Thought for the Day

"By three methods we may learn wisdom: First, by reflection, which is noblest; second, by imitation, which is easiest; and third by experience, which is the bitterest." - Confucius

Friday, April 17, 2015

To Deter Adversaries, U.S. Military Must First Understand Their Fears

Conclusion.  And as always we must know (and understand) our enemies and know what will deter them.  But knowing our enemies has to be more than a pithy phrase from Sun Tzu that we toss about.

In general, it is always better to deter aggression and prevent conflict than to reverse aggression and engage in conflict. But deterrence is difficult because it is a psychological effect, built on a foundation of beliefs and expectations. To make it work, the United States must understand what potential enemies think they can handle and what they fear most. To prevent war and deter aggression in this time of technological proliferation and budgetary constraints, American military leaders and defense policymakers must get in the heads of adversaries and exploit their fears.

Can unconventional warfare have a deterrent effect?  (Yes, of course it could if we have the demonstrated capability and the demonstrated will to conduct such a campaign.  The problem is the lack of demonstrated political will to do so).

At the same time, potential enemies must believe that the U.S. can strike at things they value. There are many ways to do this beyond the traditional use of bombers, drones and missiles. One would be having the ability to surge support for local allies, including national armed forces like the Ukrainian military as well as militias. The last thing that potential enemies—whether states like China, Iran, North Korea and Russia or organizations like the so-called Islamic State—want is to be forced to conduct their own counterinsurgency or counterguerrilla campaigns. The thought of having to do so might give them pause as they plan aggression.

We have to be willing to operate in the gray zone between peace and war where revolution, resistance, and insurgency take place and by doing so we can demonstrate not only our capabilities but our will to operate in this area that we have long ceded to our enemies who have sought asymmetric advantages over us and our friends, partners and allies to neutralize our technological dominance.  In short we need to be able to conduct political warfare. (

Political Warfare is a strategy suited to achieve U.S. national objectives through reduced visibility in the international geo-political environment, without committing large military forces. Likewise, Political Warfare can function as a critical, integrating element of U.S. national power against non-state adversaries such as the current Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL). Most often, the Department of Defense role in Political Warfare will be one of supporting other U.S. Government agencies that are more likely to lead strategy and planning development. 

Political Warfare emerges from the premise that rather than a binary opposition between “war” and “peace,” the conduct of international relations is characterized by continuously evolving combinations of collaboration, conciliation, confrontation, and conflict. As such, during times of interstate “peace,” the U.S. government must still confront adversaries aggressively and conclusively through all means of national power. When those adversaries practice a form of Hybrid Warfare employing political, military, economic, and criminal tools below the threshold of conventional warfare, the U.S. must overmatch adversary efforts—though without large-scale, extended military operations that may be fiscally unsustainable and diplomatically costly. Hence, the U.S. must embrace a form of sustainable “warfare” rather than “war,” through a strategy that closely integrates targeted political, economic, informational, and military initiatives in close collaboration with international partners. Serving the goals of international stability and interstate peace, this strategy amounts to “Political Warfare.”

As will be described here, Political Warfare encompasses a spectrum of activities associated with diplomatic and economic engagement, Security Sector Assistance (SSA), novel forms of Unconventional Warfare (UW), and Information and Influence Activities (IIA). Their related activities, programs, and campaigns are woven together into a whole-of-government framework for comprehensive effect. In this regard, Support to Political Warfare is a novel concept in comparison to the last generation of national security thinking and military operational concepts. Yet, Political Warfare is not without recent precursors in U.S. policy and strategy, with the Cold War being a prime example of approaches foreshadowing the current conception.

To Deter Adversaries, U.S. Military Must First Understand Their Fears

Soldiers of the 82nd Airborne Division gather their equipment before boarding a CH-47F Chinook, Nawa Valley, Kandahar Province, Afghanistan, May 25, 2014 (U.S. Army photo by Staff Sgt. Whitney Houston).
By Steven Metz, April 17, 2015, Column
For American defense professionals, the 1990s now seem like a distant dream. The United States was fresh off a stunning military victory over Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein’s forces in Kuwait. The Soviet Union, long Washington’s bête noire, had crumbled. The American economy was robust, churning out important technological innovations one after another. In these halcyon times, U.S. military leaders and defense officials predicted that they would master what they called the “revolution in military affairs,” thereby attaining battlefield superiority over every possible enemy. Since the U.S. would be able to impose its will on opponents, there was little need to consider how enemies thought or what they intended to do.

A decade later, however, the slogging, bloody counterinsurgency campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan showed that technology could not solve every security problem. Ideas and concepts, not to mention will and perseverance, mattered greatly. Then, just as the U.S. extricated itself from the counterinsurgency morass, the American economy tanked, taking the defense budget with it. The dreams of the 1990s had given way to nightmares.

Now military leaders and defense policymakers believe that America’s military superiority is shrinking and might someday evaporate entirely. In speech after speech, interview after interview, defense officials list the things that “keep them up at night.” At times, the cause of concern is China’s growing military power, at others it is what are called “hybrid threats,” or enemies that combine increasingly advanced conventional weapons, political action, irregular warfare, terrorism and criminal behavior to achieve political objectives.

Unfortunately, recognizing these potential threats does not automatically produce solutions. To address evolving threats within the strict budgetary constraints of sequestration, the Pentagon has developed what it calls the “third offset strategy” to pursue new technologies, organizations and operational concepts that can offset potential adversaries’ advances in technological and asymmetric capabilities. This is important but may not be enough: American strategists also must get inside the heads of existing or potential enemies, asking not only what they might do to the U.S., but also what the U.S. can do to keep them up at night, exploiting their fears to constrain them.
(Continued at the link below)

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