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The disconnect (again)
Posted by Newshoggers.com on January 25th, 2011

From our partners at Newshoggers.com

By Dave Anderson

I'm dittoing Bernard Finel's argument on the COIN tactical to strategic disconnect:

By trying to suggest that local, operational successes can be assessed independently of strategic outcomes he is reinforcing the main problem in our discussions of COIN. Look, good COIN is COIN that defeats the insurgency. Any use of force has to be measured, ultimately, by the political outcomes it achieves. This is particularly true since the nature of these conflicts are intimately political. You can judge whether, say, an amphibious operation was successful based on whether you establish a bridgehead, by the number of losses, etc. But what in the world does it mean to do "good COIN" if insurgent activity or control expands in the process. You just can't assess it independent of the outcomes.

This is a particularly problematic issue because, I would argue, much of what passes for COIN theory reflects little more than the reification of perceived operational needs. If I send troops into a region to fight an insurgency, the only way they can plan operations is with some local intelligence and cooperation. So, in order to allow tactical units to operate, then need to build bridges to the local community, and the best way to do that is by — on one hand — offering goods and services and — on the other — making collaboration somewhat safer. I get all of that. But what remains unclear to me is how this turns into strategic success, and here I think the theory becomes much, much fuzzier.

COIN as currently practiced by the United States has a massive disconnect between what happens on the ground and the political superstructure and goal sets:

the political costs of the COIN strategy were very high; promises of ten to twenty year wars, consumption of the society's productive surplus, the consistent threat of de-pacification, severe social and domestic political instability and legitimacy threats. These costs could be borne if the theatre of war was critical to the existence and maitenance of a desired social order as these costs were borne in World War Two. However in both examples, especially in Vietnam, the objective loss function was fairly small as Vietnam was a tertiary interest for the United States.

COIN today promises the same type of inputs — ten to twenty year wars, operational costs of one to two points of annual GDP at a time of structural deficits and domestic fiscal crisis — with the same type of outcomes — weak, client states in need of continual support in secondary or tertiary areas of interest.

And shockingly the public of democracies don't like COIN nor do they want to spend those resources for minimal real gains in security that operational and tactical successes may or may not generate.

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