Planet Militia

A must-read John Robb post on America’s evolving military strategy.

The US military is on the slow path to the realization that nation-building — from reconstruction to other forms of traditional COIN dogma that serve to return legitimacy to the government — doesn’t work. Politics and populations in our new global environment fragment faster than they can be assembled into cohesive entities. What does work to slow the spread of temporary autonomous zones and open source insurgencies are open source militias.

The post was prompted by the news that the US is, rather clumsily, thinking through applying the Anbar model to Pakistan.

The trouble, of course, is that these counter-militias are, like Colombia’s AUC, etc., scarcely better than the alternative in a lot of important ways. The militia strategy bears an uncomfortable resemblance to our strategy in Salvadoran civil war and a host of other dirty wars. Given the alternatives, this might nevertheless be the best way forward, which is a dark commentary on the state we’re in. Robb concludes with a key question.

The use of a plethora of militias to fight a global open source insurgency from Nigeria to Mexico to Iraq to Pakistan is effective within a grand strategy of delay (it holds disorder at bay while allowing globalization to work). Most beneficially, it eliminates the need for nation-building, massive conventional troop deployments, and other forms of excess. Some questions remain: can the US manage something this complex or this messy? Will the rest of the US military/contractors sit idle (and as a result fall victim to budget cuts) while light weight special operations forces (and their allied private military corporations) take center stage?

Consider the logic of the anti-China drumbeat, which makes little sense when we think of China as a poor, vulnerable country but rather more when we think of it as an opportunity for defense contractors.