Armed Hostilities

The Doctrine of Unconventional Warfare

The definition of unconventional war, although might not have changed during the last century, might present a concept which is more expanded than it was known before. In Janos (1963), an overview of the literature of the time outlined that there is uncertainty regarding an exact definition of the term. Being used interchangeably with such terms as “internal war”, revolutionary warfare”, ” class war”, and “political warfare”, it can be stated the unconventional mainly implied a state of warfare in which the psychological aspect assumes a near decisive role (Janos 1963). Following the doctrine of unconventional warfare by the United States can be suitable to fight terrorism. On the one hand, there is the opinion that such warfare might present a challenge, while on the other hand, it be the most appropriate model in the light of contemporary terrorism. Thus, supporting the opinion that unconventional warfare is not only suitable, but also necessary in the light of modern conflict realities, the study will explore the reason that justifies such necessity.

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In Rothstein (2006), the author argues that using conventional methods against an unconventional enemy is one of the reasons the troops were losing Afghanistan. The author provides parallels with the Second World War and the warfare doctrine that were used in Normandy are still used in Afghanistan and Iraq. The author collects data from literature, organizational theories, and military innovations, arguing that the efforts in Afghanistan are applied in “a distributed manner without regard for capitalizing on previous success… [with] a disproportionate focus on the attrition aspect of counterinsurgency, and neglect of local security and control” (Rothstein 2006). The solution proposed on how unconventional the warfare should be indicates making Special Forces as a separate service capable of coordinating other government agencies (Rothstein 2006).

In Jones (2008), the way the current enemy is unconventional is described, namely insurgency in Afghanistan. The author argues that despite the success in invading Afghanistan, was followed by the failure to prevent and manage insurgencies that occurred later. The proposed recommendations in Jones (2008), outline the political capacities to fight and contain insurgencies, rather than military. Although the rationale for such direction is not given, it can be assumed that such proposition is based on differentiating between military and administrative initiative. Nevertheless, the author argues that military personnel should be increased, in order to successfully insurgency operations (Jones 2008).

Following the latter, it can be stated that an opposing opinion can be seen through the works of Thomas Barnett, and political analyst and a former assistant researcher in the Department of Defense. In The Pentagon’s New Map(2008), the author argues that the brute military force should remain as it is, being a force that is unsurpassed in its power, which the author calls the Leviathan force. Such force should remain in every conflict the state is dealing with, dealing with issues on the international level, the failure comes with the absence of a system administrators. Such administrators should be dealing with the peace space created after the invasion and fighting terrorism through intelligence (Barnett 2004). The ideas of Barnett are close enough to the ideas of unconventional warfare, although the uniqueness of his approach is not on the “how”, but on the “who”. Barnett cites failures not in providing a response to an attack, but rather in dealing through the periods that come after that, although the rationale can be seen the same, i.e. failures.

In Haas (2005), the author supported the idea that direct conventional forces should be minimized, with US Army Special Forces restructured into “deployable Unconventional Warfare Task Force” (Haas 2005). The author’s analysis is based on a review of literature on operations “Enduring Freedom” and “Iraqi Freedom”. The author’s rationale can be seen based on the conclusions that were made after the aforementioned operations. A mutual point can be seen between the conclusion in Haas (2005) and Barnett (2004), which is the fact that the enemy in future operations “cannot prevail against the massive U.S. advantages in technology, joint synergy, and precision-fires… [although] the current phases of both campaigns have demonstrated that they can persist and even achieve some limited successes through insurgency and irregular warfare, despite overwhelming U.S. conventional power” (Haas 2005).

Jones (2008), the author admits that an existing debate exists bon whether unconventional warfare is applicable in contemporary and future Special environments. The debate, in that regard, , is based on existing confusions over the definition of unconventional warfare, where two different responsibilities and task are mixed, which is unconventional warfare and operational preparation (Jones 2006). The basis of the author’s findings is in chronological comparisons and doctrinal developments which are analyzed through a review of literature. Similarly, parallels can be drawn with the conclusions of Barnett on the necessity of system administrators after the invasion. Such conclusions in Jones (2008) are described in a way where “Special Forces would begin to shape the post conflict environment as combat operations ended to ensure success in the stability phase by identifying potential threats, providing security, and transitioning the insurgents into local militia units that would disrupt any attempts by former regime elements to establish an insurgent infrastructure” (Jones 2006).

