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 Jonathan C. Nielsen | Mon, 01/21/2019 - 1:07am | 0 comments
It is time to address the influence and threat of non-physical communities. The aforementioned attributes reveal that physical size and composition alone does not account for overall capability. As any group, competitor, or threat continues to expand the size and reach of their non-physical communities, the criteria and means to engage the attributes mentioned above will create turbulent and challenging scenarios.
by Octavian Manea | Sat, 01/19/2019 - 5:08am | 0 comments
Elbridge Colby is Director of the Defense Program at the Center for a New American Security. He was Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Strategy and Force Development from 2017 to 2018, during which time he served as the lead official in the development of the 2018 National Defense Strategy and the principal DOD representative in the development of the 2017 National Security Strategy.
by Tamim Asey | Sat, 01/19/2019 - 4:52am | 0 comments
For years to come Afghanistan will need international and regional economic, political and military support to stand on its feet. As much as the international community need to support Afghanistan – Afghanistan will equally have to prove itself and equal and credible ally of its partners. Afghanistan will have no choice but to explore partnership and pursue one of the above options.
by Sam Read | Fri, 01/18/2019 - 3:48am | 0 comments
One of the lessons of this paper is that there is no one way an individual can be radicalized or recruited. It could be propaganda playing on misguided idealism, like Dakhlalla spoke of, hours spent studying extremist ideology online like Hasan, or being separate from and not assimilating into society, like Awlaki chose.
by John P. Sullivan, by Robert Bunker, by José de Arimatéia da Cruz | Thu, 01/17/2019 - 1:04am | 0 comments
Since 2 January, 205 criminal attacks have occurred in 46 cities in Ceará and about 360 individuals have been arrested. Ceara’s security forces have been reinforced with the assistance of the Polícia Rodoviária Federal (PRF or Federal Highway Police). The attacks have included bombings and arson directed against vehicles (including buses and school transportation), police stations, public buildings, bridges, businesses, and banks.
by De Faakto Intelligence Research Observatory | Thu, 01/17/2019 - 12:51am | 0 comments
Russia is building strong partnerships with Sub-Saharan African nations as a strategy to displace NATO and counter western influence. Some African partnerships established during the Soviet era, were weakened after the collapse of the Soviet Union, others are the result of opportunities created by the departure of western alliances. Russia has since re-engaged African nations to develop economic and military partnerships.
by Spencer B. Meredith III | Wed, 01/16/2019 - 11:53am | 0 comments
The United States needs to face the emerging security environment from a different vantage point than the past 20 years of counter-VEO efforts. Mattis’s departure has created the necessary cognitive opening to question our fundamental and often assumed paradigms to see more clearly the threats facing the nation.
by Javier Flores Mares, by Mauricio D. Aceves | Wed, 01/16/2019 - 12:39am | 0 comments
All criminal organizations in the world share similarities, but, at the same time exhibit particularities related to the places, times and cultures that gives rise to and surround them. Consequentially, organized crime in Mexico has a sui generis composition—the result of historical factors that have allowed the formation of criminal structures linked to high levels of violence, a cultural acceptance of criminal life and links with high political figures, causing the collapse of governability in certain territories, some of them near the northern border.
by Gary Anderson | Tue, 01/15/2019 - 1:11am | 0 comments
Before he resigned, former Defense Secretary James Mattis was reportedly working in conjunction with the Department of State to revise US policy in the Middle East. Whatever vision Mr. Mattis had will have likely died when he left office - but he had the right idea in undertaking a review.
by Bill Dahl | Tue, 01/15/2019 - 12:29am | 0 comments
During my investigative journalism series regarding public health and environmental hazards in Jalisco, Mexico, one question that continued to rise to the top was corruption. In my research, I identified a superb expert: Dr. Jose Ivan Rodriguez-Sanchez. He is currently in residence at Rice University’s James A. Baker III Institute for Public Policy – Mexico Center.
