Monday, March 10, 2014

How the Weak Win Wars? A Theory of Asymmetric Conflict

Ivan Arreguín-Toft

No one had given Muhammad Ali a chance against George Foreman in the World heavyweight Championship fight of October 30, 1974. Foreman, none of whose opponents had lasted more than three rounds in the ring, was the strongest, hardest hitting boxer of his generation. Ali, though not as powerful as Foreman, had a slightly faster punch and was lighter on his feet. In the weeks leading up to the fight, however, Foreman had practiced against nimble sparring partners. He was ready. But when the bell rang just after 4:00 a.m. in Kinshasa, something completely unexpected happened. In round two, instead of moving into the ring to meet Foreman, Ali appeared to cower against the ropes. Foreman, now confident of victory, pounded him again and again, while Ali whispered hoarse taunts: George, youre not hittin, George, you disappoint me.”  Foreman lost his temper, and his punches became a furious blur. To spectators, unaware that the elastic ring ropes were absorbing much of the force of Foreman’s blows, it looked as if Ali would surely fall. By the fifth round, however, Foreman was worn out. And in round eight, as stunned commentators and a delirious crowd looked on, Muhammad Ali knocked George Foreman to the canvas, and the fight was over.
This fight illustrates an important yet relatively unexplored feature of interstate conflict: how a weak actor’s strategy can make a strong actor’s power irrelevant. If power implies victory in war, then weak actors should almost never win against stronger opponents, especially when the gap in relative power is very large. Yet history suggests otherwise: Weak actors sometimes do win. The question is how.

Read more: How the Weak Win Wars? A Theory of Asymmetric Conflict

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Why the Army should fire generals and promote captains

By Adrian Bonenberger, Published: February 21

As Army leadership ponders who and what to cut from its budget, the first groups in the crosshairs are the junior and mid-level officers. This is a logical step: To wage counterinsurgencies in Iraq and Afghanistan, the Army expanded its fighting force, and now it’s time to draw down. What isn’t logical is that other ranks will largely get a free pass.
The Army, and the military overall, would be better served by retiring some of the generals, colonels and senior lieutenant colonels, and promoting the best captains, majors and junior lieutenant colonels into those roles.
When the United States invaded Afghanistan in 2001, the Army stood at 480,000 soldiers. Over the next decade, it ballooned to 565,000 soldiers in 2011 and has since shrunk back to 528,000. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel said last summer that the Army needed to reduce its numbers to as few as 380,000, the lowest since before World War II. It seems likely that the Pentagon will adopt this number as its target for 2020. These cuts will overwhelmingly fall where the recent growth occurred: younger soldiers and officers, nearly all of whom joined to fight in Iraq or Afghanistan.

Monday, February 17, 2014

Unconventional Deterrence Strategy

Mindaugas Rekasius
Naval Postgraduate School 
June 2005

This thesis examines a largely unexplored area of deterrence theory – unconventional deterrence. Unconventional deterrence is defined herein as “persuading the opponent not to attack, via threats of unconventional warfare, such as guerrilla resistance and terrorism.” It treats terrorism as a punishment strategy, through which the one deterring threatens to punish the aggressor’s population. Guerrilla warfare is a denial strategy, through which the one deterring threatens to protract a war and deny the aggressor his political objectives. This study questions the underlying hypothesis of deterrence theory which says that the balance of the opponents’ military capabilities is the basic determinant of successful deterrence. Rather, the hypothesis here is that the deterrer may deter the aggressor from attacking by adopting a strategy that makes the aggressor’s military superiority irrelevant. The present thesis focuses primarily on relatively weak states. Unconventional deterrence is explored as a means for a weaker state to deter a considerably stronger opponent.
This thesis discusses the requirements for successful deterrence, and the peculiarities of unconventional deterrence. As well, the dynamics of small wars are explored in order to unfold a paradoxical phenomenon: the possibility of an underdog’s victory in war.  Two  case  studies:  (1) the  Vietnam  War  of  1964-73 and (2)  the Afghanistan War of 1979-89 are explored as examples of the weak denying the strong their objectives.

Read more: PDF

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Knowing the Enemy

How to cope with global jihad

The conflicts in Iraq, Lebanon, and Afghanistan and the global Islamist insurgency have revealed that Western democracies and their political and military leaders do not fully comprehend the multifaceted threats represented by radical Muslim nonstate actors. In this, they violate the most famous dictum of Sun Tzu, the Chinese strategic genius of2,500 years ago: “If you know yourself and understand your opponent you will never put your victory in jeopardy in any conflict.”
The broad support that al Qaeda jihadis and radical Islamist militias such as Hamas and Hezbollah enjoy in the Muslim world and in the global Muslim diaspora, as well as among non-Muslim anti-American political forces around the world demonstrates that describing the global Islamic insurgency as a fringe or minority phenomenon is unrealistic and self-defeating. Since 9/11, democracies have fought three wars against nonstate Islamist actors. The West needs to draw important lessons from Iraq, Afghanistan, and the clash between Israel and Hezbollah to address these strategic deficits. Lack of clarity in defining the enemy and delays in formulating political and information strategy severely endanger U.S. national interests and the security of the West.

