The Leavenworth Way of War

History Discussion at CGSC

Afghanistan….. Vietnam?

The American situation has dramatically changed in Iraq.  Daily the end state seems to gain more clarity and the Administration has just announced that troop strength by the end of 2010 will be approximately 50K.  Given that, attention is shifting to Afghanistan.  Afghanistan is dramatically different than Iraq.  A quick look at geography, history, and demographics, not to mention the nature of the adversary and the geopolitical setting all describe a completely different operating environment.  Also, with the change of political parties in the U.S. and with the U.S. facing significant economic challenges, the domestic U.S. scene is completely different.  Some analysts believe that these circumstances make Afghanistan a more significant challenge than Iraq ever was.  Commentators Ralph Peters and French MacLean have described their views on the strategic situation.  Is Afghanistan more like Vietnam than Iraq?

February 21, 2010 Posted by | H300 | , , , , , , , , , , , | 11 Comments

Ends, Ways and Means in Vietnam

Through the Tet offensive in 1968, some have argued that the United States did not have a firm strategy in Vietnam.  For a strategy to be coherent it must logically connect ends, ways, and means.  If you assume that the U.S. end was a stable South Vietnamese government, and that the U.S. had the means to achieve that end, how do you evaluate the ways the U.S. pursued the strategy?  Some things to think about:  What were the U.S. ways?  Were they logically connected to the end?  What was missing from the U.S. strategy?

February 21, 2010 Posted by | H300 | , , , , , , | 10 Comments

Nuclear Strategy and Today’s Operating Environment

At one time nuclear strategy was one of the central pillars of U.S. national defense strategy and foreign policy.  Its related technologies were probably the most expensive items in the U.S. defense budget.  Deterence was the central concept in the U.S. national strategy to meet the threat of nuclear attack.  It was most graphically illustrated by the idea of mutually assured destruction (MAD).  However, since the end of the Cold War the idea of nuclear war has been pushed to the margins of the national defense strategy debate.  Since 9/11, strategy discussions have continued to largely ignore the issue of nuclear weapons.

There are two nuclear scenarios which have received some attention, both related to the issue of proliferation:  one is nuclear armed “rogue” states –most specifically a nuclear armed Korea and the potential for a nuclear armed Iran; and the other threat is small scale “suitcase” nuclear terror attack.  These threats are catagorized by the national defense strategy (NDS) as  “catastrophic challenges.” 

The 2005 NMS identifies the threat of WMD but it does not clearly articulate the role of the U.S. nuclear arsenal relative to the WMD and other threats.  The 2006 national military strategy to combat WMD says that offensive operations ”  Kinetic (both conventional and nuclear) and/or non-kinetic operations [will] defeat, neutralize or deter a WMD threat or subsequent use of WMD.”  The NMS for WMD implies that deterence is still a central part of strategy to combat the threat of nuclear attack.

Some questions to consider regarding the role of nuclear weapons in current strategy:

Is deterence a viable strategy agains the nuclear threats in today’s operating environment?  Is deterence against WMD integrated suffeciently with the overall national strategy?  Is current U.S. strategy asymetric or symetric?

February 8, 2010 Posted by | H300 | , , , , | 17 Comments

“Its the Economy Stupid!”

Maoist revolutionalry war theory puts the priority of effort on the political line of operations.  Our experience with our own domestic politics indicates that the key to successful politics is the economy.  Therefore… maybe:

COIN = Politics

Politics = Economy

.·. (therefore)

Economy = COIN

What do you think??

February 6, 2010 Posted by | H300 | , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

The Use of Force in Urban COIN –Conclusions from British Army operations in Northern Ireland

A major lesson to be learned for the British experience in Northern Ireland is regarding the use of force.  During the second phase of British operations in NI the British military strategy was a symmetric approach.  The PIRA used force (bombings, assassinations, sniper attacks etc.) and the UK forces responded with increased overt security operations (raids, check points, patrols, arrests and detention etc.).  British operations were focused on metrics which measured the military capabilities of the PIRA.  Though not unimportant, this was not the center of gravity of the of the PIRA.  The center of gravity of the PIRA was the support of the Catholic population of NI.  

PIRA attacks against British targets rarely garnered popular support from the Catholic population (A).  However, overt British security operations against the PIRA elicited great popular sympathy for the PIRA in the Catholic population (B).  Over time, this gradually built up significant sustained support for the insurgency and provided a friendly population that reliably provided recruits and resources.  This cycle could only be broken by systematically not responding to attacks with overt security operations.  Instead, the response had to be covert –precisely targeted with little or no public signature.  In addition, a very thorough information response had to be orchestrated.  This response emphasized the illegality and immorality of the attack and labeled the insurgents as terrorists (C).  This type of response decreases public support for the insurgency.  Over time this strategy gradually weaned the population from supporting the insurgents.  It also had the effect of greatly increasing the HUMINT provided by the population to the security forces (D).

The British security forces began to recognize this dynamic in the late 1980s.  By the early 1990s a change in British strategy began to have effects on the situation in NI.  By the middle 1990s Sinn Fein, the political arm of the PIRA, began to push for a change in strategy.  The PIRA recognized that armed struggle was causing them to lose the support of the population and therefore it was imperative that they change their strategy to one of negotiation while they still retained significant popular support.  Hence the negotiated cease-fire between the opposing factions in NI and the Belfast Agreement of 1998.

Another aspect of COIN operations illustrated by the history of the NI “troubles” is the definition of victory.  Given that the current situation appears to be proceding to a democrat solution, who won?  Did the PIRA and Sinn Fein achieve their objective of creating a means of uniting Ireland (through democracy), or did the British government win because violence has ended and democratic process are dominant?






February 6, 2010 Posted by | H300, Urban Warfare | , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Mao and the Iraqi / Afghani Insurgency

There are a wide variety of insurgent groups who have operated against U.S. forces in Iraq and Afghanistan since 2003.  Very few, if any, have followed a Maoist strategy.  Some analysists believe that this fact proves that Mao’s Revolutionary War theory is not relevant to the type of adversaries faced by the U.S. in the GWOT.  Are these analysists correct?

February 6, 2010 Posted by | Current Events, H300 | , , , , , , , , , , | 13 Comments

H301 Poll — Red Lobseters versus Mass. National Guard

Feel free to comment on your answer!

February 2, 2010 Posted by | H300 | , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Regular army or militia


If you look at the American Revolution as a People’s Revolutionary War, the revolutionaries had two military tools –the militia and the continental army.  Both served important political purposes.  The continental army forced the British to keep most of their forces consolidated thus limiting their mobility and ability to control ground.  They also represented a conventional military capability that won international allies. The militia controlled all the ground where the British regulars were not physically present and thus ensured revolutionary political domination of the colonies.

Which of the two roles was more important?  Could one have been successful without the other?  Was it impossible for the British to be successful politically, given the problems and limitations of 18th Century military power?

February 2, 2010 Posted by | H300 | , , , , , , , , , , , | 24 Comments