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 Robert Bunker, by Pamela Ligouri Bunker | Sun, 05/10/2020 - 3:26pm | 1 comment
This research note provides an update concerning new radical Islamist English-language online magazines appearing since the ebook publication of The Islamic State English-Language Online Magazine Rumiyah (Rome).
by Robert Bunker, by John P. Sullivan | Fri, 05/08/2020 - 6:37pm | 1 comment
Various organized crime entities throughout Latin America, Europe, and Africa—including gangs, cartels, and mafias—are increasingly responding to the global COVID-19 pandemic in a number of ways. These include accounting for a shift in their illicit revenue streams and exploring new economic opportunities that are emerging. In the area of humanitarian response, a large number of the Mexican cartels are now actively engaging in these activities for their public relations and propaganda value in supporting their ‘protector of the community narratives’ targeted at the local citizenry under their control. These cartel activities are not without precedent and have taken place in Mexico in the past—though not as widespread and pronounced as they are now—and further reinforce ongoing criminal insurgency analysis related to this phenomena linked to Eric Hobsbawm’s ‘social banditry’ construct. 
by John P. Sullivan, by Robert Bunker, by Juan Ricardo Gómez Hecht | Tue, 05/05/2020 - 5:10pm | 2 comments
Salvadoran maras (gangs) have adapted to the COVID-19 outbreak by enforcing social control in the form of domestic quarantine (cuarentena domiciliar), curfews, and social distancing. The major maras, i.e. MS-13, and the Sureños and Revolucionarios factions of Barrio 18 (Eighteenth Street), have communicated this ‘public health’ dictate throughout the territories they control. In addition to enforcing domestic ‘quarantine,’ the Barrio 18 factions have suspended collecting ‘street taxes’ (extortion payments) while MS-13 continues to collect ‘renta’ (rent).
by Scott C. Buchanan | Mon, 04/20/2020 - 9:35am | 3 comments
Barring an unforeseen event or shift in policy, it seems likely that by May 2021, the United States will remove its military forces from Afghanistan. Despite claims of progress, the United States and its allies have undeniably made many mistakes over the past two decades. Some commentators have argued that Afghanistan has been an “undeniable failure.” While many commentators and policymakers have focused on getting out of Afghanistan, the past shows the potentially devastating consequences such actions could bring. Instead, the United States and its NATO allies should consider leaving a small presence of advisors to support institutional development at the ministries and institutions.
by Rex Bray III, by Jacques Singer-Emery | Sun, 04/19/2020 - 10:01am | 21 comments
Over the past several years, far-right extremists have leveraged online platforms ranging from social media to Stormfront to congregate with one another, convert new members, and concoct violent plans. They have been so effective that the FBI recently elevated “to top level priority racially motivated violent extremism so it is on the same footing in terms of our national threat banding as ISIS and homegrown violent extremism.”
by Douglas A. Livermore | Sat, 04/18/2020 - 8:39pm | 1 comment
The ability to leverage financial capabilities to bankroll both technological innovation and large-scale production of war materiel has increasingly driven the evolution of modern warfare. There is every indication that these interdependent elements will continue to have an even greater impact on the international security environment in the 21st century and beyond.
by Adam D.M. Svendsen, by Salem B.S. Dandan | Sat, 04/18/2020 - 10:14am | 3 comments
Today is an appropriate time for encouraging and indeed advocating some further innovative change both to and for contemporary intelligence. This article aims to accomplish that objective by featuring and further advancing an understanding of the recently introduced and developing concept of ‘Intelligence Engineering’, abbreviated henceforth as ‘IE’, and also known as the ‘Bridgehead Methodology’.
by Allyson Christy | Fri, 04/17/2020 - 10:08am | 1 comment
Worries over continued internal rifts and greater instabilities and provoking regional fallout remain consistent. Conflicts have widened over the divisional quagmire, with France, Italy, Greece, Cyprus, and Israel similarly delineating concerns over risks and their offshore energy interests.
by Belquis Ahmadi, by Palwasha L. Kakar | Fri, 04/17/2020 - 9:01am | 1 comment
The COVID-19 crisis comes at a critical juncture for Afghanistan. The disputed 2019 presidential election has led to a stalemate between incumbent President Ghani and the chief executive of the last government, Abdullah Abdullah, both of whom claim the right to govern. At a time when the Afghan government should be focused on the best chance to bring peace in years, it’s distracted by a political crisis.
