Small Wars Journal


Bravo! to the dedicated team of bureaucrats and thought leaders who toiled for 2 years to produce the new US Government Counterinsurgency Guide.

This guide, written in a collaborative "whole of government" process and endorsed at the highest levels of our diplomacy, development, and defense leadership, reflects the latest doctrine (FM 3-24 and also FM 3-07). It is not, however, a tactical or operational "how-to" guide. Rather it is intended to be a "COIN 101" for policy-makers contemplating US intervention abroad.

As reflected in the debate over the Army's new doctrine on Stability Operations (FM 3-07), some cringe at the mere articulation of COIN principles in an official government publication; suspecting it might lead us to attempt more such intervention. But as I pointed out in my blog post on FM 3-07, doctrine is not grand strategy or policy. "For those who worry that this new doctrine will make it more likely that we will try to invade and occupy more countries, consider that it might just have the opposite effect...Having a better understanding of the complexity and cost of these missions can only enhance the policy and strategy-making processes." Indeed, this is the core theme -- and purpose- of this new publication:

"Such understanding provides the foundation for policy formulation when the risks and costs of intervention are weighted against US interests in determining whether to become involved and what form that involvement should take. This decision should not be taken lightly: historically COIN campaigns have almost always been more costly, more protracted and more difficult than first anticipated." (COIN Guide, p. 3)

The guide provides policy makers a framework for understanding the complexity and risks associated with COIN and, importantly, under what circumstances an attempted COIN intervention might actually be "folly." As with the latest publication of the Army's FM for stability operations, FM 3-07, this Handbook should generate debate about the wisdom of- and trade-offs associated with US involvement in these interventions. It should be read, understood, and debated by political leaders and anyone else interested in the what, why, and how of US intervention abroad.