by SWJ Editors | Mon, 01/14/2019 - 3:35pm | 0 comments
Just released - "Blood and Concrete: 21st Century Conflict in Urban Centers and Megacities" provides a foundation for understanding urban operations and sustaining urban warfare research. This "Small Wars Journal" (SWJ) Anthology documents over a decade of writings on urban conflict.
by Ron Penninger | Mon, 01/14/2019 - 12:15am | 0 comments
United States Soldiers, Privates and Generals, deserve access to unbiased, unredacted phenomenological reporting from the battlefield. In no way does this diminish the value, skills, and cognitive ability of the G2 or of national agencies. Rather, this capability is a much needed and as of yet, unmined treasure of data on the enemy, neutrals, and friendlies. DoD should place this tool in the hands of every leader from COCOM to fire team NCO.
by Matthew A. Horning | Sun, 01/13/2019 - 12:10am | 0 comments
The advent of the Internet and the global interconnection of data has generated a path to oust combat overmatch as ‘the’ game changer. Instead, information dominance will be the characteristic that will win future wars. The organization that has the most relevant, timely, and actionable information will be victorious in battle, even against a combat overmatch force. Instead of seeking combat overmatch in our future investment strategies, we should be seeking a strategy that gives us Information Overmatch.
by Tamim Asey | Sat, 01/12/2019 - 12:42am | 0 comments
Here we are eighteen years later with a resurgent Taliban and US/NATO achievements not only not consolidated but more fragile than ever and the Afghan state weaker with an unusual President in the White House, a growing war fatigue in the west and a divided Washington over the fate of its military engagement in the country.
by Phil Walter | Fri, 01/11/2019 - 8:56am | 0 comments
Phil Walter, the founder of Divergent Options, has distilled all his thoughts related to counterinsurgency into five simple rules. These are not guidelines, not principles, but rules. As such, adherence to these rules is not optional, unless you desire to fail.
by Ben Zweibelson | Thu, 01/10/2019 - 10:09am | 0 comments
Today, there might be few words as overused and fraught with multiple disciplines claiming ownership as the term ‘design’ and associated ‘design thinking’, ‘design practice’ and other variations. ‘Design’ has become one of the buzzwords along with ‘synergy’, ‘innovation’, ‘machine learning’ and ‘augmented intelligence’ within defense circles, but of all of these terms it seems that ‘design’ is the most debated and convoluted.
by Dave Dilegge | Wed, 01/09/2019 - 12:22am | 0 comments
I first posted this short piece at the Urban Operations Journal on 28 February 2003 and reposted it here at SWJ on 17 December 2007. Here are the considerations, again.
by Whitney Kassel | Tue, 01/08/2019 - 2:20pm | 0 comments
Murad’s advocacy, willingness to tell her heart-breaking story hundreds of times, and tenacity pushed a nearly impossible win across the finish line. Now Trump’s rash choice on troops in Syria may reverse that work. If and when the Yazidis begin to trickle back into Sinjar, they will have Murad, and very few others, to thank.
by William McHenry | Tue, 01/08/2019 - 12:55am | 0 comments
There is little doubt that post-Soviet Eurasia is beset with unresolved territorial conflicts. Indeed, all former Soviet states that are not either members of western institutions or in the orbit of Moscow— Armenia, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Moldova, and Ukraine —have either territorial disputes with their neighbors or self-sustaining internal secessionist movements with considerable foreign support—often provided by Russia itself.
by Todd Johnson | Mon, 01/07/2019 - 12:50pm | 0 comments
South Africa has myriad development priorities and observers are right to ask why the nation should be spending money on its military when sectors like public education and infrastructure are also in great need of investment. While it is a question worthy of serious consideration by policymakers, a simple answer is that a robust defence capability is required of any nation with aspirations for continental leadership.
by Peacekeeping and Stability Operations Institute | Mon, 01/07/2019 - 10:12am | 0 comments
November 29, 2018 letter from Howard R. Lind, President and Executive Director, International Stability Operations Association, to Secretary of the Army Mark Esper concerning the recent recommendation to shut down the Peacekeeping and Stability Operations Institute. Continue on for the letter.
