A New Modern Theory of War, Mind Control, Cultural Blindness in Proxy War and other Bullets

A New Modern Theory of War, Mind Control, Cultural Blindness in Proxy War and other Bullets

I have been working with the idea for a little while and have begun my research for a writing contest that is being hosted by Divergent Options. The subject matter for this contest is Below the Threshold Competition: China. This is how they describe it,

What:  A 1,000 word Options Paper or Assessment Paper examining how countries can compete more effectively with China below the threshold of armed conflict.  We are also interested in writers examining how China will continue to compete and evolve their tactics below the threshold of armed conflict.

According to the competition, this is the most fun part,

Other Comments:  For the purposes of this contest we encourage writers to think in an unconstrained manner and to not worry about what authority or what organization would be used to execute a given option.

If you are interested, you should check it out…there are cash prizes for 1st, 2nd, 3rd place and honorable mention!

Lots to cover today, since it has been so long since I put together a bullets post I am not going to get everything in this that I want…there is so much out there. But I wanted to provide some reading material and places to go so you can get a feel of what the folks are talking about. Once again, I will be providing what I feel is the most interesting article of the day and we will wrap things up with the most thought provoking.

  • The most interesting article today goes to The Civil Affairs Association’s Why We Need A Modern Theory of Special Warfare to Thrive in the Human Domain by Arnel P. David, Dave Allen, Dr. Nicholas Krohley and Dr. Aleksandra Nesic. The article was originally written in Wavell Room and is intended for a British audience but there is so much to discuss here. The article highlights the strategic confusion faced by the force today that I would argue is more of a strategic drift without clearly defined missions or goals; a grand strategy that can create a unification of effort. The article…  

explains why we need a renewed examination of theories. It reinvigorates the British Army’s long tradition of using an indirect approach to thrive in the human domain. War is a political act performed by humans. It is on land, amongst people, that the military must prevail. Defence must posture not only with platforms, but also through investment in highly skilled human operators who have been educated, trained, and equipped to excel in the human domain.

But what does that really mean? The article explains:

At present, we suffer a cognitive dissonance between concepts and strategy, which is rooted in a lack of foundational theories. A lack of rigorous theory leads to “shallow bumper sticker”[i] ideas, which are equally sticky and unhelpful. Success in the human domain requires concepts and capabilities that are built on a solid foundation of theory fit for purpose, specifically, a theory of a special type of warfare that is waged in complex human environments, using traditional and non-traditional means to achieve a position of strategic advantage. Second, this article explains what types of challenges a theory of this special warfare can begin to solve. ‘Special’ in this case is not ‘better’ or ‘more elite’, but instead, simply different and non-traditional. In the end, this article will show how the British Army can operate globally, with stronger relationships, greater understanding, and extended influence.

This article is so good and I believe, a must read for the day. If I was trying to craft a document for the purpose of The Cognitive Warrior Project this article could be it. It concludes with recommendations at the individual, tactical, operational and strategic level.

With a post-Brexit and pandemic-impacted world, the British Army—now more than ever before—requires an agile special warfare capability able to operate in support of strategic objectives, while enhancing the overall effectiveness of all levers of government. The Army can develop small, inexpensive units able to leverage indigenous mass to achieve disproportionately large results. A theory of special warfare, perhaps informed by other work on remote warfare[xix] and information warfare[xx], can build the right capability the UK needs in lieu of what it wants and cannot afford (e.g., more carriers and expensive aircraft).[xxi] This is not a wholesale change of the entire Army and this force may not be like anything that exists today. It can be a force multiplier that magnifies the impact of existing capabilities. A fresh theoretical exploration will exercise our imagination, and determine the right mix and size.

I’ve got more reading to do…follow this next link. There is so much information out there but here is a place to start. I didn’t even know or perhaps forgotten that these publications existed!

At the individual level: We should equip soldiers with the social, psychological, and cultural skills needed to navigate – and influence – complex human environments. This would ensure that our personnel are prepared to assess, engage, and influence on an inter-personal level. Such training and educational opportunities have been implemented by the US Army Special Operations Forces across the globe with wide success.

