Tag Archives: martin van creveld

On Counterinsurgency: The Two Methods that Win

Summary:  In this second chapter of “On Counterinsurgency” Martin van Creveld describes the two methods of crushing insurgencies.  We have tried neither; we might lack the capacity to use either method.  Note that both successes were, like almost all defeats of insurgencies, done by governments fighting domestic insurgencies.

As the first phase (Iraq, Af-Pak) of our mad foreign wars winds down — and the second phase expands — we can still learn from this analysis by one of the West’s greatest living military historians. We can still turn off this path.  The passage of time closes options; we might soon pass the last exit to avoid serious war.

Counterinsurgency in Hama, Syria

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“On Counterinsurgency”
by Martin van Creveld

From Combating Terrorism,
edited by Rohan Gunaratna (2005).

Posted with the authors’ generous permission.

 

Introduction

For background see The first lesson of our failed wars: we were warned, but choose not to listen.

This paper falls into four parts, each posted separately.

  1. How We Got to Where We Are is a brief history of insurgency since 1941 and of the repeated failures in dealing with it.
  2. Two Methods focuses on President Assad’s suppression of the uprising at Hama in 1983 on the one hand and on British operations in Northern Ireland on the other, presenting them as extreme case studies in dealing with counterinsurgency.
  3. On Power and Compromises draws the lessons from the methods just presented and goes on to explain how, by vacillating between them, most counterinsurgents have guaranteed their own failure.
  4. Conclusions.

Part two: The two Methods to defeat insurgencies

(a)  Syria

In early 1982, President Hafez Asad’s (In Arabic, Asad means “Lion“) regime in Syria was twelve years old and was meeting growing opposition that did not make its future appear rosy. Part of the opposition came from the members of various ethnic groups who took issue with the fact that Asad, like his most important collaborators, was an Alawite. Now the Alawites are one of the less important Islamic sects, traditionally poor and discriminated against. Many in the Islamic world do not even regard them as true Moslems and claim that, instead of Allah, they worship the moon and the stars; it as if Germany had been ruled by a Serbic Mafia or Italy by a Greek one.

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Do we have a broken OODA loop? Or are we just stupid?

Summery:    Three dozen posts on the FM website have described different aspects of America’s broken OODA loop. An op-ed by Frederick and Kimberly Kagan in today’s Washington Posts points to a different and darker diagnosis. It’s presented here so that we see all alternative explanations, however bleak.

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The diagnosis of America as having a broken OODA Loop (our ability to observer, orient, decide, act) has several operational advantages. It’s emotionally neutral, reassuringly technical in nature.  It points at no specific individual, assigns no blame. Best of all, this leads to a clear solution. We need only act differently: see more clearly, learn from our mistakes, plan and act better.

Today’s Washington Post has an op-ed that disproves this analysis, and suggests a darker answer.  A simpler explanation of why we cannot accurately see our world and learn from our mistakes.  Perhaps we’re stupid.

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Why U.S. troops must stay in Afghanistan
Kimberly Kagan (president of the Institute for the Study of War) and
Frederick Kagan (American Enterprise Institute)

Since appearing on the national stage in 2007, this pair have a near-perfect record of producing fallacious analysis and bad advice.  Cheerleaders for our mad vain wars, advocates for the two costly but unsuccessful “surges” (Iraq, Afghanistan), they are war mongers in the most literal sense (see What is a warmonger? Who are the warmongers?).  (For a brief analysis of their current bad advice see this post)

Despite this record they remain geopolitical gurus in good standing, their advice prominently displayed by the news media and eagerly read by both decision-makers and the public.  They are our failure to learn in tangible form.

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On Counterinsurgency: How We Got to Where We Are

Summary:  The greatness of a nation depends as much on its ability to learn as much as its power. Failure to learn can prove fatal. As with German’s refusal to learn from its defeat in WWI, substituting resentment for wisdom. As with America’s refusal to learn from its defeat in Vietnam, and belief that the doctrines of counterinsurgency could win if tried again. This required ignoring clear analysis showing the folly of this, explaining the inherent flaws of foreign armies fighting entrenched local insurgencies.

As the first phase (Iraq, Af-Pak) winds down of our 21st century mad foreign wars — and the second phase expands — we can still learn and turn from this path. So today we look at one such analysis, by Martin van Creveld — one of the West’s greatest living military historians.

The most astonishing aspect of this paper is that after 60 years of failed counterinsurgencies by foreign armies, ten years into our second wave of failed counterinsurgency, it lists simple facts that remain unknown to so many Americans — including a large fraction of our geopolitical gurus.

This is a follow-up to The first lesson of our failed wars: we were warned, but choose not to listen.

CI used to work, both a home & abroad

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“On Counterinsurgency” by Martin van Creveld

From Combating Terrorism, edited by Rohan Gunaratna (2005). Posted with the authors’ generous permission. This paper falls into four parts, posted separately.

