Complex operations

The Norwegian Defence University College (NDUC) offers this BA level course to international students of military studies.

About the course

The course aims to provide the cadets with a thorough understanding of armed conflicts other than inter-state, high intensity war. The course studies low intensity and complex operations, what strategic dynamics shape such conflicts, and what utility military force has in influencing them. A consistent consideration is how military means relate to civilian efforts. The evolving role of UN peacekeeping is a prominent theme.

The first half of the course emphasises understanding core similarities and contextual differences between conflicts. It will explore prominent academic traditions regarding complex operations, as well as introducing relevant strategic variables and how to analyse these.

The second half of the course builds on the attained strategic understanding, and fucuses on translating strategic objectives into operational design, and tactical planning and execution. It provides the cadets with experience in planning and preparing a force for a specific complex operation, from higher-level mission preparation to practical execution. This includes cooperation with civilian efforts.

  1. Knowledge

    Upon the completion of the module the cadets:

    • Have broad knowledge concerning low intensity conflict and complex operations, nested in a general theory of war and the spectrum of conflict.

    • Have broad knowledge of strategic dynamics that determine the character of complex operations, and the utility of military force in influencing these.

    • Are familiar with prominent traditions of academic discourse on complex operations, including population-centric and coercive counterinsurgency, as well as the evolution of UN peacekeeping.

    • Are aware of future trends concerning complex operations.


    Upon the completion of the module, the cadets:

    • Can employ critical thinking to understand how, and to what degree, military force employment can influence complex conflicts.

    • Can creatively visualize operations, training requirements and force design to maximize the utility of military force.

    • Can combine theory with relevant doctrine to describe, direct and lead tactical actions in complex operations.

    • Have insight into scientific methodologies that allow for rigorous research when assessing current, and preparing for future, complex operations.

    General competence

    Upon the completion of the module, the cadets:

    • Can collaborate with allied military and civilian counterparts, both in theoretical analysis and tactical planning and execution.

    • Can communicate the rationale, challenges, and opportunities regarding military force in complex operations, to civilian professionals and politicians.

  2. The course progresses from abstract theory, through contextualized analysis and planning, and finally practical execution.

    Learning arenas during the first half is a combination of lectures providing the theoretical framework and guidance for self-study, and cadet working groups analysing an assigned conflict.

    The second half of the course is highly interactive. The cadets will assume different roles on command and staff levels from brigade to squad. Cadets will have to translate their theoretical understanding into iterative decisions in a variety of arenas, including seminar games, map exercises and field training exercises.

    The course is taught in English and available to students from other programs, including international students. The subjects English, Physical training and Leader development is integrated with the course program.

  3. The first half of the course is assessed by a group presentation of each group's assigned conflict. The presentation will be graded A-F and will count as 40% of the module grade.

    The final assessment of the course is an individual essay, where cadets will demonstrate their ability to synthesise knowledge and experience from the course. Questions for the essay will be handed out at the start of the course, and students are expected to hand in their essay at the end of the course. The essay will be graded A-F and will count as 60% of the module grade.

    In the event of a cadet failing one of the assessments, only that assessment is required as a re-sit examination.

