Conflict of a Different Sort

October 31, 2008

Low-intensity conflict (LIC) doctrine is a broad-ranging military framework developed in the 1980s, most strongly characterized by the military taking on police roles and the police acting more like the military. The NACLA Report broke the story on LIC with Sara Miles’s 1986 article “The Real War: Low-Intensity Conflict in Central America” (volume 20, no. 2). Associated originally with U.S. involvement in counterinsurgency wars in Central America, much of what the U.S. military referred to as LIC was later subsumed under the mid-1990s doctrine “Military Operations Other Than War” (MOOTW). In both cases, the goal is to control targeted civilian populations and impose stability on U.S. terms. LIC/MOOTW includes a wide range of activities, including counterinsurgency and insurgency promotion, counterterrorism, shows of force, peacetime contingency operations, peace-keeping, counter-drug operations, humanitarian intervention, and support to U.S. civilian authorities (e.g., during natural disasters, but broader types of aid as well). These typically involve close collaboration between the military, intelligence bodies, and civilian police organizations, while relying heavily on surveillance efforts and surveillance technology (e.g., sensors, infrared radar, imaging equipment, cameras, helicopters). As a police unit using military technology and contractors, U.S. Customs and Border Protection clearly uses this approach, the construction of hundreds of miles of border barriers and the SBInet surveillance project being just two present-day examples. Timothy Dunn’s 1996 book, The Militarization of the U.S.-Mexico Border, 1978–1992, was the first published work to demonstrate that elements of LIC (and MOOTW)—first deployed during the U.S.-sponsored wars in Central America during the 1980s—had been “repatriated” to the United States, specifically in the form of U.S.-Mexico border enforcement. LIC-like activities, especially the more force-laden ones, have often led to significant (sometimes massive) human rights abuses, such as in Central America, and even in less force-laden ones, tragically shown by the rising migrant death toll in the border region.


Like this article? Support our work. Donate now.