Academic journal article Military Review

Principles, Imperatives, and Paradoxes of Counterinsurgency

Academic journal article Military Review

Principles, Imperatives, and Paradoxes of Counterinsurgency

Article excerpt

AMERICA began the 20th century with military forces engaged in counterinsurgency (COIN) operations in the Philippines. Today, it is conducting similar operations in Afghanistan, Iraq, and a number of other countries around the globe. During the past century, Soldiers and Marines gained considerable experience fighting insurgents in Southeast Asia, Latin America, Africa, and now in Southwest Asia and the Middle East.

Conducting a successful counterinsurgency requires an adaptive force led by agile leaders. While every insurgency is different because of distinct environments, root causes, and cultures, all successful COIN campaigns are based on common principles. All insurgencies use variations of standard frameworks and doctrine and generally adhere to elements of a definable revolutionary campaign plan. In the Information Age, insurgencies have become especially dynamic. Their leaders study and learn, exchange information, employ seemingly leaderless networks, and establish relationships of convenience with criminal gangs. Insurgencies present a more complex problem than conventional operations, and the new variants have a velocity that previous historical insurgencies never possessed.

Principles of Counterinsurgency

The principles and imperatives of modern counterinsurgency provide guideposts for forces engaged in COIN campaigns. However, counterinsurgency is a strange and complicated beast. Following the principles and imperatives does not guarantee success, which is just one of the several paradoxes of counterinsurgency. Understanding such paradoxes helps illuminate the extraordinary challenges inherent in defeating an insurgency.

Legitimacy as the main objective. A legitimate government derives its just powers from the governed and competently manages collective security and political, economic, and social development. Legitimate governments are inherently stable. They engender the popular support required to manage internal problems, change, and conflict. Illegitimate governments are inherently unstable. Misguided, corrupt, and incompetent governance inevitably fosters instability. Thus, illegitimate governance is the root cause of and the central strategic problem in today's unstable global-security environment.

Five actions that are indicators of legitimacy and that any political actor facing threats to stability should implement are--

* Free, fair, and frequent selection of leaders.

* A high level of popular participation in and support for the political process.

* A low level of corruption.

* A culturally acceptable level or rate of political, economic, and social development.

* A high level of regime support from major social institutions.

Governments that attain these goals usually garner the support of enough of the population to create stability. The primary objective of any counterinsurgent is to establish such a government. While military action can deal with the symptoms of loss of legitimacy, restoring it can only he accomplished using all elements of national power. Unless the government achieves legitimacy, counterinsurgency efforts cannot succeed.

Unity of effort. Ideally, a counterinsurgent would have unity of command over all elements of national power involved in COIN operations. However, the best that military commanders can generally hope for is unity of effort through communication and liaison with those responsible for the nonmilitary elements of power. The ambassador and country team must be key players in higher level planning, while similar connections are achieved down the chain of command. Even nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) can play important roles in improving lives. Many such players will resist being overtly involved with military units, but they must make an effort to establish some kind of liaison.

Connecting with joint, interagency, coalition, and indigenous organizations is important to ensuring that objectives are shared and that actions and messages are synchronized. …

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