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Western COIN: The Rise of “Soft” Counterinsurgency Doctrine

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Western COIN: The Rise of “Soft” Counterinsurgency Doctrine

Brandon Brooks

Since the middle of the 20th century, intrastate conflict has become the prevailing form of warfare worldwide.[1] Though often lacking in manpower and physical resources, insurgents have exhibited an impressive degree of skill and innovation, frustrating their opponents’ efforts to infiltrate the organization and disrupt its activities. This paper examines the major shifts in irregular warfare, defined here in accordance with the U.S. Department of Defense’s Joint Operating Concept as “a violent struggle among state and non-state actors for legitimacy and influence over [a designated] population.”[2] While there have been several noteworthy evolutions in the ways in which insurgents wage war, this paper argues that the most consequential developments in irregular warfare have occurred on the state-side, reasoning that Western democracies’ embrace of “soft” COIN approaches has spread worldwide.[3]

Much of the existing literature on the evolution of irregular warfare has investigated historical trends in the ways insurgencies operate. Scholars, such as Bruce Hoffman, Neville Bolt, John Mackinlay, and Steve Metz analyze insurgents’ embrace of mass media – particularly broadcast news and the internet – arguing that contemporary armed movements are less interested in achieving tangible military results than engaging in dramatic acts of violence intended to mobilize a designated populace.[4] Laia Barcells, Sthathis Kalyvas, Seth Jones, and Patrick Johnston examine insurgents’ military strategy, Barcells and Kalyvas observing a steady increase in the use of guerrilla warfare over the course of the Cold War and following the September 11th attacks.[5] Antoine Bousquet, Mark Duffield, and David Kilcullen, on the other hand, focus on the organization of insurgent movements, noting that Al-Qaeda and its affiliates have embraced a decentralized, networked structure, which allows them to quickly adapt to their operational environment and establish links with like-minded groups.[6]

While all of these scholars highlight notable trends in the ways non-state armed groups wage war, one may argue that many of these observations are only applicable to a handful of insurgencies. Consider the use of mass media, such as the internet, for example. While numerous armed groups have used the internet to disseminate messages, its utility appears to vary substantially across insurgent movements. On one hand, jihadists, such as former Al-Qaeda spokesman Anwar al-Awlaki, have proven that the internet offers a viable means of sustaining the armed struggle, making it easier to communicate with Muslims residing outside of their traditional base of operations and persuade them to commit acts of violence. On the other hand, bearing in mind that nearly half of the world’s population does not have regular access to the internet, one may argue that the threat which web-based insurgent activity poses is often exaggerated.[7] Indeed, John Campbell notes that one of the primary means through which Boko Haram - an insurgent group operating in a region of Nigeria where up to 81 percent of households in some provinces lack access to electricity – disseminates information is through word of mouth.[8]

Broadcast media may offer insurgent groups a better means of communicating with audiences worldwide. CNN alone reaches 2 billion people in more than 200 countries and territories as of January 2019.[9] Yet armed groups seeking to attract media attention must overcome state censorship, and risk having their message distorted in news reports.[10] Furthermore, given that many of the largest news networks in the world are based in Western countries, insurgent groups whose actions do not appear to directly affect Western audiences may often be marginalized. For example, Baloch nationalist insurgent groups – which primarily attack targets in South Asia – may have greater difficulty attracting widespread media attention and internationalizing their armed struggle than Islamist groups such as Al-Qaeda.[11]

Similar criticisms can be made concerning the recent focus on insurgent groups’ organizational structure. On one hand, the historical record does appear to indicate that insurgent groups worldwide have made a distinct turn towards a more decentralized organizational framework. The Provisional Irish Republican Army (PIRA) provides one such example, transforming from a centralized military organization with “companies, battalions and brigades, with a recognizable structure and headquarters staff” at the beginning of The Troubles to a cellular organization.[12] However, most insurgent movements do not appear to exemplify the type of diffuse networked structure that Al-Qaeda has been able to utilize.

