Of Shoes and Sites: Globalization and Insurgency

By Ford, Christopher M. | Military Review, May-June 2007 | Go to article overview

Of Shoes and Sites: Globalization and Insurgency


Ford, Christopher M., Military Review


IN 1965, two years before his execution at the hands of Bolivian counterinsurgent troops, Ernesto Rafael "Che" Guevara, the famed South American Marxist insurgent and guerrilla fighter, found himself deep in the African jungles of the Congo passing along advice similar to that found in his book On Guerrilla Warfare: "The vital necessities of the guerrillas are to maintain their arms in good condition, to capture ammunition, and, above everything else, to have adequate shoes." (1)

Guevara had been dispatched from Cuba to assist the Marxist Simba insurgency against the government of Mobutu Sese Seko. (2) His Congolese acolytes must have presented a conventional picture of an insurgency: a group of scruffy, ideological men huddled in secrecy around a charismatic leader, learning the ancient art of guerrilla warfare.

Guevara's instruction traded on insurgents of the past, most notably Mao Tse-tung, and focused on the principles of rural insurgency, a form of warfare distinguished by small cells of insurgents exploiting their knowledge of the terrain and their ability to operate independently with few organizational needs--save functional arms and, of course, good shoes. (3)

At roughly the same time, in another jungle across the globe, the United States was busily engaged in its distinct brand of counterinsurgent operations--Operation Rolling Thunder, the bombing campaign of North Vietnam. During the course of the campaign, which lasted until late 1968, the U.S. Air Force flew 306,380 bombing sorties. (4) By all accounts the operation was a failure, and quite possibly the model for how not to fight an insurgency. (5)

Today, 42 years later, the United States is again fighting a robust insurgency. The intervening four decades, however, have wrought a worldwide change in technology, information, mobility, culture, and warfare. These changes, collectively defined as "globalization," have touched virtually every aspect of human conduct, counterinsurgency warfare included. (6) Thus, the picture of the modern counterinsurgent is that of a soldier on the streets of Baghdad, dressed in an Advanced Combat Uniform, protected by ceramic body armor, communicating with a satellite phone, and armed with an M-4 carbine and a fistful of reconstruction dollars.

What Is Insurgency?

In examining insurgency and globalization, two questions become readily apparent: (1) What is insurgency and (2) What aspects of globalization are pertinent to the discussion? We can define an insurgency as "an organized movement aimed at the overthrow of a constituted government through the use of subversion and armed conflict." (7) Insurgency movements traditionally find their roots in a desire for social and/or political change, and then insurgencies utilize guerrilla warfare to accomplish their goals. (8) This distinction between insurgencies and insurgency movements is important because counterinsurgent operations are more expansive than counterguerrilla operations--the latter term refers exclusively to the engagement of the insurgency's military force. In this article, "counterinsurgency" refers to full-spectrum operations designed to target the insurgency politically, economically, and militarily.

Successful insurgencies have certain fundamental prerequisites. Field Manual (FM) 31-20-3, Foreign Internal Defense Tactics, Techniques, and Procedures for Special Forces, summarizes these as a vulnerable population, strong leadership, and lack of government control. (9) The most basic requirement is the positive support or at least the acquiescence of the population. As noted by Mao Tse-tung, "Because guerrilla warfare basically derives from the masses and is supported by them, it can neither exist nor flourish if it separates itself from their sympathies and co-operation." (10) A vulnerable population, electrifying leaders, and a government's failure to control movement allow insurgencies to garner popular support more efficiently and effectively. …

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