COUNTER-INSURGENCY POLITICS: Going Global

By Jones, David Martin; Smith, M. L. R. | The World Today, October 2009 | Go to article overview

COUNTER-INSURGENCY POLITICS: Going Global


Jones, David Martin, Smith, M. L. R., The World Today


Whatmotivates Islamic extremism? There can be fewmore significant questions since the answer helps shape security policy.But the lack of agreement on the key factorsweakens domestic and international responses to violent threats.

THE INTRACTABLE PROBLEM OF PACIFYING POSTinvasion Iraq and Afghanistan has produced a renaissance in counter-insurgency thinking. Traditionally regarded as a distraction from planning for big war, counter-insurgency has moved centre-stage in contemporary military thought. Classics like T E Lawrence's Seven Pillars of Wisdom have been dusted down, while campaigns such as the Malaya emergency have attracted much attention. This renewed military interest achieved its height with the publication of the United States Army/Marines Counterinsurgency Field Manual in 2007.

These developments, however, have not been uncontested. Classical thinking about counter-insurgency emerged from the experience of colonial policing after 1945, as European powers attempted to quell violent uprisings in their more unruly possessions. The traditional assumption, largely reflected in the Field Manual, suggests that an insurgency is something that originates abroad, and stays there. For critics this is anachronistic. They argue that confining counterinsurgency to external states of concern misreads the current situation where transnational connections produce a threat which is simultaneously both local and global.

Critics of classical counter-insurgency like JohnMackinlay and David Kilcullen contend that a Maoist concept of insurgency, which assumes a struggle for control of a particular population in a given territorial space, misunderstands what is required today. By contrast, they believe the present global insurgency is not confined geographically, but is instead just that: global.

While praising the US military for abandoning its preoccupation with conventional war fighting, those who identify the conditions of global insurgency maintain that colonial era practice cannot help with transnational threats fromde-territorialised jihadist groups.

Global counter-insurgency theory, as it has evolved since 2003, holds that counter-insurgent techniques should be applied on a muchwider scale to prevent localised conflicts and jihadi groups - in Afghanistan, Egypt, Indonesia, the Philippines or European capitals - from being absorbed into the Al Qaeda network of global, anti-western, Islamist resistance.

As part of this de-linking process, global counterinsurgency maintains that a post-modernised version of the Malayan campaign can be usefully adapted internationally. Just as the traditional model asserts that addressing popular grievances can undermine local support for insurgencies, global counter-insurgency argues that this grievance-settling approach can be projected internationally to remedy broader global Islamist discontent.

OPEN TO NEGOTIATION

On the surface, global counter-insurgency appears a more sophisticated policy for our times. Its premises are questionable, however, especially the idea that grievancesettling should be applied transnationally.

In Malaya, the ultimate centre-piece of British 'hearts and minds' policy was the offer of independence. However, projecting this territorially based grievance-settling approach globally is problematic. It implies that allwestern interests are open to negotiation to drain the transnational swamp of jihadist support. The policy also assumes that Islamist violence possesses degrees of legitimacy and that concessions can assuage it. It further concludes that such concessions would not imperil vital western interests.

Thus, global counter-insurgency evidently calmly contemplates that, for example, troop withdrawals from Iraq and Afghanistan, pressure on Israel to accept a Hamas brokered settlement for Palestine, or dialogue with Iran over its evolving nuclear capability, are legitimate topics for negotiation. …

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