Sunday, November 29, 2009

SPECIAL: 'Revisiting the military’s Rambo culture' By Colonel Daniel Lucero

The means inside the army’s toolbox should not be just guns and bullets. I was advised by a former field commander—known to be a fighter and now retired—that my present assignment with the Civil-Military Operations (CMO), an approach that utilizes indirect means or non-violent means to resolve insurgency, is only for the weak of heart and unmanly soldiers.

He underscored that effective military leaders are those warrior-type commanders who give more weight to combat operations rather than on CMO, which he stressed is ineffective and futile. He was insistent that combat operation is still the most effective approach to solve this insurgency problem.

This mindset is prevalent in the AFP. Sad to say, the mindset is analogous to the lines of Abraham Maslow who infers that, “If somebody thinks that the only tool he has is a hammer, he tends to see every problem as a nail.” This is how the decision-making attitude of some members of the AFP looks like particularly those who regard themselves as the new Rambo’s. They are canalized within the belief that the only implement that they have is an M16. Needless to say, all problems look like a target to them that should be shot at and obliterated.

This is what I want to argue—that the military mindset, which stresses mainly on combat operations to confront the insurgency problem, is the greatest hindrance why we have not solved this insurgency problem.

The bigger problem, however, is we have not learned a lesson. After 41 years of asserting that we have to give more weight on destroying the enemy, we have not changed our strategy with the fact that the crisis still remains. We have not fully accepted that a bigger part of the solution to this problem is getting the people behind our backs. What then should be blamed in this kind mindset? I would argue that it is because of the kind of culture that some military commanders have developed due to the kind of education, training, and experience that they went through.

Allow me then to prove my argument by first providing a short description on the concepts of culture and strategic culture and what roles do they play in influencing the minds of military commanders. This will be followed by illustrating how some states were able to resolve their insurgency problem and how can we learn from their experiences. The article will conclude by providing some proposals which the government in general and the AFP in particular can put into practice to complement the existing responsive approaches in resolving the insurgency crisis that has been hampering the economic development of our nation.

Question about culture

Does culture matter? Yes indeed! Notable anthropologist Clifford Geertz defines culture as the entire way of life of a society: its values, practices, symbols, institutions, and human relationship.

Evidently, the concept of culture has become a compelling framework to explain the behavior of states, groups, institutions and even individuals. In the field of international politics, the concept of strategic culture has come into the fore to elucidate how different actors view security. This explains the nature of war and how the military views the concern.

A familiar definition of strategic culture characterizes the concept as “a set of attitude and beliefs held within a military establishment concerning the political objective of war and the most effective strategy and operational method of achieving it”.

Applying these socio-political thoughts in explaining the state of nature of the AFP would elucidate a number of enigmas why the insurgency problem still exists. Studying the strategic culture of the AFP can clarify to us how most military commanders view the nature of our insurgency and how they apply available wherewithal to solve the dilemma.

To start with, the strategic culture of the AFP can be categorically defined as basically conventional. It gives strong emphasis on the annihilation of the enemy just like what Jomini and Clauswitz who both accentuate the massive use of violence to attain a specified political objective.

It is not surprising to note that the conventional strategic culture (i.e., the warrior culture) has been the dominant approach among a great number of military commanders and staff officers of the AFP. Most of them subscribe to the idea that total destruction of the enemy is still the way to go to attain our mandate to solve this insurgency problem.

Just like the Americans and the French—who, because of their experiences during World War I, World War II, and Korean War were captivated by the use of tools of violence during their respective stint in Vietnam—the AFP is also partial in counting firearms confiscated, enemy neutralized, and camps captured with less regard to the political side of the problem.

The military mindset of my former commander that I have stated earlier is the overriding outlook that frustrates the resolute implementation of the CMO approach in confronting insurgency. He, together with those who were captivated by Rambo should look at how the British and their colonial subjects were able to resolve the Malayan insurgency problem.

Malayan experience

The influential book of John A. Nagle entitled “Learning to Eat Soup with a Knife: Counterinsurgency Lessons from Malaya and Vietnam”—which became a required reading for the US Special Forces—persuasively argues that the British army in Malaya (1948 to1960) was more of a learning army, which led them to break the communist insurgency problem in their former colony.

The success of the counterinsurgency campaign of the British in Malaya can be greatly attributed to the vision of General Sir Gerald Templer who coined the popular phrase “winning the hearts and minds.”

