December 06, 2011
Just to be clear, COIN isn't going away. (Because IN isn't going away.)
According to the Correlates of War dataset, roughly 83% of the conflicts fought since the end of the Napoleonic Era have been civil wars or insurgencies. And while scholarship (.pdf) suggets more recent civil wars are less "irregular" than those fought during the Cold War, it's safe to assume irregular wars will continue to be phenomena military organizations will wrestle with. That's why David Ignatius largely gets it right in his recent op-ed on the "COIN bubble." As the United States draws down in Iraq and Afghanistan, you can cut some of those ground forces -- as my colleagues recently argued -- that you need for large-scale, resource-instensive counterinsurgency. (Because if you have to assume risk somewhere, it's easier to build new combat brigades on the fly than it is to research and design a new weapons system.) But it is a mistake to assume the U.S. military will never fight these wars again. We've done that before, with disastrous results. Ignatius:
There’s a consensus in the country that the big expeditionary ground wars of the past decade should end, and Panetta has his budget priorities right. But it would be wrong to repeat the mistake that followed the Vietnam War, when hard-learned counterinsurgency tactics were jettisoned in favor of conventional weapons for fighting quick “winnable” wars.
During the COIN years, the Army and Marines learned how to adapt and fight in the most difficult environments. What a waste if those skills, acquired at such cost, were discarded and lost.