July 22, 2011

Revising FM 3-24

I have just spent the past several days talking about small wars and insurgencies with the brilliant graduate students who make up this year's SWAMOS class. I lectured all day Wednesday and stuck around to hear Conrad Crane talk on Thursday about the development and implementation of U.S. counterinsurgency doctrine. One of the topics that kept coming up was the ways in which FM 3-24 needs to be revised, so I was pleased to see Carl Prine, Starbuck and Mike Few tackle this very issue in a paper for the Small Wars Journal (.pdf). Jason Fritz then piled on over at Ink Spots.

My primary criticism of the doctrine as it is currently written is the doctrine's weakness with respect to waging counterinsurgency as a third party, something both Charlie "Erin" Simpson and Steve Biddle have written a lot about. Any doctrine that borrows heavily from lessons learned in the colonial era will not take into account the fact that when you yourself are not the sovereign power, you have a whole 'nother set of issues to deal with. The main issue is that of what Steve calls interest alignment. As the doctrine is written, there is a naive assumption that our interests line up with those of the host nation, which is almost never the case. As a consequence of that assumption, though, we fail to think through how we need to use our leverage over the host nation to be successful.

You might think that the father of the doctrine, Con, would be really protective of it. Not at all. Con was taking a lot of notes yesterday and seems excited about revising the doctrine to incorporate lessons learned as well as to fill gaps where the doctrine is weak. He's a lot more open minded about the doctrine, in other words, than a lot of the doctrine's most vehement critics.