Academic journal article Military Review

Arms of Little Value: The Challenge of Insurgency and Global Instability in the Twenty-First Century

Academic journal article Military Review

Arms of Little Value: The Challenge of Insurgency and Global Instability in the Twenty-First Century

Article excerpt

ARMS OF LITTLE VALUE: The Challenge of Insurgency and Global Instability in the Twenty-First Century

G.L. Lamborn, Casemate Publishers, UK

2012, 295 pages, $32.95

FOR SOME TIME, counterinsurgency has been hailed as the graduate level of warfare. However, in Arms of Little Value, G.L. Lamborn argues that counterinsurgency is irrelevant and even harmful without a thorough understanding of insurgency. Through case studies and analysis, Lamborn, a former Army and Central Intelligence Agency officer, seeks to explicate the importance of political action to insurgencies and explain how military power is successful only to the extent it delegitimizes an insurgency.

For militaries, undermining the political activist nature of insurgencies remains a vexing challenge. In successful cases, this has occurred in situations where reform of political and economic policies was enacted by host governments, as was demonstrated by Magsaysay in the Philippines. Conversely, there is little to defend when local partners remain stubbornly corrupt and resistant to political reform, as was the case with Diem's Republic of South Vietnam.

Arms of Little Value is reminiscent of Robert Taber's classic War of the Flea. However, Lamborn is more concerned with how the U.S. military should better prepare its capabilities through greater understanding of the political nature of war and root causes of insurgencies in particular. As he states, "Pentagon pamphlets and PowerPoint presentations proliferate on COIN. And yet, the causes and nature of insurgency per se are seldom mentioned."

Delving into this problem, the book's first three chapters examine the importance of grievances--whether social, economic, or political--that engender insurgencies. However, solving such grievances is beyond the realm of the military's capability. The author details how the military decision making process is ill suited to resolve insurgent grievances because it remains locked in a philosophical framework advocated by Antoine Jomini. The problem of differing means and ends in combating insurgencies shapes Lamborn's argument throughout the book.

For example, he argues, "the U.S. Army has yet to figure out that Jomini has no place in the graduate school of warfare."

In no way is Arms of Little Value a sardonic critique of the U.S. military. The author makes an effort to point out historical cases in which the United States made wise decisions regarding its foreign policy and use of its military. A consistent theme in this regard is that success in countering insurgencies has occurred where the United States supported host governments that reformed the negative practices that served as rationale for revolution. Insurgencies have an emboldened cause where reform has not occurred, as in the case of South Vietnam where Ngo Dinh Diem exemplified failure as a leader. Conversely, Magsaysay in the Philippines eventually overcame the Hukbalahap insurgency because of his willingness to reform. In all cases, political legitimacy is key and cannot be accomplished solely through military power or inundating a country with development aid unless real and perceived reform occurs. …

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