  1. How We Got to Where We Are is a brief history of insurgency since 1941 and of the repeated failures in dealing with it.
  2. Two Methods focuses on President Assad’s suppression of the uprising at Hama in 1983 on the one hand and on British operations in Northern Ireland on the other, presenting them as extreme case studies in dealing with counterinsurgency.
  3. On Power and Compromises draws the lessons from the methods just presented and goes on to explain how, by vacillating between them, most counterinsurgents have guaranteed their own failure.
  4. Conclusions.

This is three thousand words; the print button appears at the end of the post.  It is posted here with the author’s generous permission. Red emphasis added.

The photo at the right is Hanging Insurgents at Cavite, from the Philippines War circa 1900.

How We Got to Where We Are

At a time when much of the world is either engaging in counter-insurgency, preparing to do so, or writing about it, something is rotten in the kingdom of Denmark. Just when the rot began is not entirely clear, but a good starting point is provided by the 6th of April 1941. On that day the German Wehrmacht, assisted by Italian, Hungarian and Bulgarian formations, launched its offensive against Yugoslavia.

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The first lesson of our failed wars: we were warned, but choose not to listen

Summary: Although many of our geopolitical experts continue to lie, our defeats in Iraq and Afghanistan slowly become visible to America. This is the failure of the COIN (as in FM 3-24), Petraeus’ baby. The wars were a tragedy, but relying on COIN was folly. Both were avoidable if we had learned from history. And from historians, like Martin van Creveld. This week’s series of posts recalls what we should have known. It’s not too late to learn, and to stop the mad small wars we’re waging around the world.

Eleazar vs an armored vehicle

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The first suicide bomber in the first failed counterinsurgency, from the First Book of the Maccabees, 1.6.43

“Now Eleazar saw that one of the {elephants} was equipped with royal armor. It was taller than all the others, and he supposed that the king was on it. So he gave his life to save his people and to win for himself an everlasting name. He courageously ran into the midst of the phalanx to reach it … He got under the elephant, stabbed it from beneath, and killed it; but it fell to the ground upon him and he died.”

Today we have a guest post: “On Counterinsurgency: How to triumph in the age of asymmetric warfare“. It’s an excerpt from a speech by Martin van Creveld given at the Henry Jackson Society on 26 February 2008. Posted with the authors’ generous permission.

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Defining Counterinsurgency

Counterinsurgency and insurgency is the future of war, as nuclear weapons are slowly but surely making large-scale conventional warfare between powerful countries obsolete. These days any country that can wage large-scale conventional warfare is able to build nuclear weapons, and no first world modern state wants to risk the total devastation of nuclear war. For more than half a century wars have been waged either between or against countries which do not have and/or cannot build nuclear weapons. Once the nuclear weapons appear the game comes to an end. In fact, that is the best argument in favor of nuclear proliferation: nuclear states tend not to engage in combat with each other!

Unfortunately, the decline of large-scale conventional combat did not signal the end of war but rather a shift to other forms of conflict commonly referred to as low-intensity conflict, sub-conventional conflict, guerilla warfare, terrorism, or insurgencies. And over the last 62 years, the most powerful, important, modern, and sophisticated military armed forces on earth have had an abysmal record in coping with insurgency. Failure, upon failure, upon failure in more than a hundred cases typifies the entire record of counterinsurgency. {For details see the links at the end}

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Martin van Creveld explains the essence of Airpower Yesterday, Today, and Tomorrow

Summary:  As we increasingly rely on projecting power from the air, it’s become more important to understand the history and future of airpower.  As with any aspect of the military arts, we first turn to Martin van Creveld, who has written 22 books about almost every significant aspect of war — technology, logistics, air power and maneuver warfare, the training of officers, the role of women in combat, military history (several books), nuclear proliferation, and strategy (several books).  Today we republish a review from the Marine Corps Gazette of his latest book.

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Contents

  1. Review of The Age of Air Power by Martin van Creveld
  2. About the reviewer
  3. Other posts about the work of Martin van Creveld
  4. Other posts about airpower

(1)  The review

The Age Of Air Power by Martin van Creveld (2011), reviewed by Scott J. Kinner (Major, USMC, Retired), originally published in the Marine Corps Gazette of November 2011.  Republished here with their generous permission.

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When Martin van Creveld speaks, people listen. His thoughtful works on military theory and history continually seek to challenge conventional wisdom. His insights and arguments are profound and substantial enough that even if one does not agree, they cannot be dismissed; they must be countered.

Van Creveld’s latest book, The Age of Airpower, is another such work. Arguably the most in-depth treatment of the subject available, Van Creveld not only addresses airpower in terms of both land- and seabased aviation, but also includes the space domain with its proliferation of ballistic missiles and satellites. Is so doing, he covers the role of airpower in conflicts from pre-World War I to Afghanistan.

Van Creveld seeks to demonstrate that airpower reached its high point in World War II and, relative to the promises of its proponents, is in a period of decline and increasing ineffectiveness. He argues that due to nuclear deterrence, conventional warfare amongst superpower competitors is extremely unlikely. But he points out that it is the anticipation of this type of conflict that drives airpower strategy and procurement in developed nations, resulting in dwindling airpower assets that are too expensive to maintain, that are too expensive to risk or lose in combat, and that are wholly ineffective against the types of actual conflicts encountered by today’s militaries.

