Counterinsurgency and the Global War on Terror: Military Culture and Irregular War

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Counterinsurgency and the Global War on Terror: Military Culture and Irregular War.

by Robert M. Cassidy

Westport, CT: Praeger, 2006 202 pp. $49.95

ISBN: 0-2759-8990-9

Robert Cassidy, who has served as a Special Operations Forces battalion commander and authored a book on peacekeeping (Peacekeeping in the Abyss: British and American Doctrine and Practice after the Cold War, Praeger, 2004), examines the problems that major powers face in dealing with modern counter-insurgency. He focuses on how national military cultures affect nations' approaches to dealing with asymmetric warfare and provides three case studies as a base of analysis: the United States, Britain, and Russia.

Cassidy is on solid ground in his highly critical analysis of the U.S. military in its understanding of modern counterinsurgency. He argues that despite extensive experience with counterinsurgency, the U.S. military is generally indifferent to such warfare because of a traditional intellectual preference for big conventional wars, in which advantages in resources and technology give the Nation an unquestioned edge. Cassidy is spot on in his critique that the U.S. military leadership since Vietnam has generally resisted trying to understand the very different requirements of fighting unconventional enemies. This approach, which has its roots deep within U.S. military tradition, forces planners to relearn many of the basic principles that should have been learned through the counter-insurgency operations of the past. There is nothing really new in this analysis, as many authors have discussed the Armed Forces' lack of basic understanding of counterinsurgency since they became engaged in Afghanistan and Iraq. Still, it is important to keep hammering the point home, as the U.S. military needs to fundamentally alter its view of counterinsurgency if it wants to succeed in these operations.

In discussing the cultures of militaries with which he does not have personal experience, the author is much weaker. In examining London's response to counterinsurgency issues, Cassidy correctly points out that the British military takes the study of counterinsurgency much more seriously than does the U.S. military (Northern Ireland made sure of that). But all too often, the author buys into the popular myths concerning Britain's special competence in counterinsurgency. For example, he emphasizes that since the massacre at Amritsar in 1919, the British have employed the principle of minimum force in countering insurgents. In fact, many British counterinsurgency efforts have been marred by excessive force and major human rights violations. …