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 Geoffrey Demarest | Fri, 10/05/2018 - 1:08am | 0 comments
This is a commentary on the strategic implications for the United States of foreign illegal mining. The article also touches on challenges and possibilities the phenomenon poses for police and military operations.
by Daniel Urchick | Wed, 10/03/2018 - 6:46am | 0 comments
The Shanghai Cooperation Organization’s “Peace Mission” anti-terror exercises are an important tool for understanding how its members, which include China, Russia, India and most of Central Asia, view the regional threat environment and trends.
by Reed Kitchen | Wed, 10/03/2018 - 6:20am | 1 comment
In the spring of 2011, I deployed to eastern Afghanistan for ten months as a Village Stability Operations detachment commander where my team faced a determined enemy whom the United States had been fighting for over a decade.
by Aaron Farley | Wed, 10/03/2018 - 5:59am | 0 comments
Whatever long-term movement towards détente may ultimately emerge from the “reset” in North Korean-American diplomatic relations, history does not give much grounds for optimism.
by Gary Anderson | Tue, 10/02/2018 - 5:02am | 3 comments
With the war at a stalemate, we need to seriously consider new thinking outside the kinetic realm if we expect to move the ball forward toward peace without a Taliban victory.
by Ginger Seip-Nuño | Tue, 10/02/2018 - 4:45am | 0 comments
The communal violence between Nigerian farmers and the Fulani herdsmen is a complex historical communal conflict mired in cultural, religious, and ethnic differences. In the past few years, however, this sadly familiar Nigerian narrative seems increasingly fragile.
by John Sullivan | Mon, 10/01/2018 - 12:18am | 0 comments
Sun Tzu’s The Art of War deserves both our continued admiration and attention, but as a fictional disciple of the Chinese general warned about investments, “don’t get emotional about stock, it clouds your judgement.” It’s not that Sun Tzu’s theory on espionage is better or worse than Clausewitz in terms of guiding modern intelligence practices. As Gordon Gekko might acerbically note, it’s simply a dog with different fleas.
by Anthony DeCapite | Mon, 10/01/2018 - 12:05am | 0 comments
This article is the latest addition to the U.S. Army TRADOC G2 Mad Scientist Initiative’s Future of Warfare 2030-2050 project at Small Wars Journal.
by Nick Eftimiades | Sun, 09/30/2018 - 4:28pm | 0 comments
Students often ask me how to get a job in the Intelligence Community. I wrote this article to share some best practices for securing a career as an Intelligence Officer. This article reflects my 34 years of experience in that career field with three different agencies.
by Nicolas Johnston | Fri, 09/28/2018 - 12:05am | 8 comments
At its very core, insurgent warfare is a conflict between competing claims to legitimate governance over a people or territory. The enduring viability of counterinsurgency doctrine thus lies in understanding the factors that contribute to the legitimacy of a regime, and how they are mobilised to engender public resilience and popular support for insurgents’ actions.
by Christopher Flaherty | Thu, 09/27/2018 - 1:21am | 0 comments
Establishing effective parade and event security at mass gatherings, in certain circumstances can involve mitigating a sub-set of terrorist, extremist or violent bombings with an Improvised Explosive Device (IED) classified as in-situ attacks. An in-situ attack occurs where an IED has been used against people who are packed or blocked into a confined space, offering a dense target. The attack results in a higher level of fatal casualties. A core problem with mass gatherings is that these unavoidably create areas where people are blocked together unable to freely move, for a lengthy time.
by George M. Dryden | Wed, 09/26/2018 - 1:00am | 3 comments
For those in “the advising business,” this is an exciting time. During the past year, beginning with the Secretary of Defense, leaders throughout the Defense Establishment have articulated the compelling need to best prepare the advisors – civilian and military – that we deploy to theaters of operation and distant countries worldwide.
by Christopher Flaherty | Tue, 09/25/2018 - 1:29am | 0 comments
Written as a tactics, techniques and procedure analysis, this paper attempts to extend the notion of 3D tactics in the context of new and emerging technology. The paper will also look at the implications for modelling the observe-orient-decide-act (OODA) loop decision making process.
by Octavian Manea | Mon, 09/24/2018 - 12:14pm | 1 comment
SWJ discussion with Luis Simón, research professor of international security at the Institute for European Studies (Vrije Universiteit Brussel), and director of the Brussels office of the Elcano Royal Institute. He recently published a Whitehall Paper for London’s Royal United Services Institute: “The Spectre of a Westphalian Europe?”
by Peter Polack | Sun, 09/23/2018 - 1:00pm | 0 comments
Simon Bolivar made a successful career of failures, defeats, elimination of competing fellow countrymen and repeated exiles manifested in the numerous early short-lived republics of Venezuela.
