Strategy in Fragmented Civil Wars: Iraq, Syria, and the Challenge of External Intervention
AIR UNIV MAXWELL AFB AL SCHOOL OF ADVANCED AIR AND SPACE STUDIES
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This thesis explores the utility of external intervention in fragmented civil wars. I argue that existing models are inadequate for understanding such wars. Most strategists begin with Clausewitz s definition of war as a duel, but this definition and its consequent theory of victory imply two, comparable, unified actors. The duel model is misleading and even dangerous in wars where these assumptions do not hold. This thesis presents an alternative model for understanding war, which accounts for any number of actors, of any type, and accounts for processes of fragmentation, cohesion, and defection among them. Accordingly, human societies are best understood as complex adaptive systems, which are under continual, moment-by-moment renegotiation by actors. Renegotiation processes are usually peaceful, but when they become violent, the system can slide into war. War is best understood as a violent renegotiation on a large scale. Winning in a fragmented war requires bringing stakeholders to a favorable state of dynamic equilibrium, facilitating the cessation of violence and a return to nonviolent means of renegotiation. Achieving equilibrium in a fragmented social system requires a cumulative strategy of coalition-building among stakeholders. This is a difficult, costly, and nonlinear endeavor. External interveners can augment this process using both military force and positive incentives, but the extreme difficulty and unpredictability of such a project make such interventions unattractive. External powers may be better served by non-winning strategies. These are limited strategies in pursuit of limited ends, which seek to manage violence and its effects rather than solve it. However, adherence to such strategies is difficult because they do not bring wars to a decisive conclusion. A case study illustrates the challenges the US faced in bringing post-2003 Iraq to a new state of dynamic equilibrium.
- Military Operations, Strategy and Tactics