Sunday, November 18, 2012


The paradox of logistics in insurgencies and counterinsurgencies or "Why a 'little bit' goes a long way and a 'whole lot' is never 'enough' ..." (4th Place.(COIN Competition)

January 1, 2007 | Vlasak, Marian E. | Copyright
ARMIES THAT WAGE WAR against insurgencies are often confounded by a logistic paradox that poses an important question: Why does a "little bit" of logistics seem to go a long way for the insurgents, while a "whole lot" of logistic support never seems to be enough for counterinsurgency efforts? What is going on here? Why is it that insurgents are able to achieve tactical and even political results that seem out of proportion to the logistics that produced them? Conversely, why is it that massive logistic support is needed to conduct counterinsurgency warfare? Why is it that the substantial logistic effort that counterinsurgency warfare requires continues to be dismissively underappreciated? And even when significant logistic resources are allocated for counterinsurgency warfare, why does much of it appear to be "wasted"? Traditionally, insurgency and counterinsurgency warfare has been examined from ideological or tactical perspectives, with less attention paid to how this type of warfare is materially sustained. As the United States, once again, faces the dilemmas posed by this type of conflict, it might be useful to reexamine our understanding of the role of logistics by juxtaposing insurgent and counterinsurgent practices. (1)
While insurgent or guerrilla warfare has a long history going back to ancient times, World War II seems to be an appropriate modern starting point for the purposes of this study. In the aftermath of this war, there was an explosive proliferation of the weapons and vast quantities of materiel mass-produced for that conflict and the cold war that followed. The ensuing unprecedented dispersion of these substantially improved lethal capabilities put a new spin on logistic practices in guerrilla and insurgency warfare.
From a logistic perspective, potential insurgents now had "more equal" access to significant quantities of industrially produced materiel that previously had been accessible only to agents of the state. By coupling more sophisticated materiel with traditional asymmetric tactics, insurgents were able to reduce the disparity between their capabilities and those of the state-sustained militaries and other authorities they were fighting. This effect was most visible in formerly colonial comers of the world, where the Second World War left ill-resolved questions of self-determination and polity. In the aftermath of the cold war, as after the Second World War, residual stockpiles of exceptionally destructive war materiel produced by modern industry continue, ironically, to provide even the most anti-modernist insurgents with a capability that they alone cannot generate for their own use.
The last time the American Army was compelled to seriously assess the logistical practices of its erstwhile enemy and itself in an insurgent and counterinsurgent environment was during the Vietnam War. For this reason, much of this article draws upon the experiences of that war, which logistically was fuelled as much by the cold-war-inspired synergistic dynamism of the military-industrial complex as by ideologies and logistic doctrines (both insurgent and conventional) forged in the larger conflict of World War II.
The Resurrection of Insurgency Logistics Doctrine
While World War II saw plenty of conventional large-force invasions, it also provided a lot of incentives and opportunities for aggrieved locals to resist under a variety of nationalist and ideological banners. One particular resister showed that he had an especially keen grasp, logistically, of what he was up against and, more significantly, how modern materiel could be leveraged in new ways to the insurgents' advantage:
   It must first be noted that the ... aggressor is a strong ...
   power whose invasion ... is based upon a relatively
   advanced stage of industrial production and of army-navy-air
   techniques. However despite the higher
   level of the enemy's industry, he remains [a] ... power
   deficiently gifted by nature. He has not himself been
   able to mass enough human, financial and material
   power to last out a prolonged war and to cope with an
   immense theater of war In addition to this, anti-war
   sentiment is developing amongst the [enemy's] people
   which is affecting the morale of the lower officers
   and the broad rank and file of her army. Besides, [the
   enemy's] opponent is not limited to [us] alone, hence
   she cannot devote her entire force of men and material
   to an invasion of our country.... she has to reserve her
   forces to deal with other powers. On account of these
   reasons [the enemy's] war of aggression is definitely
   disfavored by a prolonged war and by the extensive
   occupation of territory. Strategically [the enemy] is
   forced to demand a war of quick decision. It would
   be difficult for her to continue if we could persist for
   more than three years.
This quotation, penned by Mao Tse Tung in 1939, has a presciently contemporary quality. (2) Although Mao wrote it in the context of the Chinese struggle against the Japanese occupation, it could easily be adopted by many of the asymmetric challengers facing the United States today. (3)
From a logistic perspective, the notable point is that this document is an insurgent's avowed recognition of his inferior position with regard to access to modern materiel. Furthermore, it implies that other methods of sustainment would have to be found. From Mao's perspective, his guerrillas needed methods that were both sustainable and suitable for a long war--a war that would outlast the resources, capabilities, and will to fight of a modern industrial enemy state with a theoretically unlimited means of production, particularly when compared to the seemingly paltry potential capabilities of the insurgents.
Mao left it to one of his lieutenants to articulate more specifically just what these other methods were to be. In a section of On Guerrilla Warfare detailing the "Most Important Factors in the Guerrilla War of Resistance," Chu Teh noted that right after "No. 1. Political Warfare" (understandably a point of primacy for ideologically driven communists) came "No. 2. Economic Warfare," "No. 3. Warfare in Human Material," "No. 4. The War of Armaments," and finally, "No. 5. The War of Transportation and Communications." (4)
Sections two, four, and five get at the heart of insurgent logistics issues and methods. (5) "Economic Warfare" as defined by Chu meant that "guerrilla detachments, despite their lack of arms and equipment, [ital. mine] must be prepared to lead this struggle against the enemy" by adhering to …


No comments: