“Irregular warfare is the military’s contribution to political warfare”

Damn. I had not heard it put that way before.

“Irregular warfare is the military’s contribution to political warfare.”

COL (R) David Maxwell (Irregular Warfare Podcast, around the 10:15 mark)

Another great deep-dive from the Irregular Warfare podcast.

I have a growing interest in political warfare – it’s a dense topic and I’ve found there are only a handful of experts on it – especially when it comes to the role of the military. COL (R) David Maxwell is one of those experts, and then Matt Armstrong more generally.

If you know of any others I should be following/reading – please send it my way.

If irregular warfare is the military’s contribution to political warfare, the next hard thing to do is figure out what your subset of the military is supposed to do in irregular warfare (not very easy). Keep drilling down until you get to to “you” and start pulling levers and pressing buttons.

“You’re not going to feel great.”

I’m really enjoying the Irregular Warfare podcast.

Their latest episode on Security Force Assistance was really good. And if you’re someone who has been on that kind of mission, there are a lot of one-liners that you will identify with.

The episode featured Dr. Mara Karlin (Director, Strategic Studies Program and John Hopkins) who recently wrote a book on security force assistance in fragile states, and Brigader General Scott Jackson (Commanding General, Security Force Assistance Command).

On what some of Dr. Karlin’s specific findings were in her research on security force assistance and when the US had done a good job at it:

“State building endeavours are political exercises. There is often this idea that we should be distanced from political dynamics in working with partner militaries. And effectively, I found that that’s just a waste of time and effort and resources. In fact it’s fundamentally flawed. When we were really able to transform militaries in fragile states it was because we were getting involved in all sorts of sensitive issues, like ‘what’s the military’s mission, what’s it’s organizational structure, who are it’s key leaders.'”

Dr. Mara Karlin, Director, Strategic Studies Program at John Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies (~24:00)

This is what drives commanders nuts when it comes to security force assistance. Emphasis mine:

Very rarely is it a third party or a proxy military force pushing back, although that does happen in certain areas, but where we’re really seeing the push back is where big third party nation states are starting to twist the screws on the economic side of the house or the informational side of the house or proxy IO efforts, information warfare efforts against our security force assistance efforts that are inherently good, right, and it’s all positive, right, and then through third party information operations you turn it into a negative, leveraging host nation sensitivities or long-standing ethnic faults. So it’s definitely gotten more complicated and the third party is I think… is one of the biggest problems we need to worry about.

Brigadier General Scott Jackson, Commanding General, Security Force Assistance Command (~27:00)

Yup.

Finally, here is the line that led me to writing about this today because it resonated deeply and it is rare that I’ve heard it spoken. On key implications for enacting good security force assistance:

“Just accepting that you are going to need to get involved in things you don’t feel comfortable doing.

Dr. Mara Karlin, Director, Strategic Studies Program at John Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies (~48:10)

I would add that this applies at both a personal level (operating outside of your normal expertise or areas that feel icky) as well as the organizational level (“hey sir, we aren’t trained/designed/equipped for this”).

Fantastic episode and worth the time.

The Practice and Politics of Security Force Assistance