by Joseph J. Collins | Thu, 04/16/2020 - 6:23pm | 1 comment
In the last 20 years, we have twice suffered strategic surprise attacks. In each case, we were unprepared for what was an entirely foreseeable attack on the homeland. In each case, the national security bureaucracy --- Defense, State, Intelligence, and various homeland security entities --- paid inadequate attention to preparing for an event that its own Cassandras had declared as probable.
by Scott Crino, by Andy Dreby | Thu, 04/16/2020 - 11:59am | 1 comment
Since the Idlib operation, a number of articles have appeared with glowing reviews on the sophistication of Turkey’s homegrown drone force and its tactical effectiveness in Syria. While decidedly impactful, a review of the operation suggests there are some shortcomings as well. These include questions about the Turkish drones’ operational reach, lethality and survivability. Any analysis of the implications of Turkey’s demonstrated UAS strength, particularly their potential role in other conflict zones, should consider these potential vulnerabilities as well.
by Danielle Robertson | Wed, 04/15/2020 - 10:35am | 2 comments
As health organizations and national governments seek to stem the spread of COVID-19, it is critical that they understand the gender dynamics in their societies. Efforts to combat the pandemic will only go so far if women and girls are left behind in the process. For example, how can a woman experiencing domestic violence quarantine at home safely?
by Allyson Christy | Wed, 04/15/2020 - 12:45am | 1 comment
Rationalizing the 2011 uprising and elimination of the Gaddafi regime was unlikely linked to foreseeable gaps that could quickly fill with anything other than resolution, calm, or peace. Corruption has not only hindered political and economic stability, but has augmented lawlessness, insecurity, and a non-nation status that is rife for increasing humanitarian disaster.
by Eric Collin | Tue, 04/14/2020 - 11:01am | 3 comments
Like the mystery of the pyramids or the recent findings in Holy Scripture, the Center of Gravity concept has all the ingredients to generate passionate debates. The 19th century master of military theory, Carl von Clausewitz, first introduced the concept in his unfinished manuscript published after his death. It remained largely unknown, like old papyrus, until it was poorly translated to English and resurrected in Western military theory in the 1980’s as THE key for victory! Since then it has taken on the status of military theory’s ‘Holy Grail’ and fueled countless quests for truth and understanding.
by Irina Tsukerman | Mon, 04/13/2020 - 12:26am | 1 comment
Whether during the Cold War or today, "free", open, liberal democratic societies are at an inherent disadvantage when it comes to the playing field and information flow. First, having access to information alone is not sufficient for the critical assessment of that information. Indeed, indoctrination through repetitive exposure to a particular point of view can be as harmful in that sense as complete lack of access. Nor does greater access to information by itself lead to greater security. Failure to identify and prioritize important and correct information can lead to devastating intelligence and policy failures.
by Oge Onubogu | Mon, 04/13/2020 - 12:12am | 1 comment
Nigerian leaders struggling to reduce violence in the country’s myriad conflicts should take some lessons—from their own response to the coronavirus. While Nigeria’s COVID-19 ordeal is still unfolding, its eventual casualties unknown, the Nigeria Center for Disease Control and several governors have modeled the ways to reduce catastrophic outbreaks.
by Joseph Yun, by Frank Aum, by Paul Kyumin Lee | Sun, 04/12/2020 - 6:02pm | 1 comment
North Korea’s poor health infrastructure and proximity to coronavirus hotspots make it especially vulnerable to the deadly pandemic. Increasing the risks, humanitarian workers and medical supplies in the North Korea are limited by travel restrictions and sanctions even as the U.N. sanctions committee provided some exemptions to help deal with the virus. An outbreak of the disease in North Korea could have crippling political and socioeconomic consequences, even threatening its internal stability.
by Nils Gilman | Sun, 04/12/2020 - 11:10am | 1 comment
Stuart Schrader, "Badges without Borders: How Global Counterinsurgency Transformed American Policing". Berkeley: University of California Press, 2019 [ ISBN: 9780520295629, paper, 416 pages].
