Academic journal article Military Review

We the People Are Not the Center of Gravity in an Insurgency

Academic journal article Military Review

We the People Are Not the Center of Gravity in an Insurgency

Article excerpt

EVEN THOUGH THE CONSENSUS among writers, thinkers, and school curriculums about an insurgency's center of gravity (COG) seems to be that it is the people, this is not the case. An insurgency's true strategic center of gravity is its cause.

Military thinkers and planners often identify the people as the COG in an insurgency because the people represent a tangible target against which the elements of national power, particularly military power, can be applied and their effectiveness measured. While this seems acceptable on the surface, it reflects a lack of understanding of the COG concept, a limited perception of the COG analysis process, and a targeting methodology that is stuck in the cold-war era and does not recognize the importance and effectiveness of intangible variables. Because the military's current fight against terrorists and insurgents does not follow the templates of the past, it requires innovative, adaptive thinking.

This essay will challenge the notion that the people are the center of gravity in an insurgency. It will argue that an insurgency's cause is its strategic COG, will identify the insurgency's administrative organization as the operational COG that links the insurgency at the strategic and tactical levels of war, and will show the interdependent relationship of all three (cause, organization, and people).

Defining Centers of Gravity

Joint Publication (JP) 1-02 defines center of gravity as "those characteristics, capabilities, or sources of power from which a military force derives its freedom of action, physical strength, or will to fight." (1) The final draft of JP 3-0 refines the definition to "the source of power that provides moral or physical strength, freedom of action, or will to act." (2) JP 3-0's changes are significant for three reasons: moral and physical strength are recognized equally; the word capabilities is removed, suggesting that a COG does not necessarily need to provide a capability on its own; and will to fight is replaced by will to act, further acknowledging the significance of the non-physical environment. This draft definition is attempting to keep pace with reality and will help military planners better conceptualize COGs.

The debate over defining center of gravity surfaces when planners try to identify enemy COGs. The current joint definition notwithstanding, each service has its own operational art and takes its own approach to defining and applying the COG concept. (3) The Army sees COGs as sources of strength to mass its capabilities against and destroy. The Air Force sees them as targets for air power. The Navy and Marine Corps believe that they are weaknesses to attack and exploit. (4)

Carl von Clausewitz defined center of gravity as the "hub of all power and movement," but some military thinkers debate whether his theories are relevant to today's battlefield. (5) Recent writers on the topic define COG in ways that reflect the changing environment in which our military operates. Colonel Antulio Echevarria, for example, takes a focal point approach, arguing that COGs hold a combatant's entire system or structure together and draw power from a variety of sources. (6) This means that a COG is centripetal in nature and unifies an effort or draws resources toward it. Echevarria also suggests that once those resources are pulled in, a COG is able to direct their employment. This differs from the joint definition, which focuses on what a COG can project or is capable of, not on its ability to draw and direct additional sources.

Taking an approach aligned, not surprisingly, with the U.S. Air Force's targeting procedure, Air Force Colonel John Warden applies systems theory to define COG. (7) Warden suggests that a leader is always at the core of a COG. This leader is the first ring of a five-ring system, of which the remaining four rings (from the center out) are organic essentials (basic needs like food, water, and shelter), infrastructure, population, and fielded military. …

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