  • Here is another new source for information. The Forge describes itself as an online hub designed to help build and hone the intellectual edge of those involved in the Profession of Arms and is run by the Australian Defence College (ADC). One of their latest articles, The Value of Building Civics Education into Defence by Pinghan Chua, continues our discussion on ethics which we discussed more in-depth here. This article argues that they do not do enough to educate their military about civics and other political institutions which I thick we also lack here in the U.S. They begin by looking back:

A decade ago, the ADF was at the height of its involvement in security and stabilisation operations in Afghanistan, where poor governance and corruption were endemic. Military commanders and civilian policy advisors  [1] had to navigate morally and ethically ambiguous situations, from planning elections, to distributing aid and wrangling local militias. In such a fraught environment, our people often had to balance upholding civic principles against tactical expedience: was it better to work through flawed government institutions, or local warlords?

You can read this article and everywhere it says Australia replace that with the U.S. I cannot agree with this more. I believe there is a general lack of understanding of basic civics. I definitely will include myself in this conversation. I certainly could not give a class on the topic. We have to truly understand and be able to articulate what we are defending and why our way of doing things is better. Each one of us needs be able to answer the question of why the Western Model of governance should lead the world. The article concludes with this:

Civics education enhances a strong, well-rounded moral and ethical framework for all ranks that will span across their whole careers. Looking past our regional engagement, future expeditionary operations will likely grapple with popular discontent, corruption and low host-nation capacity. Our operational-level staff may need to design campaigns to assist flawed or failing states. And our strategic leaders will need to advise ministers and their staffs, as well as deftly managing bilateral defence relationships.

  • Alright let’s ditch ethics altogether and go the opposite way and have a little fun! Wavell Room features the article Influencing the mind of an adversary which deliberately ignores the moral argument, focusing instead on developing an influence strategy against a non-specific adversary. Morals, ethics and civics are hard and honestly, probably do not work as well as the path that adversaries such as China may be on. But what would ‘winning’ even look like if we had to go to that level? I thought that this was an interesting thought experiment.

From ancient times, military forces have understood the importance of the mind. In his treatise The Art of War, Sun Tzu wrote that to win leaders must fix the mind of the adversary. In the 18th century, Clausewitz wrote that victory lies in destroying the enemy’s will and motivation to fight, and in the 21st century such concepts are taught in military academies worldwide.

This article will assume that UK Defence intends to influence the mind of an adversary. It will look at the broad use of methods to influence hearts and minds, before considering techniques of operational psychology, mind-control and personal sabotage. Many of the techniques discussed will have obvious moral arguments against them, this article will not discuss these but instead identify lessons to develop an influence strategy.

By looking back, this article shows how bad we have been in the current era in psychological operations. Even our efforts to win hearts and minds have been hampered by a lack of an ability to provide security first and cultural understanding (which we will touch on later). The article briefly discusses the current media landscape, mind control, Zersetzung and rightly concludes that the mind is a battlefield:

When planning an influence strategy against an adversary, UK Defence have a number of approaches to employ. From the familiar focus on hearts and minds to the specific and morally ambiguous techniques used by the Stasi and the CIA. There are also many technologies through which influence can be maximised. We must understand and employ these means wherever appropriate. The mind of an adversary must be considered vital ground, as it has been for centuries of warfare.

  • There are two stories over at, Divergent Options that I believe are worth checking out. The first, Assessing China’s Economic Influence in Latin America, I believe is the most interesting because it demonstrates that the threat China poses is not limited to Asia. I had not heard much about their influence in Latin America and I believe that if their influence has the potential to be a threat to U.S. interests. This also adds weight, albeit not directly, to the conclusion of the AEI article on Al Qaeda’s Return that we discussed yesterday.

Similar to the Soviet Union during Cold War, China is seeking victory without war.  In this Latin America case however, China is leveraging its economic instrument of power to achieve influence instead of supplying fellow communists with materiel like the Soviet Union did.  China’s efforts in this arena are a threat to U.S. interests in Latin America.

The paper makes the case that long-term investments threaten U.S. interests because China has the potential to control access and influence in these countries. I don’t know that I am convinced. For me what is the alternative? The U.S. certainly cannot afford all of these investments on their own, we cannot and should not be all things to all people. Do I like it? No. But what is the alternative? Perhaps I am wrong but, this is how the article concludes:

China’s interests throughout Latin America continue to increase, as seen with their recent attempt to lease port lying areas in El Salvador. Much like in Sri Lanka, China aggressively pursues developing countries to legally entrap them and coerce them into long-term commitments for compensation. Although their priority in Latin America is to gain an economic foothold, their actions also shape Latin American perceptions and buys political influence in the region. China’s economic advancement in Latin America has the potential to become a national security threat to the U.S. and its interests throughout the region.