by Nicholas Ashley | Mon, 01/07/2019 - 12:22am | 0 comments
Civil Affairs and Joint doctrine allude to civil society’s important role within the OE. However, the concept receives only a few cursory mentions, including: defeating threats to it, mitigating vulnerabilities to it, and reintroducing former combatants into it. Civil society is addressed in neither practical nor theoretical terms. This lack of attention carries over into Civil Affairs Operations and civil-military operations.
by SWJ Editors | Sat, 01/05/2019 - 8:01am | 0 comments
General Charles C. Krulak (31st Commandant of the U.S. Marine Corps) talked about conflict and combat around the world and the future of the Marine Corps and his role in the process of modernizing and improving the Marines. He said he was focusing on preparing and training the Marines for the 21st century and different types of conflict and battle. Following his prepared remarks, General Krulak took questions from the audience. National Press Club, 10 October 1997.
by Charles Cameron | Sat, 01/05/2019 - 6:19am | 0 comments
This essay has been written specifically for Small Wars Journal—El Centro as part of an ongoing Los Caballeros Templarios de Michoacán research project that will be published as a future eBook.
by Erik Grossman | Thu, 01/03/2019 - 12:37am | 0 comments
This essay therefore holds the assumption that engaging in UN-led enforcement operations is to the geopolitical benefit of the United States and endeavors to answer the following question: If the United States chooses to contribute to UN peace enforcement operations, to what extent should this effort be privatized? To answer this question, this essay defines UN peace enforcement and examines the present and potential role of private military and security companies (PMSCs), as well as the role of PMSCs in the US's current enforcement model. The advantages and disadvantages of using PMSCs are then addressed, followed by a recommendation that the United States seek to privatize its UN peace enforcement contributions by engaging PMSCs.
by Bryan Baker | Wed, 01/02/2019 - 7:03am | 0 comments
In this essay, the author describes and evaluates Putin's pragmatism, explains that this pragmatism grew increasingly assertive over time due to Western encroachments in the Former Soviet Union, and concludes that the crisis in Ukraine shows this strategy has provided significant payoffs for Russia.
by Kyle Amonson | Tue, 01/01/2019 - 3:17am | 0 comments
If Saddam Hussein had remained in power, the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, also known as Daesh, may not have been able to secure a foothold and establish dominance in the region. This counterfactual approach specifically assesses Saddam Hussein’s dictatorship as a stabilizing factor in the state of Iraq, effectively opposing transnational terrorist networks like Daesh.
by G. Murphy Donovan | Mon, 12/31/2018 - 2:20pm | 0 comments
Foreign policy in the Trump era is a tug-of-war, a test of wills between national pragmatists and global utopians. Binary equations might be simplistic, but if it has done nothing else, the Trump agenda has exposed the venal politics and pratfalls of “social” democracies, here and in Europe. The contest is a struggle, as irony would have it, between voices arguing for change and the “business as usual” crowd.
by Stephen B. Young | Mon, 12/31/2018 - 5:15am | 0 comments
Failure of national authorities in Mexico, El Salvador, and Honduras pose risks to the well-being of the United States. First, state failure in El Salvador and Honduras creates migrant flows seeking refuge in the United States as a safe-haven for families. Second, state failure in each of these countries could grow into complete collapse of state authority and the rise to power of authoritarian regimes such as in Cuba and Venezuela which will collaborate with geo-political rivals of the United States in contravention of the Monroe Doctrine. Third, instability of social orders, economics, and politics in the countries immediately to our south will decrease regional progress towards higher living standards, undermining quality of life in our part of the world
by Ron Iammartino, by Gary Whelan, by John M. Fossaceca, by Todd Doherty, by Grant Hume | Sun, 12/30/2018 - 8:09am | 0 comments
A proliferation of information technology advances have disrupted the modern world, which has accelerated the pace of change and expanded the body of knowledge in nearly every human endeavor. Previously isolated events now have near immediate, pervasive effects for militaries, politics, and cultures worldwide. The implications of these changing conditions are perhaps most applicable to how the Chairman has expressed the criticality of global integration for military operations across Combatant Commands and Areas of Responsibility.
