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Winning the War by Winning the Peace: Strategy for Conflict and Post-Conflict in the 21st Century

Winning the War by Winning the Peace: Strategy for Conflict and Post-Conflict in the 21st Century - Cover

Authored by Colonel Lloyd J. Matthews USA Ret..

December 2004

60 Pages

Brief Synopsis

During each of the last 15 years, the U.S. Army War College has sponsored a broad-based strategy conference that addresses a major security issue of current relevance to the United States, its allies, and, indeed, the entire world.

The conference theme for year 2004 was "Winning the War by Winning the Peace: Strategy for Conflict and Post-Conflict in the 2st Century." Informed by the Korean, Vietnam, and Gulf wars fought by the United States and its allies during the last half of the 20th century wars in which, despite the qualitative superiority of our forces, the outcomes proved to be less than satisfactory. The conference theme for 2004 entailed a deep probe into the question of how can the West, in this new century of omnipresent terrorism, capitalize on its superior military and economic might to achieve a satisfying and enduring modus vivendi. The search for answers to this central question was lent added relevance and urgency by the fact that the allied anti-insurgency wars in Afghanistan and Iraq were transpiring even as the conference proceeded and, indeed, even as this report goes to press.


With little doubt, three of the most pressing and frequent problems grappled with in Western defense and geostrategic literature over the past 20-30 years have been how to fight asymmetric wars, how to win the hearts and minds of an enemy populace, and how to terminate wars and devise exit strategies successfully. None of these problems is new in the history of warfare, of course, but they have achieved particular saliency in the United States because of Korea, Vietnam, and the first Gulf war.

After that war, with an unrepentant Saddam Hussein still on the scene making threatening gestures, fourth and fifth problems―how to counter weapons of mass destruction (WMD) and how to conduct urban combat―came to the fore in the literature. Most recently, with the terrorist destruction of the twin towers of the World Trade Center in New York and our continuing wars of reprisal against the Taliban in Afghanistan and against al Qaeda in that country, Iraq, and elsewhere, sixth and seventh problems―how to neutralize terrorists and how to achieve homeland security―have come to monopolize the pages of the scholarly journals as well as the influential metropolitan dailies, except that now those problems face us and the West in general, not just Israel.

But it is not our purpose here to conduct a review of the thematics of contemporary military literature. All serious students of national defense, plus even casual observers of newspaper front pages and the sound-bites of TV evening news programs, will attest that public analysis of asymmetric war, hearts and minds, exit strategies, urban warfare, WMD, terrorist activities, and homeland security has assailed their eyes and ears ad nauseam for the last several years. Unfortunately perhaps, but inevitably, these tired themes are now clichéd and hackneyed in the public consciousness.

The remarkable aspect of these analyses is not their persistency or frequency, however, but rather that, despite their constant presence, the analyses seem so rarely to translate into operationalized success on the battlefield and afterward. The intellectual and scholarly community analyzes problems down to the last quark, but the analysis does not do us much good when payoff time rolls around and we need to apply in war the fruits of our peacetime cogitations.

Observant readers will note that the seven thematic security issues broached above are interrelated to a large degree and that all have coalesced in an incredibly thorny problem complex as the second Gulf War now approaches its uncertain denouement. Tons have been written on asymmetric warfare, yet sectarian militias and masked gunmen armed with rifle-propelled grenades and roadside bombs still fight our modern war machine to a standstill. Skilled behavioral psychologists have delivered the final word on wooing hearts and minds, yet the oppressed whom we come to liberate despise us and cheer over the mangled bodies of our dead soldiers. Political scientists produce impressive studies on winding down wars successfully and extricating ourselves gracefully, yet we must leave large guaranty forces behind indefinitely. Military thinkers devise Solomonic tactics and weapons for conducting urban warfare, but our forces fail to apply them for fear of killing civilians and destroying sacred mosques that the enemy himself does not hesitate to profane. We as a nation fret about WMD in the hands of rogue states, but take decisive action only against the one state that apparently lacked them. We declare a global war against terrorism, yet fail to consolidate our initial victory over the Taliban and al-Qaeda in Afghanistan where it all began. We preach homeland security to the high heavens, but fail to back our preachments with truly serious investment, government reorganization, and citizen sacrifice.

The gap between our supposedly keen analytical solutions to problems of current wars on one hand, and our spotty record in applying those solutions on the other, raises important questions. Is our analysis any good? If it is, does our government pay any attention to it? For example, the so-called Weinberger doctrine counseled, among other things, that no military intervention be undertaken without decisive force. Yet, we conducted Operation IRAQI FREEDOM on a shoestring, succeeding brilliantly in the initial assault against Saddam’s organized forces but never being able to muster the sort of widespread, smothering presence that would have snuffed out all significant resistance from the start. Moreover, despite the doctrine’s insistence on clear political objectives, it appears that the campaign plan was focused mainly on achieving a quick military victory, with relatively little attention to such politico-strategic concerns as postconflict consolidation and government reconstitution.

Finally, the most sobering question raised by the continuing gap between theory and application is this: Within the parameters set by political realities, national attitudes, and cultural mind-sets in the United States today, are the seven problems posed by the openended war on terrorism in the 21st century even amenable to solution in any kind of decisive, conclusive sense? If not, then how will the United States and its allies defend themselves in the 21st century’s war on terrorism, and what should our aims be?

The 22 conference presenters whose views are summarized in the following pages have assembled an impressive body of information and ideas bearing directly on the question of broadening our definition of victory in war to include the coequally valid desideratum of an acceptable peace. This idea is as old as Clausewitz, of course, and we may note further that, since the inauguration of the most recent Clausewitzian renaissance by Michael Howard and Peter Paret in 1976, the nation’s political and military leaders have been literally drenched in recollections of the great philosopher’s enduring dictum. Yet, in an irony bordering on the surreal, we as a nation continue to celebrate the heroics and drama of battlefield victory as signaling war’s triumph, only later waking to disillusionment as the promised political rewards remain tantalizingly beyond reach.

It is perhaps understandable that we fell into such strategic traps in Korea and Vietnam, conflicts arriving on the heels of a world war in which unconditional surrender of enemy arms seemed to be a sufficient goal. But it is far less understandable today, when the Clausewitzian nexus between war and politics is so indelibly engraved on every policymaker’s worldview―or so we thought.

In the broad context of demonstrating that wars are won only if the peace is won, as well as suggesting concrete means of capitalizing on this axiomatic truth, our presenters also contribute seminal thought on the continuing wars in Afghanistan and Iraq and in the global antiterrorist war generally. Finally, readers will find precipitating from the collective discussion enlightening cues and insights regarding such macro issues as what Western aims should truly be in a new old kind of war that is global in scope, unlimited in duration, and uncertain in outcome. The 22 presentations, which―it is to be emphasized―represent the views of the speakers and not those of the editor or the Army War College, are commended for reading by all defense theoreticians, policymakers, and practitioners, not only to impart conceptual understanding, but in the ever-renewable hope that they will exercise constructive influence in some modest fashion on the actual conduct of American statecraft.

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