  • Also at Divergent Options, S. Aircraft Basing Options in Competition and Conflict with China explores the threat Chinese missiles pose to fixed U.S. Bases and ships in the region and proposes three options to mitigate such risks. The most significant portion of the paper to me are the capabilities that China possesses. It’s pretty interesting and demonstrates that China poses a very large multi-dimensional threat to U.S. interests.

Chinese missiles are more than capable of targeting fixed U.S. bases and ships. A recent Center for New American Security report noted that “…a preemptive missile strike against the forward bases that underpin U.S. military power in the Western Pacific could be a real possibility” and named it “the greatest military threat” to U.S. interests in Asia[2]. Analysis of images from missile ranges in the Gobi Desert indicates that the primary targets for these missiles are U.S. aircraft carriers and fixed aviation facilities like airplane hangers and runways[3]. The missiles have repeatedly been highlighted in military parades and are the cornerstone of the PLA’s capability to defeat and deter U.S. military action in the South and East China Seas and their anti-access, area-denial network[4].

  • The Small Wars Journal has an Interview with David Kilcullen about his book, The Dragons and the Snakes: How the Rest Learned to fight the West that have discussed here, here and here. I have not finished the book but it is interesting in that it provides some perspective on what I have already read and what I am about to read. Here are two interesting exchanges that I think are important for everyone to understand:

Is this more along the lines of what general Charles Krulak was arguing in the 1990s with his three-block war concept (humanitarian, peacekeeping, high intensity) shifting from one to another but with a new dimension – great power competition?

It is beyond the three-block war. It is more like 16-block war with multiple domains – cyber, space, political and economic warfare, alongside the physical and electromagnetic domains. One of the points I make about China is that we are dealing with an adversary that has dramatically broadened its definition of warfare beyond what we consider to be war. In fact, what they do in practice is to mobilize multiple dimensions of national power that are way beyond our traditional military domains. Even if we could conceive a lot of what the Chinese are doing as warlike, it is not clear that the Ministry of Defense of any Western country would be in charge of the response. We need to think carefully about reconceptualizing what we mean by war.

And second this portion which I am very much looking forward to reading:

How should the Western way of warfare change in order to respond effectively to the adaptations and variations in the operational environment?

There are broadly three potential courses of action…

Thirdly is some sort of a Byzantine strategy – a holding strategy to enable a potentially acceptable successor to emerge. The Western Roman Empire collapsed in the 4th century AD while the Byzantine Empire survived for another 1100 years until the fall of Constantinople. So how did they manage to achieve another 1100 years of primacy in the Eastern Mediterranean after the collapse of the Roman Empire? In the book I describe a number of things about how they operated. They were very capable of selectively copying from adversaries in terms of technologies, techniques, ways of operating, they learned from their wide range of enemies and incorporated those lessons into their own very adaptive, flexible way of operating. Secondly, they got out of the business of occupying and governing entire provinces as the Romans had done and focused instead on agile mobile forces that could react at long distances to a wide variety of threats, stabilize the environment and step back. They were also able to build constellations of capable local allies that could do a lot of the work in between interventions. They maintained a selective edge and mastered some key technologies that other people couldn’t master such as Greek Fire, a high-tech defensive tool. Most importantly they focused very heavily on resiliency at home, on building an effective civil and military and economic system that was resilient to shock, that was not optimized for efficiency in the absence of shock, but optimized for resilience to shock.

To respond to the reemergence of an aggressive Russia with a strategic approach that would increase their chances to achieve victory, the Baltic and Scandinavian states seem to have been trying to dust off and upgrade an old concept: total defense. This approach is based on the combination of conventional military activities and civilian resilience and resistance during foreign occupation.

