Academic journal article Military Review

Seven Pillars of Small War Power

Academic journal article Military Review

Seven Pillars of Small War Power

Article excerpt

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"We have to diminish the idea that technology is going to change warfare ... War is primarily a human endeavor. "

--General James N. Mattis, U.S. Marine Corps, Commander, U.S. Joint Forces and NATO Supreme Allied Command

THE WORLD SEEMED to breathe a collective sigh of relief at the end of the long Cold War. That momentous event, however, did not mark the end of global armed conflict. While the number of armed conflicts worldwide has been declining since peaking in the early 1990s, (1) and a conventional war between two large states seems unlikely to occur in the foreseeable future, community conflicts and a "growing number of increasingly disorderly spaces" that may facilitate even more such conflicts now characterize the global security environment. (2)

Citizens of our globalized community may no longer need to lie anxiously awake in their beds at night, wondering if the world will be there in the morning, but the current climate of disorder may cause death by a thousand small cuts. These are "small wars," (3) insurgencies, (4) localized intrastate civil conflicts that emerge from disruptive political, economic, and social problems. Nearly 80 percent of the surges in armed violence over the past decade were recurring conflicts, which should remind us--if we needed further reminding--that attending to post-conflict transitions is an integral part of any intervention. (5)

These conflicts have most often involved failed or failing states, or anocracies--a purgatory-style regime that blends elements of democracy and autocracy, without the stabilizing benefits of either. (6) Nearly three out of every four post-Cold War international crises have involved failed or failing states, and according to the Failed States Index (sponsored jointly by Fund For Peace and Foreign Policy magazine) the number of countries on "alert" status has shown a modest but steady increase for the past four to five years. (7) Anocratic regime states are more than twice as likely to experience instability and violent conflict.

This violence involves competing militias, warring ethnic groups, warlords, illicit transnational networks, and informal paramilitary organizations not bound by conventional "laws of war." The illegitimate offspring of criminal combatants dominate gray zones and lawless "no-go areas," using their ill-gotten gains to fund conflict and buy operational and logistical support. This is the reality of the nightmarish nexus of crime and terror. (8)

These ugly struggles typically have complicated--if not chaotic--origins, and they tend to last for a long time. (9) They are notoriously difficult to end, and it is always difficult to determine who won. Their enduring character is due, in part, to the indiscriminate nature of their violence, which seeks to break the will of the adversary by destroying homes, institutions, and infrastructure, which breeds a "never forget" mentality in their enemies. (10)

Warring factions may have either little choice or little incentive to end the conflict. Some want it to continue because of "greed rather than grievance," since it provides them power, status, or money they would not have in its absence. (11) Some continue just because it is what they have always done. Child soldiers are increasingly lured into these struggles, creating a generation that knows only how to fight and has virtually no other skills, experience, or prospects. They fight because that's all they know how to do--driving what some have called "supply-side war." (12)

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Small wars are not a new development, and America is certainly no stranger to fighting them. However, fighting them effectively requires more than just experience. (13) The U.S. Armed Forces have put tremendous effort into learning lessons from past conflicts to help them adapt to new contingencies, but as the transition from Iraq to Afghanistan demonstrated, the next conflict is not like the last one. …

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