He led the counterinsurgency campaign bringing with him his vast experiences during the Second World War as a director of intelligence and the political nature of his job. As the High Commissioner in Malaya during the communist insurgency, he was given vast civil and military powers to defeat the political armed rebellion.

According to one of his most quoted lines, “The shooting side of this business is 25 percent of the trouble, the other 75 percent lies in getting the people of this country behind us.”

Templer was indeed ahead of his time. His outlook on the Malayan communist insurgency had served as the guiding principle that led to the resolution of the crisis. Needless to say, the heart of the counterinsurgency effort which was more focused on the political, economic and social had successfully guided both the British Army and its colonial subjects to include those non-military actors.

A different story ensued on the part of the US Army in Vietnam. Despite the fact that the American political leaders recognized and accepted the offer of the British Government to send British military advisors—who were victorious in the counterinsurgency campaign to Malaya—to Vietnam, the latter were ignored by the US military commanders. The British Advisory Mission (BRIAM) was almost completely ineffective in persuading the American military mindset largely because the Americans were not interested in it.

The way ahead

It is an established fact that in order to enable any individual to become effective in handling a particular task, proper and appropriate training and education are the recognized approaches. However, this belief is anchored on the assumption that the individual has the determination to learn and put behind the practices which are proven to be ineffective and futile in achieving one’s objectives.

This principle can explain vividly the counterinsurgency enigma that the AFP is facing. It has been forty-one years since the army has been fighting the communist insurgency. The question lies on the ethos of the army to accept errors and be ready to accept new concepts to correct them. It is then high time for the army to change its strategy just like what the British did during the Malayan campaign.

During the initial stage of the Malayan campaign, the British also indiscriminately applied force in a search-and-destroy strategy using inaccurate and comprehensive intelligence which, in the end, just alienated the soldiers from the people. As such, using more troops with the wrong strategy simply means alienation, more insurgents, hitherto call for more troops. This approach fits into the view of Robert Thompson who notes that “when the strategy is wrong, doubling the effort only squares the error”. The British as a learning army was quick to adjust their strategy as it recognized Templar’s wisdom.

All said, it is then imperative for the AFP to change its operational culture. Fighting a war against an invading army is very much different from confronting the insurgents who are Filipinos - our own people. The conventional mindset of using an overwhelming force to annihilate an enemy has been seen to be futile in the counterinsurgency campaign against the communists.

The use of force without due regard to the sensitivity of the people would create more insurgents and will further alienate the army from the people. Needless to say, the Malayan counterinsurgency campaign’s formula of “winning the hearts and minds” still stands and offers keys to unravel this four-decade security dilemma. It is therefore prudent to recommend the following schemes and processes:

Our national leadership to assign an overall head who will orchestrate and control all counterinsurgency efforts of the government who are involved both in the use of the soft and hard powers of the state; Optimize the utilization of former communist rebels in tactically, ideologically, and doctrinally advising all government agents involved in counterinsurgency;

Give primacy to attract the insurgents to join the mainstream of society than planning to neutralize them through the use of violent means; Reorient the military mindset of army officers which would pave the way for more openness, willingness to listen, and foster intellectual curiosity that would allow everyone’s voice to be heard before decisions are made;

Emphasize to all military commanders that all military actions should first and foremost support political and civil affairs objectives; Emphasize to all stakeholders of Philippine democracy that the insurgency problem that the nation is facing is a political war rather than a military one;

Emphasize to all political leaders that the solution the insurgency problem is heavily reliant on their unwavering support and selfless programs than through the use of military means alone; and Deconstruct the existing dominant warrior ethos in the army and create a compassionate mindset which gives emphasis on the principles of social contract with the people – regardless of their political leanings - which the army has sworn to protect. This suggests the reorientation of the existing education and training programs of the AFP.

Everyone in the army has been aspiring for peace and progress. However, this aspiration will just stay as a delusion if we insist to maintain a military culture that has been proven to be unresponsive, swayed with a false optimism that the outcome will change despite our assertion. The means inside the army’s toolbox should not be just guns and bullets. (First published in Newsbreak Magazine -

(ABOUT THE AUTHOR. Colonel Daniel A. Lucero is the Assistant Chief of Staff for Civil-Military Operations, G7, Philippine Army. He received his Master of Arts degree in International Relations from the Australian National University. In 2001, he led the 18th Infantry Battalion, 1st Infantry Division, Philippine Army, then deployed in Basilan province to its first ever Philippine Army Streamer Award. He is a member of Philippine Military Academy Class ’83.)

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