APL Colloquium

October 2, 2020

Colloquium Topic: The Dragons and the Snakes: How the Rest Learned to Fight the West

In 1993, 15 months after the fall of the Soviet Union, newly-appointed DCI James Woolsey testified that although Western powers had "slain a large dragon" in defeating the Soviet Union, they now faced a "bewildering variety of poisonous snakes, and in many ways the dragon was easier to keep track of." In the almost three decades since, both pear/near-peer adversaries (dragons) and non-state armed groups (Woolsey’s “snakes”) have evolved in an environment of U.S. conventional warfighting superiority that punishes certain behaviors and rewards others, forcing them to adapt. Today, the dragons are back, but they have learned to fight like snakes—even as the democratization of lethality and emerging disruptive technologies have given snakes the potential to access levels of military capability previously restricted to nation-states. In this discussion David Kilcullen will lay out some of the key ideas from his recent book on adversary adaptation since the Cold War, looking at how, and what, opponents of the West have learned during the last quarter-century of conflict. Applying a combination of evolutionary theory and field observation, he will explore how enemies learn under conditions of conflict, and how adversary adaptation presents serious new challenges to America and its allies.

Colloquium Speaker: David Kilcullen

Dr. David Kilcullen is Professor of International and Political Studies at the University of New South Wales, Canberra, Professor of Practice at Arizona State University, and CEO of the research firm Cordillera Applications Group. Dr. Kilcullen is a theorist and practitioner of guerrilla and unconventional warfare and counterterrorism, with operational experience over a 25-year career with the Australian and U.S. governments as an Army officer, intelligence analyst, policy adviser and diplomat. He served in Iraq as senior counterinsurgency advisor to U.S. General David Petraeus, then as a senior counterterrorism advisor to U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, and has served in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Somalia, Libya and Colombia. He is the author of five prize-winning books on terrorism, insurgency, urbanization and future warfare as well as numerous scholarly papers on urbanization, conflict and future warfare. He has led several concept design projects for U.S. and allied governments, and currently works with national and city-level governments in the United States, Australia, Africa, Latin America and Europe on urban development, public safety, resilience and counterterrorism. He worked for the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) in Afghanistan, and continues to work with advanced research agencies focused on future conflict. He is a lead researcher for NATO’s ongoing Urbanization Program, and is a special adviser to the South Africa-based Brenthurst Foundation.