In fairness, there’s no unified theory of counterinsurgency…

Photo from US Army on Flickr.

I don’t envy the Doctrine Men of the world:  after all, putting together a comprehensive field manual on counterinsurgency is no small feat.  And though the book has been subject to considerable criticism in the last few weeks, the authors of FM 3-24 should still be applauded for their efforts in codifying this new doctrine.

Small wars and insurgencies are certainly a complex affair.  As my co-blogger, Courtney Messerschmidt, atutely notes, counterinsurgency is a “hot, slow, nasty grind“. 

And while it’s true that mankind has thousands of years of experience combating–and fighting–insurgencies, each has its own particular flavor:  from coup d’etats and popular uprisings to guerrilla campaigns and full-blown civil wars.   Some counterinsurgents brutally crushed rebellions.  Other counterinsurgents fought tenaciously, only to lose on the political front.  Still others were resolved through political settlements.  And sometimes, insurgencies just fizzle and die.

We do our best to compile doctrine, but we must also acknowledge the complexity of human conflict.  No one book–and certainly, no one case study–can prepare us for the uncertainty of warfare and human interaction.  There’s no “silver bullet” doctrine.

Greyhawk of the Mudville Gazzette sums it up best by referring us to a quote from Winston Churchill, writing about the Duke of Marlborough, John Churchill (1644-1722):


About Crispin Burke

Major Crispin Burke is a US Army aviator qualified in the UH-60 and LUH-72 helicopters. Major Burke has served in the 82nd Airborne Division, 10th Mountain Division, and Joint Task Force-Bravo in Honduras. In what is likely a sad statement on the state of humanity, Major Burke's writings, musings, and irreverent cartoons have been featured at Small Wars Journal, National Defense University, Foreign Policy Online, Wired Magazine, Egremont, the New York Times, the Washington Post, and the Great Satan's Girlfriend.
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3 Responses to In fairness, there’s no unified theory of counterinsurgency…

  1. Rex Brynen says:

    …all of which raises the issue of whether COIN doctrine should focus on “how to do it,” or “on what you should be asking and thinking about as you decide how to do it.” Given both the wide variation in insurgencies and the equally wide variation in the political contexts that will shape US engagement in future COIN efforts, I’m much more inclined to the latter than the former.

  2. Steve Metz says:

    I’d suggest there shouldn’t be a unified theory. At best, there might be a series of culture specific ones.

  3. Professor Metz may very well have something there – when Old Ironsides came back from Iraq pre Surge after fighting Mookie’s Mahdi Army repeatedly without modesty or restraint several of the platoon leaders called it a “Hot Pocket Caliphate” act. As best understood it was a combination of the “Bloody Aachen way” and Will Owen’s K2C ‘Killing To Control”

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