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 Michael Gladius | Thu, 02/06/2020 - 8:01am | 1 comment
In this essay, we will discuss how the Navy and Marines can play a unique and necessary role in America’s 21st-Century security. The Navy will straddle both conventional and unconventional conflicts at sea, hand over all brown-water missions, and become the primary institution for nuclear weapons. Meanwhile, the Marines will become America’s dedicated COIN Force and transfer the mission of conventional amphibious warfare over to the Army. These roles and missions don’t have a start and end date like the Army’s, and so will require a different sort of leadership.
by Robert Bunker | Thu, 02/06/2020 - 7:43am | 0 comments
Fentanyl and other highly potent synthetic opioids— primarily sourced from China and Mexico—continue to be the most lethal category of illicit substances misused in the United States. Fentanyl continues to be sold as counterfeit prescriptions pills as traffickers—wittingly or unwittingly—are increasingly selling fentanyl to users both alone and as an adulterant, leading to rising fentanyl-involved deaths. Fentanyl suppliers will continue to experiment with other new synthetic opioids in an attempt to circumvent new regulations imposed by the
United States and China.
by Carlos Frederico de Oliveira Pereira | Wed, 02/05/2020 - 5:19am | 0 comments
Our country [Brazil] has not been involved in international armed conflict for a long time, but could, or can, it be experiencing a non-international armed conflict (NIAC), considering the confrontations against violent organized crime and between these same groups of criminals? That would be the only hypothesis, as there are no cases of armed political insurgency in our territory. In other words, the very common phrases seen on the news, such as: we are experiencing a real war; in Brazil, more is killed than in many wars; Rio de Janeiro is witnessing a war on drugs, among others, are these expressions merely rhetorical or would they, in fact, express a situation that fits the concept of NIACs
by Lazar Berman | Mon, 02/03/2020 - 12:39pm | 0 comments
Iraq is returning to the attention of Israel's decision-makers. Speaking publicly at a conference in Herzliya, IDF Chief of Staff Aviv Kochavi emphasized in no uncertain terms Iran's transfer of precision weapons into Iraq. "The weaponry from Iraq passes through freely and we cannot allow this to happen without a response…," stressed Kochavi. "We will not let Iran secure a foothold in the northern theater at all, not even in Iraq."
by Mahmut Cengiz | Sun, 02/02/2020 - 10:11am | 0 comments
"The Small Wars Journal" has published two articles by the author. After publication of the first article, “Who Was Behind the July 15 Uprising in Turkey,” a British tourist who stayed at Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s hotel on the night of the July 15, 2016, coup attempt reached out to the author. The tourist’s contributions, which were published in the second "SWJ" article, “Dark Points in the July 15 Military Uprising: Was President Erdogan Really at the Hotel?,” shed light on whether Erdogan had stayed at the hotel until late at night on July 15. After the second article was published, several Turkish Air Force Academy (AFA) cadets who witnessed the unsuspecting involvement of fellow cadets in the coup attempt reached out to the author and shared their experiences and knowledge.
by Maria J. Stephan, by Jonathan Pinckney | Sun, 02/02/2020 - 12:48am | 0 comments
Since Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, the nonviolent action team here at USIP has been reflecting on what Dr. King’s life and legacy teach us about the deep links between nonviolent action and peacebuilding. As we watch protesters in Hong Kong, Iraq, or Lebanon directly confront their governments, there may not seem to be much connection between people hitting the streets and building lasting peace. But for King, the connection was inevitable and inseparable, and practitioners of both disciplines have much to offer one another.
by Omar S. Mahmood | Sun, 02/02/2020 - 12:18am | 0 comments
The Gulf states increased assertiveness in the Horn of Africa has garnered substantial attention of late, particularly the proliferation of military installations and ports and the increase in military and economic aid. Less attention has been paid, however, to the role Middle Eastern countries have played in attempting to resolve some of the Horn’s most intractable conflicts, efforts that in some cases pre-date the more recent security and economic engagements.
by Belquis Ahmadi, by Maria Antonia Montes | Sat, 02/01/2020 - 10:36am | 1 comment
Like Afghanistan, Colombia was mired in conflict for decades. But, in 2016 after five years of direct negotiations, the Colombian government and Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC-EP) signed a historic peace agreement that sought to address the root causes of a 50-year conflict.
by Daniel Riggs | Sat, 02/01/2020 - 6:43am | 2 comments
For Pineland to come alive and deliver the dynamism students should receive requires creativity beyond the Pentagon and the Ivy Leagues. This submission is not intended to be the final word on this. This is a question, or a series of questions to be considered. I look forward to a robust, conversation with others to transform the way we train influence, and transform ARSOF more broadly.
