Australia is undergoing the most fundamental strategic realignment since the Second World War, toward a focus on threats closer to home without reliance on the United States. In that context, what role does irregular warfare play in Australian national security strategy? What lessons does the Australian experience hold for the United States as they both transition from the post-9/11 wars to great power competition? Will Australia’s legacy in conducting irregular warfare enable it now to make this shift and take on the snakes—and one large dragon—in its own backyard?
Our two guests argue that strategic documents in both the United States and Australia fail to capture the reality of numerous overseas irregular warfare engagements over the past quarter century. The militaries of both countries learned many lessons, often paid for in blood, about how to fight insurgencies during the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. However, the opponents of the West have also adapted, with both state and nonstate threats increasingly coming to resemble each other. How to adapt both military posture and national security strategy in the transition from the conflicts of the past nearly two decades to great power competition is a challenge both countries face, providing a case study in cooperation and adaptation.
Dr. David Kilcullen is a best-selling author and a former officer in the Australian military. He is president and CEO of Cordillera Applications Group, a research and development firm headquartered in the United States. Dr. Kilcullen has written multiple award-winning books on irregular warfare topics. His most recent book, The Dragons and the Snakes: How the Rest Learned to Fight the West, serves as a foundation for our discussion on the current global threat environment.
Andy Maher is an Australian infantry officer with operational experience in Afghanistan and Iraq. He is currently serving as a military fellow, doctoral candidate, and lecturer with the University of New South Wales, Canberra, where he teaches a postgraduate course on irregular warfare.
The Irregular Warfare Podcast is a collaboration between the Modern War Institute and Princeton University’s Empirical Studies of Conflict Project. You can listen to the full episode below, and you can find it and subscribe on Apple Podcasts, Stitcher, Spotify, TuneIn, or your favorite podcast app. And be sure to follow the podcast on Twitter!
Image credit: Tech Sgt. Lisa M. Zunzanyika
It is important to understand the basis for the actions of the Dragons and the Snakes.
Both the Dragons and the Snakes believe that:
a. Their preferred ways of life, their preferred ways of governance and/or their preferred values. etc. — AND THEIR AMBITIONS RELATING TO SAME —
b. All of these are threatened by a U.S./the West that seeks to transform the outlying states and societies of the world (and specifically the states and societies of the Dragons and the Snakes !!) more along modern western political, economic, social and value lines.
It is from this such perspective, I suggest, that we find the Dragons and the Snakes occasionally finding "common cause" — and find them occasionally adopting "common methods" (see Kilcullen above) — all which are designed to prevent the U.S./the West from transforming their states and societies as it (the U.S./the West) desires.
Bottom Line Thought and Question — Based on the Above:
Thought: Retired LTG McMaster, for example in his recent book "Battlefields: The Fight to Defend the Free World," has suggested that we employ "strategy empathy" re: our opponents and their wants, needs, desires and related strategies; this, when considering such things as "the kind of war that we are are embarked upon" and how to fight it.
Question: Given the "kind of war that we are embarked upon" — such as I describe it above — can we say that "irregular warfare" — employed by both or either "us" or "them" — this is the best way to achieve one's goals in these such wars?
Addendum to my comment above:
As January 6, 2021 has so clearly shown us now, it is not just the Dragons and the Snakes that the U.S./the West has to worry about today.
Now there are elements WITHIN OUR OWN countries (the Internal Organs?) that we must learn to deal with.
Could it be, thus, that:
a. Much as with the Dragons and the Snakes — who do not wish to be "transformed" and "modernized" (as per U.S./Western FOREIGN policy in this case) —
b. Now also there are elements within the U.S./the West (the Internal Organs) who, likewise, do not wish to be "transformed" and/or "modernized" (as per U.S./Western DOMESTIC policy in this instance)?
In this regard, let us consider, for example, how an appeal to such things as "conservatism," "traditional values" and desire for a former "golden age" status quo anti based on same:
a. Is such a powerful voice today in places like Russia, China, and the Islamic World. And:
b. Now also in the U.S./the West?
Bottom Line Question — Based on the Above:
If indeed, as I suggest above, it is not just the Dragons and the Snakes that we must contend with today, but also our Internal Organs
(ALL OF WHOM, it appears, are motivated by a common desire to halt and reverse "progress?")
Then, I suggest, we must ask accordingly:
a. Does my such inclusion of our domestic problems ("conservative"/"traditional" elements wish stop and reverse "progress," for example, by outlawing abortion, reversing/scaling back LBGTQ rights, preventing immigration, abandoning the information economy and returning to the, now out-dated, industrial economy, etc.?)
b. Does this such inclusion, now more-correctly and completely,
1. Indicate "the kind of war that we are embarked upon" and, thus,
2. Help us consider whether "irregular warfare" is the way that we should — and/or must — proceed?
(In this regard, consider, for example, the — actual or potential — "nexus" described here:
“Compounding it all, Russia’s dictator has achieved all of this while creating sympathy in elements of the Right that mirrors the sympathy the Soviet Union achieved in elements of the Left. In other words, Putin is expanding Russian power and influence while mounting a cultural critique that resonates with some American audiences, casting himself as a defender of Christian civilization against Islam and the godless, decadent West.”
[See the "National Review” item entitled: “Vladimir Putin's Russia Strategy: How Russia Wins” by David French.]
“Russian efforts to weaken the West through a relentless campaign of information warfare may be starting to pay off, cracking a key bastion of the U.S. line of defense: the military. While most Americans still see Moscow as a key U.S. adversary, new polling suggests that view is changing, most notably among the households of military members.”
[See the “Voice of America” item entitled: “Pentagon Concerned Russia Cultivating Sympathy Among U.S. Troops” by Jeff Seldin.]