen smoothly.
by Octavian Manea | Mon, 12/09/2019 - 3:34am | 4 comments
SWJ interview (Part II) with Nathaniel L. Moir, Ph.D., an Ernest May Postdoctoral Fellow in History and Policy at the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, Harvard Kennedy School. Dr. Moir is completing a book manuscript on Bernard Fall for publication.
by Octavian Manea | Sat, 12/07/2019 - 6:17pm | 0 comments
SWJ interview with Nathaniel L. Moir, Ph.D., an Ernest May Postdoctoral Fellow in History and Policy at the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, Harvard Kennedy School. Dr. Moir is completing a book manuscript on Bernard Fall for publication.
by Robert Bunker | Fri, 12/06/2019 - 10:14pm | 0 comments
On 8 November 2019, a USC Homegrown Violent Extremism (HVE) Digital Summit was coordinated by the USC Price Safe Communities Institute (SCI). It was held in Los Angeles, California at the main university campus and streamed live to a national and international audience consisting of policymakers, first responders, academics, community organizers and advocates, and other stakeholders within the broader community of interest.
by Elie Abouaoun, by Sarhang Hamasaeed | Thu, 12/05/2019 - 3:43am | 0 comments
Violence remains a risk as parties resist demands for deeper change, USIP experts say.
by Robert Bunker, by John P. Sullivan | Thu, 12/05/2019 - 2:41am | 0 comments
It behooves security analysts to monitor the migration of the CJNG into new territories, the establishment of new cartel-gang alliances and, as demonstrated in this assessment, the spread of cartel TTPs such as car bombings, and attacks on police and security forces.
by Keith Nightingale | Sun, 11/24/2019 - 8:05pm | 0 comments
Gen Vol Warner died last week. He was the epitome of what a Leader is all about and a major factor in my own development.
by Franklin C. Annis | Sun, 11/24/2019 - 5:59pm | 0 comments
Amazing things can happen when two scholars engage in intellectual combat. This is especially true in the fields of National Security and Professional Military Education (PME) where two individuals of different opinions or philosophies can “battle” through articles within a journal, both having an honest intent to seek the truth. In these battles, facts and assumptions are challenged and examined in detail. The authors work against each other like steel upon steel making the arguments ever sharper.
by Scott Worden | Fri, 11/22/2019 - 7:00am | 0 comments
It’s been over two months since President Trump announced a halt to U.S.-Taliban peace talks. In a move that could revive the moribund peace process, the Afghan government and Taliban completed a prisoner exchange that had been announced last week but then delayed. An American and Australian professor held by the Taliban were freed in return for three senior Taliban figures. Meanwhile, Afghanistan’s September 28 presidential election remains undecided, further complicating peace efforts.
by Scott S. Haraburda | Thu, 11/21/2019 - 9:27am | 0 comments
Sound and effective decisions, supported by reliable data, usually determines military operational success. Recent rapid advances in electronic instrumentation, equipment sensors, digital storage, and communication systems have generated large amounts of data. This deluge of digitized information provides military leaders innumerable data mining opportunities to extract hidden patterns in a wide diversity of situations.
by Francisco M. Hernandez, by Brodie T. Babb | Wed, 11/20/2019 - 9:29am | 0 comments
The analysis of CAO by trained CA forces drive multiple processes, including operations and targeting processes, and enabling supported commanders and decision makers to apply resources and make decisions. CA drives the operations and targeting processes by executing its core competencies alongside indigenous partners to increase the understanding of networks within the operational environment (OE), particularly those within the civil component.
by Adam Gallagher | Tue, 11/19/2019 - 4:49pm | 0 comments
"If foreign powers ceased their involvement in Libya, the country’s protracted civil war could come to an end quickly, said Mohamed Syala, the foreign minister of the Government of National Accord, in an interview with the U.S. Institute of Peace. The role of outside powers in Libya’s conflict has garnered renewed international attention in recent weeks as Russia has ramped up its support for Field Marshall Khalifa Haftar’s forces."
by Franklin C. Annis | Tue, 11/19/2019 - 5:25am | 0 comments
I was first introduced to the concept of Availability Ratings by Major Jason Fincher at an event held by the Association of Marine Corps Logisticians. By measuring equipment readiness over time and attempting to increase the speed of acquisition of replacement parts and maintenance, Major Fincher was positively impacting readiness. He found that the key to maintaining a high-level of readiness may be focusing on the increasing the speed of which Marines can return non-functional equipment to a ready status.
by Morgan Smiley | Mon, 11/18/2019 - 4:55am | 0 comments
Many of the troopers and leaders who were part of the early deployments of the “Global War on Terrorism” have since departed the military. But I know many remain, though for a lot of them, I suspect their experiences consist of deployments involving security force assistance or limited patrols with limited goals as host-nation forces were pushed to take on more responsibility. Despite this, the troopers who are still in our military have valuable lessons that should be passed on to those with less experience.
by Chayathip Weerakajorn | Sun, 11/17/2019 - 11:44am | 0 comments
All actions have consequences, and all circumstances come after certain root causes; so does the ongoing insurgency in the southernmost provinces of Thailand, or what also known as the Deep South. The Thai ways of counterinsurgency are arguably flawed in several aspects, including the security and civil pillars of counterinsurgency. Moreover, the unstable domestic politics continues to distract the country leaders from conflicts in the south, as they are forced to focus on securing political power in Bangkok instead.
by Louis René Beres | Sat, 11/16/2019 - 10:52am | 0 comments
At the outset, world leaders will need to plan rationally, self-consciously and (above all) collaboratively for global survival. More than anything else, this would signify a refreshingly new willingness to realign traditionally narrow judgments of national self-interest with the much wider interests of humankind. Although meeting this complex requirement will at first appear unrealistic, nothing could be less pragmatic than staying stubbornly on our present collision course.
by Matthew Aaron Richmond | Sat, 11/16/2019 - 12:57am | 0 comments
Violence resulting from conflicts between criminal groups and police has risen steadily across much of Latin America in recent years. The effects tend to be most felt in marginalised urban neighbourhoods, where widespread poverty and weak provision of essential services create opportunities for drug trafficking factions, street gangs, and militias to entrench local influence.
by Daniel Riggs | Fri, 11/15/2019 - 2:58am | 0 comments
No support to resistance will ever be perfect. But identifying groups who pose the best means for not only success, but stability as well is crucial. Decision makers and planners should not be content with finding a group to just achieve strategic ends. In world affairs, nothing appears to provoke as much ill will and long-term disdain towards a foreign country after they have provided less than intelligent support to a resistance movements that turn totalitarian or towards carnage.
by Boglarka Bozsogi | Wed, 11/13/2019 - 3:27pm | 0 comments
They know the drill. Emerging threats, foreign intervention, local alliances, and historic letdowns. Abandonment should not come as a surprise. Great powers have instrumentalized Kurdish nationalism for grand strategy, but cooptation implies agency from the proxy—a willingness to offer its strategic advantages for support or protection. U.S. withdrawal in face of the Turkish incursion in Kurdish-controlled northern Syria shines a light on the challenges of proxy warfare.
by Samiullah Doorandesh | Wed, 11/13/2019 - 12:55pm | 3 comments
Every U.S. airstrike resulting in civilian casualties nullifies the eighteen-year long endeavors of reconstruction and nation building aimed at winning the hearts and minds of Afghans in the perpetual War on Terror. The airstrikes have alarmingly augmented the xenophobia of Afghans towards the foreign troops and especially those of the United States.