Indeed, as far as decentralized organizational structures go, it appears as if Al-Qaeda and its affiliates are at the far end of the spectrum. Other insurgent movements, such as the Lord’s Resistance Army in Uganda, the National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad in Mali, and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, appear to employ a mix of centralized and decentralized practices, generally consisting of a core leadership body responsible for making major policy decisions, and operational units that enjoy great autonomy over the means by which they wage armed struggle.[13] One may even argue that not all armed movements are currently capable or willing to form a global network comparable to Al-Qaeda’s, reasoning that the latter’s desire to mobilize Muslims worldwide made it naturally predisposed to structure itself in such a manner. Insurgencies whose goals are more locally oriented – returning again to the Baloch insurgency example – may be less likely to follow suit.[14]

In regard to Barcells and Kalyvas’s focus on the military strategy that insurgencies employ, one may argue that this does not constitute an evolution in irregular warfare. In the Philippine-American War, local insurgents pivoted from conventional military operations to guerrilla warfare upon realizing that they could not best the U.S. military in the former.[15] In Northern Ireland, the PIRA followed a similar trend, though its leadership settled on urban terrorism instead of guerrilla warfare.[16] Over the course of the Iraq War, the Islamic State employed all three forms of warfare against its adversaries, as has Boko Haram in Northeast Nigeria.[17] This list, while hardly exhaustive, suggests that insurgencies’ use of guerrilla warfare is not a novel development, and will continue to be used alongside other forms of warfare based on the insurgents’ perception of their operational environment.[18]

What of developments in the practice of counterinsurgency? Those familiar with Colin McInnes’s work may argue that Western democracies are significantly more averse to casualties, severely undermining their capacity to wage protracted military conflicts.[19] This did not appear to be the case during the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, when Western democracies engaged in a series of costly military struggles against insurgent groups. In the Philippine-American War, for example, the United States lost as many as 4,200 soldiers in its efforts to suppress a nationalist insurgency led by Emilio Aguinaldo.[20] Around roughly the same time, the British military would lose as many as 22,000 soldiers while fighting Afrikaner insurgents during the Second Boer War.[21]

Select examples from recent history may be used to corroborate this claim. For example, one may cite the United States’ rapid military withdrawal from Lebanon following the 1983 Beirut barracks bombings, which killed 241 U.S. servicemen supporting an international peacekeeping mission.[22] Casualty aversion appeared to play a similar role in the United States’ withdrawal from Somalia following the loss of 18 U.S. servicemen fighting forces loyal to local warlord Mohamed Farrah Aidid.[23] The U.S. is by no means the only country that appears to follow this trend. France’s decision to withdraw combat forces from Afghanistan in November 2012 appeared to be due, in part, to an Afghan soldier’s murder of four French soldiers 10 months earlier.[24] However, the United States’ continued involvement in the Afghan War – a conflict that has killed over 2,200 U.S. servicemen as of April 1st, 2019 – suggests the West is willing to incur high casualties so long as the conflict over which they are sustained appears to directly affect its security.[25]

On the contrary, McInnes’s most noteworthy observation on the evolution of warfare is the gradual change in the West’s conceptualization of what constitutes a legitimate military target.[26] This relates to the most significant development affecting irregular warfare, the expectation that Western militaries’ counterinsurgency operations should respect global norms concerning human rights.

To put this into perspective, it is worth acknowledging two major schools of thought in counterinsurgency doctrine. The first, an enemy-centric approach, treats insurgent movements like a conventional military adversary, which can be defeated either through a war of attrition or by inflicting critical damage to the organization’s leadership structure.[27] The second, frequently referred to as the “hearts and minds” approach, entails improving the government’s capacity to provide public services and address local grievances in order to broaden public support for the sitting political administration.[28] While Western democracies have often employed both approaches to combat insurgent movements, present manifestations of these approaches are significantly different from those of years prior.

Relative to today’s standards, Western democracies’ counterinsurgency operations were notably more brutal in the 19th and much of the 20th century.[29] In the Philippine-American War, U.S. military commanders were given substantial autonomy over how they could pursue local insurgents. While some implemented programs that one would associate with hearts and mind strategies – for example, Brigadier General J. Franklin Bell prioritized the need to build additional schools and reconstruct public infrastructure – others relied on brute force to defeat the enemy.[30] Civilians living in contested areas were forcibly relocated to “protected zones,” outside of which anyone whom U.S. forces encountered could be regarded as an enemy combatant and shot.[31] Soldiers were authorized to burn down villages suspected of offering refuge to insurgents, and interrogators would often administer the water cure, a technique in which water would be poured into a detainee’s mouth until the recipient’s stomach became painfully distended, to gather critical intelligence.[32] Roughly 60 years later, the US used similar techniques to combat communist insurgents in South Vietnam.[33]

