John D. Waghelstein
In the post-Vietnam era, counterinsurgency has virtually become a non-subject in the U.S. military educational system. The term counterinsurgency has been replaced by the less controversial low-intensity conflict (LIC). A recently proposed definition of low-intensity conflict for the revised Army field manual on that subject reads:
…the limited use of power for political purposes by nations or organizations…to coerce control or defend a population, to control or defend a territory or establish or defend rights. It includes military operations by or against irregular forces, peacekeeping operations, terrorism, counter-terrorism, rescue operations and military assistance under conditions of armed conflict. This form of conflict does not include protracted engagements of opposing regular forces.
The problem with this definition is that low-intensity conflict is a description of the level of violence from a military viewpoint. This kind of conflict is more accurately described as revolutionary and counterrevolutionary warfare. It is total war at the grass-roots level—one that uses all of the weapons of total war, including political, economic and psychological warfare with the military aspect being a distant fourth in many cases. The subordination of the military in counterinsurgency has always created problems for the U.S. military establishment. This kind of conflict is fundamentally different from the American way of war.
Low-intensity conflict and counterinsurgency involve two distinct uses of the U.S. military. The first, as demonstrated in the Grenada operation, is the surgical application of force—a role for which U.S. units are trained and equipped. The second use involves assisting an ally in politico-military operations to combat armed insurgents, a role for which the U.S. military is unprepared. The state of preparedness for this second role is at its lowest point in 20 years.
Low-intensity conflict instruction at the U.S. Army command and General