From Citizendium
Revision as of 12:21, 2 February 2023 by Pat Palmer (talk | contribs) (Text replacement - "United States" to "United States of America")
(diff) ← Older revision | Latest revision (diff) | Newer revision → (diff)
Jump to navigation Jump to search
This article is developing and not approved.
Main Article
Related Articles  [?]
Bibliography  [?]
External Links  [?]
Citable Version  [?]
This editable Main Article is under development and subject to a disclaimer.

There are no universally accepted definitions of insurgency, but it generally refers to the activities of a group or groups seeking political power, through armed conflict or other means illegal under the rules of the existing government. "Seeking political power" does not necessarily mean replacing the government. A group may want only to share power, or it may prefer a breakdown of a strong government so local militias have control. Deeming a group an "insurgency" also depends on perspective - American Revolution "patriots" were called an "insurgency" and considered treasonous by the British they fought against, for example.

While an insurgency may be limited to a single nation, in the modern world, it almost always impacts international relations. Either the insurgents, the government, or both may be clients of other nations. There is apt to be spillover, such as refugees, beyond national borders.

It is a long-established term of military art.Bernard Fall, a French expert on Indochina and Vietnam, entitled one of his major books Street without joy: insurgency in Indochina, 1946-63. [1] Fall himself, however, wrote later on that "revolutionary warfare" might be a more accurate term. [2] Under the British, the situation in Malaya (now Malaysia) was often called the "Malayan insurgency". [3], or "The Troubles (Ireland)". Insurgencies have existed in many countries and regions, including the Philippines, Afghanistan, Chechnya, Kashmir, Yemen, Djibouti, Colombia, Sri Lanka, and Democratic Republic of the Congo, the American colonies of Great Britain, and the Confederate States of America.[4] Each had different specifics but share the property of an attempt to disrupt the central government by means considered illegal by that government. North points out, however, that insurgents today need not be part of a highly organized movement:

"Some are networked with only loose objectives and mission-type orders to enhance their survival. Most are divided and factionalized by area, composition, or goals. Strike one against the current definition of insurgency. It is not relevant to the enemies we face today. Many of these enemies do not currently seek the overthrow of a constituted government...weak government control is useful and perhaps essential for many of these “enemies of the state” to survive and operate."[5]

Insurgencies that operate sanctuaries under the protection of bordering nations, or base themselves in failed states, are transnational threats.

The Iraq War involved both conventional warfare and insurgency, the latter especially in the highly multipolar situation following high-intensity conflict. Some groups may not have a specific an idea of how they would wield power, but they do not want what they consider invaders to have it. Insurgency, therefore, can used to describe the resistance previously to the US-led coalition forces, and now to the new Iraqi Government. [6] While the U.S. news media tend to regard insurgencies as the villains in a situation, so did Great Britain regard the rebellious American colonists at the Battle of Lexington. The Chinese revolution led by Mao Zedong was an insurgency, following a conceptual model about which he wrote extensively.[7] Insurgency is far more than what politicians and journalists oversimplify as the war on terror which deals only with one tactic, is inaccurate for the U.S. since it does not fight all terror worldwide, and is a term that does not include the political and other nonviolent means needed to defeat an insurgency:

The term “war on terrorism” is a misnomer, resulting in distorted ideas of the main threat facing

Americans today. Terrorism is only a means to an end; in this respect, a “war on terror” makes no more sense than a war on submarines.

Francis Fukuyama[8]

David Kilcullen wrote "We must distinguish Al Qa’eda and the broader militant movements it symbolizes – entities that use terrorism – from the tactic of terrorism itself."[9] A variety of terms, none precisely defined, all fall under the category of insurgency: rebellion, uprisings, coups, resistance, etc. The value of the formal models discussed below is to have a taxonomy to categorize insurgencies. No two insurgencies are identical. The basis of the insurgency can be political, economic, religious, or ethnic, or a combination of factors. For example, "The Troubles (Ireland)" are most often described as Protestant versus Catholic, but there was significant economic disparity that contributed to the conflict. Fall [2] as well as the United States Marine Corps have used "small wars"; the Marine Small Wars Manual was a pre-World War II classic reference.[10] The Northern Irish situation has been called terrorism,[11] an ethnic conflict,[12] a guerrilla war,[13] a low intensity conflict, and sometimes a civil war. The term Irish Civil War is, however, more often used for the 1922-1923 conflict.

Iraq is not unique in having only a government and multiple sets of insurgents. Historic insurgencies, such as the Russian Civil War, have been multipolar rather than a straightforward model made up of two sides. While the Angolan Civil War had two main sides, MPLA and UNITA. FLEC, however, was a simultaneous separatist movement for the independence of the Cabinda region. Multipolarity extends the definition of insurgency to situations where there is no recognized authority, as in the Somali Civil War, especially the period, from 1998 to 2006, where it broke into quasi-autonomous smaller states, fighting among one another in changing alliances.

