Counter Insurgency (COIN) as different levels of war

It seems like a lot of people have defined counter-insurgency doctrine at different levels of war. I’ve been trying to construct a VENN diagram showing elements of low intensity conflict for a project and came up with some things that COIN is not:

COIN is not all out total war.
COIN is not a war of attrition.
COIN is not a resource war.
COIN is not about geography.
COIN is not rehabilitation by force.

I know some will disagree because of course COIN is a little of the above but it isn’t the stated goal. If we plow through the middle of a city with tanks and level it via large kinetic weapons COIN is a discussion for the after the preliminary action and not a primary objective. As to attrition there are elements but rather than fighting a war on the move expending resources until the adversary has no resources in COIN we look at replenishing particular resources and removing others. Geography in COIN is determined on the aspects it presents. COIN and MOUT in Iraq are inextricably linked and the geography is peoples front rooms and courtyards. Regime change is outside the realm of COIN too. The forceful resignation of foreign dignitary by 500lb bomb is not COIN. Rehabilitation of political affiliation is a large Army Task.

Similarly COIN does have some things that it might be. It has linkages to different levels of warfare. COIN appears to have tenuous and in some cases hardened fundamental interests in different levels of warfare.

COIN is a pre-conflict or total war agent of diplomacy.

It would seem that the use of COIN techniques could be used prior to escalated hostilities as a method of reducing the scope of conflict. I see this as the advisory capacity when supporting a government. In this capacity it seems that the ground operator may call upon assets in the military arsenal to persuade others through “bomb” to consider new and innovative methods of participation in local politics. As such COIN operators have a relationship to other war fighters as a selective target designator.

COIN is an on-going conflict agent of change.

In traditional maneuver warfare sea/air/land COIN seems to have a relationship during conflict as a method of mitigating risk to the war fighter. In a time of restrictive rules of engagement it may be that the COIN role is to insure that the population not become tactical targets of opportunity. If the populace is perceived to take up arms then they no longer have any protections under the most restrictive ROE. If they do not take up arms and can be kept off the collateral damage statistic sheet their relevant gripes will be few. Since wars of annihilation are likely not in the current operational calendar COIN has a substantial role and vested interest in being a participant in any traditional maneuver warfare.

COIN is the janitor for the school of hard knocks.

All kidding aside no conflict can be waged with an expectation of no unintended consequences. When force of arms interact with the population those without political will be emboldened to action in absence of corollary forces of self-interest. The role of COIN post traditional military conflict is to create trust where none exists, fix/repair/explain the excesses of maneuver warfare, create alliances, create impediments to insurgency and failing all of that utilize the assets of the larger military arsenal to vanquish those who would not relinquish armed conflict.

I don’t claim any of the previous as singularly my ideas. I have read long and hard on the topic but build my own ideas on the backs of better scholars and writers. I have come to some conclusions though that may be troubling and yet ancillary to the discussion at hand.

COIN can be fought in the boardroom and by advertising agencies.

The ability to bring foreign investment to the table through non-governmental organization (NGO) is boon to the COIN operator. With the advent of hyper-media and worldwide media networks the advertising and primarily corporate interests take on new and substantial roles in COIN. It is only a wonder until we have COIN being tested between corporations as stateless actors in conflict. The ability to shape a message for a populace and have that message added to the common media and intellectual discussion within normal media consumption can not be overstated as a goal.

COIN can be fought at the bank.

In seems that money truly is the root of all evil and the salve for the bruised conscience. The ability to flow or stop money and funding seems to be hugely important. Yet at the operator level few will give a COIN operator the resources to affect that outcome. Unlike the traditional military maneuver answer “bomb it” the COIN operator can say “buy it”. In the hands of the COIN operator dollars can me lives can be objectives are met.

It seems that COIN has a direct relationship to different methods of war, and perhaps levels of war, but that relationship is found truly in my opinion in the scope and time-table of war. COIN as a mission changes depending on the level and scope of the conflict and the currency of the larger military mission. Perhaps there are phases that are readily understood by others, but from my perspective they would be fairly vague and subject to numerous feedbacks as the scope and challenges change.

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