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 Anthony DeCapite | Mon, 10/01/2018 - 12:05am | 0 comments
This article is the latest addition to the U.S. Army TRADOC G2 Mad Scientist Initiative’s Future of Warfare 2030-2050 project at Small Wars Journal.
by Nick Eftimiades | Sun, 09/30/2018 - 4:28pm | 0 comments
Students often ask me how to get a job in the Intelligence Community. I wrote this article to share some best practices for securing a career as an Intelligence Officer. This article reflects my 34 years of experience in that career field with three different agencies.
by Nicolas Johnston | Fri, 09/28/2018 - 12:05am | 8 comments
At its very core, insurgent warfare is a conflict between competing claims to legitimate governance over a people or territory. The enduring viability of counterinsurgency doctrine thus lies in understanding the factors that contribute to the legitimacy of a regime, and how they are mobilised to engender public resilience and popular support for insurgents’ actions.
by Christopher Flaherty | Thu, 09/27/2018 - 1:21am | 0 comments
Establishing effective parade and event security at mass gatherings, in certain circumstances can involve mitigating a sub-set of terrorist, extremist or violent bombings with an Improvised Explosive Device (IED) classified as in-situ attacks. An in-situ attack occurs where an IED has been used against people who are packed or blocked into a confined space, offering a dense target. The attack results in a higher level of fatal casualties. A core problem with mass gatherings is that these unavoidably create areas where people are blocked together unable to freely move, for a lengthy time.
by George M. Dryden | Wed, 09/26/2018 - 1:00am | 3 comments
For those in “the advising business,” this is an exciting time. During the past year, beginning with the Secretary of Defense, leaders throughout the Defense Establishment have articulated the compelling need to best prepare the advisors – civilian and military – that we deploy to theaters of operation and distant countries worldwide.
by Christopher Flaherty | Tue, 09/25/2018 - 1:29am | 0 comments
Written as a tactics, techniques and procedure analysis, this paper attempts to extend the notion of 3D tactics in the context of new and emerging technology. The paper will also look at the implications for modelling the observe-orient-decide-act (OODA) loop decision making process.
by Octavian Manea | Mon, 09/24/2018 - 12:14pm | 1 comment
SWJ discussion with Luis Simón, research professor of international security at the Institute for European Studies (Vrije Universiteit Brussel), and director of the Brussels office of the Elcano Royal Institute. He recently published a Whitehall Paper for London’s Royal United Services Institute: “The Spectre of a Westphalian Europe?”
by Peter Polack | Sun, 09/23/2018 - 1:00pm | 0 comments
Simon Bolivar made a successful career of failures, defeats, elimination of competing fellow countrymen and repeated exiles manifested in the numerous early short-lived republics of Venezuela.
by Christopher Rodriguez | Sun, 09/23/2018 - 11:41am | 0 comments
On October 9th, 1967 at 1:45 PM, Colonel Joaquin Zetenento announced to the world that Che Guevara was dead. Many were surprised to hear the news – and it was even more surprising that he died in Bolivia of all places. Questions began to swirl around his death while world leaders began to take sides concerning his legacy. Some, such as Cuba’s Fidel Castro, publicly mourned his death and vowed to continue Guevara’s vision of global revolution.
by John P. Sullivan | Fri, 09/21/2018 - 12:34am | 0 comments
Tunnel warfare is now becoming a contemporary concern as seen in its use by AQIM (al-Qaeda in the Islamic Magreb) in Mali, and by Hamas for smuggling, terrorism, and increasingly as a means of urban warfare in Gaza, Syria, and Iraq. Among other things, underground warfare is likely to merge with urban operations and proliferate in the megacity battles of tomorrow. Richemond-Barak does an excellent job of building a foundation for addressing these tactical, operational, and strategic challenges.
by Gary Anderson | Thu, 09/20/2018 - 2:51am | 1 comment
Except for the initial invasion of Iraq in 2003, America has been fighting small, counterinsurgency wars since 9-11. This begs the question of whether fighting small wars inhibits or enhances our readiness to transition to large, high-intensity conflicts against peer or near peer competitors? The answer is complicated and somewhat ambiguous.
