A Spectrum of Raiding
In addition to a new piece with John P. Sullivan on narco-armor and a long post on professional reading, I’ve also been thinking a bit about “raiding” since Mark Safranski posted on the ascendance of raiding culture within the defense community.
Raiding is a slippery term (like most terms in defense analysis, unfortunately), so I thought it might be useful to illustrate something of a spectrum.
- Local/punitive raiding: Everything from BOPE’s periodic incursions into the favelas in Brazil to periodic drone attacks over the Pakistani border. Either reactive (based on short-term imperatives) or attrition-based (wear down the enemy through repetition) or targeted killings (elimination of an individual in hostile territory designed to support a policy objective.
- Strategic raids: Large-scale looting/destruction of enemy infrastructure designed to create deterrence, heavily weaken an opponent indirectly, or annihilate a regime without occupation (a more recent innovation). This ranges from the razzias of the French 19th century conquest of Algeria, Sherman’s burning of most of Georgia, and the destruction of food and villages during the American Indian Wars to Afghanistan and Iraq-style invasions. Strategic bombing raids in World War II and Vietnam obviously fall into this category.
Since this is a spectrum, there are plenty of things in between (and in fact most actions probably fall into neither category). States and armies have always excelled at the first category in a technical sense but struggle to integrate them into strategy, although this is scarcely different from any other kind of military or state activity.
It also seems that states used to much better at conducting effective strategic raids (the second category) before 1914. The defender’s ability to impose heavy costs on the raiders through layers of sophisticated defense networks (the classic combination of radar, fighters, and anti-aircraft weaponry or the emerging “anti-access” challenge) often makes raiding costly. The precision-strike revolution copes with this to some degree but there is a reason why we bomb Libya with impunity—they are too backward to do anything about it. There also political costs that tend to be rather steep in other areas. We all know, for example, how North Korea would react to a punitive raid.
Setting political expectations for raids and integrating them into strategy is perhaps the biggest issue. The historiography of the Pancho Villa raids, for example, is at odds with the public perception of failure. General Pershing and his units did a lot of damage to Villa, who undertook the original raid in less than ideal strategic circumstances at least partially as a means to breathe life into his failing cause by provoking an American response, stem desertions, and act out against what he perceived as American diplomatic betrayal. In practical terms Villa’s band ceased to be a threat, and American forces gained valuable operational experience. But the public expected Villa’s head on a platter, and the armed clash with Mexican government forces and near-war it provoked has soured public memory ever since.