Hearts and Minds and Force
This month's Military Review -- the in-house journal for the Army's leadership and staff college at Fort Leavenworth -- contains a bunch of great stuff.
One of the best articles comes from Andrew Birtle, a senior military historian who has authored two of the better books on the subject of counterinsurgency. In his article, titled "Persuasion and Coercion in Counterinsurgency Warfare," Birtle examines the role that force plays in "winning hearts and minds," and comes to some interesting and important conclusions about the need to balance hard and soft power during these endeavors.
[T]his brief review of America's experience in waging internal conflicts has demonstrated that the U.S. government and its Army have always used a combination of positive and negative measures to suppress rebellions. Much to the frustration of theorist and practitioner alike, history has shown that there is no simple formula for combining these two essential yet volatile ingredients. Rather, counterinsurgency warfare has proved to be more alchemy than science, with each situation requiring a different proportion of ingredients, depending upon the social, political, cultural, and military nature of the conflict.
This truth notwithstanding, individuals writing about counterinsurgency warfare most emphasize the unusual degree to which political considerations permeate what in conventional conflicts would be purely administrative, technical, or military decisions. This is understandable, but it can become counterproductive when taken to extremes. All too often, people reduce counterinsurgency's complex nature to slogans declaring that political considerations are primary, that nation building is a viable war-winning strategy, and that the only road to victory is to win the "hearts and minds" of a population. As with many clichÃ©s, these promote one truth at the expense of another.
There are several reasons why such slogans tend to obscure more than they illuminate. To begin with, simplistic catch phrases do not convey the reality that some political differences are irreconcilable--which, of course, may be why the parties to a dispute have resorted to arms in the first place. neither do such phrases help policymakers navigate the labyrinth of political considerations incumbent in any internal conflict. Just as political and military concerns will sometimes clash, so too will choices have to be made between competing political imperatives. Slogans such as "winning hearts and minds" can also lead to a misapprehension that counterinsurgencies are popularity contests. sometimes unpopular actions such as the Army's relocation of civilians during the Philippine War may be necessary. In the same way, worthy actions such as the liberation of a previously repressed class may fan the flames of resistance among a nation's traditional elite, while promoting democratic reforms, as the United States did in Vietnam, can backfire by increasing instability.
Birtle bases his argument on studies of the Civil War, Philippine insurrrection and the Vietnam War. But his larger point is clearly relevant to Iraq and Afghanistan and broader consideration of the military's new counterinsurgency doctrine. He concludes:
The reality, of course, is that politics and force are inextricably linked in a dynamic, symbiotic relationship, and both are necessary to win. The great challenge is to find the right blend for a particular situation--a formulation that may well be different from that used at another time or place, even during the same conflict. slogans like "politics are primary" are useful if they remind us that, in counterinsurgency as in all forms of war, military means must be subordinated to political ends, and that political and persuasive arts play a vital role in waging and resolving internal conflicts. they are less useful if they lead us into the mistaken belief that political considerations must trump military and security concerns at every turn, that coercion is necessarily antithetical to success, or that we must significantly rework a struggling society into one that is a mirror image of our own.
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