by Donald C. Bolduc | Sat, 12/29/2018 - 9:37am | 0 comments
The President made it clear for some time that he is not in favor of these wars. His advisors, Senior Civilians, and Generals had almost two years to figure out how to disengage and they did not get it done. The President probably grew weary of hearing that if we depart, ISIS will resurge in the political vacuum.
by Bülend Özen | Fri, 12/28/2018 - 6:08pm | 0 comments
This essay considers the influence of artificial intelligence (AI) on the future of strategic thought. Specifically, it assesses the prospects of a new ‘post-strategy’ era dominated by AI and new technologies.
by Malcolm Beith | Fri, 12/28/2018 - 12:17am | 0 comments
Contrary to his campaign pledges, Lopez Obrador appears to be planning to use the military and the new national guard in much the same way as his predecessors. The day after his inauguration, he oversaw a ceremony at the national military HQ, the Campo Marte in Mexico City, and praised the troops. “Together, we’ll make history!” he said, repeating his campaign slogan, before emphasizing the need for both a national guard and the armed forces to bring peace to the Mexican people.
by Keith Nightingale | Thu, 12/27/2018 - 8:54pm | 0 comments
Christmas Day 1944, near Trois-Pont, Belgium, was truly a white Christmas. It was also incredibly cold, especially for those 82nd paratroopers that were holding a tenuous thin line against the best combined armed force the German army could muster. Due to the lack of manpower, men were scattered in two-man foxholes across a much broader front than normal tactics dictated. In such situations, necessity breeds violation.
by Gordon James Knowles | Wed, 12/26/2018 - 1:31am | 0 comments
Al-Qaeda religious extremist theology is a negative social movement in Brazil. Additional factors such as poverty, discrimination, and government inefficiency will permit radical Islamists to multiply and the Al-Qaeda terroristic theology to become a dangerous social movement in Brazil. Human terrain analysis and sociological intelligence notes that Al-Qaeda has embedded themselves into benevolent and peaceful Islamic communities of Brazil. Failure to believe that Al-Qaeda is not active in Brazil is a major social problem and intelligence failure.
by Naman Habtom-Desta | Wed, 12/26/2018 - 12:16am | 0 comments
The Ogaden War, though officially ending in 1978, sparked rapid militarization as well as political repression on a heightened level within Ethiopia, which in turn triggered the conflagration of the Civil War itself. Political radicalization doesn’t attack outwards but rather inwards. The Red Terror, having claimed up to possibly half a million lives.
by Tamim Asey | Mon, 12/24/2018 - 7:02pm | 0 comments
SWJ Editor’s Note: With the U.S. troop draw-down and the increased and accelerated emphasis on Afghan security force capabilities, this may be the most important paper SWJ has ever published. "To win this war we need good intelligence. Right now, we are throwing our swords in darkness"
by Kyle Amonson | Mon, 12/24/2018 - 2:19pm | 0 comments
To recognize the shift in the challenges of the 21st century, we must recognize that the international community is now marked by a manifesto of globalization. In this modern environment, without cooperation, states may fail to learn of impending attacks as terrorists plot against them from foreign lands, or they may watch as terrorist suspects remain free because of lack of extradition agreements or sharing of evidence.
by Ryan N. Mannina | Sun, 12/23/2018 - 4:42pm | 0 comments
The United States was on the verge of achieving a lasting victory in the Iraq War after a costly seven-year occupation and the deaths of nearly 4,500 U.S. troops. In 2006, Al Qaeda in Iraq (AQI) had lost its charismatic leader and chief strategist, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. Over the next few years, the organization lost its base of support as Iraq’s Sunni tribes turned against it and began fighting beside US and Iraqi troops to eject the terrorists from their communities. By 2010, Iraq had emerged from its civil war and AQI had become irrelevant. Then, President Barack Obama made two strategic mistakes that reversed that progress and sent Iraq spiraling back down the path of sectarian violence.
