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 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.”
by Moe Gyo | Tue, 08/21/2018 - 8:48am | 0 comments
Insurgents have a symbiotic relationship with their popular support base. The people provide money, food/supplies, new recruits, and intelligence while the insurgents provide protection, advancement of social, economic, and political aims, and social services, e.g., education and health care. Oppressive regimes attempt to separate the insurgents from their popular support base, that is according to Mao Zedong, to dry up/divert the water (popular support base) in which the fish (insurgents) swim. The FBR organize-train-equip model design is worthy of study by the unconventional warfare community for its potential applicability to support insurgences through strengthening the bonds and rapport between insurgents and their popular support base.
by Waleed Hashmi | Tue, 08/21/2018 - 7:13am | 0 comments
Greater attention has been drawn in recent years to the atrocities committed in Balochistan. The decades-long insurgency has galvanized the nation and cannot be resolved until there is better investment in civil efforts. The Supreme Court and its affiliated judicial bodies must convince the military to respect the law and be an example of human rights. The armed groups in Balochistan have largely defeated themselves through infighting and a fractured leadership system. Pakistan should seize this opportunity to address the core grievances that Balochistan faces.
by Drew Shepler | Mon, 08/20/2018 - 6:44am | 4 comments
To date, there are dozens of scholarly articles speculating on the nature of Russian unconventional actions. This debate has only led to further inaction. Rather than debate over the appropriate response to a new generation of warfare, policymakers should recognize that the Russian government is conducting a form of warfare that has been firmly rooted in U.S. military doctrine for over 50 years.
by Alexandra Stark | Sun, 08/19/2018 - 5:42am | 0 comments
In early July, the Saudi Arabian-led coalition halted its siege of the Yemeni port of Hodeidah to allow space for UN efforts to negotiate a political settlement. After three plus years of conflict, the United States, through its support of the coalition, has not achieved its strategic goals in the region, while also suffering harm to its international reputation. The Trump Administration should take this opportunity to press its allies, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, to negotiate an end to the civil war in Yemen.
by J. Robert Kane | Sat, 08/18/2018 - 12:39am | 3 comments
The U.S. military has re-orientated its efforts to countering and deterring Russia abroad. While American counterintelligence and law enforcement has focused on information warfare from Russian assets both abroad and in country, the military has re-shaped its training and deployment to reflect near-peer armed conflict in Europe. Commanders have lost sight of counterinsurgency theory and counterterrorism, replacing it with understanding the Russian way of war.
by Doyle Quiggle | Sat, 08/18/2018 - 12:28am | 0 comments
The Taliban fighter today does not seek honor. He seeks cleanliness. When contaminated, he uses blood, the blood of that which is non-Taliban, as soul bleach. Any act, no matter how far outside the realm of human decency or of traditional Afghan honor codes it may be, now becomes possible for a Taliban fighter as long as he cleanses himself in medias res or ex post facto, in blood. Without the modulating elaborations of honor-rooted, traditional, highly evolved, overlapping clan relationships, the resulting cultural product -- the Taliban's fighter -- is more primal, far less sophisticated, and far less stable and predictable than the traditional Afghan warrior.
by Diana Myers | Fri, 08/17/2018 - 5:20am | 0 comments
The United States’ network of alliances and partnerships is an often heralded military advantage. Yet, this advantage is in many ways shaped, advanced, and maintained through military to military relations, especially those built through military training. Training foreign military personnel in American military institutions is an effective form by which to enhance defense familiarity with allies and partners—it’s a valuable program for our country. In addition to educating and training foreign military officers, these education programs build lasting relationships among officers of different countries contributing to a critical network of defense personnel around the world.
by Huba Wass de Czege | Fri, 08/17/2018 - 4:52am | 0 comments
Read-ahead notes for a 19 July 2018 seminar with the “senior class” at The School of Advanced Military Studies, Command and General Staff College, Ft. Leavenworth, Kansas.
by Robert Muggah, by Jean de Dieu Ntanga Ntita | Thu, 08/16/2018 - 12:40am | 0 comments
Many of Africa's armed conflicts constitute wicked problems. Across parts of the continent, organized violence is fusing political, criminal and extremist motives, explicitly targeting civilians and involving multiple armed groups. In many cases, regional players are involved — profiting from disorder even as they sue for peace. Complicating matters, national and subnational governments suffer from chronic weaknesses, with limited control over their borders and territories. Due to the many security dilemmas arising from competing groups and the corrosive effects of predatory violence, these conflicts are exceedingly difficult to resolve.
by Parker Asmann | Thu, 08/16/2018 - 12:22am | 0 comments
Mexico’s powerful drug cartels could be using armed drones to attack those impeding their criminal operations, marking the potential expansion of the use of this technology from just transporting drugs or carrying out surveillance.
by Doyle Quiggle | Wed, 08/15/2018 - 10:39am | 0 comments
Ethnic/tribal identity is so sensitive an issue in Afghanistan today that neither the CIA nor any other entity monitoring demographics in Afghanistan (or its Diasporas) can provide even ball-park statistics about how many or which specific individuals belong to what ethnic, tribal, clan, or sectarian groups (genetic testing is, however, beginning to secure some reliable ethnic data). While Taliban and most other violent extremists proudly self-identify as Pashtun, the tribal, clan, and ethnic identity of the other Afghan today tends to change depending on which side of the street he's standing, which goat path he's using, or the immigration agent to whom he's relating his refugee narrative.