Working toward definition

Insurgency is most commonly used to describe a movement's unlawfulness by virtue of not being authorized by or in accordance with the law of the land. When used by a state or an authority under threat, "insurgency" implies an illegitimacy of cause upon those rising up, whereas those rising up will see the authority itself as being illegitimate. The term "insurgency" is still neutral. In cases of rebellions, the term insurgents refers to those who are not part of the decision-making entity that has the ability to make laws, but it is still an insurgency. In coups, the insurgents are largely or exclusively part of the existing government.

The Third Geneva Convention, as well as the other Geneva Conventions, are oriented to conflict involving nation-states, and only loosely address irregular forces:

"Members of other militias and members of other volunteer corps, including those of organized resistance movements, belonging to a Party to the conflict and operating in or outside their own territory, even if this territory is occupied, provided that such militias or volunteer corps, including such organized resistance movements..."[14]

Again, the Geneva Convention definition is inadequate, since many factions began with what might have been considered a small violent act. For example, a seemingly small act, such as a group of rebels firing on Fort Sumter, starting the insurgency called the American Civil War. The United States Department of Defense (DOD) defines it as "An organized movement aimed at the overthrow of a constituted government through use of subversion and armed conflict." [15] The new United States counterinsurgency Field Manual,[16] proposes a structure that includes both insurgency and counterinsurgency[COIN]. (italics in original)

Insurgency and its tactics are as old as warfare itself. Joint doctrine defines an insurgency as an organized movement aimed at the overthrow of a constituted government through the use of subversion and armed conflict.[15] These definitions are a good starting point, but they do not properly highlight a key paradox: though insurgency and COIN are two sides of a phenomenon that has been called revolutionary war or internal war, they are distinctly different types of operations. In addition, insurgency and COIN are included within a broad category of conflict known as irregular warfare.

This definition, however, does not consider the morality of the conflict, or the different viewpoints of the government and the insurgents. It is focused more on the operational aspects of the types of actions taken by the insurgents and the counterinsurgents.

The Department of Defense's (DOD) definition focuses on the type of violence employed (unlawful) towards specified ends (political, religious or ideological). This characterization fails

to address the argument from moral relativity that “one man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter.” In essence, this objection to a suitable definition submits that while violence may be “unlawful” in accordance with a victim’s statutes, the cause served by those committing the acts may represent a positive good in the eyes of neutral observers. The Department of Defense's (DOD) definition focuses on the type of violence employed (unlawful) towards specified ends (political, religious or ideological). This characterization fails to address the argument from moral relativity that “one man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter.” In essence, this objection to a suitable definition submits that while violence may be “unlawful” in accordance with a victim’s statutes, the cause served by those committing the acts may represent a positive good in the eyes of neutral observers.

— Michael F. Morris [17]

See the articles on counterinsurgency, or, for U.S. doctrine and historical French and British methods, see foreign internal defense. Before one counters an insurgency, however, one must understand what one is countering, and this article describes it.


Insurgencies differ in their use of tactics. Some elements of an insurgency may use bombs, kidnappings, hostage-taking, and assassination to target the establishment's power structure and other facilities, often with little regard for civilian casualties or collateral damage. Other elements may restrict their attacks to military objectives and avoid the targeting of civilians. Many times, insurgent groups conduct violent attacks but do not reveal the group's identity or leader.

As an example of a definition that does not cover all insurgencies, consider that of Tomes, and then consider the French Revolution (e.g., no cell system), American Revolution (e.g., little to no attempt to terrorize civilians), or consecutive coups in 1977 and 1999 Pakistan (e.g., initial actions focused internally to the government rather than seeking broad support). Tomes spoke of four requisites:[18] in a 2004 article, identifies four elements that "typically encompass an insurgency":

  1. cell-networks that maintain secrecy
  2. terrorism used to foster insecurity among the population and drive them to the movement for protection
  3. multifaceted attempts to cultivate support in the general population, often by undermining the new regime
  4. attacks against the government

This definition fits well with Mao's Phase I [7], but does not deal well with larger civil wars. Mao does assume terrorism is usually part of the early phases, but it is not always present in revolutionary insurgency.

