29 July 2009

Yin and Yang

Two articles appeared in Small Wars Journal this week that are well-worth examining in closer detail. The first article was written by Dr. Donald Stoker of the US Naval War College, entitled "Six Reasons Insurgencies Lose: A Contrarian View". Stoker brings up the fact that in a RAND study of insurgencies waged since the end of the Second World War, only 41% have been successful.

While insurgencies are certainly not to be underestimated by any stretch of the imagination, they are not always as competently led or dangerous as we in the Small Wars community often give them credit for being. Indeed, many insurgencies are amalgams of various competing ideologies bound together only by a common enemy. (I like to call this the "Life of Bryan" phenomenon because they often resemble the myriad of Judean liberation organizations in that particular Monty Python movie). Further, insurgents often use brutal tactics which alienate their followers, particularly if the counterinsurgents are emphasizing restraint and maintaining the moral high ground.

Stoker's piece is a very welcome one, as we in the Small Wars Community often take a pessimistic view on counterinsurgencies, focusing on the mistakes that the counterinsurgents make, rather than focusing on exploiting the mistakes of the insurgents. 59% of counterinsurgents are successful, so to steal another Life-of-Bryan-ism, we COINdinistas need to look on the bright side of life.

On the flip side, however, that means that 41% of insurgencies actually are successful. In a counter-article, Captain James Cahill, an AH-64D Apache pilot (although I won't hold that against him), examined six reasons that insurgencies succeed.

Capt. Cahill brings up some great issues as well, particularly his assertion that insurgencies succeed when they are not recognized in their initial stage. Indeed, according to David Galula, the nascent stages of insurgency are by far one of the most vulnerable phases (read Galula's classic treatise Counterinsurgency Warfare for more information into the vulnerable stages of Maoist-based insurgencies during the Cold War)

Focus: Both authors bring up some great points, but I think that each side can benefit from more than six factors. What more can we add?

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