Solutions to Violent Conflict

Archive for the ‘War’ Category

Vietnam: Wrong Lessons Learned

In Vietnam, War on May 18, 2015 at 2:45 pm

Andrew Bacevich

Andrew Bacevich is Professor Emeritus of History and international relations at Boston University. He was a commissioned officer in the U.S. Army and served as platoon leader in Vietnam in 1970-71.

The major lesson that the U.S. national security apparatus took away from the Vietnam War was this: long wars fought overseas by armies of citizen-soldiers severely limit Washington’s freedom of action. Worse still, such wars invite the larger public to intrude into matters hitherto under elite control. From the perspective of those who manage national security establishment, this poses a terrible problem since the public is fickle and untrustworthy, and tempted by isolationism.


In the 1970s, this problem had a name. It was called the Vietnam Syndrome—a pronounced reluctance to use force for fear of adverse consequences that might ensue. Members of the national security elite viewed the Vietnam Syndrome as a monstrous thing—a positive danger (not to mention a threat to the status and prerogatives to which they had become accustomed). Read the rest of this entry »

Vietnam Contingencies

In Vietnam, War on May 18, 2015 at 2:44 pm
'The Three Soldiers' -- Vietnam War Memorial Washington, D.C. (Flickr - Ron Cogswell)

‘The Three Soldiers’ — Vietnam War Memorial Washington, D.C. (Flickr – Ron Cogswell)

Marilyn Young

Marilyn Young is Professor of History at New York University. She is author of The Vietnam Wars: 1945-1990.

As we reflect on how the war began, it is worth considering how things might have played out differently. We know that Ho Chi Minh used the U.S. Declaration of Independence as a basic text for his own declaration of the end of French colonialism. He wrote a series of appeals for help to President Truman, and he offered specific economic inducements to American capital. Read the rest of this entry »

The Vietnam War: Lessons Unlearned

In Vietnam, War on May 18, 2015 at 2:44 pm

David Cortright

David Cortright is Associate Director for Programs and Policy Studies at the Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies. As an enlisted soldier during the Vietnam War, he spoke out against that conflict.

There are many lessons of Vietnam, but three stand out in explaining why the United States lost the war—ignorance, arrogance, and the absence of a viable local ally. All three continue to characterize American policy today and help to explain why wars in Iraq and Afghanistan also have failed to achieve success.


The United States entered Vietnam without an understanding of the country’s history and culture. We did not speak the language or know the people. We viewed Vietnam through the lens of a Cold War struggle against communism rather than as a national independence struggle against colonialism and foreign domination. We did not realize the extent of the social revolution in Vietnam led by the National Liberation Front (NLF), which gave land to the tillers and solidified support for the liberation struggle. We did not understand that the war was lost politically before it ever began militarily. Read the rest of this entry »

“Advances” in High-Tech Killing

In Counterterrorism, War on December 10, 2012 at 2:26 pm

Mary Ellen O’Connell

In the wake of 9/11 the United States adopted a new approach to countering terrorism, an approach made possible by two developments: adding missiles and bombs to unmanned drones and asserting the legal right to use these weapons outside combat zones.

Prior to 9/11, the United States had used unmanned aerial vehicles only for reconnaissance. Hellfire missiles were then attached to drones and deployed to kill people in Afghanistan and beyond. In 2002, the CIA used a drone to kill six men in a vehicle in Yemen, a country not connected with 9/11. One was a 23-year old American. The intended target was Abu Ali Al Harithi, wanted for the attack on the USS Cole in 2000. Until his killing, the FBI had been in charge of his case. FBI agents, in cooperation Yemeni authorities, were having success at solving the case. The United States did not explain why the decision was made to kill the suspect or why the CIA was allowed to carry out killings even though it had been banned from that role following Vietnam and the dirty wars of the 1980s. Read the rest of this entry »

New Wars, Old Strategies

In Counterterrorism, War on December 10, 2012 at 2:26 pm
Counter Terrorism training in Yemen. Photo: Ammar Abd Rabbo (Flickr)

Counterterrorism training in Yemen. Photo: Ammar Abd Rabbo (Flickr)

David Cortright

The nature of armed conflict has changed dramatically in recent decades. Gone is the old paradigm of industrial interstate war. Instead, conflicts have risen sharply within and beyond states.

In the world today there are 37 armed conflicts (as measured by the Uppsala Conflict Data Program), all of them involving communities divided by ethnicity, language, and/or religion. Most are relatively small (fewer than 1,000 casualties per year), but many are persistent and have continued for years at varying degrees of intensity. Read the rest of this entry »

Will the U.S. Remain Global Top Dog?

