Cruel to be Kind: Authoritarian Counterinsurgency and the Winning of Hearts and Minds by David Ucko, Lawfare
Editor's Note: Dictators fight insurgents wrong. Rather than redress grievances and win over the locals, they repress and coopt, tolerating corruption and abuses. David Ucko of National Defense University explores why and how dictators often defeat insurgents despite ignoring the lessons of the US and other democracies.
In counterinsurgency theory, legitimacy is everything – at least according to mainstream Western texts on the topic. Beyond the narrow pursuit of the enemy, so the theory goes, it is necessary to win the “hearts and minds” of the people. Often maligned but seldom well understood, this phrase is erroneously credited to Gen. Gerald Templer, who, while commanding the British campaign in Malaya, noted that “the answer lies not in pouring more soldiers into the jungle but rests in the hearts and minds of the Malayan people.”
Yet, if legitimacy is indispensable, how do we explain the apparent ability of authoritarian states to defeat insurgents with little to no concern for popular support or root causes? Be it the Russians in Chechnya, the Chinese in Xinjiang, or Bashar al-Assad’s brutal campaign against his own people, there appears to be an alternative approach to counterinsurgency. So which is it: does authoritarian counterinsurgency succeed in spite of its indifference or because of it – or is our understanding of these regimes’ strategies simply flawed? …