On Policing the Frontiers of Freedom

Association of the United States Army: Front and Center

This article shows the military learning how to cope with the non-Cold War reality of 21st century conflicts, with frequent references to what the British have learned in Northern Ireland.

How politicians define the problem of a nonstate adversary is an important strategic decision. Not all violent groups have political agendas, and of those that do, some can be tolerated, and even those that might sound dangerous may not represent foes that are truly implacable. Being able to define the problem in terms other than war is a privilege reserved to the strong, and such decisions are profoundly political. Politicians often think their constituents would rather commit to necessary action if they label it war. They forget that, in war, closure only comes when the enemy accepts defeat, and the war continues until he does. Words like defeat and victory often get in the way of good enough solutions. There are some advantages to defining the adversary as a problem rather than as the enemy.

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