Processes of Irregular Warfare

A few months ago I posted a link to an article I published on, in which I argued that the principle of destruction – as defined by Clausewitz – constitutes an important continuity between regular and irregular warfare. To achieve victory, a guerrilla movement must be able to defeat its enemy in battle; in essence the object of guerrilla warfare is to build enough strength to shed its guerrilla nature and transform into regular warfare, a process Mao called “protracted war.” The major exception occurs in situations where the enemy belligerent has only a secondary or tertiary interest in the conflict, and it is therefore possible to defeat him by exhausting his political will to continue fighting with constant guerrilla warfare.

Thus, irregular warfare can achieve the political object by one of two paths: protracted war, or political exhaustion. I created a chart to visually represent these two simple processes of irregular warfare, but I did not include it with the article:

Of course, political exhaustion is not a strategy exclusive to irregular warfare; Hans Delbucke noted that strategies can be divided according to the categories of annihilation and exhaustion, and that holds true for all warfare.


One thought on “Processes of Irregular Warfare

  1. Conflicts that become ‘hot’ enough to result in the overt call to arms of terrorism/freedom fighting is most usually preceded by a period of ideological conflict. Usually this involves lose-win scenarios that cause the political impasse as no one, or nation for that matter, wants to lose face. An investment in being seen to do the right thing diplomatically and to be willing to compromise may well prevent conflict escalation, this appears to most often be the least worst option. However it may merely delay the inevitable i.e. whatever might be thought of as a justification to move away from reasoning to invoking a ‘just war theory’ or ‘foreign/domestic policy of enlightened self interest’ as always circumstances alter cases and one man’s sacred is sometimes another man’s anathema.

    Peace, is threatened when trading is too tightly restricted, business is done in an inequitable manner and people are poorly treated. For as sure as night follows day, change will continue swaying the balance of power, it inevitably shifts over time first one way then another and so on. Peace must be more than the absence of regular or irregular warfare. It can led to prosperity, which is best ensured by preventing the escalation of conflict or confining it within the rule of law ie. a political and/or judicial system. A policy of ‘assimilation’ with mutual alignment of shared interests or at least ‘toleration’ live and let live, seem on the whole to be more optimal for a nation.

    This is all well and good when people are reasonable, but for me the question of the control and restraint of the unreasonable, unethical and even ‘evil’? In these circumstances are ‘exhaustion’ and/or ‘destruction’ the only options for a nation, or is this just too reductionist and unimaginative?


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