by Keith Nightingale | Sat, 02/01/2020 - 6:18am | 1 comment
"He is a Grunt doing what he was sent to do and he does it very well for all of us."
by Lucy Kurtzer-Ellenbogen | Fri, 01/31/2020 - 7:33am | 3 comments
Tuesday, at an East Room gathering, President Trump, alongside Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, unveiled his administration’s plan to address the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. As promised at the outset of his remarks, the approach represents a vision “fundamentally different from past proposals.” The event itself—with the plan unveiled by U.S. and Israeli leadership—presented a visual that underscored this difference, and the challenge this plan faces if it is to chart a course to peace.
by Thomas A. Drohan | Fri, 01/31/2020 - 12:14am | 0 comments
Using concepts of complex warfare from previous SWJ articles on China and Japan, this article applies the same holistic approach to Korean security strategies in the information environment, with comparisons to strategies from China and Japan. To discern how the Koreas wage complex warfare using both cooperation and confrontation today, we’ll start with world view, threat assessment, and combined effects strategy. Understanding these aspects of the information environment is critical to producing superior effects—the great-results test of any “power” or actor.
by Brandon C. Patrick | Thu, 01/30/2020 - 12:50am | 0 comments
Lt. Col. Brendan Gallagher has dedicated much of his life to the study and practice of war. Through decades of soldiering on the battlefields that defined our modern era of war, Gallagher has experienced the various outcomes of war firsthand: victory, defeat and the excruciating in-between. Coupled with his extensive study on the topic, it is this experience that Gallagher offers as the foundation for his new book, "The Day After: Why America Wins the War but Loses the Peace".
by Robert Bunker | Thu, 01/30/2020 - 12:38am | 0 comments
The specialized encyclopedia on the Mexican cartels written by David F. Marley is described by the publisher thus: “This comprehensive reference work offers a detailed exploration of the vicious drug organizations that have enveloped Mexico in extreme violence since the 1980s.” The work holds much promise given the author’s background and expertise.
by Jonathan F. Lancelot | Wed, 01/29/2020 - 12:26am | 0 comments
The current possibility of the United States walking into a trap of a kinetic war is exceptionally likely, given the conditions that will be enumerated here, and the historical pattern of the US reacting to surprise attacks with the force of a giant rudely awakened from a deep slumber is not ahistorical. The Election of 2016 was a sure indicator of one phase of election manipulation.
by Louis René Beres | Tue, 01/28/2020 - 9:01am | 0 comments
Above all, such planning ought never be just a calculable contest of "mind over matter," never just a vainly reassuring inventory of comparative weaponization or presumptively superior "order of battle." Unless this point is more completely and quickly understood by senior US strategic policymakers, the next change of hands on the "Doomsday Clock" (at The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists) could take place at three seconds before midnight.
by Joanne Patti Munisteri, by Adad Alan Shmuel | Mon, 01/27/2020 - 12:50am | 0 comments
The blood price for “democracy and freedom” in Iraq continues to be steep. For over a decade “civil society” and “capacity building” programs paid for with American dollars have yielded few sustainable results.
by Jonathan C. Nielsen | Sun, 01/26/2020 - 7:57am | 0 comments
For the last two decades the perception that terrorist organizations operated as isolated, closely knit, and homogenous groups captivated the greater defense enterprise. Threats such as the Taliban, Al-Qaeda, Boka Haram, and even Iran, China, and Russia are believed to be geographically limited and membership restricted. Regardless of the location, threat, or era, it is easy to conflate the attributes of current threats with those of past adversaries as one and the same. In doing so, there is the tendency to continue to apply well-understood and universal strategies to threats that are perceived as the newest version of a known idea, model, or practice. Why do we persist on this flawed logic?
by Mahmut Cengiz | Sat, 01/25/2020 - 9:11am | 0 comments
The IRGC and its military wing, the Quds Force, have been two of the top security issues in the Middle East for several years. The Quds Force, for example, is involved in the conflicts in Syria and Yemen, maintains close relationships with terrorist groups in the Middle East and, in 2019, and was designated a terrorist group by the United States. The IRGC, meanwhile, has stepped up its efforts to target Americans and achieved its goal of increasing tensions in the region.
by Joseph J. Collins | Fri, 01/24/2020 - 8:51am | 0 comments
The war in Afghanistan is at an impasse. The current and next U.S. administrations will have to grapple with the aftereffects of an 18-year campaign in a country that has been at war for over 40 years. The war in the field is a stalemate. Neither side seems able to win. At home and abroad, among friends and even some enemies, war weariness and a desire for peace is very much in evidence, even as the fighting continues. Neither side has been able to find a path to a negotiated settlement.