by Christopher Rodriguez | Sun, 09/23/2018 - 11:41am | 0 comments
On October 9th, 1967 at 1:45 PM, Colonel Joaquin Zetenento announced to the world that Che Guevara was dead. Many were surprised to hear the news – and it was even more surprising that he died in Bolivia of all places. Questions began to swirl around his death while world leaders began to take sides concerning his legacy. Some, such as Cuba’s Fidel Castro, publicly mourned his death and vowed to continue Guevara’s vision of global revolution.
by John P. Sullivan | Fri, 09/21/2018 - 12:34am | 0 comments
Tunnel warfare is now becoming a contemporary concern as seen in its use by AQIM (al-Qaeda in the Islamic Magreb) in Mali, and by Hamas for smuggling, terrorism, and increasingly as a means of urban warfare in Gaza, Syria, and Iraq. Among other things, underground warfare is likely to merge with urban operations and proliferate in the megacity battles of tomorrow. Richemond-Barak does an excellent job of building a foundation for addressing these tactical, operational, and strategic challenges.
by Gary Anderson | Thu, 09/20/2018 - 2:51am | 1 comment
Except for the initial invasion of Iraq in 2003, America has been fighting small, counterinsurgency wars since 9-11. This begs the question of whether fighting small wars inhibits or enhances our readiness to transition to large, high-intensity conflicts against peer or near peer competitors? The answer is complicated and somewhat ambiguous.
by Douglas A. Livermore | Thu, 09/20/2018 - 1:40am | 0 comments
Competing visions of future warfare invariably include some version of robotic fighting machines operating either alongside, or in place of, humans. Each of the world's major powers are pursuing development of such automated killers, each looking to grant their robotic minions varying degrees of autonomy. The decisions made concerning the future employment of such systems are driving today's policymaking and research / development efforts.
by B.K. Schaefer | Wed, 09/19/2018 - 12:44am | 2 comments
COIN strategy in the Philippines has focused on tactical, reactionary successes against insurgent groups, and failed to build the appropriate political and economic capacity to effectively address the grievances of the local population. Without a coordinated, multi-faceted COIN strategy, incidents of violence will continue to occur on Mindanao as the population drifts further away from government control and into the influence of insurgent organizations.
by Jon Cederquist, by Anne Gibbon, by Richard Lum | Mon, 09/17/2018 - 12:32am | 3 comments
Special operations forces (SOF) will once again find itself out ahead of others, operating in ambiguity and uncertainty as the world’s players compete to establish new rules and new structures. One of the key challenges for SOF is that, rather than just being tactical, this time the ambiguity and uncertainty is strategic. If SOF is to continue to be effective during this time of transition, then they must rely on their collective ability to perceive weak signals and adapt more rapidly than our competitors.
by Abigail Gage | Mon, 09/17/2018 - 12:12am | 1 comment
The United States’ efforts in the GWOT have, thus far, prevented major terrorist organizations from conducting a second 9/11-style attack. Pursuing a strategy that shifts away from military engagement and towards stronger domestic policy will save trillions in taxpayer dollars, prevent future terrorist attacks, and help end the GWOT.
by Megan Karlshoej-Pedersen | Fri, 09/14/2018 - 12:21am | 1 comment
This summer, Australian Special Forces have been accused of War Crimes that have caused wide-spread outrage. However, although the accusations echo eerily close to those previously raised against British Special Forces, the responses of the two nations could not be more disparate.
by Sarwar J. Minar | Fri, 09/14/2018 - 12:14am | 3 comments
The book contributes to the conceptual development and understanding of the idea of grand strategy. Making grand strategy practically applicable remains one of the major contributions of the book. However, in trying to assist busy people to get practical benefit, the book simplified grand strategy as ‘problem solving method’ but all the objectives sought need not necessarily be problems.
by Erik Grossman | Thu, 09/13/2018 - 12:29am | 0 comments
The inherent paradox in peace creation in such a violent and corrupt environment is that it requires violence and corruption to accomplish. The levels of which both must be employed may be unconscionable in the utopic image of liberal governance, but in such conflict-ridden states, mirroring this Western image should not be the immediate objective. Instead, measures should be directed at securing a peaceful state through all means available.
by Matt Stevens | Wed, 09/12/2018 - 12:53am | 0 comments
Over the fourteen months from September 2016 to November 2017, the Iraqi Security Forces wrestled their nation from the clutches of the Islamic State in some of the fiercest and most brutal urban combat experienced since World War Two. In May 2017, the Australian Special Operations Task Group Rotation VII took over the great work of previous rotations in advising, assisting and enabling the Iraqi Counter Terrorism Service, our primary partners.