by Douglas A. Livermore | Thu, 09/20/2018 - 1:40am | 0 comments
Competing visions of future warfare invariably include some version of robotic fighting machines operating either alongside, or in place of, humans. Each of the world's major powers are pursuing development of such automated killers, each looking to grant their robotic minions varying degrees of autonomy. The decisions made concerning the future employment of such systems are driving today's policymaking and research / development efforts.
by B.K. Schaefer | Wed, 09/19/2018 - 12:44am | 2 comments
COIN strategy in the Philippines has focused on tactical, reactionary successes against insurgent groups, and failed to build the appropriate political and economic capacity to effectively address the grievances of the local population. Without a coordinated, multi-faceted COIN strategy, incidents of violence will continue to occur on Mindanao as the population drifts further away from government control and into the influence of insurgent organizations.
by Jon Cederquist, by Anne Gibbon, by Richard Lum | Mon, 09/17/2018 - 12:32am | 3 comments
Special operations forces (SOF) will once again find itself out ahead of others, operating in ambiguity and uncertainty as the world’s players compete to establish new rules and new structures. One of the key challenges for SOF is that, rather than just being tactical, this time the ambiguity and uncertainty is strategic. If SOF is to continue to be effective during this time of transition, then they must rely on their collective ability to perceive weak signals and adapt more rapidly than our competitors.
by Abigail Gage | Mon, 09/17/2018 - 12:12am | 1 comment
The United States’ efforts in the GWOT have, thus far, prevented major terrorist organizations from conducting a second 9/11-style attack. Pursuing a strategy that shifts away from military engagement and towards stronger domestic policy will save trillions in taxpayer dollars, prevent future terrorist attacks, and help end the GWOT.
by Megan Karlshoej-Pedersen | Fri, 09/14/2018 - 12:21am | 1 comment
This summer, Australian Special Forces have been accused of War Crimes that have caused wide-spread outrage. However, although the accusations echo eerily close to those previously raised against British Special Forces, the responses of the two nations could not be more disparate.
by Sarwar J. Minar | Fri, 09/14/2018 - 12:14am | 3 comments
The book contributes to the conceptual development and understanding of the idea of grand strategy. Making grand strategy practically applicable remains one of the major contributions of the book. However, in trying to assist busy people to get practical benefit, the book simplified grand strategy as ‘problem solving method’ but all the objectives sought need not necessarily be problems.
by Erik Grossman | Thu, 09/13/2018 - 12:29am | 0 comments
The inherent paradox in peace creation in such a violent and corrupt environment is that it requires violence and corruption to accomplish. The levels of which both must be employed may be unconscionable in the utopic image of liberal governance, but in such conflict-ridden states, mirroring this Western image should not be the immediate objective. Instead, measures should be directed at securing a peaceful state through all means available.
by Matt Stevens | Wed, 09/12/2018 - 12:53am | 0 comments
Over the fourteen months from September 2016 to November 2017, the Iraqi Security Forces wrestled their nation from the clutches of the Islamic State in some of the fiercest and most brutal urban combat experienced since World War Two. In May 2017, the Australian Special Operations Task Group Rotation VII took over the great work of previous rotations in advising, assisting and enabling the Iraqi Counter Terrorism Service, our primary partners.
by Ronald Sprang | Tue, 09/11/2018 - 12:09am | 3 comments
This case study for analysis focuses on Russian operations in Ukraine from 2013-2016. Russian decision-making in Ukraine has demonstrated the ability to use cyber and information warfare to influence operations to support military and political objectives, and continued preparation of the cyber environment to create a range of options for future action.
by Stephen B. Young | Mon, 09/10/2018 - 1:46am | 11 comments
The right kind of strategic instincts were also used by H.R. McMaster and several other local US commanders in Iraq when they formed partnerships with the Sunni tribal leaders to jointly fight the fundamentalist insurgents in Anbar Province. A similar program can still be undertaken in Afghanistan. It is never too late to trust the people.
