by SWJ Editors
Social Epidemics and the Human Element of Counterinsurgency
by CPT Nils French, Small Wars Journal
Insurgency has historically presented a significant security challenge and will continue to do so into the foreseeable future. Insurgents typically choose to operate from within a population and for this reason it is the human element that has had and will continue to have the most considerable impact on their operations and the operations that counter them. In The Tipping Point, bestselling author Malcolm Gladwell combines research from several disciplines to give incredible insight into the unusual and counterintuitive principles of the human element. He does this by exploring social epidemics; occasions where ideas, messages, and behaviors spread like viruses. The principles of social epidemics can be applied to business growth, crime rates, fashion trends, and other social phenomena. Because of the common human element, the concepts are equally applicable in an insurgency setting. It is universally acknowledged that insurgents work to spread their ideas and messages and promote certain behaviors within a population. Those wishing to counter them must do the same. Three principles can be employed in concert to ensure such efforts see results. First, the proper environment must be established and maintained. Second, the manner in which information is presented must be very carefully tuned to the population. And third, the right people must be carefully selected to spread the information. Precise requirements that address the peculiarities of human behavior, none of them obvious or intuitive, are given for each method and explained. This paper will show how these principles relate to counterinsurgency. Each principle will be placed in the context of insurgency and ideas and recommendations will be presented that are immediately relevant to contemporary security challenges.