Small Wars Journal

Old and New Insurgency Forms

Old and New Insurgency Forms by Dr. Robert Bunker, Strategic Studies Institute monograph

This monograph creates a proposed insurgency typology divided into legacy, contemporary, and emergent and potential insurgency forms, and provides strategic implications for U.S. defense policy as they relate to each of these forms. The typology clusters, insurgency forms identified, and their starting dates are as follows, Legacy: Anarchist (1880s), Separatist—Internal and External (1920s), Maoist Peoples (1930s), and Urban Left (Late-1960s); Contemporary: Radical Islamist (1979), Liberal Democratic (1989), Criminal (Early 2000s), and Plutocratic (2008); and Emergent and Potential: Blood Cultist (Emergent), Chinese Authoritarianism (Potentials; Near to Midterm), and Cyborg and Spiritual Machine (Potentials; Long Term/Science Fiction-like). The most significant strategic implications of these forms for U.S. defense policy are derived from the contemporary Radical Islamist form followed by the contemporary Criminal and emergent Blood Cultist forms. If the potential Chinese Authoritarianism form should come to pass it would also result in significant strategic impacts.

Read the entire monograph.

Categories: El Centro


Edited and added to a little bit:

Re: A potential new insurgency form -- one not specifically addressed (in the manner that I do below) by this monograph(?) -- consider the following from same (see Page 5 and 6):


A modernist view of insurgency, one subscribed to by the U.S. Army, is grounded in Clausewitzian thinking and accepts that the Westphalian state represents the dominant form of “social and political organization” in existence. The modernist view further holds that the “liberal democratic state” with a strong middle class, upward social mobility, a separation of church and state, the enfranchisement of women, and the personal liberties enshrined in the Bill of Rights and Constitution is the most preferable and legitimate form of Westphalian state. Steven Metz has called this “the orthodox conceptualization,” derived from Western history and its tradition of enlightened politics that have seen the state shift from a parasitical form (for the benefit of aristocrats and the elite) to one based on a social contract and the consent of the governed.

The populations of these Westphalian states are viewed from an inherent Western bias and said to be swayable via the provision of goods and services since they operate under a market logic of value optimization. Politics are thus consistent within a rational choice model. Derived from this orientation, the solution to the threat of insurgency is the development of state and societal institutions so that they resemble Western liberal democratic states and cultures.

Criticisms of this logic range from an adherence to a naive ethnocentrism to a slightly more ominous worldview reflective of Kipling’s old 1899 poem, “The White Man’s Burden,” though with 19th century colonization now replaced by 21st century replication of the Western body politic.

Regardless of the perspective, modern Army counterinsurgency (COIN) doctrine is solidly Western state centric in orientation and has both benefited and suffered as a result. Detrimental examples include the contemporary downplaying of spirituality and religion as a fundamental motivator of non-Western tribal based societies and the earlier body count metrics utilized during the Vietnam era. On the positive side, insurgent forces typically have little hope of generating (much less sustaining) conventional land power capabilities in the face of overwhelming U.S. air superiority.


The "new" insurgencies and "new" insurgents (not adequately addressed by this monograph?) -- thus and as derived from this "modernist view" -- to be simply understood as those that emanate from populations, societies and states that (a) do not subscribe to the view that "the Westphalian state represents the dominant form of 'social and political organization' in existence" and who, thus, (b) respond negatively -- rather than positively -- to "the development" (in their neck of the woods) "of state and societal institutions that resemble Western liberal democratic states and cultures."

These such "new" insurgents and "new" insurgencies (again, those not subscribing to, but rather being concerned with and/or being repelled by contemporary Western orientation, ideals and expansionist activities), to be found, thus, (a) not "operating under a market logic of value optimization" and, thus, (b) not "being swayable via the provision of goods and services."

Bottom Line:

If your basic underlying premise is terribly wrong (see the "modernist view" above; which so closely resembles our version of "universal values," "the overwhelming appeal of our way of life," and "the end of history"),

Then every step that one takes in this "modernist" direction and as per this erroneous view -- to attempt to "transform" other populations, states and societies accordingly -- this has the clear potential to lead to great tragedy; this, rather than to great reward.

(Great tragedy exactly like that we are witnessing today?)