F. Andy Messing Jr.
National Defense Council Foundation
Allen B. Hazelwood
National Defense Council Foundation
Regardless of the Post Cold War projections by euphoric Reaganites, Bushites and other ill-advised pseudo-foreign policy experts, conflict abounds! After President Clinton's advisors see how bad things really are, they will have to address situations America is now being pressed into. They will note that conflict problems are mainly in the form of low intensity conflicts. It represents the most likely type of future warfare for the United States, and of these, insurgencies are the most demanding contingency. Clearly, no one should expect that the new relationship between the emerging Clinton Administration and a reorganized world is going to guarantee an era free of challenges to U.S. interests or to our vulnerable friendly allies.
Since the end of World War II, the struggle between the forces of communism and democracy have centered on various low intensity warfare but focused on insurgency movements which often acted as surrogates in the bi-polar superpower world of the Soviet Union and the United States.
For their part, the former Soviet Union and its allies learned early on how effective insurgencies could be against Free World interests and how little they cost their sponsors in human terms. They also learned that protracted insurgent conflicts work in bringing down fragile governments.
Early in the insurgent confrontations, the communist introduced two innovative concepts. First, they developed the idea of prolonging the conflict over time, but at an ever increasing economic and human price. Second, the communists instituted the concept of working directly on the democratic political vulnerabilities of foreign nations.
This led to many "liberation struggles” throughout the world.
Starting in the 1980's the Reagan Administration counterattacked. Tired of the relentless small wars challenges from the Soviet's "Evil Empire", the U.S. began a worldwide policy of actively aiding insurgent movements who were fighting against Marxist governments. President Reagan's strategy was to emulate the successful way our communist adversaries had for decades used insurgent warfare to challenge U.S. interests worldwide. This policy became known as the Reagan Doctrine and was first articulated by Dr. Jack Wheeler and Congressman (then Reagan speech writer) Dana Roarbacher.
As a practice, the policy not only contained further expansion, but sought to roll back communism. This fact is best seen with the doctrine's limited successes in Afghanistan, Nicaragua, Angola and to a lesser extent Cambodia.
Despite the success of certain aspects of the old Rea an Doctrine, the swift and sudden changes which have swept throughout Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union has forced a reexamination of the entire question of America's involvement with insurgency movements.
Accordingly, before future U.S. policy makers embark on any new insurgent support activities, now may be the appropriate time for the policy makers to ask themselves a couple of important questions.
First, in an era when communists expansion no longer appears to be an immediate threat to U.S. existence, what rationale justifies pouring American taxpayer's money into an insurgent group? This is an especially appropriate question given the fact that the United States has supported groups whose primary purpose was to spread Islam, defeat a rival tribal group, reinstall a prince or simply fight Marxism to supplant it with another form of dictatorship. The second question, and simply put is this: if the United States no longer has to use insurgencies as a defensive weapons system to protect itself from communist expansion, why should the United states even bother to become involved in supporting insurgent organizations at all?
The answer to these questions is two fold. First, ultimate security for the United States is living in a world filled with other functioning, pluralistic democracies. Second the United States has traditionally assumed the responsibility for establishing international political freedom and reducing social injustice along with the humanitarian obligation to alleviate worldwide economic pain and suffering. In many cases these goals can only be pursued through the support of indigenous insurgent forces. It is these people who must live under and seek to change a totalitarian or authoritarian government.
Given the new political realities of the 1990's, the litmus test for American support should no longer be an insurgent group’s claim to be anti-Marxist or anti-totalitarian. In today's world U.S. policy makers, Congress and the American people need to know not so much what a guerrilla group is fighting against, but more importantly, what it is fighting for. Rather than remain focused on the previous negative defensive fight to contain communism, the United States' emphasis should now be on the. positive offensive fight to spread democracy. This should be the new axis around which American insurgent warfare strategy swings. With America's survival no longer directly threatened by communist expansion it appears the United States now has the luxury of being. able to return to basic democratic principles as its' policy guide for supporting insurgency movements. We can now afford to abandon Jeane Kirkpatrick's short-sighted views on supporting groups which do not necessarily emulate our views and guidelines for proper conduct.
As U.S. policy makers study the advantages and disadvantages of supporting a given insurgent movement they should do so with a word of caution.