Tomes offered an indirect definition of insurgency, drawn from Roger Trinquier's definition of counterinsurgency: "an interlocking system of actions—political, economic, psychological, military—that aims at the [insurgents’ intended] overthrow of the established authority in a country and its replacement by another regime" [19]

Metz [20] observes that past models of insurgency do not perfectly fit modern insurgency, in that current instances are far more likely to have a multinational or transnational character than those of the past. Several insurgencies may belong to more complex conflicts, involving "third forces (armed groups which affect the outcome, such as militias) and fourth forces (unarmed groups which affect the outcome, such as international media), who may be distinct from the core insurgents and the recognized government. While overt state sponsorship becomes less common, sponsorship by transnational groups is more common. "The nesting of insurgency within complex conflicts associated with state weakness or failure..." [see the discussion of failed states below] Metz suggests that contemporary insurgencies have far more complex and shifting participation than traditional wars, where discrete belligerents seek a clear strategic victory.

General dictionary definitions are rarely adequate, as the reality is that there is no simple definition that will fit into the few paragraphs available in such references. Unfortunately, public statements by politicians and media, for a variety of reasons, tend to oversimplify conflicts to a point where major issues and tactics are lost.


Not all insurgencies include terrorism, with the caveat that there is no universally accepted definition of terrorism. While there is no accepted definition in international law, a United Nations-sponsored working definitions include one drafted for the Policy Working Group on the United Nations and Terrorism. Reporting to the Secretary-General in 2002, the Working Group stated the following:

Without attempting a comprehensive definition of terrorism, it would be useful to

delineate some broad characteristics of the phenomenon. Terrorism is, in most cases, essentially a political act. It is meant to inflict dramatic and deadly injury on civilians and to create an atmosphere of fear, generally for a political or ideological (whether secular or religious) purpose. Terrorism is a criminal act, but it is more than mere criminality. To overcome the problem of terrorism it is necessary to understand its political nature as well as its basic criminality and psychology. The United Nations

needs to address both sides of this equation.”[21]

Yet another conflict of definitions involves insurgency versus terrorism. The winning essay of the 24th Annual United States of America Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Strategic Essay Contest, by Michael F. Morris, said [A pure terrorist group] "may pursue political, even revolutionary, goals, but their violence replaces rather than complements a political program."[17]< Morris made the point that the use, or non-use, of terrorism does not defined insurgency, "but that organizational traits have traditionally provided another means to tell the two apart. Insurgencies normally field fighting forces orders of magnitude larger than those of terrorist organizations." Insurgencies have a political purpose, and may provide social services and have an overt, even legal, political wing. Their covert wing carries out attacks on military forces with tactics such as raids and ambushes, as well as acts of terror such as attacks that cause deliberate civilian casualties.

Mao considered terrorism a basic part of his first part of the three phases of revolutionary warfare.[7] Several insurgency models recognize that completed acts of terrorism widen the security gap; the Marxist guerrilla theoretician Carlos Marighella specifically recommended acts of terror, as a means of accomplishing something that fits the concept of opening the security gap.[22] Mao considered terrorism to be part of forming a guerrilla movement.


While not every insurgency involves terror, most involve an equally hard to define tactic, subversion. "When a country is being subverted it is not being outfought; it is being out-administered. Subversion is literally administration with a minus sign in front." [2] The exceptional cases of insurgency without subversion are those when there is no accepted government that is providing administrative services.

While it is less commonly used by current U.S. spokesmen, that may be due to the hyperbolic way it was used in the past, in a specifically anticommunist context. U.S. Secretary of State Dean Rusk did in April 1962, when he declared that urgent action was required before the “enemy’s subversive politico-military teams find fertile spawning grounds for their fish eggs.” [23]

In a Western context, Rosenau cites a British Secret Intelligence Service definition as "a generalized intention to (emphasis added) “overthrow or undermine parliamentary democracy by political, industrial or violent means.” While insurgents do not necessarily use terror, it is hard to imagine any insurgency meeting its goals without undermining aspects of the legitimacy or power of the government or faction it opposes. Rosenau mentions a more recent definition that suggests subversion includes measures short of violence, which still serve the purposes of insurgents.[23] Rarely, subversion alone can change a government; this arguably happened in the liberalization of Eastern Europe. To the Communist government of Poland, Solidarity appeared subversive but not violent.

Overt and covert wings

An insurgency often splits its programs into a covert armed faction and an overt "front group", denying connections between them.[23] One example would be the appropriate incarnation of the Irish Republican Army coupled with the overt political party, Sinn Fein. See the Green Book for the training manual for new IRA recruits. Groups such as Hezbollah and Hamas provide overt social services as well as having armed wings, the latter sometimes with a different name. The Vietnamese National Liberation Front,[24] the FMLN in El Salvador, and the Tamil separatists in Sri Lanka all use a dual political/social and armed approach.


A coup is a special case of subversion, in which the group in opposition to the established government may be partially or exclusively a faction within that government. [25] It is not at all uncommon to have a coup, by members of the government, while that government is simultaneously fighting an insurgency against a group outside the government. For example, the 1963 Buddhist crisis and South Vietnamese coup against President Ngo Dinh Diem came principally from military officers displeased less with the government's fight with the National Liberation Front and more with repression of the nation's Buddhist majority.