Sunday, November 24, 2013


Peeter Kukk, PhD, Kaitseväe Ühendatud Õppeasutused

Artiklis analüüsitakse, kuidas on erinevatel ajajärkudel muutunud sõjaväelaste kirjaoskus selle sõna laiemas tähenduses. Kirjaoskus hõlmab seejuures nii väljaõpet kui ka teenistuse korraldust koos otsustusõiguse ulatuse ja vastutuse määraga. Artikli esmaste lugejatena nähakse Kaitseväe Ühendatud Õppeasutustes (KVÜÕA) õpinguid alustavaid põhi- ja keskastmekursuse õppureid.

Rene kommentaar: Tegemist on väga hea ülevaatega ülesandekeskse juhtimise filosoofia arengust ja mõjutustest. Pealkiri võib jätta esmapilgul eksitava mulje (mulle jättis), nagu tuleks juttu sõjaväelaste kirjutamise oskusest. Sellest see artikkel siiski ei ole. Väärt lugemine.

Artikkel siin:

Thursday, August 8, 2013

An elusive command philosophy and a different command culture

By Jörg Muth
2011 in Foreign Policy
Best Defense department of Auftragstaktik affairs

Auftragstaktik. The word sounds cool even when mangled by an American tongue. What it means, however, has always been elusive to Americans. The problematic translation of that core German military word into "mission type orders" completely distorts its meaning. Auftragstaktik does not denote a certain style of giving orders or a certain way of phrasing them; it is a whole command philosophy.

The idea originates with Frederick the Great, who complained after more than one battle that his highly experienced regimental commanders would not dare take action on their own but too often ask back for orders and thus waste precious time.

Nearly one hundred years later the military genius Helmuth Karl Bernhard Graf von Moltke was the first to formulate the concept of Auftragstaktik. Moltke was a diligent student of Frederick's campaigns, of military history in general and philosophy. At a time when he was not yet famous and, not yet the victor of three wars, he observed the annual General Staff war games in 1858. The paperwork and the detailed orders appalled him because he knew that in war there was no time for such nonsense. During the war game critique he decreed that "as a rule an order should contain only what the subordinate for the achievement of his goals cannot determine on his own." Everything else was to be left to the commander on the spot.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

War—Continuity in Change, and Change in Continuity


War can only be understood holistically. If one focuses on continuity in change, one is near certain to undervalue the change in continuity. One has to be bifocal. Carl von Clausewitz is uncompromising on this matter:
But in war more than in any other subject we must begin by looking at the nature of the whole; for here more than elsewhere the part and the whole must always be thought of together.
The subject of most interest here is future war, all of it. Future war will include both change and continuity from the past. Many people have difficulty understanding the relationship between continuity and change; this article will try to provide some useful guidance. Similarly, satisfactory comprehension of the connection between theory and practice is frequently missing.
These deficiencies in intellectual grasp can be important and damaging to national security.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Wake-up call

Julian Borger
The Guardian, Friday 6 September 2002 

If the US and Iraq do go to war, there can only be one winner, can't there? Maybe not. This summer, in a huge rehearsal of just such a conflict - and with retired Lieutenant General Paul Van Riper playing Saddam - the US lost. Julian Borger asks the former marine how he did it.

At the height of the summer, as talk of invading Iraq built in Washington like a dark, billowing storm, the US armed forces staged a rehearsal using over 13,000 troops, countless computers and $250m. Officially, America won and a rogue state was liberated from an evil dictator. 

What really happened is quite another story, one that has set alarm bells ringing throughout America's defence establishment and raised questions over the US military's readiness for an Iraqi invasion. In fact, this war game was won by Saddam Hussein, or at least by the retired marine playing the Iraqi dictator's part, Lieutenant General Paul Van Riper.

Saturday, March 30, 2013

Teaching How to Think, Not What to Think

by Lieutenant Colonel Jeffrey N. Rule
United States Marine Corps

United States Army War College, Class of 2013  

“Machines don’t fight wars. People do, and they use their minds.”
— Col John R. Boyd

Numerous articles and books have recently appeared criticizing current leadership of the Armed Services and their collective inability to think critically, to adapt, or to innovate quickly — as well as their lack of tactical, operational, or strategic agility.[1] Additionally, many of the same critiques have emanated from the services for decades — most notably during and after the Vietnam War. Furthermore, there is a large body of literature in the broad realm of “strategic studies” that seeks to offer insight and knowledge about how to operate in the most fraught wartime environments characterized by friction, uncertainty, disorder, fluidity, and complexity regardless of the type of competition. From Sun Tzu’s time, through Clausewitz, Liddell Hart, and to the modern era, those elements of the environment remain constants in the nature of war.
All U.S. military institutions understand these constants and have, through the years, sought to comprehend and conquer them. The services have not sat idle: their individual doctrines, educational institutions, and professional journals abound with the need to create more adaptive and agile and thinking leaders — and have done so for quite some time. So, why is there a constant criticism inside and outside the services for collective failures in creating agile leaders able to cope successfully with the inherent complexity and unpredictability of war?

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Misinterpretation and Confusion: What is Mission Command and Can the U.S. Army Make it Work?

By Donald E. Vandergriff


The emphasis of Training and Doctrine Command Pamphlet 525-3-0, The Army Capstone Concept: Operational Adaptability—Operating Under Conditions of Uncertainty and Complexity in an Era of Persistent Conflict[1] discusses evolving toward the practice and culture of Mission Command. The essence of this approach is to ensure that the Army leads through Auftragstaktik, a German word that implies that once everyone understands the commanders’ intent (two levels up), then people are free to and indeed duty-bound to use their creativity and initiative to accomplish their missions within the intent, adapting to changing circumstances.