February 17, 2010

(Field) Manual Sift: A Newly COIN’d Blog Feature

At the risk of having this new feature labeled a complete cliché, I will save you the overly used George Santayana quote, and simply state that sometimes it is pertinent to look back, in order to better assess the present. Though “natural security” as a study, like your four-year-old niece, can still count its age on one hand, in practice it has been a timeless and vital key to the success of empires, war machines, revolutions and development—for those that understood its pivotal role. In this new blog feature, I’ll be sifting through the pages of the great war “how-tos”—from Sun Tzu's The Art of War to today’s feature, U.S. Army FM 3-24, a.k.a., “The Counterinsurgency Manual”— looking back to see what role natural security held in conflicts contemporary to the manual, and what its words of natural security wisdom hold in current engagements.

The COIN Manual was drafted at a time that the U.S. military had found itself in a war it had not entirely planned for, and whose outlook seemed to grow more grim every day. The United States had not exactly come with a knife to a gun fight, but in a sense had walked into a swarm of bees after gearing up to slay a dragon. The U.S. armed forces were prepared to fight a conventional war, but found that the game had changed since they last took a stroll through Baghdad’s front gate. It was time for a reassessment, the Army dug into working on it, and thus in 2006, U.S. Army FM 3-24 was born.

The manual gave a new hope for success in Iraq, as it won hearts and minds within DOD with its heightened focus on the Iraqi people and the cancerous roots of insurgency. Though penned years before the launch of natural security here at CNAS, the manual included important natural security-relevant mentions:

  • “In Iraq, for example, an issue that motivated fighters in some Baghdad neighborhoods in 2004 was lack of adequate sewer, water, electricity, and trash services.”
  • “The stability a nation enjoys is often related to its people’s economic situation and its adherence to the rule of law. . . In a rural society, land ownership and the availability of agricultural equipment, seed, and fertilizer may be the chief parts of any economic development plan.” 
  • “. . .failed and failing states with rich natural resources like oil or poppies (which provide the basis for heroin) are particularly lucrative areas for criminal activity.”

Currently, the Obama administration’s 2010 3D Afghanistan strategy boasts a COIN approach which prominently features coordinated agricultural efforts between the military and USAID, water and energy projects, and additional natural security-esque initiatives supported by the COIN Manual's guidance. Having risen from the ashes of earlier failures only to help guide the current U.S. strategy in Afghanistan, the COIN Manual was as much a product of its environment, as it has now made the environment a product of itself.