Understanding Irregular War: The Influence of Planning and Perceptions on Operational Outcomes
Abstract: With its powerful fighting force and rich history of experience,
the U.S. should be poised for success in irregular war. As the wars in Afghanistan and
Iraq prove, however, the U.S. struggles to win these asymmetric fights. This dissertation
examines the disconnect between apparent ability and ultimate success by examining three
research questions, regarding the rationale for war, re... read morecognition of irregular war as a
significant military operation, and conduct of an effective operations. These questions
led to three major findings. First, I argue that U.S. policymakers often commit military
troops to irregular wars without fully developing an understanding of the long term
national security goals they wish to achieve. Absent a clear statement of the rationale
for intervention as tied to long-term objectives, operational effectiveness inherently
suffers. Second, the military's partial repudiation of small war combined with a lack of
doctrinal guidance for soldiers in the field has consistently manifested itself in an
awkward transition from combat to stabilization, which often preordains long-term
strategic failure. As military forces transition from the kinetic to stabilization phase,
soldiers on the ground often misstep as they are untrained and ill-prepared for these
missions. Finally, the United States' lack of effective planning for irregular war derives
from policymakers' failure to promulgate a timely and effective national policy, which
addresses the unique challenges presented by irregular war. To succeed in irregular wars,
I argue that U.S. policy makers must 1) ensure all involved agencies must adopt a "unity
of effort" approach, 2) recognize the operation as a political-military effort, 3) achieve
legitimacy with the indigenous peoples, and 4) effectively utilize strategic intelligence.
Through these changes in approach and understanding, the United States will be better
equipped to win the irregular wars of the future.
Thesis (Ph.D.)--Tufts University, 2011.
Submitted to the Dept. of Diplomacy, History, and Politics.
Advisor: Richard Shultz.
Committee: William Martel, and Joseph Vorbach.
Keyword: International Relations.read less