by Keith Mines, by Steve Hege | Sat, 04/11/2020 - 11:04am | 1 comment
Helping Venezuela resolve its political crisis will be vital to containing the potentially catastrophic COVID-19 pandemic there. A truce in the country’s power struggle is urgent, and last week’s U.S. proposal for a transitional government offers useful ideas, even for a naturally skeptical governing regime.
by Ryan Hill | Sat, 04/11/2020 - 12:11am | 1 comment
Through the mission of Air Advising, the Air Force can produce a network of partners to counter the network of non-state terrorist organizations that threaten global stability. Embracing Air Advising as a core mission will also provide the U.S. with a promising way to counter China’s growing influence in developing nations. Finally, this mission ensures that America retains much needed low-intensity conflict expertise and capability. Air Advising can greatly reduce the risks the U.S. is taking in shifting its defense priorities, but to so, the Air Force must embrace it as a core mission.
by Nancy Lindborg | Fri, 04/10/2020 - 9:18pm | 1 comment
As more developed nations have struggled desperately to contain and manage the COVID-19 pandemic, the specter of the virus rolling through the more fragile countries in the Sahel, Horn of Africa, and parts of the Middle East is a terrifying, slow-motion train wreck with the potential to trigger a devastating multidimensional-tiered health, economic, political, and security crisis. It also provides an urgent call to action to do things differently in fragile states.
by John P. Sullivan, by José de Arimatéia da Cruz, by Robert Bunker | Fri, 04/10/2020 - 12:11am | 1 comment
In response to the COVID-19 pandemic and fears of the spread of the coronavirus through Rio de Janeiro’s densely populated favelas local gangs (gangues) and militias (milícias) are imposing social controls in the form of curfews to limit the spread of the disease.
by Robert Bunker | Thu, 04/09/2020 - 11:22am | 1 comment
H. I. Sutton, "Narco Submarines: Covert Shores Recognition Guide". Independent Publisher: San Bernardino, CA: April 2020 [ISBN: 9798624149588, Softcover, 111 Pages]
by Thomas Matyók, by Srečko Zajc | Wed, 04/08/2020 - 1:18am | 1 comment
Global crises, such as the spreading of the novel corona virus (COVID-19), hybrid threats and asymmetric warfare require civil-military interaction responses guided by a unity-of-aim approach to build-up capacity for successful conflict transformation. No single activity has a monopoly on responses. All of society is required to act collaboratively in replying to demands placed on it by emerging threats. We ask: What can civil and military leaders and operators responding to crises, hybrid threats, and asymmetric warfare learn from medical approaches to disease prevention and intervention?
by SWJ Editors | Tue, 04/07/2020 - 11:20am | 1 comment
"Small Wars Journal" is proud to announce the release of a new Small Wars Journal-El Centro Anthology: "Strategic Notes on Third Generation Gangs". Continue on for more information.
by Robert Bunker | Tue, 04/07/2020 - 12:38am | 1 comment
Óscar Martínez and Juan José Martínez, "The Hollywood Kid: The Violent Life and Violent Death of an MS-13 Hitman". Translated by John B. Washington and Daniela Maria Ugaz. London: Verso, 2019 [ISBN: 9781786634931, Hardcover 330 Pages]
by Hesham Youssef | Sun, 04/05/2020 - 12:38pm | 1 comment
The COVID-19 pandemic has proven a challenge even for wealthy countries with the most robust health care systems. For the Middle East—a region with no shortage of dangerous pre-existing conditions—it could be far worse. The virus now appears to be spreading to a part of the world where, over the past decade, conflict and displacement have become widespread while effective governance and social cohesion have eroded.
by Aly Verjee | Sat, 04/04/2020 - 2:34am | 1 comment
As the coronavirus pandemic continues and new behavioral practices—from social distancing to avoiding handshakes and hugs—become expected norms overnight, there are crucial policy lessons to be learned from struggles against previous outbreaks of disease in Africa.
by Anonymous All-Sourcer | Fri, 04/03/2020 - 6:58pm | 1 comment
Words mean things. The mantra of the best Senior Intelligence Analyst I know has a curt humor to it, but in our business, it is advice worth remembering. In a recent opinion piece for "Foreign Policy", political scientist and author, Micah Zenko describes the leadership shortcomings of the Trump administration throughout the COVID-19 crisis. The article’s title? “The Coronavirus Is the Worst Intelligence Failure in U.S. History.” Words mean things.