Even though it appears that the communist system is a bankrupt concept in Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union, a mutated form of communist ideology is alive. The remaining communist countries and insurgent movements have modified their approaches to justify their actions and causes under new interpretations of the banner of communism. According to Marxist, Leninist and Maoist ideology, defeat is never final. Suffering is accepted and setbacks are viewed as strengthening factors which are to be expected before the inevitable victory is obtained.
To be sure, there is now a closing window of opportunity through which a new breeze of democracy can blow. If problems such as institutionalized corruption, struggles for political freedom, social justice and economic well being are not addressed, then this mutated form of world communism will resurface in such force that turning it around again may be difficult if not impossible. If the United States remains relatively passive, the window may close sooner than expected.
If the overall security emphasis of U.S. policy shifts from containing communism to a pro-active policy of spreading democracy, there should also be a corresponding shift in U.S. policy towards sponsoring select insurgencies, especially in the Third World, which promote democracy.
The new policy should be guided by the following principle:
In all but exceptional circumstances, the United States will give support only to insurgencies that are fighting to establish a functioning, pro free market, pluralist democracy in their country.
Not only does this principle support the ultimate U.S. security goal, it also is the only pragmatic way of getting the American people to support an insurgency long enough for that insurgency to actually topple a non-democratic government.
Because insurgent wars, more often than not, are long-term affairs, following the new principle will offer something to insurgencies that they so desperately need to win--a reasonable belief that the U.S. will support them for the long haul. Furthermore, enforcing this maxim will actually reduce conflict in the long term.
To prevent on-again, off-again U.S. support requires that the insurgency planners now take a different approach towards their operational strategy. Under the new insurgency doctrine, unity of ideology would supplant unity of command as our prime focus. The goal would be to make every insurgent not only a fighter; but also, an informal politician for the movement. This means that just as much effort would go into refining and nurturing the ideological base of the movement as into teaching tactical military skills. In guerrilla war, ideological clarity is every bit as important as knowing how to lay an ambush. Without the correct ideological focus, tactics are of limited value in an insurgent conflict. Democratic values would be taught to these insurgents as Mao's little "Red Book" was taught to the Chinese soldiers.
Although there are over thirty ongoing insurgent wars occurring worldwide, this warfare continues to be among the areas of low intensity conflict that the United States is least prepared to address. One area of particular importance in which the U.S. has made few or "no calculations" is in this area of the support of democratic insurgencies.
Despite the legislation to improve our Low Intensity Conflict (LIC) capabilities, progress on how to go about supporting democratic movements has been almost non-existent. Many believed that establishing additional Special Operations and Low Intensity Conflict offices in the executive branch (in addition to the existing Department of Defense Special Operations Policy Advisory Board. (SOPAG) and the Low Intensity Conflict Board at the National Security Council) would up-grade U.S. capabilities for supporting and conducting insurgent warfare. Even with the addition of a SOLIC Ambassador at the National Security Council, the establishment of the Office for the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Special Operations and Low Intensity Conflict (ASD/SOLIC) and the activation of the Special Operations Command, little in the way the United States views insurgent, warfare as a distinct and separate art has changed.
The United States' present situation is, at least in part, a result of the political leadership's corresponding lack of emphasis on special operations and low intensity conflict. This, especially in view of the high degree of attention conventional forces received during the Gulf War. There exists today no persistent, direct high-level emphasis for the sustained development of an interdepartmental approach to the problem of insurgent warfare situations. U.S. officials seem to fail to understand that an insurgency support effort requires the coordination of a nation's economic, social and political assets as well as portions of its' military. The leadership does not understand that in order to develop a viable policy it needs to draw together representatives of the various departments and agencies who would have to work together if an our insurgent support strategy were to succeed.
In the absence of an insurgent support policy and a national security structural framework that addresses the interdepartmental obligations associated with supporting and conducting insurgent operations, and considering the lack of incentives for organizational change within the various agencies, would be over confident for the political leadership to believe that the Central Intelligence Agency, Department of Defense or the National Security Council alone or collectively will develop the capability to successfully execute U.S. security policy in the Third world countries controlled by oppressive rule.
