Institutionalizing irregular warfare


Irregular warfare is an enduring, economical contribution to America’s national security, and will remain an essential core competency of the U.S. Department of Defense.


Is what I said to myself when I saw this quote leading a post on War on the Rocks, from an annex to the new American National Defense Strategy document on the abiding need for planning and expertise on irregular warfare.

People have heard me bang on quite long enough that the American Army (the British Army too, for that matter, and the US Marine Corps even more so) has spent more of its history in fighting irregular campaigns and incidents than in “near-peer combat”, “force on force” or whatever you want to call it. 

So it’s nice to see this home truth reflected, and advocated, and some conscious before-the-next-time thought put into it in “phase zero, that amorphous planning space where everything short of war happens.”

The blog post talks about five shifts in operational design to acknowledge irregular warfare:

  • Shift from “Military End State” to “Position of Continuing Advantage” (because wars no longer just end, and you won’t be home by Christmas)
  • Beyond “Center of Gravity” to “Strategic Levers” (because war is a human-centred activity, not a physics problem)
  • Elevate “Simultaneity” to “Concurrent Effects” (because no mission ever has a single objective, nor a single consequence)
  • Adding “Narrative,” or Shaping Information to Attain Influence (because one day the US is going to get better at this, by dint of repetition if nothing else)
  • Enabling with “Empowerment,” or the Right Tools to Wield Influence (because you should be more creative in where you sprinkle your money, and who you authorize to sprinkle it)

The post is quite clever, and you should go and read it.

Bon Weekend a tous!

Further to my last, the Modern War Institute at USMA West Point has announced the Irregular Warfare Initiative, an ongoing set of activities (podcasts, a conference, fellowships) to preserve knowledge of irregular warfare and exchange ideas. It won’t be like the stampede away from knowledge like after Vietnam (see John Nagl’s “Learning to Eat Soup With A Knife”). This time it’s different. They promise.