What is total defense?

using an asymmetric approach to offset Russia’s overwhelming conventional capabilities and to involve all stakeholders in a defense strategy

The article argues that the conventional forces of these countries would not stand a chance against Russia and should completely rethink their approach to national defense. This is where we get to the really interesting part of the article.[emphasis mine]

If countries really want to implement total defense, then their first step must be the complete dismantlement of their existing defense forces and the creation a new military framework that, by design, is best suited for such an approach. Countries with total defense strategies should abandon the idea of trying to mount a conventional defense against Russian aggression and should instead focus all of their efforts on the resistance phase of the conflict. These countries must break from the traditional military culture and get rid of that culture’s most fundamental elements—conventional services, formations, and rank structures—and create something entirely new: a professional irregular defense force with new types of forces that are purpose built for resistance operations. 

They go on with a model, [emphasis mine]

Twenty-first-century resistance only has a chance to succeed against Russian occupation if it is executed by a force that is specifically selected, organized, educated, trained, equipped, and supported for such operations. To find examples of such formations, planners should turn not to the romanticized notions of World War II resistance networks; rather, they should draw lessons from the Taliban, Hezbollah, and ISIS.

Now they are not arguing for utilizing some of their tactics but this is truly outside the box thinking and I love it! There is so much more in this article and I definitely encourage you to read the whole thing.

While it might not seem self-evident, proxy wars are today’s dominant form of war. A quick survey of contemporary armed conflicts shows that proxy war rears its enigmatic head frequently and repeatedly. To understand the extent to which this is true, one only has to go so far as recent American combatant command congressional testimony. In recent years all of the American geographic combatant commands, with the exception of United States Northern Command, have discussed the significant role proxies play within their respective areas of operation.

The article continues with current models used in proxy wars and proposes expanding the models to consider additional factors. [emphasis mine]

Current theories suggest that two forms of proxy relationships exist, one characterized by an exploitative model and the other by a transactional model. The picture these theories paint of proxies are built upon principal-agent relationships and metered by strategic risk. However, further examination takes this theory a step further and expands these models to highlight five types of relationships. In addition to the exploitative and transactional models, we should also conceptualize three further models—culture, coercive, and contractual—of proxy relationships.

Historically, the U.S. strategy has assumed that everyone has a price. Evidence for this can be seen by us running around with bags of cash trying to buy influence. If there is anything that we have learned from the last 20 years of fighting is that this strategy simply does not work when facing an enemy that is driven by ideology more than money. I would argue that the transactional model will work fighting cartels and drug lords but not the Taliban. The article then discusses the principle-agent problem and defines each of the models.

In order to understand the relationships in proxy wars, one must understand the principal-agent problem. Principal-agent problems arise when an actor (i.e., a principal) delegates, enlists, or forces another actor (i.e., an agent, or proxy) to perform an activity on its behalf.

Of the five models, I want to highlight the cultural model because this focuses on reasons beyond money in influencing the people the we fight with and I believe it is the most under utilized aspect of unconventional warfare. [emphasis mine]

Speaking on the influence of culture on war, historian John Keegan contends, “War embraces much more than politics. . . . It is always an expression of culture, often a determinant of cultural form, in some societies the culture itself.” In this model, the cultural bond between the principal and the agent generates extremely tight coupling between the partners, which results in a proxy that is willing to go to the limits of strategic and tactical risk with the principal.

Many countries have cultural lines that do not align with the political map. This results in cultural leverage points, to include religion, ethnicity, language, history, and geography. Cultural proxies tend to be found in areas of conflict where culture bleeds across political borders. In this model a principal exploits one or more cultural ties in an area where it has political or strategic interests to obtain influence over a culturally similar group.

Iranian proxies throughout the Shia Crescent are an exemplar of this model. Iran leverages cultural similarities, generally Shia Islam, to establish a network of tightly coupled proxies across the Middle East. These include Lebanon’s Hezbollah, Iraq’s Kata’ib Hezbollah, Houthi rebels in Yemen, Hamas, and Shia militia groups in Syria and Iraq. Iran supports, funds, and advises these proxies with its Quds Force, a component of its Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps.

Simply put, this is the strongest bond in the sponsor-proxy relationship and is why we face so many challenges in the Middle East. We simply do not understand what motivates our partner forces. This is supposed to be a core principle in Special Operations and is a large reason why we are taught language and cultural skills. If we as a force are going to be successful in future wars, this must be a key aspect of our overall strategy that needs to be embraced at the lowest levels.

5 thoughts on “A New Modern Theory of War, Mind Control, Cultural Blindness in Proxy War and other Bullets

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