Parameters, Autumn 2015, Vol. 45, Nr. 3
War Without Fighting? The Reintegration of Former Combatants in Afghanistan Seen Through the Lens of Strategic Thought By Uwe Hartmann Reviewed by Daniel J. Glickstein, Corporal, US Army National Guard, Research Analyst, and National Security Education Program (Boren) Scholarship recipient
War Without Fighting by German officer Uwe Hartmann emphasizes the primacy of reintegration in resolving protracted conflicts. Reintegration here is defined as “the process by which ex-combatants acquire civilian status and gain sustainable employment and income.”(9) Hartmann’s work nestles within the existing disarmament, demobilization, and reintegration field, but adds a key twist by insisting policy-makers pursue reintegration during a conflict, instead of waiting until hostilities have ceased. His additional expertise on Carl von Clausewitz and a chapter devoted to civil-military relations are welcome bonuses in his book. Counterinsurgency, Reintegration, Kinetic Operations? Hartmann asserts the failure to connect counterinsurgency (COIN) with a broader, overarching political strategy has been a critical shortcoming in military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. “Reintegration should not be a means to COIN, but instead COIN should be a means to support reintegration. Reintegration, in order to be successful, must be seen as the overall political concept that directs COIN.” (70) This line of thinking echoes similar COIN-phrases such as the importance of connecting military and political aims, and the idea that you “can’t kill yourself out of an insurgency.” But Hartmann’s work shines when fleshing out subtler concepts within the reintegration process. Moving beyond catchphrases and mantras, Hartmann devotes careful attention to the social science underpinning support or mistrust in insurgencies. Beginning at the basic level, he discusses how government legitimacy and capability (or lack thereof) can make or break popular support. He then moves further into detailing the side-effects of negative capability and legitimacy. These detract from popular perception and create skepticism and lead to hedging. Perception is my preferred term for the much-maligned “hearts and minds” phrase. Put simply, how populations perceive the ruling govern- ments will directly impact their actions. This phrasing is also useful in clarifying the chain of action here; positive or negative government actions dictate the population’s perception. It is an input-output rela tionship, and trying to bolster community relations without changing the actual government will do nothing to solve underlying problems.
Hedging is tackled later: when a new government is faltering and its stability is unclear, “the buy-in of local leaders may remain limited, so long as they perceive a need to hedge their communities against insurgents.” (23) This is a logical thought, and one seen especially often in Afghanistan (the example cited in the book is of an Afghan family who has one son in the Taliban and one in the Afghan National Army), yet it has garnered hushed discussion at best. This hedging behavior explains the tug-of-war between insurgents and government forces, and is a topic well-worth further study. But there is no “critical mass” within a specific area for insurgents to win or lose. Every case is subjective, and there is no mathematic formula to predict when popular support will shift. For example, rural Afghan villagers in a region with a limited Afghan National Security Forces (ANSF) presence are at high-risk of being intimidated and harmed at night by insurgents. Hearts and minds are irrelevant here; when civilians are facing mortal danger on a regular basis they are unlikely to unfurl an Afghan flag and proclaim full support for the government. Filling in the Blanks Given the situational nature of low-intensity conflicts and reintegration processes, developing universal laws and guidance can be stumbling blocks. As seen with American counter-insurgency doctrine, theorists can develop broad statements, but no one can write standard operating procedures for one thousand different situations with guarantees of appropriateness and success. Thus, Hartmann’s work leaves us with a sturdy platform to conduct further thinking, research, and writing. His overall thesis is the primacy of reintegration is useful and correct. Yet the devil is in the details, and future practitioners will have to forge ahead themselves and discover unique approaches; for example, how to pursue transitional justice regarding human rights violations while reintegrating enemy forces into a new government.