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.
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.
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.