Civil War

There is no single accepted definition of "civil war", but it is a manifestation of insurgency, widely considered to meet two definitions:[26]

  • The major warring groups must be from the same country and fighting for control of the political center, control over a separatist state or to force a major change in policy. There may be volunteers from other countries under the command of one or more of the warring groups.
  • The second says that at least 1,000 people must have been killed in total, with at least 100 from each side.

The Third Geneva Convention speaks of the "armed conflict not of an international character",[14] interpreted by the International Committee of the Red Cross to include civil wars. Among those conditions listed are these four basic requirements.

  • The party in revolt must be in possession of a part of the national territory.
  • The insurgent civil authority must exercise de facto authority over the population within the determinate portion of the national territory.
  • The insurgents must have some amount of recognition as a belligerent.
  • The legal Government is “obliged to have recourse to the regular military forces against insurgents organized as military.”

Potential for insurgency and historical examples

Two broad categories of country are likely candidates for insurgency. The obvious category is of weak and failed states, but there are also needs in generally strong states that face specific problems such as terrorism, piracy and illegal drugs. A special case is that of resistance movements in occupied areas, even when there a new government has formed and has international recognition.

There is much media and political focus on transnational terrorism, but insurgency can be national, or at least separatist within one nation and not involve terror. There is also a widespread and incorrect assumption, based on equating terror and insurgency, that insurgency is usually Islamic. Such an assumption can easily be challenged by examples, of which those marked with an asterisk clearly fall into more than one category, and the categories themselves are arbitrary. If a categorization seems incorrect, that reflects the difficulty in analyzing movements.

Religion and region codes in table below
Abbreviation Religion Abbreviation Region
C Christian PK Pakistan
Cc Christian Catholic BQ Basque
Cp Christian Protestant PL Palestine
H Hindu Ka Kashmir
J Jewish IN India
M Muslim IL Israel
- - JP Japan
- - PI Philippines
Examples of motivations of insurgencies (see table of religions and regions above)
Anticolonialist Resistance to occupation Nationalist or separatist Civil war Marxist Religious and Racist
American colonists American colonists Confederate States of America Confederate States of America Weather Underground Ku Klux Klan
- Armia Krajowa Polish Home Army Irish nationalists prior to 1922 Spanish Loyalists 26th of July Movement (Cuba) al-Qaeda
Viet Minh* French Resistance Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam Viet Minh* Viet Minh* Hezbollah
- - Free Thai Movement Anbar Salvation Council (IN) National Liberation Army (Bolivia)(ELN) Lord's Resistance Army (C)(UG,SD)
National Liberation Front/Viet Cong* Yugoslav Partisans Sudan People's Liberation Movement Viet Cong* Viet Cong* Jaish-e-Mohammed (M)(PK/KS)
Mau Mau (Kenya) Ba'athists (Iraq) Ba'athists (Iraq) National Liberation Front pro-Patrice Lumumba Simba (DRC) al-Qaeda in Iraq, Islamic State of Iraq
Boxer Rebellion Badr Corps Badr Corps Badr Corps Khmer Rouge Gush Emunim Underground(J)(IL)
Boers Hukbalahap (WWII) Chechen Republic of Ichkeria, Caucasian Emirate African National Congress Hukbalahap (post-WWII)* Armed Islamic Group (Algeria)
Abu Sayyaf (Philippines) Norwegian Resistance (WWII) Front de Liberation Quebecois Irish Republican Army 1922-1927 Red Brigades Abu Sayyaf (Philippines)
Shining Path (Peru) July 20 plot (Germany) Mahdi Army (SD) Spanish Nationalists Indian Communist Party Mahdi rebellion (Sudan)
FRELIMO (Angolan) Chinese Communist Party* Caprivi Liberation Army Chinese Communist Party* Chinese Communist Party* Lashkar-e-Toiba (M) (Pak/Kash)
National Liberation Front (Algeria)(FLN) Holger Danske (Denmark) Bolsheviks* (Russia) Bolsheviks* (Russia) Bolsheviks* (Russia) Army of God (C) (US)
EOKA (Greek Cypriot) Soviet Partisans Túpac Amaru Revolutionary Movement (MRTA) (Peru)* Chetniks Túpac Amaru Revolutionary Movement (MRTA) (Peru)* Hizbul Mujahideen (M)(PK/Ka)
Euskadi Ta Askatasuna (ETA) (BQ) Czech Resistance movement Republic of Biafra Satsuma clan in rebellion against Meiji state(JP) Malayan National Liberation Army* Harkat-ul-Mujahideen
Hungarian Revolution of 1956* Hamas (Palestine) Hungarian Revolution of 1956* Albigensians Red Army Faction Orthodox Serbs (C)
Party for a Free Life in Kurdistan Mahdi Army(Iraq) (M) Moro Islamic Liberation Front (PI) Mahdi Army(Iraq)(M) Japanese Red Army Moro Islamic Liberation Front (PI)
Euskadi Ta Askatasuna (ETA) (BQ) Czech Resistance movement Malayan National Liberation Army* Greek People's Liberation Army (ELAS)* Malayan National Liberation Army* Babbar Khalsa(S)(IN)
- - Provisional IRA (Cc), Real IRA (Cc), Continuity IRA (Cc), Official IRA - Official IRA Provisional IRA (Cc), Real IRA (Cc), Continuity IRA (Cc)
- - Ulster Volunteer Force (1966) (Cp), Ulster Defence Association (Cp) - - Ulster Volunteer Force (1966) (Cp), Ulster Defence Association (Cp)