by William J. Long | Fri, 04/03/2020 - 4:32pm | 1 comment
In his book “Pandemics and Peace,” published in 2011 by USIP Press, Dr. William Long contended that infectious disease control presents an unparalleled opportunity for American leadership in global public health. Long looks back at the recommendations he made for U.S. global health policy and how they are relevant today and at how other outbreaks in recent years have led to increased cooperation.
by Chris Telley | Fri, 04/03/2020 - 8:12am | 3 comments
U.S. military leaders, at home and abroad, champion the idea that the United States military is the “partner of choice” for security relations in its competition with revisionist actors like Russia and China. But, is it, really? For the first time in thirty years, a peer competitor is challenging US influence in the western hemisphere; hard questions and innovative actions are required to ensure that security customers in the region choose us.
by SWJ Editors | Wed, 04/01/2020 - 2:33pm | 3 comments
This document is a summary of 16 key research and game findings focused specifically on the characteristics of civil-military response to a pandemic scenario. The numbered bullets below correspond to more detailed explanations of findings presented later in the document. While these findings are in no way definitive or complete, they are a sampling of relevant guidance based on research, gaming and expert opinion. It is our hope that these 16 findings will contribute to improving civilian and military effectiveness in humanitarian assistance and disaster response operations.
by James T. Houser | Wed, 04/01/2020 - 3:21am | 3 comments
Sun Tzu’s injunction to “know your enemy” is never more critical than in counterinsurgency (COIN) warfare. During its COIN conflicts in the last hundred years, the United States military has fallen especially prey to the thinking trap of lumping all its opponents into the same category. COIN expert David Kilcullen identified this phenomenon as “accidental guerrilla syndrome” in his 2009 book of the same name.
by Andrew Watkins | Mon, 03/30/2020 - 9:09am | 1 comment
For years, the U.S. military pursued a "divide and defeat" strategy against the Afghan Taliban, attempting to exploit the supposedly fragmented nature of the group. Drawing on the academic literature on insurgency, civil war, and negotiated peace, this report finds that the Taliban is a far more cohesive organization than a fragmented one.
by W. R. Baker | Sun, 03/29/2020 - 1:26pm | 1 comment
While March 29th is National Vietnam War Veterans Day, the “official” federal remembrance day (August 18th in Australia and New Zealand), each of us who went to war will probably remember not only the date we left the United States and the date we returned, but also certain events in-between that occurred in the land which President Reagan called “…100 rice paddies and jungles in a place called Vietnam.”
by David Retherford | Sun, 03/29/2020 - 10:04am | 1 comment
Historical publications on pandemic disasters have generated considerable traction in the last few years, months, and just last week.
by Thomas M. Hill, by Nate Wilson | Sat, 03/28/2020 - 7:36pm | 0 comments
What’s next for Libya’s civil war and how can the U.N. and European Union (EU) play a constructive role in bringing the conflict to a close? USIP’s Nate Wilson and Thomas Hill discuss the EU’s effort to enforce an arms embargo, the impact of the conflict on Libyan society, Turkey’s involvement in Libya and more.
by Michael D. Phillips, by Thomas A. Drohan | Fri, 03/27/2020 - 11:16am | 1 comment
Warfare has become all-domain, all-effects, and all-information. This reality is well outside the conventional wisdom of a “threshold of armed conflict.” Operations in and across land, sea, air, space, and the electro-magnetic spectrum (cyber-plus) depend on information and more importantly, create information. Our combined arms approach to warfare focuses on operationalizing information. That is, using information to support all-domain operations. To win wars in the Information Age, we must complete the other half of the job: informatizing operations. That is, we need to use operations to create superior information effects.
by Scott Smith | Thu, 03/26/2020 - 9:37pm | 1 comment
U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s effort this week to bring the parties together failed and led the U.S. to reduce aid to Afghanistan. Amid all this uncertainty, Afghanistan is beginning to see the signs of a coronavirus outbreak, which could devastate the country given its poor health infrastructure and pollution problems. USIP’s Scott Smith explains how the coronavirus could further exacerbates an already complex situation.
