After the Cold War, the United States was the only remaining superpower, and its conventional forces were unsurpassed. However, there were a number of conflicts surfacing, and many of the ones that the U.S. participated in were low-intensity conflict. Facing these challenges meant that the ability to conduct low-intensity operations became more important than during the Cold War. This thesis addresses the doctrinal development of the United States Marine Corps in the period between 1989 and 2006. The focus of the thesis is on the attention devoted to low-intensity conflicts in general, and counterinsurgency more specifically. The primary question is whether the Marine Corps took the new reality of the situation on the ground into account by significantly changing their doctrines by including low-intensity elements.
This thesis argues that Marine Corps doctrines were high-intensity centered, with a focus on conventional battles. The publication of the 2006 counterinsurgency doctrine (COIN-06) supplied the Marine Corps with a predominantly low-intensity character, focusing on the legitimacy of the counterinsurgency force, the security of the population and on achieving a political solution to conflicts. The thesis also discusses the reasons for this. The period from 1989 to 2006 was marked by cultural resistance against including low-intensity elements, and although low-intensity conflicts figured prominently, they do not seem to have propagated a major change until the situation in Afghanistan and Iraq deteriorated.
The project analyzes the doctrines of the Marine Corps between 1989 and 2006, using five criteria to identify the low-intensity elements: 1) A focus on the population instead of enemy combat formation. 2) Political solutions to conflicts. 3) A focus on constructional or reconstructional approaches to conflict. 4) Economic approaches to conflicts. 5) Informational approaches to conflicts. The discussion of the reasons behind the development is mainly based on literature concerning organizational, rather than doctrinal, change in the Marine Corps and the Army, and is meant to suggest possible avenues for further research.