In the U.S., there tends to be an incorrect assumption that insurgencies are Islamic. A general point here is not only that they are not always Islamic, but not always religious. It is well to expand on Cordesman's point that

[the US] must show that the US focus on counterterrorism is not anti-Islamic and anti-Arab, and does not put counterterrorism before the same values in the rule of law and human rights that the US seeks to encourage throughout the world. The US should build on its very real successes in quiet bilateral cooperation in counterterrorism, and publicly recognize regional successes as well as point out occasional delays and failures. It must also recognize that every country in the region has a different set of threat perceptions than the US, defines terrorism and terrorist in different ways. Cooperation means partnership, not imposing a US view or issuing threats, sanctions, and demands.[27]

Political rhetoric, myths and models

For more information, see: Models of the stability of states.

In arguing against the term war on terror, Fukuyama went on to point out that the United States was not fighting terrorism generically, as in Chechnya or Palestine. The slogan "war on terror" is directed at "radical Islamism, a movement that makes use of culture for political objectives." He suggested it might be deeper than the ideological conflict of the Cold War, but it should not be confused with Huntington's The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order. Addressing Huntington's thesis,[28] Fukuyama stressed that the United States and its allies need to focus on specific radical groups, rather than clash with global Islam.

While modern transnational terrorists are utterly determined, and have the potential of obtaining and using weapons of mass destruction, the appropriate description of that which is being opposed is an insurgency, "like other insurgencies in the past." Political means, rather than direct military measures, are the most effective ways to defeat that insurgency. [8] David Kilcullen wrote "We must distinguish Al Qa’eda and the broader militant movements it symbolizes – entities that use terrorism – from the tactic of terrorism itself."[9]

There may be utility in examining a war not specifically on the tactic of terror, but in coordination among multiple national or regional insurgencies. It may be politically infeasible to refer to a conflict as an "insurgency" rather than by some more charged term, but military analysts, when concepts associated with insurgency fit, should not ignore those ideas in their planning. Additionally, the recommendations can be applied to the strategic campaign, even if it is politically unfeasible to use precise terminology.[29]

While it may be reasonable to consider transnational insurgency. Cordesman points out some of the myths in trying to have a worldwide view of terror:[27]

  • Cooperation can be based on trust and common values: One man’s terrorist is another man’s terrorist.
  • A definition of terrorism exists that can be accepted by all.
  • Intelligence can be freely shared.
  • Other states can be counted on to keep information secure, and use it to mutual advantage.
  • International institutions are secure and trustworthy.
  • Internal instability and security issues do not require compartmentation and secrecy at national level.
  • The “war on terrorism” creates common priorities and needs for action.
  • Global and regional cooperation is the natural basis for international action.
  • Legal systems are compatible enough for cooperation.
  • Human rights and rule of law differences do not limit cooperation.
  • Most needs are identical.
  • Cooperation can be separated from financial needs and resources

Social scientists, soldiers, and sources of change have been modeling insurgency for nearly a century, if one starts with Mao.[7] Counterinsurgency models, not mutually exclusive from one another, come from Kilcullen, McCormick, Barnett and Eizenstat. Kilcullen describes the "pillars" of a stable society, while Eizenstat addresses the "gaps" that form cracks in societal stability. McCormick's model shows the interplay among the actors: insurgents, government, population and external organizations. Barnett discusses the relationship of the country with the outside world, and Cordesman focuses on the specifics of providing security.

Kilcullen's models

David Kilcullen is one of the leading practitioners, as well as theorists, of counterinsurgency. His "Three Pillars" model describes the societal dynamics of any insurgency. In a new book, The Accidental Guerrilla, he introduces another model of the threat from insurgency, which includes but is not limited to radical Islam.

