The Small Wars Manual of 2020

Dr. Keith Bickel, CEO, One Global Market

April 4, 2001

Dr. Bickel's talk builds on his dissertation project, which analyzed 40 years of U.S. Marine Corps interventions overseas. He has also worked with Andrew Marshall in the Department of Defense on issues relating to the Revolution in Military Affairs. In his talk Bickel discussed the nature of small wars (fighting insurgencies), key trends in small war fighting, and then proposed how to react to those trends: a "Small Wars Manual" for the future.

New Trends

First Dr. Bickel noted that the "kinetic" insurgencies—the kinds of insurgencies the world sees today—are likely to evolve into particularly ominous forms of insurgencies. He therefore argued for a "wholesale rewrite of the small wars manual." Somalia, Grozny, and the West Bank, he says, are examples of what we can expect to see in the future.

The basis for change lies in major trends that are now occurring. A first trend is urbanization. The world is now witnessing a 175% increase in urban populations. This includes demographic changes, in which we see a rising urban young who might not be absorbed by own economies and could be "ripe for insurrection." A second major trend is technology: the information revolution and the biological revolution (such as genetic research). Dr. Bickel argued that together these trends provide a platform for many other changes that could occur (precision and miniaturization, speed and stealth, range and endurance, materials and manufacturing).

Warfare in new dimensions

Dr. Bickel noted that all of these trends have major implications for warfighting in urban areas, as they advantage insurgents in a number of ways. Though the insurgents face the same tasks as they did in the past, they now have new capabilities with which to accomplish their goals; for example insurgents can find targets with greater ease by relying on commercial space and by using UAVs.

Insurgents can now draw from tools of biological or information warfare. Through biological warfare they can target specific genetic groups (i.e. Hispanics, Asians) to create political problems. Through information warfare they can disrupt governmental processes by hacking into defense department computers.

Dr. Bickel argued that insurgents will have increased lethality, which they can employ in localized or temporary operations, or in anti-access operations that cut off airports or ports. Taking advantage of increased localization, insurgents can also reduce their own exposure.

A Small Wars Manual for 2020

Because of all these changes, combating insurgencies in the future will be much more challenging. Bearing in mind those trends, what's the prescription? Dr. Bickel next presented a small wars manual for 2020.

The first part of the small wars manual deals with deploying into and operating in an anti-access environment. Dr. Bickel cited the importance of stabilizing the government and economy of a state that is battling insurgents. He noted the importance of entering with an exit strategy. In preparation for deployment, he argued in favor of standoff deployment from the continental United States. He also noted that local constabulatory forces could be trained to assist a U.S. intervention force.

In the deployment stage, challenges include phased entry, a counter-C4ISR campaign, and surprise/infiltration entry by special forces. He cautioned against bringing in tanks to urban environments, citing the experience of Grosny.

Once the force is in, Dr. Bickel argued for "nodal" defense. Garrisoning within a city makes troops too vulnerable. In order to avoid a large, concentrated troop presence, he recommended using a smaller numbers of troops to defend key nodes. Rapid-reaction forces hidden outside the immediate city can supplement these troops when necessary. In sum, the main point of nodal defense is to avoid sending out patrols from a garrison: instead, troops should live amidst the city at important nodes.

In urban environments, Dr. Bickel noted the importance of non-lethal weapons. An intervening force could rely upon non-lethal weapons such as microwaves, foams, and acoustic wave generators. The goal of the intervention force should not be to clear or occupy the city, but rather to control nodes and engage iteratively to attrit insurgent forces.

Dr. Bickel added that in stabilization operations a virtual presence can be more important than a geographic one. He noted the importance of demonstrating the stability of the government. Because average people interact with their governments through the media, it is important to utilize the media to create the perception within the populace that the government is functional and stable.

A sample offensive against insurgents would feature a high reliance on robotics for patrolling, such as with UAVs. The force should take advantage superior training, and should perform round the clock, all-weather operations. It should keep moving at all times, forcing the enemy to expose itself. In terms of offensives aimed at insurgent leadership, offensives should include targeting of leadership finances and even websites.

In the withdrawal phase, it is important to note that victory is defined in both military and civil terms. Military successes sometimes create political problems that must be dealt with. U.S. leaders need to consider what are their "leave-behinds": for example, advisors or technology?

In conclusion, Dr. Bickel pointed out that a key question remains. Given the huge challenges posed by the small wars of the future, does the United States want to make the political decision to fight these wars? This is an important question for the American public and leadership.

Question and Answer Period

One audience member asked whether Dr. Bickel's vision of the tank being extinct in these wars was correct. Tanks are an important symbol of strength. Doesn't he envision a role for tanks, especially given the high casualty sensitivity of the American public? Dr. Bickel agreed that tanks are important symbols, which makes them even more desirable as a target. He noted that tanks do have their place in fighting small wars, but noted that appropriate tactics need to be formulated in light of lessons learned from other wars.

Another person asked about the population: Isn't he making an implicit observation that the population is on your side? Dr. Bickel said that populations are generally neutral as they are waiting to see what develops-he pointed out that insurgents often terrorize populations and so they don't win the population's hearts and minds.

One audience member disagreed that it is likely that insurgents will acquire the technologies Dr. Bickel attributed to them in the future. He questioned, isn't it better to conduct analysis that is probabilistic rather than deterministic? Dr. Bickel responded that Hezbollah, for example, has been excellent at acquiring new technologies and that many of the technologies of which he spoke (such as UAVs) are very simple and it is very plausible insurgents could acquire them.

Another audience member brought up the political question that Dr. Bickel posed at the end. He noted that high American casualty sensitivity means that it is unlikely the American public would sustain support for operations that were perceived as peripheral to American security interests.

Rapporteur: Jennifer Lind

back to seminar schedule, spring 2001