Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Congress Has Embraced Unconventional Warfare: Will the US Military and The Rest of the US Government?

My latest article on Small Wars Journal.

Congress Has Embraced Unconventional Warfare: Will the US Military and The Rest of the US Government?

by David S. Maxwell

Journal Article | December 29, 2015 - 1:56pm
Congress Has Embraced Unconventional Warfare: Will the US Military and The Rest of the US Government?
David S. Maxwell
With the passage of the National Defense Authorization Act of 2016 the United States Congress has embraced what Russia, Iran, China, Al Qaeda and even ISIS have long known and that is unconventional warfare (UW) is a form of warfare that is optimized for achieving national objectives in the space between peace and war.  Congress, in Section 1097, has directed the Secretary of Defense to develop a strategy to counter unconventional warfare being conducted by adversaries of the US.  Congress recognizes the US has a strategy gap between peace and war and the directive to the SECDEF is the forcing function necessary to develop a strategy and to bring new and creative thinking to the national security challenges we face.
What is Unconventional Warfare?
In Section 1097 and in joint US military doctrine it is defined as “activities conducted to enable a resistance movement or insurgency to coerce, disrupt, or overthrow a government or occupying power by operating through or with an underground, auxiliary, or guerrilla force in a denied area.”
However, our adversaries employ their own unique forms of unconventional warfare by effectively integrating conventional and special operations forces, all elements of their national power, and in particular psychological warfare, while exploiting conditions, to include resistance, in countries and regions around the world to counter the west and often the US directly in order to achieve their political and security objectives.  They take a more holistic approach to unconventional warfare and are willing to employ it as a matter of course.  In     contrast the US has long viewed unconventional warfare as something only Special Forces conduct and then only to be used in very rare situations when there are no other alternatives.  In short, in the past the US has shown it does not have the stomach for unconventional warfare.  Fortunately, Congress has recognized this shortfall in US security strategy.
Directive from Congress
DOD has 180 days to provide to Congress a strategy to counter unconventional warfare.  The clock is ticking.  It will be interesting to read the response to Section 1097.  One possible bureaucratic course of action would consist of reviewing what the Department is already doing and showing the metrics of terrorists removed from the battlefield and listing all the capabilities the Department has that are and can be used to counter-unconventional warfare.  The Department will even tout the new joint unconventional warfare doctrine from the United States Special Operations Command (USSOCOM) the Joint Chiefs of Staff approved in September 2015.  The purpose of this course of action would be to meet the Congressional requirement with minimal disruption to the department and thus get Congress off its back.  Another course of action would be to view this as an opportunity for Congressional support of a new strategy that would be based on a thorough understanding of our adversaries’ strategies and how they are employing unconventional warfare.  The question is how with the department respond?
My concern is that the department and the rest of the US government will continue to have no desire to have anything to do with unconventional warfare.  It is complicated, messy, time-consuming, and hard to measure effectiveness and success especially when compared to counterterrorism and surgical strike operations where immediate results are demonstrated in the number of terrorists removed from the battlefield.
Why Focus on Counter-Unconventional Warfare Strategy?
First, our enemies are conducting their unique forms of unconventional warfare; Russia, Iran, China, Al Qaeda, ISIS (I think AQ and ISIS are much broader than "simply" terrorist organizations.)  We need to recognize the strategies they are using and attack those strategies to effectively operate in the "Gray Zone” between peace and war.
Second, focusing on our enemies conducting their unique forms of UW should lead to the recognition that we have to operate in the Special Warfare realm and not just the Surgical Strike realm.
Third, focusing on terrorism has caused us to think too tactically while a focus on counter UW can drive us to think more strategically and holistically about the problems we face by understanding the enemy’s strategy which poses complex political and military problems.
The Future of Warfare in the Gap Between Peace and War: Past is Prologue