by Ronald Sprang | Tue, 09/11/2018 - 12:09am | 3 comments
This case study for analysis focuses on Russian operations in Ukraine from 2013-2016. Russian decision-making in Ukraine has demonstrated the ability to use cyber and information warfare to influence operations to support military and political objectives, and continued preparation of the cyber environment to create a range of options for future action.
by Stephen B. Young | Mon, 09/10/2018 - 1:46am | 11 comments
The right kind of strategic instincts were also used by H.R. McMaster and several other local US commanders in Iraq when they formed partnerships with the Sunni tribal leaders to jointly fight the fundamentalist insurgents in Anbar Province. A similar program can still be undertaken in Afghanistan. It is never too late to trust the people.
by James King | Mon, 09/10/2018 - 1:27am | 0 comments
C.J. Chivers, a Pulitzer Prize winning journalist, follows six people in their journey through the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan. He brings to life the stories of ordinary Soldiers, Sailors, and Marines through prose that reads like a novel.
by Darren E. Tromblay | Fri, 09/07/2018 - 5:29am | 0 comments
In May 2018, the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts made a serious national security faux pas by providing a platform for Cuban nationals to flack their public relations wares. However, while the Washington cognesceti were oohing, aahing, and patting themselves on the back for being so multicultural, they might not have had time to ponder that the country whose handiwork was on display has been complicit in a campaign of chemical and biological attacks against the United States. Exhibitions about those aspects of Cuba’s culture were conspicuously absent from the Kennedy Center – a U.S. government venue, named for the U.S. President who went eyeball-to-eyeball with the Soviets over Cuba’s hosting of Moscow’s missiles.
by Phillip W. Williams Jr. | Thu, 09/06/2018 - 12:47am | 3 comments
The uncomfortable truth that many in modern western society do not want to face is that war, by its very nature, will kill people and break things. However, in the midst of that truth is a second truth that many seem to forget: Namely, that the United States of America, more so than any other nation, expends great resources to develop and implement the means of mitigating the effects of the first truth on noncombatants and infrastructure in the war zone. No other nation in the history of the world has so earnestly sought to conduct military operations while simultaneously striving to minimize the killing and breaking.
by Robert Zager, by John Zager | Wed, 09/05/2018 - 6:45am | 0 comments
Cybersecurity’s human adversarial engagement is often lost in discussions of cybersecurity. We discuss how defenders’ focus on technology unintentionally creates vulnerabilities which can be exploited by threat actors. In particular, we discuss how the convergence of cyber awareness training and defensive technologies is exploited by threat actors with devastating consequences.
by Ronald Sprang | Tue, 09/04/2018 - 9:29am | 4 comments
Operational art provides the bridge between tactical actions and strategic objectives. It involves a systematic and deliberate campaign planning process for major operations in a theater of war. Since the beginning of the industrial age and the advent of large conscript armies, there has been a need to link tactical actions to strategic objectives. Russian operational art began in the 1920’s and has evolved to today’s New Type Warfare and the concept of Reflexive Control.
by L. Burton Brender | Tue, 09/04/2018 - 3:51am | 1 comment
One of the hardest things a leader will ever have to do is accurately assess the performance and potential of his or her workers. Often, leaders have so much on their plate that really observing their people is a challenge, and it doesn’t help that there are false signals out there that can fool even the wisest of supervisors.
by Simone Bak | Mon, 09/03/2018 - 2:03am | 6 comments
This essay seeks to demonstrate key ethical questions that arise as the U.S. continues to counter violent extremism in the Middle East. Ethical questions will be analyzed through the actions of an important U.S. ally in the war on terrorism, Jordan.
by Peter Polack | Mon, 09/03/2018 - 12:35am | 0 comments
Washington had made his first victory for 1776 after the Declaration of Independence which started a reversal of fortune for the British in her American colonies that ended at Yorktown in 1781 with the aid of French assistance to the American Revolution.
by Jeremy D. Lawhorn | Sat, 09/01/2018 - 9:16am | 2 comments
Today, the single greatest challenge to the United States national security is the growing threat posed by people that are being forced to join factions that align, if only loosely, with their beliefs, creating deep fractures and eroding the internal cohesion of the country.
by Gary Anderson | Fri, 08/31/2018 - 10:36am | 9 comments
General John “Mick” Nicholson, the outgoing commander of US forces in Afghanistan, recently created some controversy by stating that US strategy in Afghanistan is working. If he had been a senior commander of the Byzantine Empire, his comments would have made nary a public ripple. He would have been stating a plain fact of the new strategic normal.
