March 07, 2013

Light-Footprint Approach to Military Intervention Needs New Strategic Framework, Says CNAS Visiting Fellow

With "light footprint"
military interventions fast becoming a central part of American strategy, Major
Fernando Lujan, USA, a Special Forces officer and visiting fellow at the Center
for a New American Security (CNAS), examines the utility of this approach and
recommends adoption of a new strategic framework to guide it in Light Footprints: The Future of American Military Intervention.

this study, released today by CNAS, the author argues that to effectively deal
with emerging threats in places like Mali, Yemen, Uganda or Libya, civilian and
military leaders at all levels should understand not only the strategic uses
and limitations of light footprints, but also the ways that the current defense
bureaucracy can undermine their success.

Light Footprints: The Future of American Military Intervention

Lujan writes that the light-footprint approach -- small, long-term, civilian-led
missions that leverage a combination of air power, special operators,
intelligence agents, indigenous armed groups and contractors -- are, like any
policy option, well-suited for certain challenges and disastrous for others. He
notes that although the public is fixated on drones and Special Forces raids,
these represent only the most visible and extreme part of a deeper, longer-term
strategy that takes many years to develop, cannot be grown after a crisis, and
relies heavily on human intelligence networks, local security forces, and
collaboration with civilian diplomats and development workers.  Drawing on
examples from his own career in both the 7th Special Forces Group and the AFPAK
Hands program, Major Lujan illustrates how complex light-footprint missions are
actually implemented.

Lujan maintains that the success or failure of these smaller missions depends
heavily on human capital -- the right people, with the right training, in the
right assignments --and worries that current bureaucratic hurdles and
institutional inertia will make it difficult for the military to operate
effectively under this model. He concludes by questioning whether the
counterinsurgency wars of Iraq and Afghanistan are driving the military
bureaucracy to return to the status quo of preparing for large conventional
wars, rather than retooling for smaller ones. Major Lujan writes: "Unless
speeches and policy documents are backed up by culture, processes, doctrine and
strategic clarity, the light footprint will likely remain a niche capability
confined to a few fringe military units, not an effective instrument of
national policy."


The Center for a New American Security
(CNAS) is an independent and nonpartisan research
institution that develops strong, pragmatic and principled national security
and defense policies. CNAS leads efforts to help inform and prepare the
national security leaders of today and tomorrow.


Kay King

Director of
External Relations

and Senior Advisor


Ph: (202) 457-9408

Sara Conneighton

Deputy Director of External Relations


Ph: (202) 457-9429