In Counterterrorism, War on December 10, 2012 at 2:25 pm

Andrew J. Bacevich

When it comes to America’s role in the world, the 2012 presidential campaign was notable chiefly for what was left unsaid. Other than uttering platitudes or striking postures aimed at particular domestic constituencies, neither candidate had much to offer. Yet the absence of substantive attention given to foreign policy speaks volumes about the present-day condition of American statecraft.


Could we have done better? Yes. Here’s the sixty-four dollar question that a presidential campaign worthy of the name ought to have addressed:  Is the United States committed to remaining global Top Dog? Or are we willing to accept a diminished status of being one Big Dog (perhaps the biggest) among several?

Phrased somewhat more delicately:  Should the United States attempt to sustain its position of global primacy, achieved as a direct result of World War II and seemingly affirmed by the outcome of the Cold War? Will conditions permit it? Does it serve U.S. interests even to make the effort? Read the rest of this entry »

Protecting Civilians While Discrediting Terrorism

In Civil-military relations, Counterterrorism, Sanctions and Security, War on September 20, 2010 at 3:04 pm

Robert C. Johansen

International law and time-honored ethical traditions prohibit the targeting of noncombatants. Yet in most recent conflicts, more civilians have been killed than soldiers. What can we do to increase the influence of legal and ethical norms supporting civilian immunity in order to reduce civilian casualties and delegitimize terrorism, which routinely targets civilians? Here are five recommendations:

1. Bolster the traditional distinction between combatants and noncombatants.

Noncombatants usually are not engaged in any direct violence against which adversaries need to protect themselves. But terrorists may deny that the noncombatants they target are innocent. Government officials sometimes select military targets that result in civilian casualties (so called “collateral damage”). Despite these realities, most people in conflict zones, including children, mothers, and the elderly living at home, qualify for immunity according to international law. Read the rest of this entry »

From Civilian Immunity to Just Peace

In Civil-military relations, Counterterrorism, Sanctions and Security, War on September 20, 2010 at 3:03 pm
Iraqi Freedom

U.S. soldiers question civilians during the search for three missing soldiers in Yusifiyah, Iraq. Photo: U.S. Army (Flickr)

Maryann Cusimano Love

General David Petraeus was in the hot seat during his Senate confirmation hearings in Washington this summer, and it had nothing to do with the heat wave outside.

While senators were confirming Petraeus as commander of U.S. and international forces in Afghanistan, they criticized the tactical guidance issued last year ordering greater restraint of U.S. forces to protect against civilian deaths. Although it was the deadliest summer for U.S. troops in nine years of war, some senators and media commentators were complaining about limitations on air strikes. Read the rest of this entry »

More than Military Strikes Harm Civilians

In Civil-military relations, Counterterrorism, Sanctions and Security, War on September 20, 2010 at 3:03 pm

George A. Lopez

Much attention is paid to noncombatant casualties caused by military strikes and terrorist bombings, but few observers have focused on the impact of non-military actions, such as economic sanctions, on civilians.

The shift more than a decade ago from general trade sanctions to more finely targeted, so-called “smart sanctions” lessened the negative humanitarian impact of sanctions. Restrictions aimed at some types of economic activity or embargoes on products with dual use military potential were intended to apply pressure on foes and their sympathizers while avoiding harm to civilians.

But sanctions are seldom imposed in a vacuum. Even targeted measures can become collective punishment depending on the scope of economic deprivation that already exists in a society.  Read the rest of this entry »

Combat Drones: Losing the Fight Against Terrorism

In Afghanistan, Counterterrorism, War on October 1, 2009 at 9:03 am

Mary Ellen O’Connell

The United States is using combat drones — remotely piloted missile aircraft — to target terrorist leaders in the volatile border area of Pakistan and Afghanistan. This continues despite the high number of civilians killed. Credible estimates find that, between 2006 and early 2009, about 700 civilians were killed in the course of targeting 14 individuals — a ratio of 50 people killed to each one targeted.1

Counterterrorism expert David Kilcullen wrote in The New York Times that killing leaders of terrorist groups has only a short-term impact on repressing terrorist violence, while every civilian killed in such actions “represents an alienated family, a new desire for revenge, and more recruits for a militant movement …” 2

In June 2009, Gen. Stanley McChrystal restricted the use of airstrikes in Afghanistan because of the high number of civilian deaths. He ordered that “[t]he restrictions … be especially tight in attacking houses and compounds where insurgents are believed to have taken cover.”  Read the rest of this entry »