“A Marine For All Seasons”?

by LtCol H. T. Hayden

Anyone who says the Marine Corps is ready to conduct counterrevolutionary operations . . . against an entrenched Communist insurgency . . . either does not understand the nature of the problem or refuses to accept it.

The April 1989 issue of the Gazette provided an interesting juxtaposition of two diverse and sometimes directly opposing concepts-“The Art of MAGTF Warfare” and “Marine Corps Employment in Low-Intensity Conflict” While elements of the “maneuver warfare” concept, such as mission type orders, decentralized control, and exploiting fleeting opportunities, can be applied in a low-intensity conflict, the basic tenets of maneuver warfare (combined arms teams running amok-sorry, amidst-a fluid, violent battlefield) have no place in most forms of low-intensity conflict.

I do not intend to debate the merits of the JCS Pub 1-02’s definition of lowintensity conflict or to challenge the four categories of military operations in low-intensity conflict (insurgency/ counterinsurgency, combating terrorism, peacekeeping, and peacetime contingencies) identified in proposed JCS Pub 3-07. The purpose of this paper is to focus on only one part of the low-in-tensity conflict paradigm-revolutionary warfare, “People’s Revolutionary War,” also known as Communist insurgency. The term revolutionary warfare is a good one because it is the only expression of the many associated with low-intensity conflict that combines both method and purpose in one comprehensive and uncomplicated term.

To repeat a quote from the Commandant on low-intensity conflict (see MCG, Apr89, p.31):

We need to be able to conduct revolutionary warfare and defeat it . . . we must not lose sight of the kind of conflict that’s most apt to confront us. We must be effective at the low end of the warfare spectrum, in the protracted conflicts that so often occur in the Third World.

Many Marines have a grasp on the basic ideas expressed by the Commandant; however, very few understand how this can be effectively accomplished. This is the crux of my criticism of the two articles. Each article has a mistaken “sight-picture” of the objective; each article has a faulty “focus of main effort.” The principal objective in maneuver warfare is the enemy forces and their means to sustain warfare. The principal objective in revolutionary warfare is the people-the indigenous population. In low-intensity conflict the focus of main effort is the security and the political-economic-social development of the indigenous population. A Marine air-ground task force (MAGTF) cannot be trained and equipped for maneuver warfare and simultaneously apply the same tactics and equipment in counterrevolutionary warfare. We do not have “Marines for all seasons.”

Many writers still do not understand what was going on in Vietnam. For example, the April 1989 article on low-intensity conflict said that “During its early stages, Vietnam was a lowintensity conflict; yet in its later stages it became increasingly a mid-intensity conflict.” In truth, of course, the North Vietnamese introduction of regular North Vietnamese Army (NVA) units into the northern and central provinces did not absorb or push aside the clandestine insurgent activities in those provinces. The low-intensity conflict of the People’s Revolutionary War continued-parallel with and supported by or supporting the NVA regular units. In the main, high level American attention was successfully diverted from the real war (People’s Revolutionary War) to the war the United States was trained and equipped to fight-the North Vietnamese maneuver war.

Worse yet, many writers still do not understand how to fight and win in a People’s Revolutionary War. For example, this is from the same April article:

If the MAGTF is enhanced with certain capabilities, it can function effectively in stability operations. . . . The largest number of missions will probably be in the area of civil-military operations, [emphasis added] where the MAGTF will interface with a local civilian population within the host nation to carry out some project . . . to develop favorable emotions, attitude and behavior while providing some worthwhile assistance . . . such activities as medical and dental programs, erection of a public building, road and bridge improvement . . . .

To the misinformed the term civilmilitary operations is always associated with civic action or civil affairs. Civil-military operations in counterrevolutionary warfare or counterinsurgency warfare are operations conducted by the local government officials, working in concert with their local security forces to effect denial measures, such as population and resource control, security operations, and intelligence operations, or to effect support measures, such as economic infrastructure development, education development, and health improvement.

Civic action and civil affairs will be part of the civil-military campaign plan-generally only a small part. Civil affairs units are designed to provide an interface between the MAGTF commander and the local government or the local population and coordinate government services, e.g., water and power, public transportation, veterinarian service, etc. Civic action represents an attempt by a military unit to support a local development project for the local population. U.S. military units must always coordinate any civic action project with the local government. The U.S. military should seldom conduct a civic action project alone. The local military should be the principal agent in any civic action project with U.S. military assistance only as necessary. A civil-military campaign plan, properly understood, marshals the resources of a pacification or a revolutionary development program in a local community using government services, security operations, psychological operations, population and resource control, etc. In some cases the military is only a small part of this campaign plan.

The MAGTF Master Plan, the “Operational Concept for Marine Corps Employment in Low-Intensity Conflict,” and the two Gazette articles mentioned herein all demonstrate a lack of understanding of the basics of revolutionary warfare.

The root causes endemic to most low-intensity conflicts (People’s Revolutionary Wars) are known: injustice, illiteracy, poverty, economic exploitation, and/or political instability. An insurgent Communist People’s Revolutionary War generally capitalizes on the problems-they seldom create them. The basic solutions to these problems are also known: local government concern and local government positive action.

There are three very different targets in a People’s Revolutionary War: (1) the insurgent political infrastructure, (2) the insurgent military, and (3) the insurgent mass organizations.

There are three central planning factors in any counterrevolutionary campaign plan: (1) the people, (2) the insurgents, and (3) the government. There are three basic elements in the execution of any counterrevolutionary campaign plan: (1) security, (2) economic and political reform, and (3) satisfaction of popular expectations.

The first priority in counterinsurgency is intelligence, and the second priority is psychological operations. The first step is security, and the second step is nation building.