by Franklin C. Annis | Sat, 12/22/2018 - 5:33pm | 0 comments
Why should we study military history? It is an interesting question that I believe most will never take the time to fully analyze. As an U.S. Army Officer, my gut reaction to this question was to answer, “It is an expectation in my profession.” But this explanation falls far short of the true purposes we should be investing in while studying military history.
by Michael Gladius | Fri, 12/21/2018 - 10:11am | 0 comments
In the 2019 National Defense Authorization Act (Senate Bill 2987), Congress has proposed reorganizing America’s armed forces. Under the new model, the Army will handle conventional warfare, while the Marine Corps will handle counterinsurgencies. This reorganization would benefit all branches by aligning each branch’s culture and mentality with their respective real-world needs. In this essay, we will look at the three branches (Navy, Marine Corps, and Army) and explore how each branch will benefit, individually.
by Benjamin Aziza | Fri, 12/21/2018 - 8:40am | 0 comments
This paper explores the two aspects that makes Morocco’s CT/CVE strategy unique: 1) the promotion of moderate Maliki Islam, and 2) fighting poverty and investment in the public of the country. While other countries may have taken a similar approach, most have not done so on the scale in which Morocco has.
by Malcolm Beith | Thu, 12/20/2018 - 12:04pm | 0 comments
Kabila still controls everything and is forcing even the most skeptical to dance to his tune, and there’s little doubt he will ever truly leave. He is allowing the electoral process to take its course; but he won’t contest the election because he won’t have to. Emmanuel Ramazani Shadary, his candidate —or surrogate, as some observers contend—will win the vote. “Kabila has no option but to make his heir apparent win, by hook or by crook.”
by Matthew R. Doherty | Thu, 12/20/2018 - 10:35am | 0 comments
Both operations were based on three key tenets of control: population control, food control and spatial control. Population control involved exerting enough force over the target population so that they would (or could) not provide support to active insurgent forces. Food control specifically targeted cattle and crops to deprive the enemy of resources and destroy fighting will and capability. Spatial control involved reducing the enemy’s operational space, preventing them from escape and evasion, and finally hunting the remnants down by exerting constant pressure through armed sweeps
by Daphné Richemond-Barak | Wed, 12/19/2018 - 6:51pm | 0 comments
Tunnel warfare has become as central to modern conflicts as it was in centuries past. Tunnels have been a feature of war since time immemorial, typically as an anti-personnel tactic or as a means to overcome fortifications. Their appeal has grown on the modern, high-tech-dominated battlefield, where surveillance and intelligence capabilities can detect virtually any movement of personnel or vehicles above ground.
by Jamie Schwandt | Wed, 12/19/2018 - 8:58am | 0 comments
A short paper on the Kobayashi Maru training exercise employed in the fictional Star Trek universe. A discussion of 3 key takeaways.
by Nathan Jennings | Wed, 12/19/2018 - 7:28am | 0 comments
Since the close of the Second World War the United States has retained a significant ground force presence in Europe to defend against Russian aggression. While laudable during the halcyon days of the Soviet Empire, it is past time for this anachronistic policy to end.
by Arin Kumar Ghosh | Tue, 12/18/2018 - 8:54pm | 0 comments
As Iraq works to create an efficient armed force in post ISIS Iraq, it must reconsider the traditional defense template of weapons systems that need to be purchased with its own needs.
by Chris Telley | Tue, 12/18/2018 - 6:41pm | 0 comments
Mapping the Cartel de los Soles in order to identify individuals that were entrenched in the network but untargeted by U.S. sanctions, as well as discover subgroups and seams which could be influenced as a means to provide opportunity to the opposition.
by Donald C. Bolduc | Mon, 12/17/2018 - 12:51pm | 0 comments
This paper addresses my concerns about issues raised by news media publicity surrounding the 2017 ambush in Niger that killed four Americans - members of U.S. Special Operations Forces (USSOF) Team OUALLAM - and the perceived mishandling of the U.S. Africa Command (AFRICOM) investigation results by U.S. Special Operations Command (SOCOM).