The Best Defense

Why we have to be ready to do COIN: We need it if only as a form of deterrence

By Kathleen McInnis

Best Defense guest respondent

If the grand strategic project of the 21st century is to either (a) shore up the Westphalian system or (b) develop an acceptable post-Westphalian system, then the ability to effectively wage asymmetric and counterinsurgency warfare will be, by necessity, part of the toolkit to do so. I really thought Bob Killebrew captured that part well; because the actors in the system are blurring the definitions of what it means to be a legitimate, violence-wielding actor in the global system, we will continue to need capabilities to work in that blurry, murky space.

Washington seems to conflate preparedness with intention and for the life of me, I can't figure out why. Indeed, I think it's really worrying that we do so. We're limiting our ability to signal military intent short of going to war, as well as limiting our ability to use military tools to help advance political discussions, negotiations, etc. Exercises, planning, capability development are all ways to signal to potential adversaries (state and non-state alike) the seriousness of U.S. intent. Utilized appropriately, these tools can even get actors back to the negotiating table. Preparedness is key, which is why Celeste Ward's work to put a finer point on the term COIN should be applauded -- preparedness requires a higher degree of intellectual precision than we currently have with respect to "COIN." That's what deterrence is largely about. But we seem to think that if we develop a capability, we will -- or should -- use it.

The notion that if we have a force capable of conducting COIN, we will get ourselves embroiled in even more conflicts around the globe is absurd. The point, in my mind, is to ensure that the U.S. has the toolkit to respond to whatever contingency is in the no-kidding national interest. If we don't use those capabilities, bonus. But I suspect you're right -- we will have to.

Kathleen McInnis is an MPhil/PhD candidate at the Department of War Studies, King's College London and an Adjunct Fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. She previously served on the NATO Policy-Afghanistan desk in the Office of the Secretary of Defense (Policy).


The Best Defense

NDU: In worse shape than Tom thinks

By Robert Goldich

Best Defense department of academic accreditation

I recently had a lengthy discussion with a faculty member at an NDU institution. This person is very concerned indeed. Longtime high quality staff is retiring and not being replaced. The downgrading of the NDU president to two stars and the NWC and ICAF commandants to one is, correctly in my view, seen as an assault on the prestige of the institution and is viewed as unquestionably diminishing its bureaucratic clout. The placing of NDU under the J-7 is construed as interposing yet another layer of bureaucracy between the central joint PME institutions in the country and the CJCS/JCS.  

This faculty member (a civilian) also suggested that as the U.S. military component of the student body is down to a little more than 60 percent, the military orientation of what are, after all, military institutions is being significantly eroded. There are, for example, 35 international fellows in this year's National War College (NWC) class. Almost everybody I talk to values the presence of the international fellows, but the sheer number may be constraining the ability of in this case NWC to focus on U.S. national and military strategy. Similarly, everybody at both NWC and ICAF understands the significance of whole of government, interagency, etc. But too large a proportion of U.s. government civilian students also dilutes the military/war/defense broth.  

What all this suggests to me is that nobody in high places, from the current CJCS on down, seems to attach particular importance to NDU, both its PME institutions and its research components. This is particularly surprising and disappointing in that I have been told by people I respect that Gen. Dempsey was a clear standout in the class of 1996 at NWC. It seems to me it is time for comprehensive study, analysis, and reflection both within the department and congress about the future of NDU and its components. Right now it is incoherent, in steady decline, and adrift. The one bright spot -- the student body, by all accounts, continues to be as high a quality selection of officers and senior civilians as ever, if not more so -- deserves better.

Tom again: Speaking of academic troubles, I was surprised to see the people who recently decapitated the University of Virginia hide behind legalisms: "consistent with sound employment practices, it is the policy of the Board to keep confidential matters of disagreement and those relating to evaluation of progress against mutually agreed upon goals." You can't fire the head of a large and prestigious institution and then pretend its an employment dispute.