Why do we make it so difficult?

We make it difficult because we do not understand the enemy. We do not understand his doctrine, his tactics and techniques, his basic organizations, nor do we understand how he organizes his assets to fight his kind of warfare.

Tom Marks, a noted counterinsurgency writer, has stated that Communist insurgent movements organize themselves into three categories: organized masses, mass activists, and party members. In the Philippines, for example, the Communist Party of the Philippines organizes each district (county) with numerous sections controlling each “barangay” (village). Each village has organizing groups (OG), controlled by organizing committees (OC), controlled by a party branch (PB). They field their own local armed forces (a popular self-defense force at the small village level or a militia the larger). The OG, OC, and PB are clandestine organizations. The rural OGs include one for men, one for women, one for youths, and one for children. The urban sectors have OGs for teachers, businessmen, workers, and others as appropriate.

There is another way to look at the organizational effort of Communist revolutionary warfare and that is in its three prinicpal organizations: (1) the political/party, (2) the armed forces/ military, and (3) the mass organizations.

In El Salvador the Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front (FMLN) is an umbrella organization for five separate groups, each of which has organized itself in the triangular structure outline above. The Salvadoran Revoludonary Party (PRS) has, for example, the PRS (political), the ERP (military), and the LP-28 (mass organization); the National Resistance (RN) has the RN (political), the EARN (military), and the FAPU (mass organization).

It is easy to see from the organizational effort above that Communist insurgent movements place equal emphasis on organizing the military effort and the political effort. Douglas Pike in his historic work The Viet Cong identified the two crucial elements of the Vietnamese Communist “revolutionary war” as the armed struggle and the political struggle (Figure 1). However, to paraphrase Bernard Fall’s comment in Street Without Joy, the Communist never forgets that his fight is first and foremost political rather than military.

Anyone that says that the Marine Corps is ready to conduct counterrevolutionary operations, counterinsurgency operations, or stability operations against an entrenched Communist insurgency, with second and third generation revolutionaries, either does not understand the nature of the problem or refuses to accept it.

Neither the Marine Corps nor the Army is prepared independently to execute a civil-military campaign (read counterinsurgency campaign) in a lowintensity conflict. The Army may be more prepared than the Marine Corps. However, the State Department with the Agency for International Development are the lead players. Justice, Commerce, Central Intelligence Agency, Department of Defense (DOD), and many others have contributions. Accordingly, it is a national level, comprehensive civil-military campaign plan that is needed to fight not only the insurgent military organizations but also to fight the insurgent political organizations.

Under present U.S. Government policy, the principal U.S. military tools for assisting a Third World nation involved in low-intensity conflict are security assistance in the form of intelligence, psychological operations, mobile training teams, logistics, foreign military sales, etc. Unfortunately, our congressionally limited security assistance budget does not meet these requirements. There are, after all, no pressure groups of articulate Americans lobbying for reduction in our commitments to NATO and increased support for Third World countries involved in a war for national survival. In the absence of bipartisan consensus for an adequate security assistance budget, we get almost no budget at all.

The Marine Corps may rank high in developing an all-source intelligence fusion center; however, it has no capability at all to provide psychological operations support or qualified counterinsurgency experts to assist and advise local government officials on nation building. We must not confuse apples and oranges. The Marine Corps is quite capable of conducting combat operations in a civil-military campaign in a low-intensity conflict. Putting Marines on the ground-in small independent action forces (SIAFs) and air-ground-logistics teams-is the forte of the Marine Corps. However, this is counterguerrilla action-at best a small part of counterinsurgency operations. Very few language qualified area specialists who can train indigenous civil-military forces in counterinsurgency or advise and assist local government representatives are available in the Marine Corps. Counterinsurgency is not a skill even remotely related to any Marine military occupational specialty (MOS). The Foreign Area Officer Program (MOS 9949) is a very limited program in the Marine Corps-limited in scope, purpose, and attendance. It should be greatly expanded. In analyzing the American approach to counterrevolutionary war, Bernard Fall wrote in 1967:

. . . all this differs radically from the American emphasis on guerrilla techniques alone and the almost total discounting of the primacy of the political factor in revolutionary warfare . . .

There are numerous other facets of Third World activities (e.g., liberation theology, informal economies such as black markets and unregistered businesses, the sanctuary movement, the role of the Third Estate, etc.) that are important factors to be understood before trying to conduct counterguerrilla operations in most low-intensity conflicts. They are essential to any understanding of revolutionary warfare.

A final critique. In counterinsurgency warfare, an attempt to attack the party and cut if off from masses based on short-range solutions cannot succeed. If “The Art of MAGTF Warfare” is correct-if Marine operations must be fought with existing forces, in a limited time span, with an expectation of quick results-Marine contributions to countering revolutionary warfare will be severely limited.

In the absence of reform that eliminates the fundamental grievances that force people to seek redress through armed force (revolutionary warfare), it is a long, hard road ahead for any counterrevolutionary effort. Tom Marks has stated it best when he said that traditional civic action-digging wells, medcap, dentcap, etc.-is but a BandAid. To succeed, the root causes of the insurgency must be removed or eliminated.

While it is fashionable to believe that communism is a failed system, in the jungles of El Salvador and the forests and mountains of Peru, people believe that it is capitalism and the socalled democratic governments that have failed them. The U.S. Armed Forces in general and the Marine Corps in particular must heed the advice of the Commandant and learn how to conduct People’s Revolutionary Warfare and defeat it. Unfortunately, the two articles in the April Gazette, current drafts on Marine Corps operational concepts in low-intensity conflict, and current Marine Corps training and education programs reveal that Marines do not yet understand where to “focus the main effort.”