COIN 1.0 focused on military force as a solution to political or social problems, such as an insurgency or ethnic tensions. Although the military has been critical in ending and deterring interstate conflict, it has a more limited capability in the nuanced intrastate-conflict setting. While we still don't know exactly which COIN activities induce stability, we do know that military force alone is insufficient.
First, violence has limited applicability in solving what are inherently political problems. The record regarding the use of large-scale force, in accordance with Western norms of warfare, to bring about political settlements is not encouraging. Mass indiscriminate violence (like that wielded by the Roman Empire or the Russians in Chechnya) has proved effective in quelling insurgencies. The same is true of highly targeted, discriminate violence by small and exceptionally trained forces against an opponent with a hierarchical structure (think U.S. Special Forces against al Qaeda in Iraq). However, the first of these options is not a viable course for U.S. policy (even leaving the moral concerns aside), and the second requires a special set of circumstances -- the right capability against the right enemy.
The second reason that the military is no panacea for resolving insurgencies is the simple fact that it is ineffective in employing nonviolent means. The military is a blunt instrument, best used for forcefully imposing security -- its attempts to impose nuanced political, social, and institutional reforms will likely be counterproductive. For instance, continued efforts to build governing capacity in light of widespread corruption in Afghanistan has been both intensely frustrating for NATO forces and counterproductive at building public support for the national and local government among Afghans.
Finally, existing institutions meant to better provide nonviolent solutions, such as the U.S. State Department and the U.S. Agency for International Development, are often ill-resourced and ill-prepared to effectively implement programs in conflict settings and deal with substate actors (such as governors or district heads). As former Defense Secretary Robert Gates noted on more than one occasion, there are more personnel in U.S. military bands than there are Foreign Service officers. Struggles by these civilian agencies in conflict zones have been well documented, and significant reform in both resourcing and culture is needed in these civilian departments.
The new model of counterinsurgency, COIN 2.0, must be based on a flexible, realistic model incorporating a set of feasible methods by which progress can achieved and measured. Although some of these concepts have been considered and even to some extent developed in COIN 1.0, greater effort should be directed to the following changes:
Lesson 1: Measure both the counterinsurgency activities and their direct outputs. It's not wrong to measure the hours or dollars spent training police or the number of police. But these should be thought of as steps that move us in the right direction, not to be confused with progress toward the ultimate outcome.
Lesson 2: The record on establishing "metrics" is less than encouraging. Some are so general as to be useless, while others are so specific that their relevance is questionable. As a result, we should continue to use multiple crude measures such as violence or public polls on support to gauge any given environment. But rather than treating these measures as competitors, policymakers should treat them as related, helpful in finding the "sweet spot" where these measures may be combined to become markers for outcomes.
Lesson 3: Explicitly address the moral hazard involved in working through host nations by developing means to work "by, with, and through" their governments. Strategic planning must anticipate incentive and implementation difficulties raised by host nations' shifting incentives -- and plan on this being immensely frustrating.
Lesson 4: Cultivate civilian-agency culture to recruit, train, and deploy individuals with the expectation that work outside the traditional embassy setting is now the norm.
Lesson 5: Foster and develop a culture of impact assessment and evaluation in military activities similar to efforts to study and evaluate development programs. Despite the recognition that "assessment" is required, few programs have incorporated the controlled-comparison approach. This gold standard for evaluation typically involves collecting systematic information about the outcomes experienced by individuals or areas before and after exposure to a policy and then comparing these outcomes to individuals or areas that did not receive the program. This allows us to make inferences about effectiveness by using measurements with controls as in scientific experiments -- and thus presents the best hope for determining which programs have impact.
Lesson 6: The military, while invaluable in providing a general blanket of security, is currently unsuited for the delicate work of knitting societies back together. Hybrid operational entities that value the role of the military within a civilian framework, as well as agencies implementing civilian programs that can bring back stability and legitimacy, should be constituted.
Don't expect the United States to completely abandon its interventionist past. It will continue to be involved in diplomatic and military interventions abroad due to its strategic needs and humanitarian ambitions. To ignore this reality is to create a dangerously underprepared military and civilian workforce.
To prepare for the interventions to come in the next decade, the United States must adapt the lessons from its experiences in Iraq and Afghanistan and use them to generate a new, more realistic, and feasible doctrine. Much like innovation in technology, COIN 2.0 keeps the best features of COIN 1.0, with important modifications. Only a comprehensive relook at all these aspects of intervention strategy can effectively meet the demands of the new age of conflict. Military leaders should consider these concepts carefully -- the next intervention is always just over the horizon.