Second, even though they are the best suited and the most qualified, the Special Forces may not be doctrinally prepared to properly carry out support of an democratic insurgency. Serious policy and operational shortcomings are evident in the U.S. Army's most recent Special Forces Operations manual. Even though lacking in some other areas, this "how to" guide is almost entirely silent on how to go about supporting democratic forces engaged in insurgent warfare.
Additionally, a detailed understanding of insurgency is missing not only from the written doctrine of Special Forces but also from other related materials such as Low Intensity Conflict (LIC), civil Affairs (CA) and Psychological Operations (PSYOPS) manuals. What matter is covered is primarily directed towards U.S. procedures for assisting a country engaged in fighting counterinsurgency.
Some of the current material does adequately treat the military situation where insurgents are to function as auxiliary forces in support of a conventional military campaign. But this only highlights the fundamental problem that only to a small degree do the official publications address support of insurgent warfare as a separate art.
In all of these materials something important is missing in the way of either policy, strategy, tactics and other methods critical for a full understanding of how to support and develop a democratic insurgency. While some of these elements will be found scattered in classified CIA and DOD contingency plans, the insurgency planners really need some sort of doctrinal guide which would frame the most important considerations--a guide which the Congress, decision makers and informed U.S. citizens alike could understand and support. Furthermore, these guidelines take on additional importance as they assist an agent/operator, out of touch with the National Command Authority, to make the correct decision in a future mission supporting insurgent efforts.
In contrast to the U.S., however, communist and anti-democratic insurgents have a wealth of theoretical and doctrinal material for study, teaching and application. They know how to appeal to the universal desire for liberation from the social, economic and political injustice which besets much of the world.
Despite the fact that many low intensity warfare experts have addressed the subject and despite more than four decades of dealing with insurgencies there still is no agreed-upon theoretical doctrine or operational guide written from a democratic perspective on how to provide support to an insurgency.
The off the shelf "adhocracy" of America's past efforts leads one to believe that until such a document is adopted, the chances for success of any U.S. backed efforts are greatly reduced. Lacking an agreed upon blueprint on how to proceed, unnecessary mistakes will be made, opportunities for advancing democracy lost and greater casualties sustained.
Because of this doctrinal shortcoming it is almost impossible for administration policy makers to translate fundamental principles into a meaningful set of guidelines and an insurgent support structure that will be accepted by the American public, supported by the U.S. Congress and will assure success on the battlefield.
To achieve this goal require U.S. policy makers to answer the following question: Why then are some insurgent movements successful while others are not?
Surprising as it may see, an insurgent's final success is not completely determined by external logistical support number of urban agents, field combatants or even willingness to fight. While all these elements are important, failure may well result unless U.S. officials involved in supporting a democratic insurgency develop a workable guide for insurgency support and recognize the importance of certain fundamental principles:
If it is true that no reliable "cookie cutter" exists for all insurgencies, how then should the U.S. go about deciding whether or not to support a given insurgency movement? The process of determining if the United States should support a movement, and if so at what level of commitment, requires a deep understanding and appreciation of certain critical commitment considerations. The following commitment outline should serve as a guide for decisions made in this area:
Identifying insurgent leadership is one of the most difficult and critical steps in developing a U.S. sponsored insurgent movement. This step is made more difficult by the fact that the initial group of persons who claim leadership may not be the best suited for the task. In fact, the best may not even yet be involved in any. significant way within the movement.
As stated by one insurgency expert, "any guerrilla organization that draws a broad line between the movement's thinkers and fighters will have its thinking done by cowards and its fighting done by fools."
Unlike communists, who spend years preparing their battlefield and developing full time cadres pro-democratic insurgents are often at a leadership disadvantage. Even though both insurgencies usually start with little or no military experience, the democratic insurgents generally do not have the same reservoir of trained leadership from the region from which to draw.
Therefore, it is particularly important that prior to giving its support to any movement, the U.S should wait an appropriate time to insure that the national insurgent leaders have surfaced, American officials should avoid giving early backing to any faction or individual. The desire to immediately anoint national leaders of another country should be resisted, not only because it is often offensive to others in the movement; but also, because it may be ill advised on other grounds such as a typical Western failure to profoundly understand the insurgent country 's special characteristics and circumstances. The U.S. should evaluate the leaders of the movement, their motivation and loyalty to their country, quality of character and commitment to the pro-democratic process. Any hidden agendas should be identified early. That "would be" leaders who only meet an anti-communist litmus test is no way to proceed; yet this is what we have often done in the past, dooming the effort.
