Small Wars Journal

Victory Has a Thousand Fathers

Mon, 01/17/2011 - 6:35am
Victory Has a Thousand Fathers:

Evidence of Effective Approaches to Counterinsurgency, 1978-2008

by Christopher Paul, Colin P. Clarke, and Beth Grill

Download The Full Article: Victory Has a Thousand Fathers

Contemporary discourse on counterinsurgency is voluminous and often contentious, but to date there has been a dearth of systematic evidence supporting the various counterinsurgency (COIN) approaches advocated by various discussants. This analysis is based on all insurgencies worldwide begun and concluded between 1978 and 2008; 30 insurgencies in total. Among other things, the analysis offers strong support for 13 commonly offered approaches to COIN, and strong evidence against three. Further, the data show that good COIN practices tend to "run in packs" and that the balance of selected good and bad practices perfectly predicts insurgency outcomes. Data confirm the importance of popular support, but show that the ability to interdict tangible support (such as new personnel, materiel, and financing) is the single best predictor of COIN force success.

Download The Full Article: Victory Has a Thousand Fathers

Dr. Christopher Paul is a Social Scientist at the RAND Corporation. Colin P. Clarke is a doctoral candidate at the University of Pittsburgh's Graduate School of Public and International Affairs, and is a Project Associate at RAND. Beth Grill is also a Project Associate at RAND.

About the Author(s)


And do not forget to kill only bad guys and not the good guys. Wait. I think that was from True Grit.

G Martin

Thu, 01/20/2011 - 12:53am


I can't believe you are not overjoyed! Here is a playbook with a checklist that all we have to do is follow, and we are guaranteed victory! Have the Long Term Capital Management folks switched to COIN theory lately?

Some of the language astounds me:

- their checklist "perfectly predicts insurgency outcomes", as if they really think a few decades of periods they have labeled as insurgencies will produce data that can perfectly predict anything in the future. Hubris to the inth degree!

- and even if their checklist is correct (since some of it is so broad as to not be too earth shattering), I think the "how" would be much more useful (but, alas- that differs with each example). I mean, it was really "interesting" to find out that my STRATCOM efforts were a waste of time- and that "all" I really should have been doing is sealing the borders, preventing Pashtuns from traveling back and forth, interdicting IED-making materials, and putting a stop to the monetary transfer system in use in that part of the world...

The Pap

Wed, 01/19/2011 - 11:38am

The study should be re-titled: "Victory Has a Thousand Fathers: Giving Illegitimate Birth to an Apory"

gian p gentile (not verified)

Mon, 01/17/2011 - 9:16pm

Agree Chris, I didnt care for this essay either.

But I would point out that some of the best, cutting, and clear-headed work on the Vietnam War while it was being fought came out of Rand analaysts like David Elliot and others.


The Proverbs of COIN? The illusion of "science?" The dark, seductive side of RAND?

Wow, what can I say except this "study" is quite similar to the logic and arguments of Taylorism (circa 1910) where Frederick Taylor's work was considered by many as "scientific management." The criticisms of Taylorism seem to apply here.

Blind nomotheticism? Confirmation bias? Conformation bias? Reductionism? Moral issues of social engineering? Failure to account for interacting and competing values?

RAND is at it again -- reminiscent of McNamara and the whiz kids who thought they could manage their way through the Vietnam War in the early 60s.

Sorry, my initial reaction is somewhat visceral. I'll have to ponder on a more convincing critique later.