by SWJ Editors
Thinking Small: Applying Hobbes to Counterinsurgency
by LTC Raymond Millen, Small Wars Journal
Perhaps the most bandied about premise in counterinsurgency strategy is the need to win the hearts and minds of the affected population. In abstract, both the insurgents and counterinsurgents vie for the allegiance of the people through social, economic, and political incentives. Yet, this premise begs the question: if the rectitude of hearts and minds is indisputable, why does it have such a poor record of success? The lackluster results of its application are certainly not from a lack of effort and resources. Here lies the rub. The aforementioned incentives are founded on a tacit assumption that people have a choice in the matter. If they don't, what eclipses hearts and minds?
In his book, Leviathan, Thomas Hobbes contends that the pursuit of self-preservation dominates human behavior first and foremost. The covenant between the citizen and the government centers on security, not only at the macro-level (e.g., sovereignty of the state) but also the micro-level (e.g., sovereignty of local governance). People created society and surrendered some individual sovereignty in exchange for the collective good of security. It is within this province that citizens are able to pursue happiness and societal progress. Hence, this covenant is founded on a tacit security agreement between the citizen and the government.
Insurgents understand and seek to shatter the covenant by creating the conditions of insecurity as a means of gaining control of the population in their area of operation. Subversion of government authority through terrorist acts, selected assassinations of officials, murder and threats perpetrated on the populace, and general mayhem ultimately results in the intimidation of the populace and hence its acquiescence to insurgent activities. With the individual's faith in and allegiance to the government in question, the government's task of reasserting its authority and regaining the confidence of the people becomes infinitely more difficult.
All this is not to say that the present understanding of hearts and minds is unimportant, it is, but its application must be sequenced properly. Or stated another way, the attainment of security must be the first stage of hearts and minds. Without a solid foundation of security, the other incentives will crumble on a bed of sand. The challenge lies in the ways and means of achieving these ends.
In view of Hobbes' contention that self-preservation dominates human behavior, this article addresses the operational and tactical calculus for the prosecution of a counterinsurgency strategy: 1) the centrality of local communities in the conflict; 2) the methodology for securing local communities; 3) restoring the covenant between the government and the people; and 4) enhancing the covenant. Success for any counterinsurgency hinges on three factors: understanding the plight of the people caught in the vise of an insurgency; acknowledging that insurgents derive their strength from population centers; and denying insurgents access to local communities. In short, counterinsurgency strategy should focus on creating security spheres for every community (e.g., city, town, village, or hamlet) as the first step in restoring local societies. For the U.S. military, pursuit of this calculus carries significant political-military implications.