Rethinking InsurgencyeBook - 2007
The September 11, 2001, attacks and Operations Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom revived the idea that insurgency is a significant threat to the United States. In response, the American military and defense communities began to rethink insurgency. Much of this valuable work, though, viewed contemporary insurgency as more closely related to Cold War era insurgencies than to the complex conflicts which characterized the post-Cold War period. This suggests that the most basic way that the military and defense communities think about insurgency must be rethought. Contemporary insurgency has a different strategic context, structure, and dynamics than its forebears. Insurgencies tend to be nested in complex conflicts which involve what can be called third forces (armed groups which affect the outcome, such as militias) and fourth forces (unarmed groups which affect the outcome, such as international media), as well as the insurgents and the regime. Because of globalization, the decline of overt state sponsorship of insurgency, the continuing importance of informal outside sponsorship, and the nesting of insurgency within complex conflicts associated with state weakness or failure, the dynamics of contemporary insurgency are more like a violent and competitive market than war in the traditional sense where clear and discrete combatants seek strategic victory. This suggests a very different way of thinking about (and undertaking) counterinsurgency. At the strategic level, the risk to the United States is not that insurgents will "win" in the traditional sense, take over their country, and shift it from a partner to an enemy. It is that complex internal conflicts, especially ones involving insurgency, will generate other adverse effects: the destabilization of regions, resource flows, and markets; the blossoming of transnational crime; humanitarian disasters; transnational terrorism; and so forth. Given this, the U.S. goal should not automatically be the defeat of the insurgents by the regime (which may be impossible and which the regime may not even want), but the most rapid conflict resolution possible. In other words, a quick and sustainable resolution which integrates insurgents into the national power structure is less damaging to U.S. national interests than a protracted conflict which leads to the complete destruction of insurgents. Protracted conflict, not insurgent victory, is the threat. If, in fact, insurgency is not simply a variant of war, if the real threat is the deleterious effects of sustained conflict, and if it is part of systemic failure and pathology in which key elites and organizations develop a vested interest in sustaining the conflict, the objective of counterinsurgency support should not be simply strengthening the government so that it can impose its will more effectively on the insurgents, but systemic reengineering. This, in turn, implies that the most effective posture for outsiders is not to be an ally of the government and thus a sustainer of the flawed socio-political-economic system, but to be neutral mediators and peacekeepers (even when the outsiders have much more ideological affinity for the regime than for the insurgents). If this is true, the United States should only undertake counterinsurgency support in the most pressing instances and as part of an equitable, legitimate, and broad-based multinational coalition.
Publisher: [Washington, D.C.] : Congressional Research Service, Library of Congress, 2007
Characteristics: vii, 69 p. (online resource) : digital, PDF file