  4. Total pages on required reading list are 961 pages. 

    • Amnesty International (2016). If Men Are Caught, They Are Killed, If Women Are Caught, They Are Raped. pp 4-25. 
    • Annan, Kofi (1999), "Two concepts of sovereignty", The Economist (18 Sept).
    • Beadle, Alexander William (2014). Protection of civilians - military planning scenarios and implications (Oslo: Forsvarets Forskningsinstitutt), pp 7-21, 66-67.
    • Berdal, M. (2000). Lessons not learned: The use of force in ‘peace operations’ in the 1990s. International Peacekeeping, 7(4), 55-74.  
    • Berdal, Mats (2008), "The Security Council and Peacekeeping" in Lowe, Vaughan, The United Nations Security Council and War (Oxford: Oxford University Press), pp 175-204.    
    • Clausewitz, Carl Von. (1976). On War, red. and translated by Michael Howard and Peter Paret. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, Book I, chapter 1, pp 75-8 
    • Crane, Conrad (2010) Thomas Rid and Thomas Keaney (Eds.), Understanding Counterinsurgency pp. 59-72. London: Routledge.     
    • Erskine, Emmanuel A (1989), Mission with UNIFIL: An African Soldier's Reflections (New York: St. Martin's Press), pp 20-49. 
    • Findlay, T (2002). The Use of Force in UN Peace Operations. (New York: Oxford University Press.), pp 9-49, 87-123  
    • Findlay, T. (2002). The Use of Force in UN Peace Operations. (New York: Oxford University Press.), pp124-165. 
    • French, David (2012) ’Nasty not Nice, British Counterinsurgency doctrine and practice’ Small Wars and Insurgencies (23:4-5) 
    • Galula, David (2008) Counterinsurgency Warfare - Theory and Practice. Westport: Praeger, pp 1-28.   
    • Galula, David (2008) Counterinsurgency Warfare - Theory and Practice. Westport: Praeger, pp 49-74.  
    • Giustozzi, Antonio (2007) Koran, Kalashnikov and Laptop: The Neo-Taliban Insurgency in Afghanistan. London: Hurst & Company, pp 98-133.   
    • Government of the Netherlands. Final Evaluation - Netherlands contribution to ISAF, 2006 - 2010 (The Hague: The Government of the Netherlands 2011) ch 3 (pp 19-31) and 4.3.6 (pp 37-43).   
    • Hazelton, Jacqueline (2017). "The "Hearts and Minds" Fallacy - Violence, Coercion, and Success in Counterinsurgency warfare", International Security 42, no. 1  
    • Hazelton, Jacqueline (2021). Bullets not Ballots: success in counterinsurgency warfare. Ithaca: Cornell University Press, pp 8-28 and 147-154   
    • Headquarters of the Army (2014) FM 3-24 Insurgencies and countering insurgencies pnts 7-1 - 7-34 and 7-45 - 7-98 NOTE: required reading is marked in paragraph points, NOT pages.           
    • ICISS (2001), The Responsibility to Protect, s.xi-xiii, 1-9. 
    • Jones, Adam (2006), "Bosnia and Kosovo", in Genocide: A Comprehensive Introduction (London: Routledge), pp 212-224.  
    • Kaldor, Mary, Old Wars, Cold Wars, New Wars and the War on Terror, lecture at London School of Economics (Feb 2005). 
    • Karlsrud, John and Osland, Kari M (2016), "Between self-interest and solidarity: Norway’s return to UN peacekeeping?", International Peacekeeping, 23:5, 784-803
    • Kelly, Max and Giffen, Allison (2011). Military Planning to Protect Civilians: Proposed Guidance for United Nations Peacekeeping Operations (Washington: Stimson Center), pp 13-35.    
    • Kilcullen, David (2010) Counterinsurgency. Oxford: Oxford University Press, pp 1-13, 29-49 and 147-161 
    • Kitson Frank, (1971). Low-intensity operations, London: Faber & Faber Limited, pp 1-9.   
    • Kjeksrud, Stian, Beadle, Alexander og Lindquist, Petter (2016). Protecting Civilians from violence, Oslo: FFI/ NODEFIC, pp 1-26.   (
    • Nagl, John A (2022) "Why America’s Army Can’t Win America’s Wars," Parameters 52, no. 3    
    • Navias, Martin and Moreman, Timothy. (1994). Limited war and developing countries in Freedman, Lawrence (ed). (1994). War, Oxford: Oxford University Press, pp 309-351     
    • NODEFIC. Human security and the military role. E-learning course: Human security and the military role - Norwegian Armed Forces (
    • Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Ministry of Defence (2016). "A Good Ally: Norway in Afghanistan 2001-2014." In Official Norwegian Reports NOU. Oslo. Chapter 8, pp 121-151   
    • Porch, Douglas (2011) "The dangerous myths and dubious promise of COIN" in Small Wars and Insurgencies (22:2)   
    • Schlichte, Klaus and Schneckener, Ulrich, "Armed Groups and the Politics of Legitimacy", Civil Wars 17, no. 4 (2015), pp 409-424 
    • Sewall, Sarah in Headquarters of the Army (2006) FM 3-24 Counterinsurgency Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, pp xxi-xliii.     
    • Shy, John and Collier, Thomas "Revolutionary war" in Paret, Peter (eds) Makers of Modern Strategy - from Machiavelli to the Nuclear age, (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1986), pp 815-862.     
    • Smith, Rupert (2007). "Thinking about the utility of force in war amongst the people", in On New Wars, ed. John Andreas Olsen, pp 28-43.  
    • Strachan, Hew (2010) Strategy or Alibi? Obama, McChrystal and the Operational Level of War, Survival, 52:5, pp 157-182 
    • Tharoor, Shashi (1995), "Should UN peacekeeping go 'back to basics'?", Survival: Global Politics and Strategy, 37(4), pp 52-64.  
    • Thompson, Robert (1966) America Fights the Wrong War. Spectator, (217:7207) 
    • Thompson, Robert (2005) Defeating Communist Insurgency. St. Petersburg, Florida: Hailer Publishing, pp 21-49. 
    • Thompson, Robert (2005) Defeating Communist Insurgency. St. Petersburg, Florida: Hailer Publishing, pp 50-62. 
    • Tse Tung, Mao (1967) On protracted war. Peking: Foreign language press pp 30-46 and 57-64.    
    • UN Doc. UNSC Res/1291(2000), pp 1-6.   
    • UN Doc. UNSC Res. 425, 426 and 427.  
    • United Nations (1978). Report of the Secretary-General on the implementation of Security Council resolution 425 (1978). 
    • United Nations (1996), "UNPROFOR" in The Blue Helmets. (New York: UN Department of Public Information), s. 556-563.    
    • United Nations (1996). "United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL)" in The Blue Helmets. (New York: UN Department of Public Information), pp 83-85, 88- 96.
    • United Nations (2000), Report of the Panel on United Nations Peace Operations [Brahimi Report], pp 9-12, 14-20. 
    • United Nations (2008). United Nations Peacekeeping Operations. Principles and Guidelines. pp13-40, 47-52.  
    • USMC (1940). Small Wars, Washington: United States government printing officer, pp 1 and 11-16.  
  5. Subjects at the Norwegian Defence University College are evaluated regularly as part of the university college quality system. Student evaluations are part of this work and the cadets will be asked to participate in evaluation of the subject after the fulfillment of its tuition and assessment.