Academic journal article Parameters

Structural Vulnerabilities of Networked Insurgencies: Adapting to the New Adversary

Academic journal article Parameters

Structural Vulnerabilities of Networked Insurgencies: Adapting to the New Adversary

Article excerpt

The ongoing conflict in Iraq has sparked a renewed interest in the study of counterinsurgency, leading many to comb the wars of the twentieth century, the "golden age of insurgencies," for lessons that can be applied to today. (1) Much of this recent analysis has focused on the knowledge gained from fighting Marxist revolutionaries.

The insurgent of today, however, is not the Maoist of yesterday. His organization and methods are strikingly different from his twentieth century predecessors. The modern insurgent aims to defeat his opponent by psychological warfare and terrorism instead of military action. (2) He draws his support from criminal networks as opposed to popular mobilization. He fights a netwar not a People's War.

These dissimilarities raise the question of just how much of twentieth century counterinsurgency thought can be applied to twenty-first century conflicts. Methods from past wars are put forth as guiding principles with only a nod towards these differences. (3) Applying these principles without examination could lead, at best, to wasted effort, at worst, to defeat.

Sun Tzu said, "Know your enemy." (4) The structure of a movement, meaning its organization and methods, is the key to understanding it. Modern and Maoist insurgencies are structurally different. In order to be effective, those conducting counterinsurgencies must take into consideration these differences and adapt their methods to the structure of modern adversaries.

This article examines the distinction between Maoist and modern insurgencies and the implications for counterinsurgency methods. First, it contrasts the two types of insurgencies in terms of their organizations and strategies. Building on that information, it analyzes the vulnerabilities of Maoist and modern insurgencies in their organization, political cohesion, support base, and use of information technology. From this analysis, it draws conclusions about how to modify twentieth century methods to combat the modern insurgent.

The purpose of this article is not to propose a comprehensive strategy for a modern counterinsurgency. Instead, it examines one component of such a plan--understanding and exploiting the insurgent's structural vulnerabilities. It does not exhaust this analysis; the conclusions drawn here are demonstrative of the possibilities inherent in this methodology.

Throughout this article, the conflict in Iraq is used as an illustrative example of a modern insurgency. The Iraqi insurgency is thus far the most advanced embodiment of netwar, where small groups coordinate, communicate, and conduct their campaigns in an internetted manner, without a precise central command. (5) As such, this conflict is a powerful predictor of the future of insurgency.

Structure of the Maoist and Iraqi Insurgencies

The first step in learning to defeat this new netwar adversary is to understand how its structure differs from past movements. The following contrasts the organization and strategy of the Maoist and Iraqi insurgencies.


The last half of the twentieth century witnessed the appearance of several effective revolutionary movements based on Mao's strategy of the People's War. (6) Examples include the Hukbalahap in the Philippines, the Malaya Races Liberation Army (MRLA) in Malaya, and the Viet Cong in Vietnam.

These groups were all organized in similar hierarchies. (7) For example, at the head of the Viet Cong was the Central Office for South Vietnam (COSVN), a committee composed of the top political and military leaders. Below the COSVN were six regional committees, each of which oversaw several provincial and district offices. At the district level was an extensive support organization including medical personnel, weapon manufacturers, training teams, and fiscal auditors. At the lowest level, the cadres organized the entire population to support the movement. Armed bodies consisted of main force units, local guerrillas, and village militias. …

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