Fundamental Shifts and the Next War


To provide background on current doctrinal and operational trends in discourse in Counterinsurgency Operations,

Background on Trends.

A recent article in Prism, Vol 1,No.3 is titled “Getting the Next War Right, Beyond population-centric Warfare”. The premise of the article is that our approach to war is flawed; in essence it speaks to a crisis of institution - meaning many types and also in a somewhat loose sense.

A 1996 report by the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs labeled the Afghan Crisis an “institutional Crisis” and although the conflict created several localized crises that can escalate rapidly the key parameter was the fragmentation of the country and particularly the collapse of national institutions and governance.[i]

The United States Institute of Peace, Center for Post-Conflict Peace and Stability Operations places heavy emphasis on governmental institutions as the requisite for success. This is also stressed in FM 3-24, Counterinsurgency Operations, and although Galula gets the lion’s share of the credit for the principles of the current doctrine, the basic premise of the doctrine was developed over time by C.E.Calwell, Gwynn, Lawrence, Templer, Gramsci, Mao, Galula and Trinquier.

Gramsci, a Marxist, who is not always widely recognized, made a significant indirect contribution to this process with his theory of cultural hegemony. A simplified version of this theory is that a society’s economy determines its cultural and political superstructures. He posits a strategic distinction between a war of position and a war of maneuver. The war of position is one of intellectual position in which all means are used to dominate media and perception and to promote the ideology. Once one dominates this realm you now have the political power and popular support to maneuver in all aspects of DIME/PMESII. In fact the use of the term the “Long March” alludes to this war of position. Gramsci’s original phrase to describe this is “the long march through institutions”[ii]

A recent USIP Research brief on rebuilding political immunity and institutions in Afghanistan looks at lessons learned now, and for the future, on how experienced based recommendations can become concrete interventions on a larger scale; to wit a reference to institutions in both a fragmented and loose Afghan sense and also in a larger sense at the National level.

The strategic aim in 1996 is not much different from the stated strategic aim of 2010 – rebuild institutions and end the violence while simultaneously addressing the humanitarian and development needs of the country. A tall order that essentially needs respected and functioning institutions first before the latter can be effectively addressed and administered.

Recent examples of tactical progress appear to point to localized operational success that has the potential for strategic success. These examples include the description of a day one immersion by an officer in the Af-Pak Hands program and another by an officer in the 5th SBCT as he described his “last patrol” on 26 June June 2010.

These two examples address institutions at the local level.

Any number of reports from any number of sources can be found to speak of institutions at the strategic and operational level;[iii] and all these examples clearly show an organization that appears to be adapting and learning to the current conflict. But despite all this experience, historical knowledge, and discourse why do we find it hard to “operationalize” this knowledge?

One potential answer seems to be the difference in opinion between “means and ends’ and the discourse is meant to influence both our interpretation of the means and the methods to obtain the desired ends. This has direct impact on the entire DOTMILPF

A related potential explanation for this struggle comes from David kilcullen who indicated that what we are doing is not exactly counterinsurgency, but counterinsurgency is the closest model we have to the situation we face. As a result the principles are the most useful, but, it is not strictly a counterinsurgency scenario since al-Qaeda is not interested in changing the political reality in one country but an entire geographical region.[iv] Once again, institutions’ at all levels differ on ways, means, and ends and this impacts the conflict as well as current DOTMILPF


[i] UNOCHA Lessons Learned Unit, Afghanistan Report, Dec 1996, accessed 7/8/2010, see section II, http://www.reliefweb.int/ocha_ol/programs/unocha/afgrpt/afghan.html

[ii] Strategy, Hegemony & The Long March: Gramsci’s lessons for the Antiwar Movement., Carl Davidson, 2006

[iii] Random examples from a Google search include; The Maneuver Company in Afghanistan: Establishing Priorities at the District Level, NPS; Afghanistan, Counterinsurgency and the indirect approach, JSOC; Fixing Intel: A blueprint for making intelligence relevant in Afghanistan; Rand Research Report Vol 4, Counterinsurgency in Afghanistan; JFQ Issue 56, 1st Qtr, 2010,

[iv] Countering Global Insurgency, David kilcullen, Journal of Strategic Studies, 2006


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fundamental shifts next




Title: Fundamental Shifts and the Next War