Small Wars Journal


Iraq, Afghanistan, and the Shift to the East: American Foreign Policy Looking Forward Peter J. Munson Mon, 03/18/2013 - 3:30am

Knowing the balance between when to exercise power and when to hold back is vital to maintaining America’s strength.

The Empirical Studies of Conflict Project

Wed, 01/16/2013 - 11:39pm
Editor's Note: The below was provided by the ESOC Directors.

We are pleased to announce the launch of the Empirical Studies of Conflict Project (ESOC) website, which can be accessed at

ESOC identifies, compiles, and analyzes micro-level conflict data and information on insurgency, civil war, and other sources of politically motivated violence worldwide. ESOC was established in 2008 by practitioners and scholars concerned by the significant barriers and upfront costs that challenge efforts to conduct careful sub-national research on conflict. The ESOC website is designed to help overcome these obstacles and to empower the quality of research needed to inform better policy and enhance security and good governance around the world.
The ESOC team includes about forty researchers (current and former) and is led by six members: Eli Berman, James D. Fearon, Joseph H. Felter, David Laitin, Jacob N. Shapiro, and Jeremy M. Weinstein.
The website is organized by countries and research themes. The six country pages are: Afghanistan, Colombia, Iraq, Pakistan, the Philippines, and Vietnam. The content is structured according to five themes: Demographic/Socioeconomic, Geography, Infrastructure, Public Opinion, and Violence. The website currently hosts about 45 ESOC data files, over 35 ESOC peer-reviewed publications (with replication data), and ten working papers. The ESOC team has also posted links to many external data repositories and external readings that have proven useful for analysis. The website will be regularly updated with new micro-level conflict data and contextual information, as it is compiled and submitted by ESOC researchers.
We are a new and evolving research network with limited staffing resources, so please accept our apologies if we’ve inadvertently overlooked key readings or acknowledgements. We welcome your suggestions on additional materials to host on the site.
Please contact us if you would like to contribute data relevant to ESOC. We are committed to archiving replication data and useful information on all the countries in which we work, and we anticipate expanding our coverage.   Also, please share this resource with your colleagues and others who may benefit from our website.
Analyses can only be as good as the data supporting it. We hope ESOC’s commitment to making more and better quality data widely available as a public good will help raise the bar in the quality of conflict research being conducted and the important policies it informs.

Westmoreland: The General Who Lost Vietnam

Tue, 05/22/2012 - 8:29am

Sorley, Lewis. Westmoreland:  The General Who Lost Vietnam. New York: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company, 2011. 395 pp., $30

Editor's Note:  This review originally appeared in the Marine Corps Gazette, 96, no. 4, p 84.  It is reprinted here with the permission of the Gazette.

Lewis Sorley’s eviscerating biography of General William Childs Westmoreland is long overdue, powerful for its restraint and careful annotation, a complete treatment of a man who caused tremendous damage to his Army and his country. Sorley guides us with steady hand down the fast-running river that was Westmoreland’s career, sweeping us along as we hear with mounting horror the roar of the falls ahead. When the ship of American state is sunk in Vietnam, Westmoreland is still sure he was right, rewarded by promotion upstairs, dedicated to his last unhappy breath in 2005 to justifying his deeply wrong strategy of bloody attrition in that war.

Sorley is a retired Army officer, a West Point graduate and veteran of both Vietnam and the Pentagon, and with four previous books on Vietnam and Army generals he can get right to the point. Within five pages we are into Westmoreland’s incandescent and uniquely American career: handsome, jut-jawed small-town Eagle Scout matriculates into one of history’s most successful West Point classes (six four-stars); rises swiftly to battalion command in combat at age 28 known to his men as “Superman”; Colonel at 30; regimental command at 31; four-star theater command at 52; Army Chief of Staff; no small threat for the presidency, which LBJ himself took seriously enough, Sorley asserts, to keep Westmoreland in Vietnam. Yet Westmoreland is “awed by his own magnificence,” stubborn, incurious or even “dumb,” prone to fall asleep in briefings and - far worse - to blame subordinates for his own lethal mistakes. His belief, hardened in World War II, was that throwing more men with larger weapons into a war would solve challenges from the tactical to the strategic. For Vietnam this was a very serious problem, the basis for all the others, in conducting a campaign described by one of his generals as “eighty percent ideas”.

Westmoreland, said his executive officer and future four-star general Volney Warner years later, quite simply “didn’t understand the war then, doesn’t understand it now.”  To the highly complex Vietnam insurgency question, Westmoreland’s confident, one-word answer – “firepower” – led to America’s ten years gone and more than 57,000 lives lost. Rather than try to understand the war in his four years commanding MACV, Westmoreland spent himself impressing Washington patrons who could get him the top slot in the corporation rather than listening to his generals warning of military disasters, or to his civilian advisors documenting the South Vietnamese government’s corruption and incompetence which Westmoreland insisted America bankroll. It is more heartbreaking and infuriating that he ignored soldiers and Marines in the field, who beginning with the 1965 disaster in the Ia Drang Valley were outmatched in the running jungle war to which they brought Westmoreland’s beat-the-Nazis tactics, weapons and training.

The Naval War College’s Dr. Don Chisholm has pointed out that as a leader matures into high-level positions his courage must move from the realm of the physical to that of the moral. General William Westmoreland in his years in Saigon and as Army Chief of Staff demonstrated neither type. “He had a way of creating a truth in his own behalf,” said a junior officer of General Westmoreland’s. Lewis Sorley at last sets the record straight. 

Embracing the Fog of War: Assessment and Metrics in Counterinsurgency

Thu, 04/19/2012 - 1:10pm

A new RAND monograph from Ben Connable suggests that all those metrics may not be as metric as they seem.  Please note you can download the eBook for free at the RAND page.

Campaign assessments help decisionmakers in the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD), Congress, and the executive branch shape what tend to be difficult and lengthy counterinsurgency (COIN) campaigns. Assessment informs critical decisions, including the allocation of resources and major shifts in strategy. The complex and chaotic environment of the typical COIN campaign presents vexing challenges to assessment, and efforts to overcome these challenges are mired in an overreliance on aggregated quantitative data that are often inaccurate and misleading. This comprehensive examination of COIN assessment as practiced through early 2011, as described in the literature and doctrine, and as applied in two primary case studies (Vietnam and Afghanistan), reveals weaknesses and gaps in this centralized, quantitative approach. The author proposes an alternative process — contextual assessment — that accounts for the realities of the COIN environment and the needs of both policymakers and commanders. Since this manuscript was completed in mid-2011, various elements of DoD have published new doctrine on assessment, some of which addresses criticisms raised in this report. The International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan has also revamped its assessment process.