Small Wars Journal

Leveraging Legitimacy

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Leveraging Legitimacy:

A Key Tool in Population-Centric Counterinsurgency

by Dr. Paul Kamolnick

Download the full article: Leveraging Legitimacy

Permanently separating insurgents from the population, facilitating effective self-defense of a sovereign host nation government, and removing ultimate causes, are necessary conditions for defeating an insurgency. Success results, if possible, as counterinsurgents systematically develop trusted networks, out-compete insurgents for population allegiance, and destroy insurgent forces.

Utility and legitimacy are two bases counterinsurgents can use to secure a population's compliance. The quest for physical and psychological security predominates as human motives generally - let alone during the uncertainties and brutality of war. Delivering essential services, providing security, and satisfying elementary human needs, despite counterinsurgent coercion, produces population compliance. This Hobbesian predicament well-describes why counterinsurgents are treated to distant stares, surreptitious overtures, studied neglect, or outright hostility by an insurgency-contested population. The Counterinsurgency (COIN) Manual maintains a realist approach to these facts of the human condition.

Interests refer to the core motivations that drive behavior. . . . . During any period of instability, people's primary interest is physical security for themselves and their families. . . .Essential Services provide those things that sustain life. . . [such as] food, water, clothing, shelter, and medical treatment. Stabilizing a population requires meeting these needs. People pursue essential needs until they are met, at any cost and from any source. People support the source that meets their needs. If it is an insurgent source, the population is likely to support the insurgency. If the HN [host nation] government provides reliable essential services, the population is more likely to support it.

Moreover, if survival depends on tribal social structures, COIN practitioners must carefully leverage those networks and dynamics without which households, kin, clan, and sub-tribes confront a hostile environment and enemy others.

Utility-centered compliance can be ignored only at one's peril. A second means, legitimate domination, is also key. The present COIN Manual repeatedly notes that establishing legitimacy is a key COIN objective yet mistakenly conceives legitimacy as an attribute exclusive to national governance.

The primary objective of any COIN operation is to foster development of effective governance by a legitimate government. . . . A government's respect for preexisting and impersonal legal rules can provide the key to gaining it widespread, enduring societal support. Such government respect for rules—ideally ones recorded in a constitution and laws adopted through a credible, democratic process—is the essence of the rule of law, as such it is a powerful potential tool for counterinsurgents. . . A COIN effort cannot achieve lasting success without the HN government achieving legitimacy.

Legitimate governance is necessary to COIN victory. However; equating the concept 'legitimacy' with legitimate governance, and legitimate governance with western liberal democratic constitutionalism narrows the sociological scope of this key concept. It also obscures its strategic relevance.

This article seeks to remedy these two deficiencies by reintroducing the classical conceptualization of 'legitimate domination; briefly define its subtypes; and identify key points of potential relevance—tactical, strategic, and operational--to current COIN operations.

Download the full article: Leveraging Legitimacy

Dr. Paul Kamolnick is a civilian social scientist with expertise in classical sociological theory, and an ongoing professional interest in analyzing the ideological foundations of global jihadism and also, the theory and practice of counterinsurgency. He teaches three courses at East Tennessee State University of particular relevance: Sociology of Religious Fundamentalism, Sociology of Global Terrorism, and Counterinsurgency Warfare.

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