by Sadaf Lakhani, by Rahmatullah Amiri | Fri, 01/24/2020 - 8:20am | 0 comments
Forced displacement affects over 70 million people worldwide and is among the most pressing humanitarian and development challenges today. This report attempts to ascertain whether a relationship exists between displacement in Afghanistan and vulnerability to recruitment to violence by militant organizations.
by Nathan P. Jones | Fri, 01/24/2020 - 3:55am | 0 comments
One of the most impressive things about this book is its readability. Reading government reports is dry stuff. Yet here, Klare has carefully gleaned the Pentagon’s view of Climate Change from abstruse and difficult to come by reports to give us a highly readable 20,000-foot view of the literature. I read it leisurely in just over two days in my free time.
by Arin Kumar Ghosh | Thu, 01/23/2020 - 3:01am | 0 comments
Even if Iran is able to procure modern aerial munitions and fighter jets, perhaps in October of 2020 if Russia sells such systems to Iran, Ayatollah Khamenei likely realizes he will still likely never procure symmetric munitions that will effectively counter Iran’s enemies. The continuing development of the IRGCAF’s offensive drone and cruise missile capabilities, however, give him a limited aerial capability window he and Iran so desperately need.
by Jason Payne | Thu, 01/23/2020 - 12:32am | 2 comments
Is it ethical for the country’s intelligence agencies to exploit nearly every known wireless communication modality in favor of U.S. policies and interests even though it could potentially involve spying on countless American citizens in violation of the Fourth Amendment? Edward Snowden utilized principles of ethical decision making, but faulty logic resulted in a treasonous act with longstanding damage to U.S. intelligence operations and foreign diplomacy.
by Nate Wilson, by Thomas M. Hill | Wed, 01/22/2020 - 11:44am | 0 comments
The conference was another international attempt to end Libya’s conflict, but it remains to be seen if any progress was made.
by Carter F. Smith | Wed, 01/22/2020 - 7:35am | 0 comments
This note reviews the current state of military-trained gang members (MTGMs) in the United States military. MTGMs, whether from Street Gangs, Outlaw Motorcycle Gangs (OMGs), or Domestic Terrorist Extremist (DTE) groups, have endangered U.S. communities since before the birth of the country.
by Kathleen Brush | Wed, 01/22/2020 - 5:28am | 0 comments
It seems like Iran’s propaganda war against the United States and Israel is winning. Iran has brought incredible havoc to the MENA region since 1979, including precipitating the never-ending Iran-Saudi proxy wars, provoking Saddam Hussein and the Iran-Iraq War (1980–1988), and involvement in numerous atrocities in the past ten years, sometimes with the support of Russia and China. Still, within its base, it generates sympathy as a victim of American aggression.
by Jessica Ojala | Tue, 01/21/2020 - 12:11am | 0 comments
The United States faces an organizational dilemma when it comes to the cyber domain, as the Department of Defense, Department of Homeland Security, Intelligence Community, and the private sector all are stakeholders in the domain and the security. Uniting the stakeholders under one security domain, specifically quantum encryption, would strengthen the United States cyber defense against their adversaries.
by Allyson Christy | Mon, 01/20/2020 - 9:31am | 2 comments
President Trump may epitomize the kid who unabashedly challenges the menace of the schoolyard bully. Most kids? They tiptoe around bullies, nervously looking away. Most hope the bully will not take notice and simply move on without inflicting harm. Yet most kids understand these dynamics as irksome risks undermining the very sense of order, calm, and security.
by Magdalena Defort, by William Preston McLaughlin | Mon, 01/20/2020 - 1:01am | 0 comments
This essay explores why Latin America is of paramount strategic importance for Iran, and what factors or events gave Iran access to the region so it could pursue its classic rampant penetration of other nations’ governments and cultural institutions.
by Fouad Pervez, by Chris Bosley | Sun, 01/19/2020 - 12:30am | 0 comments
In many ways, peacebuilding and public health are kindred disciplines in that they both require whole-of-society approaches to succeed. But while both disciplines share similar traits, the relationship between peacebuilding and public health is often overlooked.
by Hesham Youssef | Sat, 01/18/2020 - 6:06am | 0 comments
Despite tremendous effort exerted since the 1991 Madrid Peace Conference to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict through a two-state solution, peace has been elusive. Today, there is a growing feeling among Palestinians, Israelis and the international community that the two-state paradigm may no longer be viable. USIP’s Ambassador Hesham Youssef examines the potential scenarios facing Israelis, Palestinians and the region as the stalemated conflict continues without progress toward two states.
by Euan Findlater | Sat, 01/18/2020 - 4:59am | 0 comments
Iran’s strategic culture and national security outlook is at a critical juncture, where historical nationalism, religion and political ideology are being challenged by modernisation, moderation and pragmatism. As a result, current Iranian national security policies can be analysed as working like a pendulum between supranationalist and realist tendencies.
