Mark Collins – The Western Way of War Doesn’t Work in the GWOT

A very perceptive post I think at

Quote from: Thucydides on Today at 09:07:46

The issue here is 4GW [fourth-generation] warfare. So long as the enemy does not lose, they are winning, and so long as *we* are not building and supporting alternative structures and institutions to undermine the sort of structures and institutions *they* use to build and nurture support for their cause, then they have a distinct advantage. Playing “whack a mole” is a good short term solution, and expedient, but unless the hard work of nation building (or some acceptable substitute) is being done, then you simply need to go back and do it again.

Case in point is the US experience in the “Banana Wars” The US marines with a force of @ 3000 took the entire island of Hispaniola (Haiti and the Dominican Republic) as part of their larger strategy to control the approaches to the Panama Canal. The Marines were there on and off until 1934, and during that time they built roads, hospitals, ran the post office and instituted a tax collection system to keep things funded. However, since they apparently believed that the local would adopt American practice by osmosis, they did little to train locals and indoctrinate them. The results were predictable; one the Americans left, everything that wasn’t nailed down was stolen and everything else was left to deteriorate. Max Boot’s book “The Savage Wars of Peace” outlines much of this story.

You are correct that *we* in general have a very poor record of nation building and lack both the experience and patience to do so. Until we are willing to either go “all in”, accept and tell the public this is a short term expedient or apply the Roman solution (“They create a wilderness and call it peace”) then we may end up with a legacy of Afghanistans, where the job never seems to be finished and few people are satisfied with the results.

That I believe that 4GW is just a new, western interpretation of styles of warfare that have existed throughout history notwithstanding, the difficulty in applying our, western, style of warfare is problematic for many reasons. First, western nations view warfare as being a set of events that take place within a set period of time with clearly delineated periods of war and peace. Culturally, our opponents in the GWOT don’t see such distinctions, so are more inclined to take a long term approach to warfare and view it as a semi-permanent state of struggle rather than specific periods. As western nations view war as a distinct period it has led to a cultural desire to restore peace as quickly as possible leading to problem 2, being our style of warfare.

Western warfare, as indicated in US and western doctrine and the writings of Clausewitz and Jomini, emphasizes the destruction of the enemy military as the pre-eminent intent of a military. In Clausewtiz’s trinity, the destruction of the enemy military is critical as it allows the political element to establish the terms of peace. Where this is problematic is that our enemy views warfare more from a political than fighting standpoint, so the main point of western warfare, the decisive battle, is incongruent with them.

The problem with the GWOT is that we don’t have clear political aims for the war. “destroying terrorists” is simplistic and does not speak to the nature of the war in which we are fighting, a key issue in the Clausewitzian trinity. Further, as we are culturally indoctrinated to our style of war with it’s focus on the enemy and war being a specific period of time, we design militaries to engage in decisive battles to restore the political elements to create peace. In this way, we create a military that is akin to a “hammer”. As such, when we evaluate military manners we lean towards the problem of, “when your only tool is a hammer, all problems look like nails”. This leads us to try to solve all problems military by hoping we can engage and destroy the enemy, which isn’t feasible in our current conflict. Finally, as society views war and peace as separate entities, and war as a condition to be avoided or dealt with quickly, we tend to shy away from prolonged conflicts.

These are the key factors to why A-Stan wasn’t a “success” in the traditional sense. Over the long haul it could be but not now.

I wrote this earlier:

What to Do About the Bloody Middle East?

Poor bloody locals. If the West is truly willing to sort things out right now, are we then willing to rule–one way or another–for some decades or so to try to ensure things work out wellish? Triple double HAH! Given no willingness for, or today in the West intellectual acceptance of, such a prospect, then let us just face things honestly…

Mark Collins, a prolific Ottawa blogger, is a Fellow at the Canadian Global Affairs Institute; he tweets @Mark3Ds


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