Naturally, there are special problems in those instances when the U.S. becomes involved late in the struggle or subsequently learns that the effort has to be restructure in order to succeed. In these cases, existing insurgent national leadership may have to be bypassed in an effort to reach better leaders and make needed changes in strategy and tactics.
Analysis of successful insurgencies suggests that it is beneficial for insurgent combatant commanders to compete informally over a period of time for leadership. This results in a kind of "free enterprise" on the battlefield where the best, the bravest and the brightest rise to the top with legitimate popular support. B utilizing this process the sponsoring nation can avoid the inevitable ill will that attends knee jerk commitment to whomever shows up first. As insurgent efforts from Afghanistan to El Salvador reveal, competitive groups produce a more effective combat effort with a far wider range of options.
U.S. planners should always appreciate the problems and the risks involved in supporting an insurgency against a non-democratic government when forming a strategy. A dictatorship or repressive authoritarian regime has many vulnerabilities, but it is also difficult to remove because of its "willingness to adopt repressive measure." The implementation of a United States policy for the support of an insurgent movement not only requires a strategy which takes into account the views and feelings of regional leaders; but also requires an expression to see the initiative through. This is especially true given America's history of vacillation and on-again, off-again support policies over the past.
Any insurgent support strategy should take into account that a U.S. support initiative cannot succeed if it is proposed as a vague open ended struggle projecting into the indefinite future. As in the case of all just struggles, there must be a reasonable chance to win and a credible plan to accomplish that objective in a realistic time frame.
Communists and other non-democratic insurgencies can advance unending struggles and drive onward over decades. Democratic insurgencies cannot. The difference is in our values; in the way we regard human life and sacrifice. In the long run these same values favor the cause of democratic insurgents, but they also mean that the latter have to get on with the task on a more urgent basis than those serving a communist cause.
A mutual understanding on the strategic objectives is needed before any type of U.S. support can be given to the insurgents. Unless the U.S. planners and the insurgent leadership can agree upon the movement's purpose and strategic objectives, trouble begins almost immediately. Final success depends upon the existence of mutual goals which serve as polar stars upon which the movement navigates. In this context formulation of U.S. policy must take into sensitive consideration the views and feelings of regional leaders as well as those of their people.
In the past, U.S. officials have felt most comfortable when they are authorizing support for an insurgency which is designed primary to be "a force in being." From their point of view, the principal purpose of this type of insurgency has been to apply pressure to a non-democratic regime or remove an occupying power.
In many cases, as a direct result of this type of American thinking, U.S. insurgent planners have urged the insurgent's leadership to adopt a hit and run "commando strategy rather than following a true insurgent warfare strategy. As a result, the insurgents are pressed to train and employ more on the lines of a conventional military force.
Unfortunately, any insurgency that justifies its' existence by applying "pressure," rather than by winning through the people in true guerrilla style, is certain to bring about unnecessary confusion unjustifiable casualties and prolong the time needed to achieve any decisive results. Accordingly, the Angolans and Nicaraguan Contra efforts are the quintessential examples of this ineffective modus operandi.
Although the "force in being" approach is the least desirable, it will probably be the approach most used, given the "play it safe or "piece meal attitude of current American officials, until an overarching insurgent support doctrine is adopted.
Long before any guerrilla combatant forces are introduced a strategy should be adopted which concentrates on a thorough preparation of the entire area where the struggle is to take place. This preparation of the battlefield must occur before any military action is undertaken. Without proper battlefield preparation there is no groundwork for operational success. As the respected Sir Robert Thompson once put it:
The base of the insurgency movement within the population Is In the forefront of the battle, well in front of the guerrilla units, eating its way into the foundation of the government's structure.
It was stated even more simply by Sun-Tzu who observed that war is proceeded by measures designed to make it easy to win.
In recent history the preparation of the battlefield has been a major weakness in U.S. strategic planning. All too often, U.S. liaison personnel and advisors tend to press Me insurgents for early initiation of combat action. Emphasis is placed incorrectly on immediate visible results by armed guerrilla units. Sound political, economic, social and psychological work over long months is boring and does not lend itself to political or media exploitation the way combat action does. As a consequence, a basic insurgent warfare requirement--proper preparation of the battlefield--gets neglected. This feeds the historic tendency on the part of U.S. operational supporters to become reactive; to look for responses to events rather than the slower but more effective ways of shaping events.
