The Center for a New American Security (CNAS) was honored to hold a paanel discussion with Lieutenant Colonel John Nagl, United States Army, and Sarah Sewall, Harvard University, on the new U.S. Army/Marine Corps Counterinsurgency (COIN) Field Manual. The panel took place on November 13 at the Willard InterContinental Hotel in Washington, DC.
Sarah Sewall who is currently director of the Carr Center for Human Rights Policy at Harvard University, worked for the Clinton Administration as Deputy Assistant Secretary for Peacekeeping and Humanitarian Assistance. Prior to that, she served as a senior policy advisor to Senate Majority Leader George Mitchell. Sarah did her undergraduate work at Harvard and her graduate work at Oxford as a Rhodes Scholar.
Lieutenant Colonel John Nagl, who is currently commander of the 1st Battalion, 34th Armor at Fort Riley, Kansas, manages the training of combat advisors who train the Iraqi military. He also has experience in both Operation Desert Storm and Operation Iraqi Freedom. LTC Nagl is a graduate of West Point, and a Rhodes Scholar. Prior to his contributions to the COIN manual, he wrote "Learning to Eat Soup with a Knife," which encapsulates America’s experiences with counterinsurgency based on his study of cases from Vietnam through more recent experiences in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Sarah Sewall eloquently addressed the audience first by framing the COIN manual in a larger strategic context. Ms. Sewall described the COIN manual as both “radical and essential” in thinking about the role of the United States military power in the 21st century and the struggle between the west and its enemies. She stated, on the other hand, that there is an uncertain future facing both the manual and the principles embodied in it because of political and institutional challenges. Some of these challenges include application of COIN manual elements, like reducing US Government/ US Military profile in foreign engagements, the importance of restraint and compromise and the need to moderate political rhetoric. Lastly, Ms. Sewall touched on challenges facing the US Army in the absence of political leadership and especially an overarching strategy.
LTC John Nagl addressed the audience next with his unique analysis of the COIN manual as an Army Lieutenant Colonel, a co-author of the manual, and a self proclaimed “project mascot.” LTC Nagl highlighted the Army’s rejection of unconventional warfare after the Vietnam War and the residual organizational weaknesses that they are now trying to overcome. He also discussed the evolution of the security environment and how the COIN manual will help address modern threats. LTC Nagl emphasized that not only the military, but civilian agencies, are needed to fill a crucial role in our modern security environment.