Three Pillars

The three pillars are a visual metaphor, [30] of the actors in the models

Kilcullen Figure 1: Ecosystem of Insurgency[30]

, which generally agrees with a model represents home as a box defined by geographic, ethnic, economic, social, cultural, and religious characteristics. Inside

the box are governments, counterinsurgent forces, insurgent leaders, insurgent forces, and the general population, which is made up of three groups:

  1. those committed to the insurgents
  2. those committed to the counterinsurgents
  3. those who simply wish to get on with their lives.

Often, but not always, states or groups that aid one side or the other are outside the box. Outside-the-box intervention has dynamics of its own.[31]

The three pillar model repeats later as part of the gaps to be closed to end an insurgency.

Kilcullen's Three Pillars

"Obviously enough, you cannot command what you do not control. Therefore, unity of command (between agencies or among government and non-government actors) means little in this environment." Unity of command is one of the axioms of military doctrine[32] that change with the use of swarming:[33]. In Edwards' swarming model, as in Kilcullen's mode, unity of command becomes "unity of effort at best, and collaboration or deconfliction at least.[30].

As in swarming, Kilcullen "depends less on a shared command and control hierarchy, and more on a shared diagnosis of the problem (i.e., the distributed knowledge of swarms), platforms for collaboration, information sharing and deconfliction. Each player must understand the others’ strengths, weaknesses, capabilities and objectives, and inter-agency teams must be structured for versatility (the ability to perform a wide variety of tasks) and agility (the ability to transition rapidly and smoothly between tasks)."

World Models

He identifies four main frameworks for case studies, frameworks which are "neither exhaustive nor mutually exclusive":[34]

Eizenstat and closing gaps

Insurgencies, according to Eizenstat et al. grow out of "gaps".[35] To be viable, a state must be able to close three "gaps", of which the first is most important:

  • security: protection "against internal and external threats, and preserving sovereignty over territory. If a government cannot ensure security, rebellious armed groups or criminal nonstate actors may use violence to exploit this security gap—as in Haiti, Nepal, and Somalia."
  • capacity: The most basic are the survival needs of water, electrical power, food and public health, closely followed by education, communications and a working economic system.[36] "An inability to do so creates a capacity gap, which can lead to a loss of public confidence and then perhaps political upheaval. In most environments, a capacity gap coexists with—or even grows out of—a security gap. In Afghanistan and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, for example, segments of the population are cut off from their governments because of endemic insecurity. And in postconflict Iraq, critical capacity gaps exist despite the country’s relative wealth and strategic importance."
  • legitimacy: closing the legitimacy gap is more than an incantation of "democracy" and "elections", but a government that is perceived to exist by the consent of the governed, has minimal corruption, and has a working law enforcement and judicial system that enforce human rights.

Note the similarity between Eizenstat's gaps and Kilcullen's three pillars.[30] In the table below, do not assume that a problematic state is not able, while closing its own gaps, is unable to assist other less developed states

Rough Classification of States
State type Needs Representative examples
Militarily strong but weak in other institutions Lower tensions before working on gaps Cuba, North Korea
Good performers Continuing development of working institutions. Focused private investment El Salvador, Ghana, Mongolia, Senegal, Nicaragua, Uganda
Weak states Close one or two gaps Afghanistan, Egypt, Indonesia, Iraq, Ivory Coast, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Myanmar, Pakistan, Republic of the Congo, Sudan, Syria, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Zimbabwe
Failed states Close all gaps Angola, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Haiti, Liberia, Palestine, Somalia

McCormick Magic Diamond

McCormick insurgency model

McCormick’s model[37] is designed as a tool for counterinsurgency (COIN), but develops a symmetrical view of the required actions for both the Insurgent and COIN forces to achieve success. In this way the counterinsurgency model can demonstrate how both the insurgent and COIN forces succeed or fail. The model’s strategies and principle apply to both forces, therefore the degree the forces follow the model should have a direct correlation to the success or failure of either the Insurgent or COIN force.

The model depicts four key elements or players:

  1. Insurgent Force
  2. Counterinsurgency force (i.e., the government)
  3. Population
  4. International community.

All of these interact, and the different elements have to assess their best options in a set of actions:

  1. Gaining Support of the Population
  2. Disrupt Opponent’s Control Over the Population
  3. Direct Action Against Opponent
  4. Disrupt Opponent’s Relations with the International Community
  5. Establish Relationships with the International Community

Barnett and connecting to the core

In Thomas Barnett's paradigm,[38] the world is divided into a "connected core" of nations enjoying a high level of communications among their organizations and individuals, and those nations that are disconnected internally and externally. In a reasonably peaceful situation, he describes a "system administrator" force, often multinational, which does what some call "nation-building", but, most importantly, connects the nation to the core and empowers the natives to communicate -- that communication can be likened to swarm coordination. If the state is occupied, or in civil war, another paradigm comes into play: the leviathan, a first-world military force that takes down the opposition regular forces. Leviathan is not constituted to fight local insurgencies, but major forces. Leviathan may use extensive swarming at the tactical level, but its dispatch is a strategic decision that may be made unilaterally, or by an established group of the core such as NATO or ASEAN.