by Alexandra Phelan | Fri, 01/17/2020 - 12:19am | 0 comments
The internal split leadership within FARC presents the organisation with a significant crisis, particularly amongst a fragile and precarious peace agreement. Given the Colombian conflict’s transformation after the 2016 peace agreement with FARC that resulted in the opening of both territorial vacuums and resources for other armed groups, it remains precarious as to how FARC II will merge or compete given its current resources.
by Garrett Nada, by Maria J. Stephan | Fri, 01/17/2020 - 12:15am | 0 comments
Recent regime missteps have triggered successive waves of popular discontent over longstanding grievances. USIP’s Garrett Nada and Maria Stephan explain how the protests have evolved over time and how demonstrators could use nonviolent tactics against the repressive regime.
by Karl Umbrasas | Fri, 01/17/2020 - 12:09am | 0 comments
The need for servicemembers may necessitate prioritization of able-bodied males and females to operational billets and combat specialties. This prioritization must naturally draw capable personnel away from non-combat roles. Maladapted servicemembers, who at one time were considered candidates for expeditious involuntary separation, must be recycled to rear missions to allow the maximum number of mission-capable servicemembers closer proximity to the fight.
by John P. Sullivan | Thu, 01/16/2020 - 8:40am | 0 comments
Criminal cartels and Transnational Criminal Organizations (TCOs) rely on corruption to enable their pursuit of criminal profit and power. Indeed, Mexico’s cartels emerged from the seeds of corrupt police profiting from the narcotics trade. While violence is the public face of criminal cartels and transnational gangs, corruption is the core threat to public trust and state legitimacy and capacity.
by Jessica ‘Zhanna’ Malekos Smith | Thu, 01/16/2020 - 8:03am | 1 comment
Drawing inspiration from da Vinci’s observations on force, power, and movement – elements in which “all the works of mortals have their beginning and their end” – this article suggests four cyberspace operations principles.
by Daniel J. O’Connor | Wed, 01/15/2020 - 9:39am | 0 comments
Several major actions taken by the United States and coalition in the last 18 years share much in common with the efforts of the Soviet Union during its combat operations in the country (1979-1989).
by Marc Chua | Wed, 01/15/2020 - 5:23am | 0 comments
Mozambique presents a complex scenario of great opportunities and serious challenges. Decades of civil war between the ruling FRELIMO party and the opposition RENAMO, has driven the country into economic turmoil causing over a million deaths with even more displaced people between 1977 and 1992. The conflict finally ended with both parties signing a ceasefire in Rome that ended the worst of the bloodshed and the fabrication of a new political party, RENAMO. But after years of peace, in October 2013, RENAMO annulled the peace agreement due to a military raid on one of their camps. The following year, RENAMO challenged the results of the election accusing FRELIMO of altering the polls in favor of themselves which further exacerbated political tensions.
by Ian Li | Tue, 01/14/2020 - 1:04am | 0 comments
Ever since Russia’s rapid annexation of Crimea in 2014 during the height of the Ukraine Crisis thrust the term “hybrid warfare” into mainstream consciousness, predictions of its imminent spread westward have been fervently propagated. The perceived threat of hybrid warfare has however since evolved into something more universal and far-reaching, and in recent years it would seem as if the tendrils of this virulent threat have finally traversed the vast expanse of the globe to arrive in the Asia-Pacific.
by Nick Impson | Tue, 01/14/2020 - 12:26am | 1 comment
The anti-access/area denial (A2/AD) campaign underway in the South China Sea is but one example of A2/AD being employed as a military strategy throughout history. A2/AD is defined as a strategy designed to bar an adversary’s entry to or occupation of a theater of operations and is most effectively utilized by a military when confronting a stronger adversary. A2/AD has become one of the most talked about issues in military policy circles today, but is by no means a new concept: the Yom Kippur War, the Cold War, and even the Civil War saw one (or both) sides incorporating the ideas of A2/AD.
by James P. Micciche | Mon, 01/13/2020 - 8:36am | 0 comments
As CA forces begin to instruct CMO to African partner forces the curriculum must be semi standardized in order to ensure both unity of effort and interoperability. AFRICOM, SOCAF, USARAF, and Marine Forces Africa (MARFORAF) must ensure that they coordinate with each other as well as centers of instruction such as USAJFKSWCS to create a standard set of POIs that achieves the desired effect of an African partner force that is able to win the human domain.
by L. Burton Brender | Mon, 01/13/2020 - 4:09am | 1 comment
I encourage you to write as often as you are able. Do your absolute best at your job. Be committed to your faith, your family, and your community. And then, when you have a spare moment, put your experiences down on paper. Regardless of rank, position, or whether you ever became an Art of War scholar, what you know is valuable—and it might just change the world.
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?”