Uncomfortable Wars Revisited

By Ladwig, Walter | Joint Force Quarterly, April 2007 | Go to article overview

Uncomfortable Wars Revisited


Ladwig, Walter, Joint Force Quarterly


Uncomfortable Wars Revisited by John T. Fishel and Max G. Manwaring Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 2006 340 pp. $45.00

ISBN-10: 0806137118

Authors John Fishel and Max Manwaring have spent the past two decades studying insurgencies. From their early days with U.S. Southern Command's Small Wars Operations Research Directorate (SWORD), through the researching and writing of 10 books and numerous journal articles, they have refined their theories on internal conflict to identify the means by which the United States can best assist a threatened government in overcoming an insurgency. Uncomfortable Wars Revisited, the latest step in that evolution, encapsulates years of thinking on this timely subject.

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From a quantitative factor analysis of 43 post-World War II insurgencies involving a Western power, Fishel and Manwaring identify seven strategic dimensions that are part of successful counterinsurgency strategies. These critical factors, collectively known as the SWORD model, are unity of effort, host government legitimacy, degree of outside support for insurgents, support actions of the intervening power, military actions of the intervening power, the host government's military actions, and actions versus subversion. Successful counterinsurgencies feature positive action in all seven dimensions (for example, reducing outside support for the insurgents while simultaneously enhancing host-government legitimacy). Further qualitative research by the authors not only confirms the importance of these strategic factors but also identifies their relevance to other forms of low-intensity conflict, such as peacekeeping, combating terrorism, and counternarcotics operations--which Fishel and Manwaring refer to collectively as "uncomfortable wars."

Through the SWORD model, the authors provide an important reminder that, particularly in the current security environment, victory is not simply the product of winning a series of military engagements with the enemy. Victory is brought about by the unified application of diplomatic, informational, and economic instruments of national power, in conjunction with military force. By emphasizing the importance of the psychological, social, political, and economic aspects of warfare, Uncomfortable Wars Revisited provides a theory of conflict that includes what historian Michael Howard famously called "the forgotten dimensions of strategy." Without adequate attention to these dimensions, a "small war" is likely to end poorly, despite the operational or technological advantages of the state involved.

Although the authors argue that all seven strategic dimensions must be accounted for in a successful strategy, their relative importance depends on the type of conflict. For example, in a counterinsurgency campaign, the "support actions of the intervening power" is one of the best predictors of success or failure, while in a peacekeeping operation, "unity of effort" plays that role. Nevertheless, a government's legitimacy is the single factor with the greatest weight across all types of uncomfortable wars.

At the core of many threats facing the international community--whether transnational terrorist groups, narcotics traffickers, guerrilla bands, or Islamic extremists--is a violent challenge to an incumbent government's "moral right to govern." The failure of weak or incompetent governments to provide economic opportunity, political participation, or basic security for their population feeds discontent that such groups can exploit for their own nefarious purposes. …

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