by James King | Mon, 09/10/2018 - 1:27am | 0 comments
C.J. Chivers, a Pulitzer Prize winning journalist, follows six people in their journey through the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan. He brings to life the stories of ordinary Soldiers, Sailors, and Marines through prose that reads like a novel.
by Darren E. Tromblay | Fri, 09/07/2018 - 5:29am | 0 comments
In May 2018, the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts made a serious national security faux pas by providing a platform for Cuban nationals to flack their public relations wares. However, while the Washington cognesceti were oohing, aahing, and patting themselves on the back for being so multicultural, they might not have had time to ponder that the country whose handiwork was on display has been complicit in a campaign of chemical and biological attacks against the United States. Exhibitions about those aspects of Cuba’s culture were conspicuously absent from the Kennedy Center – a U.S. government venue, named for the U.S. President who went eyeball-to-eyeball with the Soviets over Cuba’s hosting of Moscow’s missiles.
by Phillip W. Williams Jr. | Thu, 09/06/2018 - 12:47am | 3 comments
The uncomfortable truth that many in modern western society do not want to face is that war, by its very nature, will kill people and break things. However, in the midst of that truth is a second truth that many seem to forget: Namely, that the United States of America, more so than any other nation, expends great resources to develop and implement the means of mitigating the effects of the first truth on noncombatants and infrastructure in the war zone. No other nation in the history of the world has so earnestly sought to conduct military operations while simultaneously striving to minimize the killing and breaking.
by Robert Zager, by John Zager | Wed, 09/05/2018 - 6:45am | 0 comments
Cybersecurity’s human adversarial engagement is often lost in discussions of cybersecurity. We discuss how defenders’ focus on technology unintentionally creates vulnerabilities which can be exploited by threat actors. In particular, we discuss how the convergence of cyber awareness training and defensive technologies is exploited by threat actors with devastating consequences.
by Ronald Sprang | Tue, 09/04/2018 - 9:29am | 4 comments
Operational art provides the bridge between tactical actions and strategic objectives. It involves a systematic and deliberate campaign planning process for major operations in a theater of war. Since the beginning of the industrial age and the advent of large conscript armies, there has been a need to link tactical actions to strategic objectives. Russian operational art began in the 1920’s and has evolved to today’s New Type Warfare and the concept of Reflexive Control.
by L. Burton Brender | Tue, 09/04/2018 - 3:51am | 1 comment
One of the hardest things a leader will ever have to do is accurately assess the performance and potential of his or her workers. Often, leaders have so much on their plate that really observing their people is a challenge, and it doesn’t help that there are false signals out there that can fool even the wisest of supervisors.
by Simone Bak | Mon, 09/03/2018 - 2:03am | 6 comments
This essay seeks to demonstrate key ethical questions that arise as the U.S. continues to counter violent extremism in the Middle East. Ethical questions will be analyzed through the actions of an important U.S. ally in the war on terrorism, Jordan.
by Peter Polack | Mon, 09/03/2018 - 12:35am | 0 comments
Washington had made his first victory for 1776 after the Declaration of Independence which started a reversal of fortune for the British in her American colonies that ended at Yorktown in 1781 with the aid of French assistance to the American Revolution.
by Jeremy D. Lawhorn | Sat, 09/01/2018 - 9:16am | 2 comments
Today, the single greatest challenge to the United States national security is the growing threat posed by people that are being forced to join factions that align, if only loosely, with their beliefs, creating deep fractures and eroding the internal cohesion of the country.
by Gary Anderson | Fri, 08/31/2018 - 10:36am | 9 comments
General John “Mick” Nicholson, the outgoing commander of US forces in Afghanistan, recently created some controversy by stating that US strategy in Afghanistan is working. If he had been a senior commander of the Byzantine Empire, his comments would have made nary a public ripple. He would have been stating a plain fact of the new strategic normal.
by Brian E. Frydenborg | Fri, 08/31/2018 - 7:42am | 0 comments
It takes some time to understand why there is such great appeal for fantastical thinking in the Middle East, but after some investigation the reasons become clear. The idea of Arabs as helpless spectators in some global plot run by secret cabals only hinders the advancement of Arab society.
