By John Arquilla
John Arquilla has long studied and theorized irregular warfare, often in fairly technical terms. But in this book, he provides a readable, popular, but still thought-provoking discussion of how it has evolved over the centuries. He primarily does this by offering chronological chapter portraits of outstanding strategists and tacticians of irregular warfare over the years, starting with Robert Rogers (in the French and Indian War) and concluding with Aslan Maskhadov (in the Chechnyan insurgency). (I was surprised by the absence of Mao here.)
Arquilla defines irregular warfare as warfare in which sides are unequal. This might involve small units in conventional conflicts; guerilla warfare; or terrorism. Irregular warfare, he emphasizes, is not a recent phenomenon - he takes issue with the notion that warfare advances in "generations," with irregular warfare being symptomatic of the "fourth generation warfare" (4GW) that arose in the 20th century. "The generational concept is simply inaccurate," he charges in the Introduction.
This argument is implicitly made throughout the many chapter portraits, in which Arquilla examines each strategist's or tactician's innovations, where they went right or wrong, how they contributed to the evolution of irregular warfare, and how they drew on their predecessors. These chapters are all fascinating, although they tend to the Great Man view of history by emphasizing single pivotal figures. I learned a lot of basic history of irregular warfare through them, as well as becoming sensitive to how the developments occurred and why.
"If there is a common theme that runs through the stories of the masters of irregular warfare," Arquilla argues in the conclusion, "it is their resilience in the face of defeat and other adversity." Their lessons, he tells us, are more important now than ever: "the landscape of battle is bereft of traditional foes waiting to be outflanked and overrun. Instead of being massed, they are dispersed and must be found before they can be fought." So what lessons can we carry forward? He notes five:
- Transformation and integration
- Narratives and nation-building
- Deep strikes and infrastructure attacks
- Networks and swarming
- Cooptation and infiltration
Overall, I enjoyed this book immensely. Although it's more of a popular book, it wrestles with many of the same themes Arquilla has covered in more academic work. If you're interested in irregular warfare, military history, or (in my case) networks and swarming, take a look.