Academic journal article Military Review

Legitimacy and Military Operations

Academic journal article Military Review

Legitimacy and Military Operations

Article excerpt


America is at war ... We have kept on the offensive against terrorist networks, leaving our enemy weakened, but not yet defeated ... The struggle against this enemy ... has been difficult. And our work is far from over.

--President George W. Bush, 16 March 2006 (1)

ALTHOUGH OVER TWO YEARS have passed since the president wrote these remarks, his words still ring true. While the United States has remained on the offensive, the enemy is not yet defeated. In Iraq alone, the United States has lost over 4,000 servicemen and women, while another division's worth of personnel have been medically evacuated from that theater of operations. (2) The vast majority were killed, wounded, injured or became sick in the years after major combat operations ended in May 2003. In Afghanistan, coalition casualties are increasing, and Taliban fighters are as numerous as at any time in the past six years. (3) Globally, Al-Qaeda seems as effective as ever in spawning its terrorist ideology. The pace of operations against this threat is straining western nations, none more so than the United States, which continues to do almost all of the "heavy lifting." Despite a defense budget that amounts to over 48 percent of total world defense spending, the U.S. military could be ready to break at the seams under the strain. Even with supplemental congressional appropriations, the U.S. Department of Defense (DOD) will be hard-pressed to sustain current operations, let alone be ready for another regional challenge. (4) If, as so many have claimed, we are only in the early stages of a "long war," then we had all better learn some serious lessons, and fast, or in the president's words, our work will be far from over for years to come.

The pressures of the current security environment have resulted in a drive to define, dissect, understand, and meet these challenges. Although reviews of the war have been productive, they have not yet produced an epiphany. On the plus side, experienced officers like U.S. Army General David H. Petraeus and Marine Lieutenant General James Mattis have sparked a renewed interest in counterinsurgency (COIN) experts like David Galula, T.E. Lawrence, Robert Thompson, and Frank Kitson. (5) The search for solutions has also resulted in an in-depth review of key U.S. doctrinal tenets and a complete rewrite of U.S. Army and U.S. Marine Corps counterinsurgency doctrine.

Among the significant changes to U.S. doctrine has been the increased attention paid to "legitimacy," particularly during COIN operations. Legitimacy has become a defining principle for most COIN theorists, and the conflict itself, in Galula's words, a "battle for the population," where "the exercise of political power depends on the tacit or explicit agreement of the population." (6) U.S. counterinsurgency doctrine now states clearly, "Victory is achieved when the populace consents to the government's legitimacy and stops actively and passively supporting the insurgency." (7) In fact, the term "legitimacy" is so pervasive that it appears 131 times in the new COIN field manual, FM 3-24. Even more significantly, the keystone operations doctrine of the U.S. services, Joint Publication 3-0, Joint Operations, has been rewritten to include legitimacy (and the concepts of restraint and perseverance) as "Other Principles" to join the nine traditional "Principles of War" in a new list of 12 "Principles of Joint Operations." (8)

We should consider the potential impact of this change carefully because the principles of war have been the bedrock of military operations in one form or another since the era of Baron Antoine de Jomini.

Five Aspects of Legitimacy

No state can survive for very long exclusively through its power to coerce.... [A]cross time, the maintenance of social order is negotiated.

--Christopher Pierson (9)

While Joint Publication (JP) 3-0 introduces the concept of legitimacy, it does not define the term. …

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