by L. Burton Brender | Thu, 08/30/2018 - 7:50am | 2 comments
What we do need convincing of is what Norman Schwarzkopf and Frederick the Great understood long ago: the importance of good planning. Those who do this well, in addition to thinking on their feet, will be successful in both war and peace.
by S.A. Cavanagh | Thu, 08/30/2018 - 5:45am | 0 comments
Performance enhancing drugs are providing an edge for soldiers engaged in high stakes operations, when the need to fight longer, fight better and think clearly under fatigue, genuinely matters. Military institutions that study performance enhancing drugs to develop safe, comprehensive and supportive drug programs are moving prudently to realize the physiological and psychological superiority soldiers need to survive the battle space.
by James Howcroft | Wed, 08/29/2018 - 12:24am | 0 comments
Once a grievance and possible weapons are identified, ascertaining possible targets is certainly possible if analysts and practitioners allow themselves to examine the threat from the terrorists’ perspective. Doing so will allow government leaders to make informed decisions regarding the allocation of finite resources in a way best suited to defend their citizens and their way of life.
by Peter Leach | Wed, 08/29/2018 - 12:08am | 0 comments
As security competition looms within the re-emerging 4+1 threat environment (China, Russia, North Korea, and Iran plus the constant challenge of transnational threats), those once-archaic concepts of ‘great power war’ and ‘nuclear deterrence’ are worth revisiting.
by G. Murphy Donovan | Tue, 08/28/2018 - 11:07am | 1 comment
After WWII, Soviet Communists played an outsized role in American Intelligence operations, threat analysis, and defense budgets. If America didn’t have the Soviets or Russians as straw men, we probably wouldn’t have much of an “existential” threat to talk about at all. Throughout, we never seem to do any honest comparative analysis of American and Russian relative effectiveness in the worlds of intelligence threat analysis, operations, or policy.
by Tyler Fox | Tue, 08/28/2018 - 12:37am | 0 comments
With posters on Mission Command adorning virtually every classroom at the US Army’s Command and General Staff College, and with its prominence as one of the pillars of the Army’s Operational Concept, the term Mission Command has become a buzzword. One of the concept’s true benefits relies on quality personnel, and developing those leaders through the proper use of historical case studies can help to not only make military history engaging but also useful in everyday duties for even a young officer or a non-commissioned officer, and contribute to developing quality personnel.
by Bryan Baker | Mon, 08/27/2018 - 12:38am | 0 comments
In this essay I will argue that the threat of convergence to the Westphalian System has been exaggerated. Then, using the FARC and Colombia as a case study, I will argue that convergence is already being used to justify morally questionable interventions.
by Christian H. Heller | Mon, 08/27/2018 - 12:12am | 0 comments
The Sinai conflict possesses all the traits of a robust insurgency, a human rights disaster, and the prerequisite conditions to escalate outside the peninsula. Strategies are based on resources, and resource limitations necessitate a focus on such issues as ISIS in Syria. However, external states cannot turn away from the situation. Europe and the United States should challenge human rights abuses and push the Egyptian authorities to reform their counterinsurgency tactics.
by Taylor A. Galanides | Sun, 08/26/2018 - 12:51am | 0 comments
Recent and extensive developments in technology, media, communications, and culture – such as the advent of social media, 24-hour news coverage, and smart devices – allow populaces to closely monitor domestic and foreign affairs. This “ability to share information in near real time,” is an asset to the Nation and its military. However, these advances have also facilitated the convergence of new vulnerabilities to individual and international security, as seen with the rise of computer hacking over the past decade, as well as with Russia’s attempts to influence the 2016 U.S. presidential election.
by Nilanthan Niruthan | Sun, 08/26/2018 - 12:42am | 0 comments
For the first time in human history, we live in an age where there are no means to predict the technology dictating life a mere few years from now. Innovations in several fields like medicine, communication and information happen at such a rapid pace that the lifestyle of an average human being today is likely to be unrecognizable from that of someone a decade down the line. The most concerning implication of this phenomenon is in warfare, where policymakers today are already having to confront themselves with emerging technologies that will shake the very roots of how we wage war.