The United Kingdom resorted to similar measures to suppress revolts in its colonies. In Malaya, and South Africa, the British military forcibly resettled large segments of the local population in fortified compounds, in which humanitarian conditions were often quite poor.[34] By one estimate, as many as 10,000 people died in the “protection camps” that the British administered during the Second Boer War.[35] In Kenya, the British designated large sections of the countryside as prohibited areas, where any individual seen in said zones could be shot on sight, and tortured suspected insurgents to obtain legal confessions, which would frequently be used against the latter in special courts established by the colonial administration.[36]

France was not that much different. In response to an insurrection in the Mandate for Syria and Lebanon in 1925, High Commissioner Maurice Sarrail ordered a 24-hour bombardment of Damascus, the first time such a measure had been used against a major city.[37] Over the course of the Malagasy Uprising in Madagascar, French officers often exploited ethnic animosity between the colonial troops under their command and the local populace, allowing the former to loot villages suspected of harboring insurgents.[38] In Algeria, the French army forcibly relocated the local populace in rural areas to fortified enclaves, declared “free fire zones” over broad stretches of the countryside, and infamously used torture and disappearances to crush the National Liberation Front in the Battle of Algiers.[39] With the exception of the latter case, in which the use of torture and repression generated a major backlash in Metropolitan France, these incidents suggest that Western democracies were relatively uninhibited in how they went about combatting insurgent movements.[40]

Since then, the West’s counterinsurgency doctrine has undergone a major transformation, emphasizing “softer” approaches that involve communal engagement, nation building, and minimum force.[41] Under the leadership of Generals David Petaeus and Stanley McChrystal in Iraq and Afghanistan, the United States and its allies utilized both “hearts and minds” and “enemy-centric” approaches to combat Al-Qaeda and the Taliban. On one hand, the coalition sought to protect the populace from extremist groups, and encourage local stakeholders to collaborate and help build a more representative and accountable government.[42] On the other hand, U.S. Joint Special Operations Command utilized its intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance technology to locate and neutralize the insurgency’s leadership.[43]

Admittedly, one may argue that certain hallmarks of the previous era of Western counterinsurgency are still at play. Ian Shaw questions the ethicality of the United States’ use of drones, arguing that the use of such weapons systems violates national sovereignty and kills innocent civilians.[44] Claudia Aradau, Rens Van Munster, and Leila Nadya Sadat are similarly critical of the United States’ use of extraordinary rendition, a process in which individuals suspected of being affiliated with jihadist organizations are captured and taken to detention centers located in a different country.[45] Presumably, these scholars and others who share their views would contest the notion that Western militaries’ counterinsurgency operations have gradually become less brutal.

Yet such an argument overlooks the decline in the use of forced resettlement, free fire zones, collective punishments, and other brutal tactics that were used previously. This, in addition to investigations conducted on behalf of the legislative branch into the United Kingdom and United States’ military actions overseas – consider the 2012 Senate Intelligence Committee Study on CIA Detention and Interrogation Program or the 2018 All-Party Intelligence and Security Committee report on Detainee Mistreatment and Rendition, for example – suggests Western democracies are significantly more sensitive to human rights concerns than in years prior.[46] Acts of brutality may still occur, but they appear to be increasingly less common.

What led to this radical shift in practices? In accordance with McInnes’s point on the shifting conceptualization of legitimate military targets, one may conclude that domestic audiences in the West came to expect that their country’s military would adhere to liberal-democratic norms and refrain from engaging in activities that result in excessive collateral damage. Douglas Porch acknowledges such a scenario in his assessment of the Algerian War, noting that “torture and the disappearances of dissidents and detainees in military custody kick-started a heretofore sluggish antiwar movement…French citizens increasingly concluded that, if their country to had to descend to the level of murder and torture to win, then the game was not worth the candle.”[47] John Nagl recounts a similar instance of public backlash following revelations of human rights abuses that had occurred under a joint U.S.-South Vietnamese initiative known as the Phung Hoang or “Phoenix” program.[48]