A dependable and reliable source of supplies enable the insurgents to conduct ever increasing tactical and non-combative operations, thereby increasing the confidence in their long term strategy.
A review of past and present insurgent conflicts reveals that few insurgencies being established and expanded with little or no external support. However, democratic insurgencies, due to their nature, are unlikely to achieve success without external assistance. The principle reason for this is the requirement that democratic insurgencies proceed at all times with the highest regard to. human rights.
Democratic insurgencies do not have the same license as their non-democratic counterparts. When it comes to financing the movement, for example, communist and other non-democratic insurgents are able to bankroll their organizations by drawing on proceeds collected from the full spectrum of terrorist and criminal activities, to include kidnapping, assassinations, unfair war taxes, extortion, outright robberies and increasingly, involvement in drugs. All of these methods must be rejected out of hand by any pro-democracy insurgency if that insurgency is to get and maintain U.S. aid and achieve final victory.
Once the U.S. decision is made to support an insurgent movement, determining the right mixture and level of support and commitment is perhaps the most complex problem U.S. planners will have to address.
Insurgent movements have historically demonstrated that resource support can be a double edged sword. Although it is a key element in determining success, resource support can also easily become a divisive element capable of debilitating an insurgent movement. For example, failure to establish a. support system in such a way that prevent anyone from gaining personally will lead to division among the insurgents and will set a precedent for corruption even if victory is achieved. This was particularly evident in the Afghan and. Nicaraguan Contra movements.
When determining levels of resource support, U.S. planners should do so with a clear understanding of leverage and its rather paradoxical application. In a relationship between a sponsoring power and weaker state, leverage tends to accrue to the weaker partner. To prevent this situation from developing, the U.S. should set predetermined thresholds for resource support. A firm but realistic agreement should be reached wherein the insurgents undertake to - produce certain results within a fairly specific time frame. Support then flows as results are achieved.
When drafted as a professional "contract", the arrangement allows the sponsor to halt, suspend or increase support activities without the heavy backlash of surprised political discontent if the agreement is breached. Such an agreement goes a long way towards preventing the international perception that the U.S. is abandoning another ally on the battlefield.
Once the U.S. agrees to support an insurgent movement it should be prepared to provide up to 100 % of the initial non-lethal aid (e.g. medical supplies, food, clothing, boots, etc.) and a large percentage of the initial direct military needs. The remaining military assistance should by procured the guerrillas themselves through captured weapons and ammunition of the adversary. This is a very important element to success.
Requirements should be based on what is available and necessary rather than simply anything the insurgents may desire. As the equipment list is developed, care must be taken to avoid including technologies of a kind that overload the insurgents to the point they lose their all important mobility. The objective is to emphasize the natural capabilities of the insurgent and supply him with technology that enhances his natural guerrilla characteristics.
In an effort to provide adequate support care must be taken to guard against a natural insurgent progression towards an unhealthy and disruptive external resource addiction. At all times, both the U.S. planners and the insurgents should understand that the eventual goal is to slowly reduce the movement's dependence on external material support. As the guerrillas become more proficient at battlefield procurement and establish some kind of internal supply/production capability, U.S. military support should gradually lessen and become more specialized. This way the. U S. will remain involved but in such a way that it exerts a positive constructive influence. Simply put, it keeps the groups being supported from becoming fat, lazy, addicted and excuse prone. further leas them away from the temptation of going into conventional operations before they should.
Planners should also understand that during each phase of the insurgency, the number of insurgent members should never be allowed to rise significantly above whatever the logistical system can bear. The insurgent leadership should never hesitate to reduce the number of combatants when required.
Lastly, no matter how carefully planned and implemented the U.S. insurgent resource assistance is. there is always an important caution regarding U.SP assistance. Acceptance of external support ma y, adversely effect the perceived nationalistic legitimacy of the insurgency. It implies-an inability to sustain oneself, a propaganda vulnerability the opponent will try to exploit. U.S. sponsors and insurgent leaders must seek ways to minimize this problem.