Cordesman and Security

Other than brief "Leviathan" takedowns, security building appears to need to be regional, with logistical and other technical support from more developed countries and alliances (e.g., ASEAN, NATO). Noncombat military assistance in closing the security gap begins with training, sometimes in specialized areas such as intelligence. More direct, but still noncombat support, includes intelligence, planning, logistics and communications.

Anthony Cordesman notes that security requirements differ by region and state in region. Writing on the Middle East, he identified different security needs for specific areas, as well as the US interest in security in those areas.[27]

  • In North Africa, the US focus should be on security cooperation in achieving regional stability and in counterterrorism.
  • In the Levant, the US must largely compartment security cooperation with Israel and cooperation with friendly Arab states like Egypt, Jordan, and Lebanon, but can improve security cooperation with all these states.
  • In the Gulf, the US must deal with the strategic importance of a region whose petroleum and growing gas exports fuel key elements of the global economy.

It is well to understand that counterterrorism, as used by Cordesman, does not mean using terrorism against the terrorism, but an entire spectrum of activities, nonviolent and violent, to disrupt an opposing terrorist organization. The French general, Joseph Gallieni, observed, while a colonial administrator in 1898,

A country is not conquered and pacified when a military operation has decimated its inhabitants and made all heads bow in terror; the ferments of revolt will germinate in the mass and the rancours accumulated by the brutal action of force will make them grow again[39]

Both Kilcullen and Eizenstat define a more abstract goal than does Cordesman. Kilcullen's security pillar is roughly equivalent to Eizenstat's security gap:

  • Military security (securing the population from attack or intimidation by guerrillas, bandits, terrorists or other armed groups)
  • Police security (community policing, police intelligence or “Special Branch” activities, and paramilitary police field forces).
  • Human security, building a framework of human rights, civil institutions and individual protections, public safety (fire, ambulance, sanitation, civil defense) and population security.

"This pillar most engages military commanders’ attention, but of course military means are applied across the model, not just in the security domain, while civilian activity is critically important in the security pillar also ... all three pillars must develop in parallel and stay in balance, while being firmly based in an effective information campaign."[30]

Anthony Cordesman, while speaking of the specific situation in Iraq, makes some points that can be generalized to other nations in turmoil.[40] Cordesman recognizes some value in the groupings in Samuel Huntington's idea of the clash of civilizations,[28] but, rather assuming the civilizations must clash, these civilizations simply can be recognized as actors in a multinational world. In the case of Iraq, Cordesman observes that the burden is on the Islamic civilization, not unilaterally the West, if for no other reason that the civilization to which the problematic nation belongs will have cultural and linguistic context that Western civilization cannot hope to equal.

The heart of strengthening weak nations must come from within, and that heart will fail if they deny that the real issue is the future of their civilization, if they tolerate religious, cultural or separatist violence and terrorism when it strikes at unpopular targets, or if they continue to try to export the blame for their own failures to other nations, religions, and cultures.

Developed and stable countries have their own reasons for helping weak states deal with insurgency, because insurgencies can have direct (e.g., terrorism, epidemic disease) or indirect (e.g., drug trade, economic instability in resources) effects on them. While ideological or religious terrorism is most frequently mentioned, it is, by no means, the only multinational problem that FID addresses, starting at the national level. When one of these problems is present in a state, it is likely to cause transnational spillover from insurgency.[41] Problems include:

  • Blood diamonds
  • Piracy
  • Disease
  • Illicit drugs
  • Terrorism
  • Ethnic cleansing
  • Economic instability


