Schwerpunkt and grand strategy

Fabius points out the power of retaining the moral high ground, “Feminists’ strategy brought many wins. They’ve abandoned it.” Technically, it should be “Feminists’ grand strategy …” but why quibble?  Here’s a take from Patterns of Conflict on what grand strategy is supposed to accomplish:

grand strategy chart.jpg

If you don’t care about influencing what Boyd called “the uncommitted,” including potential opponents and potential allies, as well as the less fanatical among your own team, or you’re not worried about what happens after the smoke settles, then you can dispense with grand strategy.

However, one never knows what the future will bring, so it’s always wise to keep your grand strategy in play as long as possible.  For example, during the South African Border War (1966 – 1989), the South African government gave its military a well-defined mission:

… to create the necessary conditions for the politicians to negotiate a political settlement from a position of power. The SADF (South African Defense Force) counter-insurgency approach therefore focused on denying SWAPO the opportunity for a military build-up in SWA/Namibia and Angola and its ability to operate effectively. This it succeeded in achieving. De Vries, Burger, and Steenkamp, Mobile Warfare for Africa, p. 198.

Notice the focus on military objectives. No nation building, occupation of enemy territory, or winning hearts and minds. This last was of critical importance, but the military was given the mission of making it possible for others to accomplish.

Interestingly, this did not lead to a purely defensive strategy, where South Africa could portray itself as a victim of Cold War aggression.  As de Vries, Burger, and Steenkamp note:

From 1978 until the war ended in 1989, the SADF took the fight to the enemy. They did not hesitate to execute pre-emptive strikes into southern Angola or launch high density counter-insurgency operations in enemy territory. Naturally, these operations received great international attention, which did not do foreign relations any good at all. p. 199, emphasis added

However this was a price South Africa was willing to pay because the effect on morale (friendly as well as enemy) and the sheer costs of the attrition caused by these raids led the Cubans to withdraw and persuaded the other parties to enter negotiations that ended the conflict. In any case, South Africa was pretty much a pariah nation by this time, anyway (Nelson Mandela was not released from prison until the following year).

Mobile Warfare for Africa

Before there was ISIS, before 9/11, and before Syria, Libya, Niger, etc., there was the Border War in Southern Africa (1966 – 1989).

Mobile Warfare For Africa

I’m very excited about this book. Unlike so many recent manuals on counterinsurgency warfare, this one was not written by the losers (to quote an observation by Martin van Creveld).  Drawing on their own experiences, tempered by the events of the intervening three decades, two of its participants have written a nearly 400 page examination of this conflict, which presaged many of our experiences in the Middle East. What we could have learned …

It is a weighty tome, though, so it will be a while before I can post a complete review.  In the meantime, from what I’ve seen skimming the volume and its accompanying atlas, and carefully reading the first three chapters, I can recommend it to readers of this blog. And there’s even an OODA loop.

 

Defeated by our own technology?

Paul Lewandowski suggests so in a recent blog on ForeignPolicy.com (registration required):

Insurgent techniques became simpler, low-tech. Military-grade munitions gave way to homemade explosives. Cell phone detonators regressed back to command wire. Suicide bombers and insurgents disguised as Afghan army or police proved more efficient than complex, electronic IEDs or expensive VBIEDs. After nearly 13 years of war, the terrorists have learned that the best counter to a techno-savvy force is simplicity.

While this is certainly true, another, perhaps better way to characterize what’s happening is that the Taliban, al-Shabab and others confronting Western military forces aren’t so much out-innovating us as out-learning us. In other words, they aren’t coming up with better and simpler technology to counter ours. Instead, they’ve just stopped playing that game entirely. What’s most interesting is that they’re getting away with it, that is, they’ve found another game to play that works better.

As Lewandowski notes, what they’ve done is return to the roots of insurgency:

deeply embedded in the local culture, regional in focus, and urban in operation. The new insurgent will be so low tech he will be virtually untraceable. Another face in a sea of faces.

Compare with Boyd’s description of guerrilla warfare:

  • Guerrillas must establish implicit connections or bonds with people and countryside.
  • In other words, guerrillas must be able to blend into the emotional-cultural-intellectual environment of people until they become one with the people.
  • In this sense, people feelings and thoughts must be guerrilla feeling and thoughts while guerrilla feelings and thoughts become people feelings and thoughts; people aspirations must be guerrilla aspirations while guerrilla aspirations become people aspirations; people goals must be guerrilla goals while guerrilla goals become people goals.
  • Result: Guerrillas become indistinguishable from people while government is isolated from people. (Patterns 95)

Or, as Lewandowski puts it:

The counterinsurgent could see them walking to their target, weapon in hand, and never register him as a threat … The counterinsurgent can’t tap into the local, informal network the way the insurgent can. No one talks to the uniformed government official, but everyone talks to their neighbor.

And that’s the real problem. Until “counterinsurgents” solve that one, all the technological innovation in the world is just expensive wheel spinning. Another example of incestuous amplification.