24 June 2009

In Defense of Brutality?

Kings of War asked a great question regarding one of the basic fundamentals of US counter-insurgency theory.

Our counter-insurgency doctrine emphasizes using minimum force necessary to accomplish the mission. Among the many benefits of this approach is the fact that using minimum force is an economy-of-force measure…to use the brute-force approach tends to create enemies more quickly than they can be killed off.

But KOW brought posed the question today which is slightly taboo among today's COINdinistas—are there times when the "brute force" method of counterinsurgency works? If the metaphor of Counter-insurgency is that of the "mailed fist inside a velvet glove", when should one act with the mailed fist?

KOW brings up a few examples of the "mailed fist" approach to counter-insurgency being effective (calm down, Ralph Peters). Indeed, it's tempting to consider this type of approach, after watching a number of seemingly effective instances of rebellions and insurgencies being outright crushed.

David Galula's writings on counter-insurgency point out that this approach can work in some instances—namely, when insurgencies are nascent and not particularly wide-spread, and when they occur in totalitarian regimes. In instances such as this, insurgent groups can be much more easily pinpointed whereupon they can then be imprisoned, shut down and made to disappear with minimal public uproar. It's quite simple in some countries, but it's certainly not feasible for a democratic nation, especially if you're trying to uphold the moral high ground, particularly in the era of globalized communication. Brutality, as KOW points out, tends to work a lot better when it's a group within your own country, not when you're a foreign army trying to put down an insurgency in a far-away land. Any questions as to why it's not advocated in the American counter-insurgency manual?

If you have something to add to this debate, visit Kings of War and weigh in. (KOW, if I'm not mistaken, is associated with the Defence Studies Department of King's College in London)

(Related reading: Check out the book Defeating Goliath: How Insurgencies Win – I've gotten about a chapter into it, and it's pretty interesting)


Anne Mutch said...

Well I am not by any means an expert on US counter-insurgency theory, I do find this question very interesting. My feeling is that the edict 'to use minimum force' (whatever that might mean) is not so much targeted at the immediate crushing of the insurgency, but instead towards the more long-term stability of the country.

While it is not explicitly stated, my feeling would be that using 'overwhelming' force would likely result in more brutal methods and higher casualty rates among militants and civilians and more damage to local infrastucture.

While these methods may be effective in the short term, I think that it is likely to fuel resentment against the counter-insurgency force both in the local country and abroad. If locals (militants and civilians) can legitimately point out that the counter-insurgency force is exhibiting a casual disrespect for human life, the counter-insurgency force loses the 'moral high ground' and deep set resentment is likely to fester in these areas, thus increasing the likelihood of subsequent uprisings.

Examples such as the Israel/Hezbollah War in 2006 and the recent strike on Gaza come to mind.

Anyway, thanks for blogging - I enjoy reading your posts.

Boss Mongo said...

Starbuck: thanks for adding to my reading list. Bastard. I thought "Defeating Goliath" was Don Pendleton's The Executioner, Book #173.