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Status report on the war with Iran (we’re ignorantly drifting into yet another illegal war)

Summary: We’re marching towards a war. Like our other wars this past decade, an ill-considered conflict based mostly on lies. Wars being among the most uncertain things in life, this might be larger, more expensive, and more painful than our other wars  since 9-11. Take a deep breath while reading this post and consider what we’re doing. Only our passivity and implicit support for the hawks driving US foreign policy makes these wars possible. As such we’ll fully deserve the consequences, for good or for ill.  This is the tenth post in this series. Links at the end go to the previous chapters and to other reliable sources of information and analysis about this war.

A lie will fly around the world while the truth is getting its boots on.
— Attributed to Mark Twain

During times of universal deceit, telling the truth becomes a revolutionary act.
— Attributed to George Orwell

Contents

  1. The latest attack on Iran, in violation of the laws American laid down after WWII
  2. Again, as we did with Iraq, we’ve unknowingly taken the critical step towards war
  3. Can we take out Iran’s nuke facilities?  The Chairman of the Joint Chiefs answers.
  4. What are the likely results of our conflict?
  5. The winners so far:  Turkey and Iran
  6. Other posts in this series
  7. For more information: articles discussing the current conflict between Iran and US-Israel
  8. Other posts about attacking Iran

(1)  The latest attack on Iran, in violation of the laws American laid down

These assassinations and sabotage are acts of war.  Illegal, as the UN Security Council has not authorized actions against Iran.  Nor has the International Atomic Energy Agency made definitive charges against Iran (just carefully worded and poorly documented “concerns”).  We’re pissing on the work of several generations of Americans and our allies in and after WWII.  They boldly took the first small steps away from a world of mindless violence — towards one of collective security governed by standards and laws.  And now we’re turning back.

So far Iran has shown commendable restraint.  If they hit back, they will the ones acting in accord with the UN Charter.  We will be the criminals.  Many Americans will rejoice at that, an indicator of our descent from what we were — into a pit, with no bottom yet visible.  Now let’s look at the latest attack on Iran.

From the FARS News Agency

(a)  Terrorists Kill Commerce Deputy of Iran’s Nuclear Enrichment Site“, FARS News Agency, 11 January 2012:

An Iranian university professor and deputy director at Natanz enrichment facility was killed in a terrorist bomb blast in a Northern Tehran neighborhood on Wednesday morning. The magnetic bomb which was planted by an unknown motorcyclist under the car of Mostafa Ahmadi Roshan Behdast, a professor at Tehran’s technical university, also wounded two other Iranian nationals in Seyed Khandan neighborhood in Northern Tehran.

Ahmadi Roshan, 32, was a graduate of oil industry university and a deputy director of Natanz uranium enrichment facility for commercial affairs.

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What happens if Iran gets nukes? Not what we’ve been told.

Summary:  We’re driven to war like sheep herded by dogs, both sheep and us manipulated by fear.  Today we’re driven to war by fear of what a nuke-armed Iran will do, as described by our ever-hawkish geopolitical experts.  How reliable are their forecasts?  Ninth in a series; at the end are links to the other chapters.

Contents

  1. Could Iran use nukes to increase its geopolitical influence?
  2. Iran could use nukes for defense
  3. The World Can Live With a Nuclear Iran
  4. Is Iran weak or strong?
  5. Is Iran irrational and anti-American?
  6. Other posts in this series
  7. For more information: articles discussing our attempts to stop Iran’s progress towards nukes
  8. Other posts about Iran’s nuke program

(1)  Could Iran use nukes to increase its geopolitical influence?

Paul Pillar examines the ways Iran could use nukes:  “Iran’s Nuclear Oats“, Paul R. Pillar (former National Intelligence Officer), The National Interest, 29 September 2011 — Excerpt:

The alarmism about the prospect of Iran developing a nuclear weapon is unmatched by any comparably intense attention to exactly why such a possibility is supposedly so dire. Among the voluminous opinion pieces, panel discussions, campaign rhetoric, and miscellaneous outcries on facets of this subject, one could search in vain for any detailed analysis of just what difference the advent of an Iranian nuke would make. Most of the discourse on the topic simply seems to take as a given, not needing any analysis, that an Iranian nuclear weapon would be so bad that to prevent it warrants considering even extreme measures

Recently Ash Jain of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy produced what appears to fill this gap. His monograph, titled “Nuclear Weapons and Iran’s Global Ambitions: Troubling Scenarios,” is, at least on the face of it, a serious effort to analyze the regional and global consequences of Iranian nuclear weapons. It is the most extensive consideration of this question I have seen from anyone who clearly believes that an Iranian nuke would be very bad. As such, Jain deserves credit for taking this stab at the subject. As a serious, extensive effort, his paper can be taken as demonstrating the limits of any case about the dangers of Iranian nuclear weapons.

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