Neither Shall the Sword: Conflict in the Years Ahead

by Col. (Ret.) Chester W. Richards, USAF

(93 pages, January 2006) Col. Chet Richards (USAF, ret.), a long-time contributor to CDI’s published monographs, has written a new work on 4th generation warfare, the type of conflict America has been waging, and losing, in Iraq.

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Executive Summary:

Four years after the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, the United States has not won the “global war on terror” nor even brought its chief antagonist to justice. And we remain bogged down in a war in Iraq against guerrillas who command the loyalty of at most 20 percent of that country’s inhabitants. In prosecuting these campaigns, we have stretched our resources so far that when a natural disaster struck at home, nearly a week passed before we could provide relief to the citizens of New Orleans.

Our failure to provide for the common defense does not stem from lack of money. We spend roughly half a trillion dollars per year to maintain and operate the Defense Department, an amount that matches the rest of the world’s defense spending combined. Before our incursion into Iraq finally ends, we will have spent at least as much as we did on Korea or Vietnam, removing the effects of inflation so as to make an apples-to-apples comparison.

Clearly something is not right, and spending even more money on a failed defense strategy is not going to make it right. This monograph does not recommend a specific alternative – aside from the obvious one: it is time to re-create the DoD or even abolish it completely and make way for a new structure for, and approach to, national defense.

Instead, it examines what has changed over the last dozen or so years to render the U.S. war machine ineffective against the types of opponents we now face, and, given their success, the type we are likely to face in the future. It reviews several approaches to a radical restructuring of the Armed Services to eliminate not only our large, heavy formations but the mindsets that accompany them. In their place, we should consider forces that blur the boundary between “civilian” and “military” as well as between government and private industry. We can be sure that our opponents have not ruled out any form of organization, and if we are to win, we must be at least as creative.

The present work is a continuation of ideas first raised in Richards’ 2001 book, A Swift, Elusive Sword. The premise of that volume was that since something called “maneuver warfare” had proven itself to be the best way

to fight wars, we should identify the units in our defense establishment best suited for that form of warfare, form a new Department of Defense around them, and eliminate the rest. As that book explained, the roots of maneuver warfare go back to Sun Tzu and extend in an unbroken thread to the present day, embodied in U.S. Marine Corps doctrine. History shows that forces that fight according to this doctrine virtually always defeat those that don’t, regardless of how much the other side spends or how many troops it has.

If maneuver warfare is so effective, why would any changes be needed to previous recommendations? The main reason is that maneuver warfare is designed to enable one country’s military establishment to defeat another’s in battle. While it works very well for that purpose, what we face today are non-state actors, such as al-Qaida and the Iraqi insurgents. These adversaries aren’t coming out to meet us on battlefields, rather they are attacking us with improvised explosive devises or hit-and-run ambushes or commercial airliners anywhere in the world 24/7.

What we are seeing, in short, is an evolution in armed conflict – one isn’t sure whether to even call it “war” – in which guerrilla warfare is morphing into something much more dangerous. This analysis is based on a comparison of recommendations from five distinguished strategists:

• William S. Lind, author of “Strategic Defense Initiative”

• Martin van Creveld, The Transformation of War

• Thomas X. Hammes, The Sling and the Stone

• Micheal Scheuer, Imperial Hubris

• Thomas P. M. Barnett, The Pentagon’s New Map and Blueprint for Action

As these authors note, to varying degrees, guerrilla warriors traditionally operated largely within a state (although they may have base areas just outside it) and their goal was either to replace the government of that state or to drive out an occupying power from it. This pattern has held from the early 1800s, when the word “guerrilla” was coined, to the U.S. war in Vietnam and the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan. With the fall of the Soviet Union, however, and the withdrawal of support by both Cold War powers, many U.S. and Soviet client states around the world began to fail. These states are now providing safe havens for a new breed of violent ideological organization that has ambitions for changing governments not just in single states but in entire regions. They use modern technologies such as the Internet and cell phones to recruit and train members, and to plan operations. And they recognize that in order to achieve their goals, they must often persuade an outside power – generally the United States – to back off.

