This article was originally published by Political Violence @ a Glance on 23 May 2017.
On March 17th, a US airstrike killed nearly 300 people in the densely populated area of western Mosul. This deadly attack – along with other reports of mounting civilian casualties from US airstrikes in Iraq, Syria, and Yemen – are raising questions about whether the Trump administration has relaxed the rules of engagement.
Since entering office, President Trump has sought to reduce the constraints on the use of force imposed by his predecessor. For instance, he has designated parts of Yemen and Somalia as “areas of active hostilities,” giving the US military greater latitude to carry out airstrikes and ground raids. His new plan to defeat ISIS is also expected to include “recommended changes to any United States rules of engagement and other…policy restrictions that exceed the requirements of international law.” So far, both administration and military officials have denied that a formal change in the rules of engagement has taken place. But human rights groups are saying that even the perception of declining concerns over civilian deaths can have a “detrimental strategic impact” on the fight against ISIS, with dire humanitarian consequences.
This article was originally published in Volume 17, Number 2 of the Canadian Military Journal in spring 2017.
These four recent books on the Prussian General Carl von Clausewitz (1780-1831) attest yet again to this master theorist’s ongoing interest to practitioners and scholars in the fields of strategy, international relations, military theory, and civil-military relations. His masterpiece, On War, has been of enormous influence worldwide ever since its posthumous publication in the 1830s. There have been innumerable testimonials to its impact, but four will suffice here to make the point. According to Major-General JFC Fuller, Clausewitz rises to the level of a Galileo, a Euler, or a Newton. T.E. Lawrence (of Arabia) considered Clausewitz the intellectual master of all writers on the subject of war, and the British philosopher W.B. Gallie is of the view that On War was the first and to date, the only book of outstanding intellectual eminence on the subject of war. Finally, one of the leading strategic theorists still writing today, Colin Gray, has concluded that for as long as humankind engages in warfare, Clausewitz must rule.1
Courtesy Дмитро (Dmytro)/Flickr
This article was originally published by the Small Wars Journal on 13 August 2016.
In a speech earlier this year at the Russian Academy of Military Science, Valery Gerasimov, Chief of the General Staff of the Armed Forces of Russia, discussed the changing environment of modern warfare. Noting the rise of hybrid conflicts such as color revolutions, General Gerasimov highlighted the importance of, “leading military theorists and specialists as well as the defense industry and the government to jointly develop a “soft power” strategy to counter the potential threat from ‘color revolutions.’” The importance of this speech is two-fold. First, it demonstrates that while some have come to believe that Russia has developed a unique and profound soft power strategy, this is not the case. Second, this speech may indicate a trend towards a greater reliance on the use of soft power, though its use is framed as a defensive measure. Rather than using soft power to project values and appear more attractive as countries such as the United States attempts to do, this speech highlights the importance of countering foreign efforts directed against the Russian Federation. Though Russia traditionally relies on hard power to ensure state security and project power, the country may begin a revitalized effort of utilizing soft power to help achieve this, an effort not seen since the Cold War era.
Destruction in Baba Amr, Homs, Syria, courtesy Freedom House/flickr
This forecast was originally published by the Institute for the Study of War on 24 February 2016.
The expanded interventions of Russia and Iran into the Syrian Civil War have shifted the trajectory of the conflict in favor of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, granting him the strongest position on the battlefield as of February 24, 2016. Regime forces bolstered by Iranian ground troops and Russian air support have achieved major gains against both the Syrian armed opposition and ISIS in Northern Syria since September 2015, marking a fundamental shift in battlefield momentum following a compounding series of regime losses in the first half of 2015. President Assad now sits within reach of several of his military objectives, including the encirclement and isolation of Aleppo City and the establishment of a secure defensive perimeter along the Syrian Coast. The regime and its allies will likely retain their battlefield gains if there is no intervention by the United States, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, or the UAE. Russian campaign designers have clearly planned the ongoing operations in northern Syria, introducing to the Syrian battlefield signature Russian doctrinal concepts such as frontal aviation, cauldron battles, and multiple simultaneous and successive operations. These have made the joint Syrian-Russian-Iranian military operations more effective for a longer duration than previous operations. The offensive operations conducted by the regime and its allies may nevertheless culminate over the 90-day timeframe, as pro-regime forces attempt to advance deeper into core opposition-held terrain and take high casualties. Regular reinforcement of ground capabilities by Iran and Russia will therefore remain necessary over the next three months in order to maintain this level of momentum in the face of continued manpower shortages, attrition, and opposition military actions designed to slow and divert the campaign.
Although an uncontrolled collapse of the Syrian regime seemed feasible in June 2015, Russia’s intervention into the Syrian Civil War has ultimately reset the military balance in Syria. ISW published its last forecast in September 2015 based upon six fundamental assumptions, one of which did not hold for the entirety of the forecasting period. The forecast assumed that Russia would maintain a defensive posture in Syria in order to prevent regime collapse rather than prioritize offensive operations. This assumption remained true in the first few weeks after the start of the Russian air campaign on September 30, 2015. Russia later shifted its air campaign in mid-October 2015 in order to provide direct support to joint Iranian-Syrian counteroffensives on the ground. The aggressive operations undertaken by Russia and Iran in Syria have precluded many of the previously-forecasted courses of action by the regime, al-Qaeda’s Syrian affiliate Jabhat al Nusra, and ISIS.
DARPA Big Data
This article was originally published by War on the Rocks on 19 January 2016.
As the U.S. Army prepares for the future, it has become increasingly aware that operations are more and more likely to take place in large cities. The number and size of cities continues to grow, and they are quickly becoming the dominant form of human habitation. Belligerent actors, aware of the West’s growing anxieties about collateral damage, have good reason to place forces in or around cities. Further, advanced sensing and weapons systems employed by modern militaries make hiding in remote areas of the world less and less attractive to non-state enemies of advanced powers.
America’s enemies see the advantages of the seemingly impenetrable clutter that dominates the modern city. The Army’s current approach to learning about this environment is to seek the diamonds scattered amidst this clutter. What we are missing, though, is that the clutter itself is the jewel. Enormous amounts of readily available data can reveal more about a city, its population, and the nefarious actors residing there than we could have imagined before. To truly understand this environment the Army must fundamentally change its approach to understanding the environment: It must adopt a holistic approach enabled by big data analytics.
The Army, however, seems hesitant to embrace 21st-century data analysis, instead relying largely on the same micro-level methods it has used for decades.
This must change if the Army wishes to maintain the ability to “see first” and “understand first” in the modern urban arena.