by Yul Rapoport, by B.J. Adrezin, by Joel Garrison | Wed, 08/15/2018 - 12:20am | 0 comments
This 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. This paper provides a framework on the future of war in 2050 and is also a call to action, providing examples of current and emerging nutritional research to help the Army take its first steps toward a nutrition revolution.
by J. Robert Kane | Tue, 08/14/2018 - 12:25am | 0 comments
In counterterrorism, the interrogation of high-value targets (HVTs) can be difficult. Rapport building can be near impossible because HVTs may be determined not to talk regardless of the approach strategies used by the interrogator. If these unconventional HVTs were members of a conventional military, it would be said that they possessed a high degree of resistance training.
by Morgan Smiley | Mon, 08/13/2018 - 4:15pm | 1 comment
Instead of creating a sixth service, I recommend radically reorganizing the U.S. Air Force (USAF), using its manpower and existing resources as the foundation for establishing the Space Force. In doing so, I recommend not only consolidating the space personnel and assets of the other services but also stripping the USAF of its fighter platforms and turning those over to the U.S. Army (and re-establish the Army Air Corps) allowing it to control and defend the airspace of the areas they’re fighting in and on.
by Keith Nightingale | Mon, 08/13/2018 - 6:24am | 0 comments
Today, the Army Rangers are a key component of the US Special Operations capability. Their participation in world-wide SOF operations, as portrayed in “Blackhawk Down”, highlights their employment in this role. It was not always so, and its transition to SOF was bitterly resisted by many within the Army structure. It was only due to force deficiencies in Special Forces Operational Detachment-Delta (SFOD-D) during the planning phase of the Iran rescue attempt, that forced their inclusion. From that, all else has flowed. Inclusion, now taken for granted, was a hard and bumpy road.
by Nicholas A. Glavin | Sun, 08/12/2018 - 5:26pm | 0 comments
The Syrian regime’s application of “reconciliation agreements” in northwest Syria risks accelerating the humanitarian situation for internally displaced persons and destabilizing areas previously liberated from ISIS. There are no longer viable options for relocating individuals from Idlib Governorate given the presence of Turkish or U.S.-led Coalition elements in the other areas that remain outside of the regime’s control.
by Abdul Rahman Rahmani | Sun, 08/12/2018 - 12:25pm | 0 comments
Selling military equipment in Kabul has become a cause for concern among both Afghans and their international partners. To maintain law and order, boost the morale of Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF), and strengthen the trust between ANSF and ordinary Afghans, the Kabul police must ban selling military goods in open markets.
by Lyda Tesauro | Sun, 08/12/2018 - 12:24am | 2 comments
As outlined in this report, I chose a specific terrorist organization, Al Qaeda, and analyzed the role that they played in cyberterrorism. Throughout the paper, I discussed how the terrorist organization utilized the internet to indoctrinate as well as recruit likeminded extremist individuals, delved into how Al Qaeda used the internet to conduct cyberterrorism, included some insight into how this particular terrorist organization’s activities effect the larger topic of cybersecurity, and touched on what the future of Al Qaeda could be in the cyber realm. Hopefully, after reading this paper, people will not dismiss Al Qaeda’s cyberterrorist capabilities or underestimate them while they are probably in the process of refining their credibility in cyberspace.
by Janardhan Rao, by Richmond Blake | Sat, 08/11/2018 - 6:42pm | 0 comments
When we met with South Sudanese civil society leaders in Juba last month and asked about the latest peace agreement after a series of unsuccessful accords, one common retort was “same paper, same pens.” We share their impatience for peace, which is why we’re joining our voices with theirs and calling on the U.S. government to adopt a new approach that puts civilians first in South Sudan.
by Keith Nightingale | Sat, 08/11/2018 - 3:45am | 0 comments
The unit exists in an altered form today, but it is an example as to how the USG can effectively mix Title 10 and 50 rules to achieve a common end and how conventional bureaucracies can stifle needed imaginative resolutions. Part 1 of 3 - Rangers and TF160/SOAR to follow.
by J. Robert Kane | Fri, 08/10/2018 - 12:39am | 1 comment
The Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant is the most rapidly advancing terrorist group of the past five years. The problem is that it is not a terrorist group at all. Just because a group commits grave atrocities and “terrorizes” citizen populations does not make it a terrorist group. That is not what terrorism means.
by Sarah Rowland | Fri, 08/10/2018 - 12:16am | 2 comments
The most significant weakness of the counterinsurgency efforts is that the Myanmar government has not addressed any of the root causes driving the ARSA insurgency. The Rohingya Muslims continue to be classified as stateless people due their lack of citizenship within Myanmar and the limited and nearly impossible methods for seeking naturalization or repatriation.
by Bryan Baker | Thu, 08/09/2018 - 12:28am | 0 comments
The Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (FARC) declared their insurgency in 1964 and did not sign a peace agreement with the Government of Colombia (GoC) until 2016. This qualifies the FARC insurgency as one of the longest running in history (Leech, 2011). Through fifty-two years of government attacks, terrible defeats, the collapse of the Soviet Union, and through the demobilization or defeat of many sister movements, the FARC persisted. In this paper, I will attempt to account for this persistence.
by Katherine Graef | Wed, 08/08/2018 - 2:19am | 0 comments
Special Operations Command Africa cannot go far alone, especially in Africa. While Special Operations Forces (SOF) are among the most expeditionary of all military forces, capable of providing their own SOF-specific sustainment, they still require common user logistics such as replenishment of supplies, reliable transportation, logistics services, and engineering support. It is this category of sustainment that is the most challenging in Africa and requires significant coordination within the logistics enterprise.