This new type of conflict is often known as “fourth generation war (4GW).” Although ideas for prosecuting 4GW run the gamut from isolationism to an active program of military intervention and regime change, all of these strategies can be lumped into two schools, “containment” and “rollback.” Each offers costs, risks, and potential benefits for the United States and its allies.

Containment would be the least costly, at least in the short term. Our military forces would be downsized to a retaliatory element to punish and eliminate any regime harboring 4GW organizations that attack us. Depending on the strategist,our retaliatory forces could be conventional military units such as we used in Iraq, or massive non-nuclear carpet bombing strikes, or even nuclear weapons. Some ideas for containment would permit intervention with intelligence and international police operations, while saving the military option for retaliation. Under any containment strategy, however, the force recommended in A Swift, Elusive Sword would do fine as the retaliatory element, although it could also be reduced in size and cost. The idea is that over time, people living in areas that spawn 4GW will get their acts in order, throw out their bad rulers, and join the world system. Until that happens, we will protect ourselves.

The problem with containment is that we may not be able to live with whatever arises in the under-developed world in the meantime. It is possible that such a strategy, especially if carried to the extent of isolation, would hasten the day that groups like al-Qaida acquire nuclear devices and smuggle them into the cities of the developed world.

The idea of rollback, on the other hand, is to help the process along by various levels of intervention, and then to stay and rebuild the failed state so that it no longer can harbor our 4GW opponents. Proponents of rollback generally see the military as an ordinary tool of policy and would use it to break open countries that harbor 4GW groups or that we, for any other reason, feel potentially threaten the security of the developed world. The promise of rollback is great. It would eliminate “terrorist” groups,

world poverty, ignorance, hunger and disease.

The problem with rollback is equally great: nobody knows how to do it. Our Iraqi adventure has discredited the idea of military intervention as the primary mechanism, and other tools of regime change such as political pressure or economic sanctions can take decades to work, when they work at all, and they always bring great hardship to ordinary people living in the affected countries.

Military forces for rollback, should we swallow the risks and proceed anyway, fall into two categories. The first, like the containment force, specializes in maneuver warfare to rapidly eliminate a hostile regime. Unlike containment, however, the idea is not to retaliate but to do the least amount of damage to the country so that rebuilding can proceed sans insurgency. In order to ensure the maximum level of creativity and initiative for this mission, should we decide to undertake it, this book recommends privatizing the forces for it. Such a course of action would require expanding the current capabilities of private military companies, and putting in place a legal structure to promote competition among them and enforce compliance with laws and rules to govern their activities. Although difficult, it is much easier than trying to transform the current hierarchy and bureaucracy of DoD, which has settled into an extremely stable pattern of spending more and more while as an institution, it produces less and less.

The other category required in any rollback force is the rebuilding element. Its larger component would be an expanded Corps of Engineers focused on reconstruction not only of infrastructure but of everything else needed to help the invaded state function as a member of the world economy. The smaller piece of the rebuilding element would be a counterinsurgency force modeled after the U.S. Marine Corps’ Combined Action Program, which proved successful in the early days of Vietnam. This force would live down in the neighborhoods and villages – not in bases or Green Zones – to head off potential insurgencies, particularly those instigated by members of the ousted regime and would work hand-in-hand with the expanded Corps of Engineers.

After looking at what would be required in each case, and balancing the promise of rollback against its dismal track record, the book recommends containment, but not isolation, as our near term strategy. It would continue t use intelligence and law enforcement on an on-going basis, while experimenting with diplomatic and financial means of encouraging states and other entities in the developing world to eliminate 4GW organizations and the conditions that spawn them. Since this is unknown territory, Richards would keep a significant military force in being, and would put a high priority on accounting for every nuclear device and kilo of fissile material anywhere in the world.