Syria and the doctrine of small wars

This newsletter, and further newsletters we will publish in the run up to the new-year, will include materials that we trust will provide interesting reading.  We include in this edition a number of articles from the Journal of Small Wars, Der Spiegel international and the Institute for the Study of War

The first article believes that the historical context of the term war has left an indelible imprint on the minds of strategic leaders and the general public. This imprint limits one’s ability to view warfare as anything other than armed conflict between nations. The paper attempts to open the aperture through which strategic leaders view the concept of war by reviewing the traditional definitions of war, analyzing the environment in which wars are fought today, and then offering a new, more expansive, definition of the term. This new definition encompasses the complex characteristics and nuances of war fought in a global society, a broader interpretation of who engages in war, and how wars may be fought and won in the future. The article can be accessed at:

For a while now the publishers of the Journal of Small Wars have been telling us that Counterinsurgency (COIN) and Irregular Warfare (IW) are “different”, “more complex”, and even the “graduate level of warfare”. Although the authors of this article disagree with the latter two terms, they believe that COIN and IW are different than traditional (or conventional) warfare (though he thinks in reality warfare is much more fluid than we give it credit for). As such, the author believes that we should be using different tools to conduct these types of operations. Instead we have prescribed “more of the same”. "We use the same unit structures, personnel system, concepts, and planning tools that we use for more conventional operations. One of these is the “Center of Gravity” (CoG) concept. Instead of using a notion taken from 19th Century physics and fused with an industrial-era reductionist’s analytical tool, we should turn to the latest physical science theories to help make sense of operations that are not conventional. Carl von Clausewitz’s concept needs updating from the likes of Albert Einstein and Max Planck instead of continuing to rely on Isaac Newton." This article can be accessed at:

The last few weeks of the war in Syria have seen a lot of back and forth action and big body counts, but between the lies and the omissions and the fog of war, it's hard to perceive a narrative. "But look closely and apply a bit of military history, and it comes through clearly: the war is in what Mao called the second phase of people’s war". This Small Wars Journal article  can be accessed at:

The Battle of the Supply Lines in Syria - One of the most important theoretical innovations by Clausewitz was his concept of tactical and strategic “centers of gravity”; the key capabilities assets and positions that are most critical to the functioning of a force engaged in warfare, and which will be the decisive factors in the outcome of the conflict. In the last few weeks, the center of gravity of the ongoing struggle for control of northern Syria has become apparent.  This article can be read at:

Syria has been driving everyone in Iraq mad. In the past week, the author visited four embassies in Baghdad and all we talked about was Syria. I went to the United Nations for a meeting on Iraq and all we talked about was Syria. On a conference call this afternoon, every point I made somehow had a connection to Syria. During the conference call one of my Iraqi colleagues sent me an email saying “The fall of the armies of Syria signals the coming of the 12th Imam”. In short, everyone in Iraq is mad on Syria. The full article can be read at:

Looking at some additional views on the crisis of Syria we include a report by the Institute for the Study war entitles Jihad in Syria. This report examines the presence of jihadist groups within Syria, explains where various Syrian rebelgroups and foreign elements operating in Syria fall along the spectrum of religious ideology, and considerstheir aggregate effect upon the Islamification of the Syrian opposition. This article can be accessed at:

A New York Review of Books report estimates that 40,000 Syrians have paid with their lives, and another two million are displaced, of whom 400,000 have fled over the borders to wait out the war as refugees. The increasingly well-armed opposition recently declared in Qatar that it was uniting in a Western-sponsored coalition, a self-declared unity that is fragile at best. Soon after, a number of Islamist factions said they rejected the coalition and wanted to establish an Islamic state.  This New York Review article can be accessed at:

The rise of political Islam following the Arab Spring has many worried that the democratic achievements of the revolution could be lost. In Egypt and Tunisia alike, citizens are once again taking to the streets. But this time they are opposing Islamism. Does secularism still stand a chance?  This Der Spiegel International article can be accessed at: