March 24, 2008

David Ucko on Learning Counterinsurgency

Everyone has been talking up David Ucko's new article in Orbis -- Innovation or Inertia: The U.S. Military and the Learning of Counterinsurgency. Michael Noonan, Frank Hoffman, and the Insurgency Research Group have all recommended it. On the Small Wars Journal blog, Hoffman had this to say:

In his Orbis article, provocatively titled “Innovation or Inertia,” the author recounts in detail the new directives and initiatives undertaken by the American military since 9/11. He suggests that the reforms point to “a potential turning-point in the history of the U.S. military.” Yet the Pentagon’s defense strategy and budget suggests otherwise. This leads Ucko to ask “what are the prospects of the U.S. military truly learning counterinsurgency”? Aside from rhetoric, how committed is DoD to the required changes needed to make America’s military as dominant in COIN and other forms of irregular warfare as it currently is in conventional warfare?

Abu Muqawama just printed off the article and is about to read it on his way home. You can do the same either via SWJ or the IRG.

Update: Okay, Abu Muqawama just read this article in his local Algerian coffee shop and can whole-heartedly recommend it to his readers. (The article, that is -- though the Desert Rose in Walthamstow has the best -- and most reasonably-priced -- espresso in London should you be looking for coffee to go along with your COIN.) Man, Ucko's article really gets to the heart of the debates which have raged within the U.S. military and on sites such as this one and Small Wars Journal. Basically, if you're a regular reader of this blog, you should read Ucko's article. Key passages:

...Whether through inertia or conviction, large swathes of the DoD continue to view all ‘‘operations other than war’’ as an afterthought to the U.S. military’s primary mission: major combat operations – and this in spite of the threat of terrorism, the U.S. military’s involvement in Afghanistan and Iraq and the significant difficulties faced in these campaigns. This mindset expresses itself most clearly in the Pentagon’s budgetary allocations and decisions over force structure, which are oriented predominantly toward high-intensity combat. ... Both in force structure and in budgetary allocations, the Army and the Marine Corps are displaying notable continuity with traditional priorities.

...Another tempting, yet misleading, conclusion to be drawn from a negative Iraq outcome would be that counterinsurgency simply does not work and should be abandoned as a priority.

...The DoD is also a highly conformist institution, complicating efforts to introduce a new way of thinking, particularly one that goes against the organization’s prevailing logic and culture.

...emerging opportunities to change force structure or budgetary priorities have not been seized. ... The future of counterinsurgency within the U.S. military thus seems to hang in the balance, dependent on whether the message and cause of the COIN community is accepted and thereby gains momentumor whether it is rejected and pushed off the table.

Great, great article.