This episode of the MWI Podcast features a conversation with Mark Mitchell, who joins Maj. Jake Miraldi. From June to November 2019 Mitchell served as the acting assistant secretary of defense for special operations and low-intensity conflict. Prior to that, he spent nearly three decades in the Army. As a Special Forces officer, he was among the first US forces in Afghanistan after the 9/11 attacks, and later served in positions ranging from command of 5th Special Forces Group to director for counterterrorism on the National Security Council.
In the conversation, he talks about how the role of special operations forces has evolved over nearly twenty years of war and how he envisions their role in the future. He also describes some of the biggest challenges he sees in today’s global operating environment and the military’s role not just in conflict but also in competition.
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Image credit: Tech Sgt DeNoris Mickle, US Air Force
With regard to competition and conflict today — and indeed the nexus between same — the following from a October 12, 2018, CSIS report entitled "The BUILD Act has Passed: What's Next?," this may provide us with an important perspective, in this case, as relates to rivalries and conflict which develop from economic and development competition:
"Q1: What is the BUILD Act?
A1: The BUILD Act of 2018 was simultaneously introduced in the Senate and House at the end of February 2018 with broad bipartisan support. The BUILD Act creates a full-fledged DFI (development financial institution) called the USIDFC. The new USIDFC will seek to “crowd-in” vitally needed private sector investment in low and lower-middle income countries. The new agency is not prohibited from working in upper-middle income countries, and it can do so on two grounds: 1) for national security reasons or 2) for developmental reasons, that is, to work in an underdeveloped part of the country in question.
By crowding-in private investment, the USIDFC will help support developing countries through the transitory stage from non-market to market economies with an emphasis toward U.S. assistance and foreign policy objectives. The USIDFC is authorized by Congress to make loans or loan guarantees (including in local currency) and acquire equity or financial interests in entities as a minority investor. It also will provide insurance or reinsurance to private sector entities and qualifying sovereign entities. Moreover, the USIDFC will provide technical assistance, administer special projects, establish enterprise funds, issue obligations, and charge and collect service fees. Through these market-based fees, the USIDFC will operate at no net cost to taxpayers. …
Q6: Is the BUILD Act part of a U.S. response to the challenge of China?
A6: Yes, absolutely. Two years ago, when the Trump administration took over, OPIC was one of 62 agencies slated for elimination. The need for bureaucratic government agencies was questioned heavily, sometimes even described as corporate welfare. However, something happened during President Trump’s time in office, and that 'something' was the recognition that China was a major challenger in the global economy. The new USIDFC is in part a response to China’s rise. The new USIDFC has been referred to in key speeches by President Trump and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and in the National Security Strategy. As Secretary Pompeo recently stated, "The Act provides opportunities for American companies to compete overseas and create jobs here at home, a critical component of the President’s national economic strategy. BUILD strengthens the U.S. government’s development finance capacity, offering a better alternative to state-directed investments and advancing our foreign policy goals.'
China is active in Latin America, Southeast Asia, and Africa by providing financing for large projects as part of its Belt and Road Initiative. China is filling the void created by a lack of funds from other bilateral and multilateral investors. China offers quick financing and 'no questions asked' infrastructure projects in these places.
However, the USIDFC offers something different than China’s model of large state-to-state lending—it offers a private sector, market-based solution. Moreover, it fills a clear void that Chinese financing is not filling. China does not support lending to small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), and it rarely helps local companies in places like Africa or Afghanistan grow.
The BUILD Act is a useful addition to the United States in its competition with China, but it is not a sufficient response on its own. In addition to the BUILD Act, we will need a new international economic strategy and will need to reinvigorate our leadership in the multilateral development banks. In sum, we will need to enable a 'better offer' than what China puts on the table. … "With this notion in mind, in the short run, we need a fully functioning U.S. Export-Import Bank (EXIM). EXIM experienced a “lapse in authority” beginning in 2015, facing a severe shortage of leadership and capacity ever since. EXIM protects against buyer nonpayment, provides financing and export credit insurance, among other functions. U.S. competitors including China and Japan benefit from the strong support of their Export-Import banks, which reinforces the notion that the United States must make use of all its tools to strengthen U.S. development finance. The BUILD Act has promised $60 billion in funding for the USIDFC, but it is still a far cry from China’s $60 billion pledged to Africa alone at the last Forum on China-Africa Cooperation in September 2018. We can have a better offer than China, and the new USIDFC is part of that better offer."
Based on the information provided above — which indeed may give us a unique view of "today's global operating environment" — based on this such insight, how might we visualize "the military’s role not just in conflict but also in competition" today?
a. As relates to defending, for example, individuals and small businesses — supported by the U.S. — against their governments — who are supported by China?
b. As relates to defending against "traditionally-focused" population groups — who do not wish to see their states and societies "transformed;" this, so as to (from our CSIS item above) provide opportunities for American (or for that matter for Chinese) "companies to compete overseas and create jobs at home?"
c. As relates to dealing with Chinese troops — that have been placed in the same countries as our troops have — and for the same reasons that I outline at my "a" and "b" above?
Bottom Line Question:
Based on the information provided above, and as a model from the past resembling our current times, should we simply consider the (pre-WWI?) "Age of Imperialism;" where, much like today, "conflict and competition" between rival great powers — and between "resisting transformation" native populations and "development-driven" great powers — were the order of the day?
Given my suggestion, above, that our current times seems to resemble the "Age of Imperialism" (1870 -1914) which occurs before World War I; given my such suggestion, let us:
— First look at the following statement from Secretary of State Pompeo's statement, found at the CSIS Report that I have provided in my initial comment above: "The (BUILD) Act provides opportunities for American companies to compete overseas and create jobs here at home, a critical component of the President’s national economic strategy."
— Next, let us look at President Trump's 2017 National Security Strategy re: Africa (Africa is specifically pointed to in the CSIS Report I provide in my initial comment above — see beginning on Page 52 of this NSS):
"Africa remains a continent of promise and enduring challenges. Africa contains many of the world’s fastest growing economies, which represent potential new markets for U.S. goods and services. … The demand for quality American exports is high and will likely grow as Africa’s population and prosperity increase. … China is expanding its economic and military presence in Africa, growing from a small investor in the continent two decades ago into Africa’s largest trading partner today. Some Chinese practices undermine Africa’s long-term development by corrupting elites, dominating extractive industries, and locking countries into unsustainable and opaque debts and commitments. …" And:
— Last let us look at the following from C.E. Callwell "Small Wars: Their Principles and Practices" (first published in 1899 — at the height of the pre-World War I "Age of Imperialism") and, therein, look to his Chapter II: "The Causes of Small Wars:"
"Small wars are a heritage of extended empire, a certain epilogue to encroachments into lands beyond the confines of existing civilization … The great nation which seeks expansion in remote quarters of the globe must accept the consequences. Small wars dog the footsteps of the pioneers of civilization in the regions afar off. The trader heralds almost as a matter of course the coming of the soldier and the commercial enterprise in the end generally leads to conquest."
Thus, as per the matters I that have provided above, do we not see a similar grouping of components — similar to those which appear in the pre-World War I "Age of Imperialism" — wherein:
a. Competition and conflict between rival great powers (each seeking "opportunities for their companies and for jobs at home") and conflict between:
b. These great powers and various native populations ( the latter not wishing to see their traditional ways of life, their ways of governance, their traditional values, etc., undermined and replaced; this, so as to meet the needs and requirements of the various great powers) — these:
c. Become "the order of the day?"