As I opined in 2012 before a subcommittee of the House Armed Services Committee looking at the future of irregular warfare, we tend to prefer conventional conflict that can be defined as  "an armed struggle or clash between organized political parties within a nation or between nations in order to achieve political or military objectives.”  However, what we more routinely face is conflict that is “non-conventional” in nature.  It is something ambiguous and difficult to understand.  It extends the continuum of conflict.  Conflict in the conventional sense begins when the armed struggle begins; however, non-conventional conflict encompasses a broad range of types of conflict, starting with thethreat or possibility of conflict and extending past conflict termination, because the conditions that gave rise to hostilities in the first place may still remain, though not visible or easily recognized.  It also includes armed clashes by unorganized groups that are not seeking to achieve any political or military objectives but may be exploited by external actors.  Non-conventional conflict encompasses the lawlessness of a society in which the governmental system has collapsed, but no organized group has risen to take its place.  Violence and terrorist-like activity can occur out of frustration with no identifiable purpose.  This type of conflict is non-conventional, because it is difficult to determine the objectives and methods of the actors, perhaps difficult to even determine the actors, and thus it is difficult to apply conventional elements of power.  This is the sensitive and complex environment that our adversaries seek to exploit through their unique applications of unconventional warfare.
Since 9-11 we have embarked on the search for new names of forms of conflict and doctrinal terms to address those conflicts and the ever evolving nature of conflict.  We rediscovered Counterinsurgency; we have tried Asymmetric, Hybrid, and Fourth Generation Warfare and now the Gray Zone.  We have invented new doctrinal concepts such as Security Force Assistance; Train, Advise, and Assist; Building Partner Capacity, Train and Equip Programs, Human Domain, and ultimately decided on irregular warfare as the way to describe conflict in the post 9-11 world.  If we examine the history of conflict at theCorrelates of War Project we would realize the irony that what we are calling irregular in fact has been more regular than what we describe as conventional war.  Less that 20% of all conflicts since 1815 have been state-on-state conventional conflicts.  Or simply peruse Sir Lawrence Freedman’s Strategy: A History and Max Boot’s Invisible Armies to see that irregular warfare is the most prevalent form of warfare and is in fact pretty regular.
But at the heart of irregular warfare lies revolution, resistance, and insurgency.  These phenomena are taking place around the world but they are not new.  If you want to be a practitioner and strategist and operate in and develop strategy for the Gray Zone in the space between peace and war and conductpolitical warfareunconventional warfare, and counter-unconventional warfare, as well as operate effectively in the human domain then you must read, study, and internalize the fundamentals of revolution, resistance, and insurgency as embodied in the Assessing Revolutionary and Insurgent Strategies (ARIS) project first produced by the Special Operations Research Office (SORO ) in the 1950's and 1960's. It now continues under the direction of the U S Army Special Operations Command and Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory's National Security Division.  Most important it is unconventional warfare that can support or exploit revolution, resistance, and insurgency.
Russian, Iranian, Chinese, and US Approaches to Unconventional Warfare
Unconventional warfare has not been and is not now well accepted within the US military and the US government.  The most recent attempt to raise unconventional warfare as a strategic option for our national security strategy illustrates the issue.  Some 28 years after the establishment of the USSOCOM in 1987, the command produced for the first time a joint unconventional warfare doctrinal manual.  USSOCOM had to lobby for over a year to get joint staff approval just to write the manual and when it was completed and approved in September 2015 the Joint Staff decided to make the manual For Official Use Only (FOUO).  Although this is not a classification it in effect makes the manual unavailable to the public as well as to academia.   I can only speculate the on the rationale for this but some action officers have said that it is a result of the controversy surround the unconventional warfare exercise Jade Helm that took place in 2015.  The real impact of this decision is summed up in the words of one my mentors who said that the surest way to make a doctrinal manual irrelevant and useless is to make it FOUO.
While the Joint Staff allowed unconventional warfare doctrine to be marginalized our adversaries have been perfecting and employing theirs.  The following charts summarize the unique unconventional warfare approaches of the RussiansIranians, and the Chinese.  The last chart summarizes the US approach to supporting a resistance or insurgency.  As you read these charts notice that the Russian, Iranian, and Chinese approaches provide a strategic framework for understanding how they will employ special operations and conventional forces and all the instruments of national power to accomplish their objectives while the US approach is very tactical and focused on “how to do” UW by Special Forces only.
Russian New Generation Warfare
(Continued at the link below)

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