A Contrarian View
by Dr. Donald Stoker, Small Wars Journal
The American conventional wisdom is of the all-powerful, all-knowing, invincible insurgent. Insurgencies always win; it is pointless to resist them. The archetype is the black pajama-clad Vietcong guerrilla triumphing over supposed American imperialism in Vietnam. The truth, in the case of Vietnam, as with insurgencies in general, is much different.
Insurgencies generally lose, not win. The Dupuy Institute, using a database for an ongoing research project that includes 63 post-World War II insurgencies, found that the insurgents only win 41% of the time.
Insurgencies do win, and most of the writing and talking about insurgencies (which is often very good) focuses on what insurgencies do to win, or how to conduct an effective counterinsurgency. More often, insurgencies lose, and sometimes their defeats are a result of the inherent weaknesses of insurgencies, or of their own actions. There are six critical reasons why insurgencies lose, curses brought down upon their own houses, and not induced by counterinsurgent forces. But first, we need to lay the groundwork for our discussion.