Recommended Readings in Counterinsurgency

Also see: Readings on the War in Iraq

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Brave New War: The Next Stage of Terrorism and the end of Globalization

John Robb

Robb argues that we have now "entered the age of the faceless agile enemy" (4).

This enemy includes not just religious and patriotic zealots, he writes, but also criminals (both stateless and international) and superimpowered individuals.

And the weapons available to them include not just large-scale attacks aimed at instilling terror but more modestly sized attacks aimed at disrupting the systems on which our way of life depends. "This book," he writes, "is about rapid, chaotic, and unexpected events ... black swans" (xiv). And, almost by definition, we are not ready:

By the time the open-source, systems-disrupting, trans-national crime-fueled sons of global fragmentation come to dominate the front pages of your morning newspaper, it may be too late to make an easy transition. (xv)

The current threat, he writes, "is substantially different from any terrorist threat we have faced in the past" (128).

With terrorism, the potential damage has always been due to a single large attack on a major facility (extremely difficult to accomplish and relatively easy to compensate for). Today's threat is based on sustainable disruption -- ongoing, easy, low-tech attacks that are nearly impossible to defend against (everything from pipeline destruction to employee kidnapping).

Robb's approach is eclectic. His appreciation of how new technologies have altered not just the conduct of war but its organization, for example, draws on the way these same technologies have affected retail sales. There are parallels to be drawn, he points out, between the emergence of Amazon and the rise of Al Qaeda, in particular "the long tail"

Wikipedia describes Robb as "an American author, blogger and entrepreneur who writes mainly about Fourth Generation War and modern web technologies." He retired from the Air Force in 1992.

Learning to Eat Soup with a Knife: Counterinsurgency Lessons from Malaya and Vietnam

Lt. Col. John Nagl, U.S. Army (Retired)

An argument in favor of creating a new field manual on (and developing a new direction in the conducting of) counterinsurgency warfare. The title is drawn from a quotation of T. E. Lawrence (aka: Lawrence of Arabia), the Englishman who helped to organize the Arab rebellion against the Turks in World War I.

Nagl compares the institutional cultures of the British and American armies and how these cultures affected the conduct of (and outcomes of) their wars in Malaya (1948 - 1960) and Vietnam (1950 - 1972), respectively. He argues, convincingly, that the British Army's cultural predisposition favored learning and adaptation and contributed to a favorable outcome in Malaya; but that the American Army exhibited an institutional resistance to change that contributed to its unfavorable outcome in Vietnam. Quoting:

Fresh from their victory against the conventional armies of Japan and Germany, British army commanders at first focused on battalion sweeps aimed at insurgent forces. Innovative younger officers then developed more effective techniques to defeat the guerillas at their own game by gaining the support of the local people; flexible senior officers emphasized the interrelationship of political and military goals and encouraged the creation, testing, and implementation of more effective counterinsurgency doctrine (59).

In contrast, and once again, quoting:

The United States Army had become reliant on firepower and technological superiority in its history of annihilating enemy forces; although political considerations may have governed the strategic conduct of the war, they had little connection with the tactical-level management of violence. That was purely military -- army -- business. The concept that success in counterinsurgency consisted of separating the insurgents from popular support never took root (116).

Besides contrasting the conduct of these two wars, Nagl also describes the institutional attributes that make learning and adaptation possible: flexibility, bottom-up communication, stuff like that.

The Sling and the Stone: On War in the 21st Century

Col. Thomas X. Hammes, USMC

A precursor to the U.S. Army/Marine Corps Counterinsurgency Field Manual, Col. Hammes built on Nagl's scholarly work to produce a highly readable and more broadly drawn discussion of the changes he witnessed in warfare over his career.

The U.S. Army/Marine Corps Counterinsurgency Field Manual

Lt. Col. John Nagl, U.S. Army (Retired), Gen. David Petraeus, U. S. Army, et al.

The official manual for counterinsurgency warfare based on the research of LTC Nagl and lessons learned by Gen. Petraeus and others during the initial invasion of Iraq, through extensive reading and extended discussion and after-action analysis. Originally published by the U. S. government for the use of the Army and the Marine Corps, it has proven so popular that it has since been published by the University of Chicago Press.

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