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Routine Peaceful Competition is the norm and desired end state. The states of the world pursue their own interests, sometimes in harmony, but with enough commonality of interests to avoid violence. The military instrument of national power, although primarily focused on deterring war, is employed in support of political, economic, and informational efforts to achieve U.S. goals and help preserve this peacefully competitive environment.2

This is the relationship of nations, both internally and externally, during what is commonly referred to as 'peacetime'.

Low Intensity Conflict is a politico-military confrontation between contending states or groups below conventional war and above the routine peaceful competition among nations. It frequently involves protracted struggles of competing principles and ideologies. Low intensity conflict ranges from subversion to the use of armed force. It is waged over a combination of means, employing political, economic, informational, and military instruments. Low intensity conflicts are often localized, generally in the Third World, but contain regional and global security implications.3

Operational Continuum and LIC
Figure 14

Figure 1 depicts the operational continuum outlining where LIC falls within the spectrum. The accompanying characteristics can be determined by picking a point on the graph. For instance, by drawing a line directly up and down through the "C" in LIC ENVIRONMENT, many elements about a conflict at that point on the continuum can be ascertained. Reading the chart from top to bottom, the consequences of this conflict would be relatively minor and it could include peacekeeping, peacetime contingencies and/or combatting terrorism. Finally its relative probability of occurrence is high.

View this continuum (Figure 1) with ill-defined boundaries between categories and the ability to have simultaneous levels of conflict within a given situation. For example, in Vietnam conventional U.S. Forces were battling conventional North Vietnamese Forces in a mid-intensity conflict in one area, while at the same time U.S. Special Forces were conducting Unconventional Warfare and Civic Action in other areas.

  • It is possible to jump across the continuum, either escalating or decreasing the proportion of the conflict without stopping at intermediate points on the scale.
  • It is likely that the cessation of hostilities at one level will result, not in the resumption of routine peaceful competition, but a move to some level of LIC. This was the case following conclusion of the 1973 Arab-Israeli War, with the 1982 Camp David Accords resulting in the ongoing UN Peacekeeping operations in the Sinai.
  • The common thread throughout the range of conflict is a strategic aim of a faction or force against the legitimate government of a nation.
  • In mid-and high-intensity conflict, military force contributes through direct operations to the achievement of the strategic aim. The objective is defeat of the other side militarily.
  • LIC uses military force generally indirectly to support the strategic aim, with an objective that is political-military and supports some other focus of power.

In reviewing this continuum, keep the role of civil authority in perspective. By examining the imperatives of low intensity conflict (see Historical Perspective - Malaya 1948), the necessity for the primacy of civil authority becomes clearer.

  • Military power is only one instrument of an integrated solution to a LIC.
  • Equally important are other facets including economic, informational, and diplomatic.

U.S. military operations in LIC will primarily support non-military actions. These actions are part of an overall country plan which supports both the U.S. and host nation's political objectives. Example: an engineer battalion may deploy to conduct in-theater training by building a section of highway through dense mountainous terrain. The highway, in turn, supports the economic growth of the region and promotes the esteem and effectiveness of the host nation government.

"U.S. Forces will not in general be combatants. A combat role for U.S. Armed Forces in Third World conflicts has to be viewed as an exceptional event. Some exceptions will doubtless occur, as in 1983 in Grenada and 1986 in Libya, and it would be self-defeating for the United States to declare a `No Use' doctrine for its forces in the Third World. But our forces' principle role there will be to augment U.S. Security Assistance Programs. Mainly that means providing military training, technical training and intelligence and logistical support."

Discriminate Deterrence5
Report of Commission on Integrated
Long-Term Strategy

Table of Contents
Operational Lessons Learned

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One Billion Americans: The Case for Thinking Bigger - by Matthew Yglesias