Academic journal article Military Review

Patterns of Insurgency and Counterinsurgency

Academic journal article Military Review

Patterns of Insurgency and Counterinsurgency

Article excerpt

WHETHER OR NOT we welcome the prospect, counterinsurgency operations are in our future. Statebuilding and counterinsurgency are primary tasks for U.S. Armed Forces. As U.S. Marine Corps General Anthony Zinni has noted, "[M]ilitary conflict has changed and we have been reluctant to recognize it. Defeating nation-state forces in conventional battle is not the task for the 21st century. Odd missions to defeat transnational threats or rebuild nations are the order of the day, but we haven't yet adapted." (1) For Zinni, state-building, peacekeeping, and counterinsurgency are not military operations other than war; they are war.

In The Pentagon's New Map, Thomas Barnett argues that to extinguish terrorism we must integrate the entire world into the global economy and thus give everyone a stake in it, which amounts to saying that if the terrorists are on the train they will not want to blow up the tracks. (2) Barnett adds that when incentives fail in a quest for the greater good, we might have to force reluctant regimes to get on board. This would require maneuver forces to execute a coerced regime change, followed by statebuilding to create stability and security in the face of some level of insurgency.

As we anticipate future insurgencies, we gain by examining past examples. Enter the military historian. The past does not supply us with rules, but it does alert us to important issues and dynamics. The past can never substitute for knowledge of the current challenge, but it can help us interpret that challenge.

Basic Model of Insurgency/ Counterinsurgency

The historical model of insurgency and counterinsurgency present in this article is an attempt to make sense of insurgent warfare during the second half of the 20th century to understand threats arising in the 21st. During the Cold War, an insurgency's "home" was usually a country, but an insurgency could also arise within a subdivision of a country. By contrast, an insurgency today is more likely to cross borders, particularly those drawn without respect to ethnic, cultural, or religious realities. The model represents home as a box defined by geographic, ethnic, economic, social, cultural, and religious characteristics. Inside the box are governments, counterinsurgent forces, insurgent leaders, insurgent forces, and the general population, which is made up of three groups: those committed to the insurgents, those committed to the counterinsurgents, and those who simply wish to get on with their lives. Often, but not always, states or groups that aid one side or the other are outside the box. Outside-the-box intervention has dynamics of its own.

In past anticolonial, nationalist, and Marxist "wars of liberation," the ruling government and its insurgent adversaries fought over the crucial, complex issue of legitimacy; that is, which government is thought to be the rightful authority. Governments claim legitimacy based on history, ideology, culture, economics, force--and, at times, political representation. Before the decline of the Soviet Union, Marxist, nationalist, or in the case of Afghanistan, religious ideology buttressed the insurgency's claims to legitimacy, but specific grievances against the ruling regime usually supplied the most compelling arguments for the claim to legitimacy. In any struggle for allegiances, the ruling regime might not be able to co-opt the insurgency's ideology, but it might be able to challenge its claims to legitimacy by addressing and resolving grievances.

However, while instituting reform implies well-meaning progress, reform was, and is, a two-edged sword. When a relatively secure government inaugurates timely reform, it proves its good will and adds to its legitimacy, but hastily improvised reform can be read as evidence of weakness, a last-ditch effort to hold on to power. When an outside power dictates reform, as in Vietnam, reform is often seen as subservience to an alien force and alien principles. …

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