Small Wars Journal

Counterinsurgency study is much more than a checklist

Dr. Christopher Paul at Foreign Policy: On 18 November (There's no checklist for counterinsurgency) Joshua Rovner and Tim Hoyt posted a critical but incomplete review of Victory Has a Thousand Fathers: Sources of Success in Counterinsurgency, a RAND study for which I am the lead author. I feel compelled to reply. BLUF: "Our report isn't perfect; little in social science is. I think we are fairly candid about the limitations of our study, candor which Mr. Rovner and Mr. Hoyt exploit in their review while at the same time overlooking the strengths of the work."


G Martin

Mon, 11/29/2010 - 2:09am

I just posted some thoughts on this study on the original thread to the study here… but I'll repeat my last thought on it: the "what" has never been the hard part- getting the "how" right is the trick.

Even if it were possible- it shouldn't be a revelation that if the people were all happy and supportive of the government (People=CoG), fighting insurgents would be much easier/successful (likewise it would be easier if our own people agreed with the effort and authorized whatever force/sacrifice necessary). What we need more work on is how to gain the support of a people in a government that is more interested in countering neighbors' conventional forces than fighting internal agitators.

And that is what I think is missing from our COIN doctrine: what principles do we follow when the host nation's definition of COIN/insurgent is different than ours? By our doctrine, COIN implies we are supporting a host nations' COIN efforts. What I think is happening here is that we are conducting our own CT and COIN operations and twisting the arm of our hosts to do what we think needs to happen. I don't see that environment described in 3-24.


Fri, 11/26/2010 - 3:19pm

Dr Paul would be correct in his comments on the Hoyt/Rovner article except for the minor point that THEY are actually correct in what they say...

I hadn't read the RAND 'study' in question until seeing this item in the SWJ Blog this morning but it is one that would have eventually crossed my desk for's 187 pages but having just read the summary and introduction, I don't think it's going to be a critical read for me anytime soon...

Although it quotes William Rosenau "...insurgency and counterinsurgency. . . have enjoyed a level of military, academic, and journalistic notice unseen since the mid-1960s...", the authors have not included one single case study from this period that was the heyday of COIN (both as we know it and how others like the USSR and Cuba applied it), hello? By selecting on those campaigns that started after 1978 - you didn't consider Northern Ireland? Like, hello? - the RAND study only really focuses on a very narrow range of campaigns and even then I'm not convinced that there is much rigour in the selection of campaigns...we all know the COIN campaign in Kosovo, right? and Croatia and Bosnia? Some bad things may have happened in those countries but COIN? Hardly...the COIN campaign in Somalia was concluded in 1991? Papua New Guinea was a COIN loss? By PNG one assumes that the study is referring to Bougainville which is actually a success in that Bougainville is still a part of the nation it sought to break away from and the campaign that was conducted on that island actually addressed the root issues underlying the 'insurgency' - actually IAW one of the key COIN trusims...I also note that the use of repression as a strategy is frowned upon when, whether we in the West like it or not, historically (before and after 1978) it is one of the more consistently effective means of keeping a population in line...

I suspect that if I opt to wade through the remaining 161 pages of this 'study' (I have to use the term 'study' loosely), I will find find more such weak 'logic', poor research and inconsistency - and having written this, I find myself resigned to having to read the rest of it...

I wonder to what extent this paper was driven by statements at the COIN Symposium in May where various staff called for a COIN checklist, displaying a fundamental lack of 'getting it'? While there are some fundamental principles/tenets/truisms for Countering Irregular Activity (COIN is too narrow a term for modern use) that a study like this may have analysed, one of them is that every campaign must be considered on its own merits i.e. there is no checklist in 'COIN'!!

Perhaps, instead of using his position at Foreign Policy to have a self-righteous whiny-nana, Dr Paul might want to reflect on the comments here and in the Rovner/Paul article, and then go back to RAND and redo the job properly this time...