A careful analysis of insurgent movements reveals that the most preferred operational structure is one where two or more insurgent movements operate under a uniform national strategy. In this manner each faction is allowed to have a different operating philosophy derived from the aforementioned insurgent models. .
The multi-insurgent approach integrates the conduct of decentralized operations with the need for each of its constituent groups to maintain the flexibility required for independent action. This in turn enhances the achievement of the insurgent's goal of keeping the government and its military off balance. A multi-insurgent-structure not only allows for the development of a rural strategy and the ability to develop effective insurgent auxiliary and the underground elements, it also enables the insurgents to bring the war to the major urban centers and the capital itself.
From the U.S. perspective the optimal means of achieving overall success lies in supporting an insurgent structure which encourages battlefield competition. Indeed. the competitive model is particularly well suited to a flexible approach. its very nature encourages diversity on the battlefield.
At the heart of the "competitive" model is the notion of giving support to two or more competing military/political movements that share the common goal of overthrowing a totalitarian regime. Encouraging such multi-insurgent competition on the battlefield-serves to weed out defective organizations as well as leaders.
While on the surface this might appear to violate the conventional military principle of unity of command, in realty it does not. In the context of insurgent warfare operations, unity of command is observed by supporting a common long term strategy, and by conducting combined and supporting operations under some kind of umbrella organization. The Salvadoran Communist FMLN was famous for this successful approach.
More than anything else, however, unity is achieved by maintaining loyalty to a true democratic philosophy. Put another way, the main loyalty should be to the concept of democracy, not to an individual or one set group.
Although these precepts may seem loose and generalized, they are far preferable to clumsy attempts to impose a rigid command hierarchy on people engaged in an insurgent struggle. Any such attempt is particularly wrong-headed when it attempts to lay down a monolithic structure for people of another country where a national leadership has yet to prove itself. Accordingly, major "turf' struggles have occupied the former Nicaraguan Contras, the Afghans and the Angolan UNITA movements
The competitive model is also particularly well suited for the application of three crucial principles of guerrilla warfare that are essential to the survival of any insurgency:
Divisibility refer to the ability if an insurgent force to break down into smaller components to avoid capture, while at the same time retaining the capability to operate, and when necessary, to mass into larger units for decisive action.
A rigid, "top down" command structure hinders the development of a divisible insurgent force; a competitive structure encourages it. The competitive approach also lends itself more readily to the normal evolution of the of insurgent forces. Competing structures will arise naturally within any insurgent movement, and their competition will foster the development of new tactics and new ideas.
If it is properly channeled, and if excessive infighting is avoided the competition between insurgent leaders will require the sort of give and take that is an essential element of democratic government. The experience of working to form some sort of consensus, tolerating the opinions of others and finding acceptable strategies from diverse viewpoints will ultimately help provide the skills needed to function in a democratic setting.
In an ideal world the need for the United States to support democratic insurgents would not exist. However, the Administration, the U.S. Congress and the American people must deal with the harsh reality of the world as it is, rather than what they may hope it would be. Clearly, in the coming years threats to American interests will remain despite supposed Cold War breakdowns. Serious challenges are not likely to subside in a world divided by many factors and led by oppressive dictators.
Opponents of insurgent support operations have reasons to be concerned. First, U.S. supported insurgent actions understandably will inflame nations they are directed against. The resulting uproar may temporarily undermine relations and hinder cooperation between the affected country, regional and international leaders and the United States. Many of the skeptics will always worry that insurgent support actions may become a legal, physical and moral quagmire. However, the best guarantee for avoiding the risk associated with the insurgent support efforts and implementing them successfully, is to fully plan and prepare for these types of low intensity conflicts before they are needed. Being prepared and having already established guidelines, is the best deterrent for preventing their hasty off the elf' use or a piece meal approach.
While the United States, as leader of the Free World, has no moral obligation to assist every group that comes along claiming to be anti-totalitarian, it does have a a moral obligation to those grows that have demonstrated their sincerity in the pursuit of democratic values, This is not a blind obligation, but one that must be carried out within the context of a carefully considered and thoughtfully planned support structure appropriate to the task. It is time the U.S. put such a structure in place.
This paper is adopted from a longer study by the National Defense Council Foundation.