by Brian E. Frydenborg | Fri, 08/31/2018 - 7:42am | 0 comments
It takes some time to understand why there is such great appeal for fantastical thinking in the Middle East, but after some investigation the reasons become clear. The idea of Arabs as helpless spectators in some global plot run by secret cabals only hinders the advancement of Arab society.
by L. Burton Brender | Thu, 08/30/2018 - 7:50am | 2 comments
What we do need convincing of is what Norman Schwarzkopf and Frederick the Great understood long ago: the importance of good planning. Those who do this well, in addition to thinking on their feet, will be successful in both war and peace.
by S.A. Cavanagh | Thu, 08/30/2018 - 5:45am | 0 comments
Performance enhancing drugs are providing an edge for soldiers engaged in high stakes operations, when the need to fight longer, fight better and think clearly under fatigue, genuinely matters. Military institutions that study performance enhancing drugs to develop safe, comprehensive and supportive drug programs are moving prudently to realize the physiological and psychological superiority soldiers need to survive the battle space.
by James Howcroft | Wed, 08/29/2018 - 12:24am | 0 comments
Once a grievance and possible weapons are identified, ascertaining possible targets is certainly possible if analysts and practitioners allow themselves to examine the threat from the terrorists’ perspective. Doing so will allow government leaders to make informed decisions regarding the allocation of finite resources in a way best suited to defend their citizens and their way of life.
by Peter Leach | Wed, 08/29/2018 - 12:08am | 0 comments
As security competition looms within the re-emerging 4+1 threat environment (China, Russia, North Korea, and Iran plus the constant challenge of transnational threats), those once-archaic concepts of ‘great power war’ and ‘nuclear deterrence’ are worth revisiting.
by G. Murphy Donovan | Tue, 08/28/2018 - 11:07am | 1 comment
After WWII, Soviet Communists played an outsized role in American Intelligence operations, threat analysis, and defense budgets. If America didn’t have the Soviets or Russians as straw men, we probably wouldn’t have much of an “existential” threat to talk about at all. Throughout, we never seem to do any honest comparative analysis of American and Russian relative effectiveness in the worlds of intelligence threat analysis, operations, or policy.
by Tyler Fox | Tue, 08/28/2018 - 12:37am | 0 comments
With posters on Mission Command adorning virtually every classroom at the US Army’s Command and General Staff College, and with its prominence as one of the pillars of the Army’s Operational Concept, the term Mission Command has become a buzzword. One of the concept’s true benefits relies on quality personnel, and developing those leaders through the proper use of historical case studies can help to not only make military history engaging but also useful in everyday duties for even a young officer or a non-commissioned officer, and contribute to developing quality personnel.
by Bryan Baker | Mon, 08/27/2018 - 12:38am | 0 comments
In this essay I will argue that the threat of convergence to the Westphalian System has been exaggerated. Then, using the FARC and Colombia as a case study, I will argue that convergence is already being used to justify morally questionable interventions.
by Christian H. Heller | Mon, 08/27/2018 - 12:12am | 0 comments
The Sinai conflict possesses all the traits of a robust insurgency, a human rights disaster, and the prerequisite conditions to escalate outside the peninsula. Strategies are based on resources, and resource limitations necessitate a focus on such issues as ISIS in Syria. However, external states cannot turn away from the situation. Europe and the United States should challenge human rights abuses and push the Egyptian authorities to reform their counterinsurgency tactics.
by Taylor A. Galanides | Sun, 08/26/2018 - 12:51am | 0 comments
Recent and extensive developments in technology, media, communications, and culture – such as the advent of social media, 24-hour news coverage, and smart devices – allow populaces to closely monitor domestic and foreign affairs. This “ability to share information in near real time,” is an asset to the Nation and its military. However, these advances have also facilitated the convergence of new vulnerabilities to individual and international security, as seen with the rise of computer hacking over the past decade, as well as with Russia’s attempts to influence the 2016 U.S. presidential election.
by Nilanthan Niruthan | Sun, 08/26/2018 - 12:42am | 0 comments
For the first time in human history, we live in an age where there are no means to predict the technology dictating life a mere few years from now. Innovations in several fields like medicine, communication and information happen at such a rapid pace that the lifestyle of an average human being today is likely to be unrecognizable from that of someone a decade down the line. The most concerning implication of this phenomenon is in warfare, where policymakers today are already having to confront themselves with emerging technologies that will shake the very roots of how we wage war.
by Jeremy D. McLain | Sat, 08/25/2018 - 12:27am | 0 comments
This article is the latest addition to the U.S. Army TRADOC G2 Mad Scientist Initiative’s Future of Warfare 2030-2050 project at Small Wars Journal. Autonomous systems in a complex city environment would present both opportunities and challenges for U.S. Army units operating in such environments. Over the next decades, technologies will also transform these operating environments.