  1. Fall, Bernard B. (1964), Street without joy: insurgency in Indochina, 1946-63 (3rd ed.), Literature House (China)
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 Fall, Bernard B. (April 1965 Issue), "The Theory and Practice of Insurgency and Counterinsurgency", U.S. Naval War College Review
  3. Grau, Lester W. (May-June, 2004), "Counterinsurgency Lessons from Malaya and Vietnam: Learning to Eat Soup with a Knife", Military Review
  4. Anderson, Edward G., Jr. (August 2007), "A Proof-of-Concept Model for Evaluating Insurgency Management Policies Using the System Dynamics Methodology", Strategic Insights VI (5)
  5. North, Chris (January-February 2008), "Redefining Insurgency", Military Review
  6. Alexander, Christopher; Charles Kyle & William McCallister (Nov. 14, 2003), The Iraqi Insurgent Movement, Commonwealth Institute
  7. 7.0 7.1 7.2 7.3 Mao Zedong (1967), On Protracted War, Foreign Languages Press Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; name "MaoProtracted" defined multiple times with different content
  8. 8.0 8.1 Fukuyama, Francis (May 2003), Panel III: Integrating the War on Terrorism with Broader U.S. Foreign Policy, Phase III in the War on Terrorism: Challenges and Opportunities, Brookings Institution
  9. 9.0 9.1 Kilcullen, David (2004), Countering Global Insurgency: A Strategy for the War on Terrorism Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; name "Kilcullen2004" defined multiple times with different content
  10. United States Marine Corps (1940), Small Wars Manual
  11. Northern Ireland, MI5. Retrieved on 2007-10-02
  12. Coakley, John. Ethnic Conflict and the Two-state Solution: The Irish Experience of Partition. Retrieved on 2007-10-02.
  13. Knickerbocker, Brad (20 September 2004). Classic Guerrilla war forming in Iraq. Christian Science Monitor.
  14. 14.0 14.1 , Commentary on Article 3, Convention (III) relative to the Treatment of Prisoners of War (Third Geneva Convention), 12 August 1949
  15. 15.0 15.1 = U.S. Department of Defense (12 July 2007), Joint Publication 1-02 Department of Defense Dictionary of Military and Associated Terms, JP 1-02
  16. John Nagl, David Petraeus, James Amos, Sarah Sewall (December 2006), Field Manual 3-24: Counterinsurgency, US Department of the Army. Retrieved on 2008-02-03
  17. 17.0 17.1 Morris, Michael F. (2005), Al Qaeda as Insurgency, U.S. Army War College
  18. Tomes, Robert R. (2004), "Relearning Counterinsurgency Warfare", Parameters
  19. Trinquier, Roger (1961), Modern Warfare: A French View of Counterinsurgency, Editions de la Table Ronde
  20. Metz, Steven (5 June 2007), Rethinking Insurgency, Strategic Studies Institute, U.S. Army War College
  21. Secretary General's Policy Working Group on the United Nations and Terrorism (December 2004), "Preface", Focus on Crime and Society 4, (A/57/273-S/2002/875, annex)
  22. Marighella, Carlos (1969), Minimanual of the Urban Guerrilla
  23. 23.0 23.1 23.2 Rosenau, William (2007), Subversion and Insurgency, RAND National Defense Research Institute
  24. Pike, Douglas (1968), Viet Cong: The Organization and Technique of the National Liberation Front of South Vietnam, MIT Press
  25. Luttwak, Edward (1968), Coup d'etat: a practical handbook, Harvard University Press
  26. Wong, Edward (November 26, 2006), "A Matter of Definition: What Makes a Civil War, and Who Declares It So?", New York Times
  27. 27.0 27.1 27.2 Anthony Cordesman (29 October 2007), Security Cooperation in the Middle East, Center for Strategic and International Studies
  28. 28.0 28.1 Samuel Huntington (1996). The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order. Simon & Schuster. 
  29. Canonico, Peter J. (December 2004). An Alternate Military Strategy for the War on Terrorism. U.S. Naval Postgraduate School.
  30. 30.0 30.1 30.2 30.3 30.4 David Kilcullen (28 September 2006). Three Pillars of Counterinsurgency.
  31. Lynn, John A. (July-August 2005), "Patterns of Insurgency and Counterinsurgency", Military Review
  32. (14 June 2001) Field Manual 3-0: Operations (PDF). Washington, D.C.: Department of the Army. 
  33. Edwards, Sean J.A. (September 2004). Swarming and the Future of War. Pardee RAND Graduate School. 
  34. David Kilcullen (2009), The Accidental Guerrilla: Fighting Small Wars in the Midst of a Big One, Oxford University Press, ISBN 9780195368345, pp. 7-28
  35. Stuart Eizenstat, John Edward Porter and Jeremy M. Weinstein (January/February 2005), "Rebuilding Weak States", Foreign Affairs (no. 1)
  36. Sagraves, Robert D. (April 2005), The Indirect Approach: the role of Aviation Foreign Internal Defense in Combating Terrorism in Weak and Failing States, Air Command and Staff College
  37. McCormick, Gordon. "The Shining Path and Peruvian terrorism". RAND Corporation.
  38. Thomas P. M. Barnett (2005). The Pentagon's New Map: War and Peace in the Twenty-first Century. Berkley Trade. Barnett-2005. 
  39. McClintock, Michael (November 2005). Great Power Counterinsurgency. Human Rights First.
  40. Anthony Cordesman (August 1, 2006). The Importance of Building Local Capabilities: Lessons from the Counterinsurgency in Iraq. Center for Strategic and International Studies.
  41. Weinstein, Jeremy M; John Edward Porter and Stuart E. Eizenstat (06/08/2004). On the Brink, Weak States and US National Security. Center for Global Development.