by Jonathan Pinckney, by Miranda Rivers | Wed, 03/25/2020 - 8:55pm | 1 comment
As the coronavirus has grown into a global pandemic, many movements that have relied on street protests have struggled to know how to respond. The evidence of a global slowdown in public protests is striking. As news of the virus spread and public health authorities began recommending a stop to public gatherings with large numbers of people in early March, the number of public protests around the world dropped precipitously.
by Rachel Vandenbrink | Wed, 03/25/2020 - 6:05am | 1 comment
China’s move to expel U.S. journalists from the country last week comes at a time of great need for accurate information about COVID-19. The move is part of a broader Chinese effort to control the global narrative about the pandemic and is especially dangerous right now—as cracking down on foreign media further undermines trust in China’s ability to respond to the pandemic with transparency.
by Jonathan F. Lancelot | Mon, 03/23/2020 - 7:03am | 1 comment
No generation on Earth currently has experienced any crisis event like the one we are living in today, just fantastic images from the imagination of screenwriters. This does not excuse the international community, economic institutions, and individual nation-state governments from being unprepared.
by Mona Yacoubian | Sun, 03/22/2020 - 9:59am | 1 comment
As the world grapples with the dangerous and evolving coronavirus pandemic, the impact on the most vulnerable populations—the homeless, prison populations, and the impoverished—cannot be overestimated. In the Middle East, a region already ravaged by conflict and suffering from inadequate services and poor governance, the novel coronavirus could have untold consequences.
by Fouad Pervez | Sat, 03/21/2020 - 1:02am | 1 comment
With COVID-19 officially labelled a global pandemic, the focus for many countries has turned toward protecting their most vulnerable populations. But what about camps for refugees and internally displaced persons (IDPs)? Many camps lack the resources to maintain their already poor infrastructure, and the threat of a COVID-19 outbreak puts millions of displaced persons in a dangerous position.
by Irina Tsukerman | Fri, 03/20/2020 - 12:28pm | 3 comments
The political bloc of Oman, Qatar, and Iran is working together to legitimize Houthis politically and to facilitate Houthi leadership travel to Iran, as well as training for the fighters. All of that serves to benefit Iran's agenda in the region and undermines the GCC even as GCC was created to counter jointly Iran's security threats to the Gulf Arab states in the 1980s.
by Jonathan F. Lancelot | Fri, 03/20/2020 - 11:42am | 1 comment
What are the current implications for US national security? The first implication is our open market view of cyberspace and the sale of data by private social network companies like Facebook. Our national security is encumbered when private companies can use the data of citizens to sell to any entity who can pay, like the Cambridge Analytica case.
by Max G. Manwaring | Wed, 03/18/2020 - 3:36pm | 1 comment
A multi-polar world in which one or a hundred non-state and state actors are exerting differing types and levels of power, within a set of cross-cutting types and levels of power, is extremely volatile and dangerous. The security and stability of the global community is threatened, and the benefits of globalism could be denied to all.
by Brandon C. Patrick | Tue, 03/17/2020 - 4:22pm | 1 comment
Putin’s effort to divide NATO through the recruitment of Erdogan has run aground in Syria, where the Russian-backed forces of Bashar al-Assad were recently battered by superior Turkish aircraft and weaponry. After Syrian and Russian aircraft attacked a Turkish column and killed 33 (some report as many as 100) Turkish troops, Erdogan’s forces downed Syrian fighter planes, destroyed Syrian tanks and artillery pieces and killed Syrian soldiers.
by Harry Verhoeven | Mon, 03/16/2020 - 5:58am | 2 comments
When Eritrea’s president last month hosted the leaders of Ethiopia and Somalia to discuss “regional cooperation,” that initiative drew few global headlines. Still, Eritrea’s move should be noted by policymakers and others working for stability in the Horn of Africa and the Red Sea region.
by Elie Abouaoun, by Alberto Fernandez | Sun, 03/15/2020 - 8:13pm | 3 comments
Without question, the role of the media in peace and conflict is becoming ever more important. While terror groups like IS have been proven effective in their use of media for their sinister agendas, has the rest of the world caught up?