Small Wars Journal

Better understanding irregular warfare in competition

Sat, 01/02/2021 - 9:25am
An important article from a current DOD official, Kevin Bilms, with responsibility for the new Irregular Warfare annex to the National Defense Strategy.
The article can be accessed at the Military Times HERE.
My short thesis: Irregular Warfare is the military contribution to the national level political warfare strategy. This excerpt describes that:
Instead, the United States should consider a new approach, one that is informed by the IW Annex to the NDS. Applied with strategic focus, IW represents one way the military can apply its power complementarily with diplomatic, economic, financial and other elements of government power to secure strategic outcomes. Options exist using IW to counter maritime coercion through foreign internal defense; bolster partners and allies’ resilience against aggression through effective unconventional warfare; disrupt malign actors via robust counter-threat network capabilities; and shape the information space in politically sensitive environments through concerted military information support operations and civil affairs operations. These are far more affordable, and produce far less strain to the joint force, than relying on conventional solutions or delaying action until crisis.
These are my thoughts which I have shared before.

Key point:  We should stop the proliferation of terminology (which I think causes intellectual paralysis) and adopt Irregular Warfare as the military contribution to Political Warfare. Political warfare is how we should describe the competition space between peace and war and is the defining element in Great Power Competition.  While state on state warfare is the most dangerous threat or course of action of GCP and why we must absolutely invest in deterrence and defense, Political War is the most likely threat or course of action. 

And I would add with absolutely no apologies to Leon Trotsky: America may not be interested in irregular, unconventional, and political warfare but IW/UW/PW are being practiced around the world by those who are interested in them – namely the revisionist, rogue, and revolutionary powers and violent extremist organizations. 

•       The dominant threat or problem we face is one political warfare supported by hybrid military approaches – and these approaches are best described as irregular warfare in DODD 3000.7 - a “violent struggle among state and non-state actors for legitimacy and influence over the relevant populations.”  It states that IW consisted of UW, foreign internal defense (FID), CT, counterinsurgency, and stability operations (SO).

•       So we have to be able to conduct our own form of Irregular warfare which of course includes the 5 mission sets I just named but is best described by Congress in the 2017 NDAA: Irregular Warfare is conducted “in support of predetermined United States policy and military objectives conducted by, with, and through regular forces, irregular forces, groups, and individuals participating in competition between state and non-state actors short of traditional armed conflict.”

· What is an example of how SOF contributes to Political Warfare through IW ? - through "unconventional deterrence" (the work of Bob Jones)- helping to harden populations and militaries of friends, partners, and allies to resist the malign influence of revisionist, rogue, and revolutionary powers and violent extremist organizations.  This is exemplified by the Resistance Operating Concept pioneered by SOCEUR to counter Russian malign influence in Europe..  This model has application around the world especially if adapted for countries targeted by China's One Belt One Road initiative or in countries such as Taiwan. 

It is time for us to shift from the Clausewitzian “War is politics or policy by other means” and embrace our adversaries’ views: “Politics is war by other means” or as Mao said, “Politics is war without bloodshed, while war is politics with bloodshed.”

Better understanding irregular warfare in competition · by Kevin Bilms · January 1, 2021
Categories: irregular warfare



Tue, 01/26/2021 - 2:00pm

As always, a good read. However, so long as we lean on philosophies to guide us, particularly in the old Clausewitz/Trotsky/et al. models then we will perpetually be debating this as we have for the past, now close to a, century. It's time to use the real world and quantitative systems science to tangibly define, demonstrate and test the variables and their dynamics in IW/PW/UW: these will be constant regardless of what we call it. This has already been started by several groups including across the USG IA and moves us closer to anticipatory forecasting vice reflection.

Respectfully submitted.