by Jeremy D. McLain | Sat, 08/25/2018 - 12:27am | 0 comments
This article is the latest addition to the U.S. Army TRADOC G2 Mad Scientist Initiative’s Future of Warfare 2030-2050 project at Small Wars Journal. Autonomous systems in a complex city environment would present both opportunities and challenges for U.S. Army units operating in such environments. Over the next decades, technologies will also transform these operating environments.
by Gary Anderson | Fri, 08/24/2018 - 12:25am | 0 comments
Erik Prince, the former CEO of Blackwater has been pushing the privatization of the Afghan war as an alternative to the present strategy of gradually completing the Afghanization of the war. This is obviously a very controversial proposal, but it is one that at least merits some consideration. There is one remote area of Afghanistan that might well serve as a laboratory for privatization - the provision of construction security for the Ring Road in the remote northwestern region. Completing of the road was the most wicked problem I faced in my time in country, and the situation has not improved since I left in 2012.
by Franklin C. Annis | Fri, 08/24/2018 - 12:16am | 4 comments
Recently, 1ST Lieutenant Virginia Brodie authored an article featured at Task and Purpose entitled: “Hey! You Shouldn’t Address A Bunch of Marines As ‘Gentlemen’ When the Group Includes Female Marines”. In this article, she reported feeling excluded as a female Marine when her commander addressed a formation using the term “gentlemen”. 1stLt Brodie suggested the inclusion of the language “Ladies and” to prevent this feeling of exclusion of female Marines. While her suggestion may seem straight forward, it presents issues with the complexity of the English language and historical usage of terms that may be valuable to maintain within the military.
by Tina Huang | Thu, 08/23/2018 - 12:20am | 0 comments
The rise of terror attacks across the United Kingdom (UK) has been a harsh wake up call for the nation to re-evaluate its strategy for countering terrorism, known as CONTEST. Its first version was produced in 2003, with updated revisions in 2009 and 2011. Since 2011, the UK has suffered seven deadly terror attacks stemming from both far right wing and Islamic inspired extremism.
by Nicolas Johnston | Thu, 08/23/2018 - 12:11am | 0 comments
‘Terrorism’ and ‘insurgency’ describe inherently divergent methods of political violence. Although the label itself ought not to infer any analytical proscriptions, the misidentification of a threat can drastically undermine policy intended to counter it.
by Shawn Smith | Wed, 08/22/2018 - 11:27am | 1 comment
Instead of planning for the creation of another service, we should dedicate ourselves to the unfinished work that Eisenhower and Marshall began, by unifying our defense establishment and creating an organization that best serves American interests rather than our existing bureaucracies. With the threats we face and a President seemingly willing to challenge every calcified orthodoxy of ineffective government, there cannot have been a greater need or better time in modern U.S. history to think bigger for defense.
by Stoney Trent, by Scott Lathrop | Wed, 08/22/2018 - 7:52am | 0 comments
This work is the result of the authors’ numerous engagements with senior leaders explaining what Artificial Intelligence is, what it is not, and why there is such hype currently surrounding it for military applications. The lead author is currently leading the effort for the DoD CIO in standing up DoD’s Joint AI Center.
by Doyle Quiggle | Wed, 08/22/2018 - 7:23am | 0 comments
Even the U.S. Government's own investigation into and report on the lessons we've learned about stabilizing Afghanistan openly admits broad-cut failure: “Our analysis reveals the U.S. government greatly overestimated its ability to build and reform government institutions in Afghanistan as part of its stabilization strategy. We found the stabilization strategy and the programs used to achieve it were not properly tailored to the Afghan context, and successes in stabilizing Afghan districts rarely lasted longer than the physical presence of coalition troops and civilians. As a result, by the time all prioritized districts had transitioned from coalition to Afghan control in 2014, the services and protection provided by Afghan forces and civil servants often could not compete with a resurgent Taliban as it filled the void in newly vacated territory.”