David Ucko, as careful a student as anyone of the learning process through which the U.S. military has gone since 2001, has written a must-read blog post on Kings of War concerning the enduring utility of counterinsurgency theory and practice in the face of its critics.
To me, counterinsurgency retains value because it:
- reaffirms the need to understand the social, cultural and political dimensions of the operating environment;
- reaffirms the significant requirements of effective intervention in foreign polities;
- emphasises the political essence of armed conflict;
- recognises the local population as a significant player, rather than as an obstacle to circumvent;
- recommends a more-than-military approach to the problem of political violence.
What counterinsurgency does not do is:
- suggest the facility of foreign intervention so long as you’ve read Galula;
- provide a formula or scientific model to the problem of political violence;
- provide an answer to ‘the War on Terror’, or al-Qaeda writ large;
- provide an answer to what the US should do in Afghanistan;
- suggest that the use of force is irrelevant in modern conflicts.
It is on this basis that I would regret the disappearance, once more, of counterinsurgency. The one good reason to get rid of the term is precisely because of its divisive and distorting connotations; the aim then would be to talk more plainly about the requirements of war-to-peace transitions. But this presumes that the lessons of counterinsurgency have been sufficiently internalised that the concept has lost its utility as an important antithesis. And I fear that we are not quite there yet.