Sunday, January 24th 2016
“Both state and non-state actors have used terrorism, propaganda, recruitment through social media, and combined regular and guerilla tactics to defeat far technologically superior forces. No matter what name we give to the poorly understood methods of irregular war, the fact remains that it is still war, and we must adapt if we are to be successful in it,” wrote Captain Jason Topshe, a Marine Corps infantry officer with the U.S. Military Training Mission in Saudi Arabia. His article, “Evolving the Marine Corps for Irregular Warfare,” appeared in the January, 2016, issue of Marine Corps Gazette. His outside-the-box proposals on infantry organization, training, drill, local dress, and horses (!) will be of interest to civilians as well as members of the armed forces. Public diplomacy practitioners will appreciate his comments on “soft skills” that include negotiation, de-escalation, and cultural understanding:
The dilemma of fourth generation warfare is that, “What works for you on the physical (and sometimes mental) level often works against you at the moral level.” Winning at the moral level of war will require Marines to empathize with the people we are fighting for as well as with those we are fighting against. Skills in negotiation, cultural understanding, and de-escalation will allow Marines to adapt our means to the circumstances and the interests of the local population to achieve realistic ends that both sides can accept.
Instilling Marines with skills in negotiation will allow them to harmonize the roles and relationships among all the actors involved in a conflict. Negotiation skills and an understanding of what drives people to act will allow Marines to navigate the interests of Joint forces, foreign militaries, locals, non-governmental organizations, and the enemy and to influence all of these actors at the moral level of war. Skillful negotiation at the tactical level can have strategic benefits. Many Marines of all ranks have gained real-world experience in negotiation, but more work has to be done to prioritize negotiation skills in formal and informal training.
To gain true cultural understanding, Marines must live among and interact with the locals on a regular basis. This humanizes the relationship between Marines and the people they are seeking to influence. Current methods of Foreign Internal Defense (FID) and Unconventional Warfare (UW), which work by, with, or through foreign governments, militaries, and populations, must be core competencies not just of Special Operations Forces, but of Marine infantry units as well. The Marine Corps must also ensure that its FID and UW capabilities are not directed solely at the highest levels of foreign government but at all levels. The interests and needs of a few senior officials in a foreign military can be very different from the interests and needs of the majority of the population. Maintaining a small FID and UW footprint at the local, regional, and national level will ensure that Marines maintain a broad perspective on the issues they face. Keeping the footprint small will prevent our forces from seeming too overbearing to the people we advise. It is important that this broad footprint is maintained “left of bang,” to prevent and deter hostilities, rather than simply waiting for them to begin, then fighting back.
De-escalation skills are vital to positively influencing the perception that others have of Marines. Using our superior technology to inflict pain on a weaker enemy makes us look like bullies and perpetrators of violence when the only way to win the moral war is to convince the people we are there to prevent violence and address their grievances. Marines must learn to defeat unconventional enemies through COL David Hackworth’s method of “out G-ing the G,” or to out-guerilla the guerilla, or to defeat the enemy by his own methods. Training in police methods of de-escalation will give Marines the skills needed to prevent violence. When violence does become necessary, Marines’ light infantry training will allow them to defeat the enemy with unique and creative methods, not with superior firepower alone.