The COIN Temptation

I agree with Shawn Brimley that the risk of the Army’s new emphasis on COIN tactics is less that we’ll lose the capacity to fight conventional wars against major powers like Russia and China. (Our military capacity is light years ahead of theirs, and let’s face it, that’s still what nuclear deterrence is about.) The risk is that we’ll fight more COIN-type wars of choice.

It’s tempting to think of our newly evolved COIN approach as a precision tool capable of laser-guided interventions. But while the military component is necessary to secure areas in which to apply the political solution, it’s still the political solution that’s determinant. (Thanks to Hampton for pointing out this WPR article — right under my nose — about how insurgent reinsertion programs in Colombia have, in addition to the military approach, helped reduce the FARC to a shadow of its former self.)

The problem with fighting third-party counterinsurgency campaigns is that they essentially amount to attempts to impose that political solution from the outside. It’s no coincidence that Gen. Desportes, the commander of the French Army’s Force Employment Doctrine Center who I interviewed for the French strategic posture series, traced France’s COIN-based military doctrine to the wars of the colonial and post-colonial period. The U.S. Army’s COIN emphasis is a positive development in that by recognizing that “kinetic” operations sometimes destroy more than just infrastructure, it represents a “downsizing” of war. But it would be a tragic trade-off if in making interventions less destructive, it made them more likely, as well.

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