How Insurgencies End

How Insurgencies End

How Insurgencies End

How Insurgencies End


This study tested conventional wisdom about how insurgencies end against the evidence from 89 insurgencies. It compares a quantitative and qualitative analysis of 89 insurgency case studies with lessons from insurgency and counterinsurgency (COIN) literature. While no two insurgencies are the same, the authors find that modern insurgencies last about ten years and that a government's chances of winning may increase slightly over time. Insurgencies are suited to hierarchical organization and rural terrain, and sanctuary is vital to insurgents. Insurgent use of terrorism often backfires, and withdrawal of state sponsorship can cripple an insurgency, typically leading to its defeat. Inconsistent support to either side generally presages defeat for that side, although weak insurgencies can still win. Anocracies (pseudodemocracies) rarely succeed against insurgencies. Historically derived force ratios are neither accurate nor predictive, and civil defense forces are very useful for both sides. Key indicators of possible trends and tipping points in an insurgency include changes in desertions, defections, and the flow of information to the COIN effort. The more parties in an insurgency, the more likely it is to have a complex and protracted ending. There are no COIN shortcuts. This product is part of the RAND Corporation monograph series. RAND monographs present major research findings that address the challenges facing the public and private sectors. All RAND monographs undergo rigorous peer review to ensure high standards for research quality and objectivity.


Insurgencies have dominated the focus of the U.S. military for the past seven years, but they have a much longer history than that and are likely to figure prominently in future U.S. military operations. Thus, the general characteristics of insurgencies and, more important, how they end are of great interest to U.S. policymakers.

This study constitutes the unclassified portion of a two-part study that examines insurgencies in great detail. the research documented in this monograph focuses on insurgency endings generally. Its findings are based on a quantitative examination of 89 cases. James Bruce is the overall project manager.

This research was sponsored by the U.S. Marine Corps Intelligence Activity (MCIA) and conducted within the Intelligence Policy Center (IPC) of the rand National Defense Research Institute, a federally funded research and development center sponsored by the Office of the Secretary of Defense, the Joint Staff, the Unified Combatant Commands, the Navy, the Marine Corps, the defense agencies, and the defense Intelligence Community.

For more information on RAND’s Intelligence Policy Center, contact the Director, John Parachini. He can be reached by email at; by phone at 703-413-1100, extension 5579; or by mail at the rand Corporation, 1200 South Hayes Street, Arlington, Virginia 22202-5050. More information about rand is available at

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