The argument for the necessity of adopting an unconventional warfare approach was also justified by the fact that it was already in use for almost 300 years of American military tradition. Campbell (2007) supports the aforementioned point arguing that in the most recent conflicts, the army abandoned the expertise of unconventional operations. The author cites the works of Barnett as one of the reasons a reconsideration of the new conflict realities might be needed, which might require returning to the “institutionalized practice of working with and through local irregular military forces” (Campbell 2007). Campbell concludes the study with recommendations of the way the traditional facility in unconventional warfare can be restored. The author cites experience, which is gained naturally through the recent conflicts that occurred during the last decades, education, which can be provided through NCO academies and pre-commissioned programs, and organizational means. Organizational means imply changes in plans, policies, and doctrines which will shape the framework for unconventional warfare (Campbell 2007).

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Brister (2006) also evaluated the current implementation of the doctrine of unconventional warfare, citing historical evidence that the US had long engaged in such type of warfare. Nevertheless, the author states that the new realities of combat indicate the necessity for a new unconventional strategy to be adopted. The author’s findings are based on an analysis of military theories of Clausewitz, according to which a new approach is proposed. Such approach, dubbed “authoritative control”, focuses on establishing authority, rather than popularity among the population (Brister 2005). Parallels with Barnett’s work can be drawn, although the authoritative control proposed in Brister (2005) is closer to the aspects of conventional war. The proposed approach in Brister (2005) implies that the interaction between the Special Forces should be based on the “authoritative control” (Brister 2005).

It can be concluded that the literature in general cites the necessity of adopting the doctrine of unconventional warfare. Most studies cite the fact that the United States was using unconventional methods throughout her history of conflicts. Nevertheless, in current conflicts the responsibility is mostly put on the “leviathan force”, a term coined by Thomas Barnett, referring to direct military power. Accordingly, it can be concluded that the strategy of unconventional warfare shall be adopted to the realities of current combat, where the restoration of such military culture might require changes in policies and doctrines. Nevertheless, the studies lack an explanation of the reasons the usage of unconventional forces will prevail. Accordingly, the coordination between the usage of direct military attacks and Special Forces acting during the transitional period that occurs afterwards lack theoretical explanation. It can be seen that the usage of unconventional warfare is justified, although the way such warfare can be integrated into a counter-terrorism strategy should be explored. An examination of the definitions underlying the unconventional warfare doctrine might explain the main activities and processes expected from such an approach. An examination of the work of Thomas Barnett might be studied, in which the proposed concept of system administrators might be used as a foundation for the new doctrine of unconventional warfare.


Barnett, Thomas P. M. 2004. The pentagon’s new map : War and peace in the twenty-first century. New York: G.P. Putnam’s Sons.

Brister, Paul D. 2005. Beyond hearts and minds: Evaluating us unconventional warfare doctrine. Master of Science in Defense Analysis, Naval Postgraduate School.

Campbell, James D. 2007. “Making riflemen from mud”: Restoring the army’s culture of irregular warfare. U.S. Army War College.

Haas, Christopher. 2005. A standing unconventional warfare task force to combat insurgency in the 21st century. Usawc Strategy Research Project.Web.

Janos, Andrew C. 1963. Unconventional warfare: Framework and analysis. World Politics 15, no. 4: 636-646.

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Jones, D. 2006. Ending the debate: Unconventional warfare, foreign internal defense, and why words matter. Master of Military Art and Science, Colorado School of Mines.

Jones, Seth G. 2008. The rise of Afghanistan’s insurgency. International Security 32, no. 4: 7-40.

Rothstein, Hy S. 2006. Afghanistan and the troubled future of unconventional warfare. Annapolis, Md.: Naval Institute Press.

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