Other countries’ governments do not appear to be bound by such constraints. As Beina Xu, Holly Fletcher, and Jayshree Bajoria highlight in a Council on Foreign Relations study on the East Turkestan Islamic Movement in Xinjiang province, brutality and repression constitute a critical component of China’s efforts to counter Uighur insurgent movements in the region.[49] While the Chinese government has implemented economic development programs in the province, it has also imposed severe restrictions on religious and cultural expression, and its security forces have frequently engaged in mass arrests, and prisoner abuse, with no signs of objection from Beijing.[50] Similarly, human rights activists have long criticized the Indian government for its response to the ongoing insurgency in Jammu and Kashmir, citing instances of extra-judicial killing and torture.[51]

Yet these countries’ actions appear to be far less brutal compared to Russian counterinsurgency operations in Chechnya. According to Emma Gilligan, following an ambush on a Russian tank formation advancing on Grozny on November 26, 1994, the Russian military habitually resorted to aerial bombardments of suspected rebel-held areas.[52] “Indiscriminate strikes became the preferred mode of warfare against a ground war the Russian armed forces were unfit to win,” remarks Gilligan.[53] Similarly, in Syria, the Russian military has been accused of using cluster munitions and incendiary weapons in densely populated areas of Aleppo and Eastern Ghouta, resulting in heavy civilian casualties.[54] At present, it does not appear as if the Russian public is particularly concerned by its government’s actions. According to a 2017 Gallup poll, 80 percent of Russians approve of President Vladimir Putin.[55]

In this sense, Russia and China’s contemporary counterinsurgency doctrine appears to be largely similar to the “hard” approaches which Western militaries conducted in the nineteenth and mid-twentieth century. Brute force is not the only means by which these governments attempt to uphold order, but it is always an option.

What makes the West’s shift from “hard” to “soft” counterinsurgency more consequential than the numerous innovations that insurgent groups have accomplished over the past few decades? Simply put, Western nations appear to expect other countries’ armed forces to follow a similar standard of conduct. Since 1977, the United States Department of State has published the Country Reports on Human Rights Practices, an annual assessment of human rights conditions worldwide. The British government publishes a similar report, as does the European Union.[56] In addition, the United States Congress amended the 1961 Foreign Assistance Act to prohibit foreign security forces that have committed gross human rights violations from receiving foreign assistance.[57] Under this provision, known as the Leahy Laws, the United States has blacklisted military units in Bolivia, Indonesia, and Turkey.[58]

In doing this, the West created a series of incentives for countries to eschew “hard” counterinsurgency tactics. Refraining from such behavior allows states to maintain a good international reputation, and (arguably more importantly) retain access to Western foreign assistance. Admittedly, it is worth noting that not all states adhere to this dynamic. The Syrian Arab Republic has repeatedly shirked international human rights norms, and used torture, disappearances, and bombardments of major population centers to uphold the state’s authority, most notably during the Islamist Uprising in 1979, and the ongoing Syrian Civil War.[59] In addition, Western countries appear less inclined to sanction notorious human rights violators, such as Saudi Arabia, when doing so might endanger their economic interests. While the introduction of the Leahy Laws and Country Reports on Human Rights Practices has not stopped states’ security forces from committing atrocities, one may argue that they provide a means of pressuring foreign governments to curb these practices.

One result of the West’s embrace of “soft” counterinsurgency approaches appears to be the spread of national-level disarmament, demobilization, and reintegration (DDR) and countering violent extremism (CVE) programming. Commenting on the Kenyan government’s efforts to counter the expansion of the Somali-based jihadist group, Al-Shabaab, into areas along the country’s coast, Fathima Azmiya and Paul Goldsmith credit the U.S. and Dutch governments for influencing the former’s adoption of a National CVE Strategy in 2016. [60] Under this framework, the Kenyan government has partnered with local stakeholders and civil society organizations to counter Islamic radicalization in at-risk communities.[61]

Vanda Felbab-Brown similarly credits the United States government for encouraging the development of Operation Safe Corridor, a DDR program which the Nigerian government has used to encourage Boko Haram militants to defect from the insurgency.[62] This marks a dramatic pivot from the earlier measures that the Nigerian government had employed to suppress insurgent movements, going so far as to starve out rebel areas, and execute between 500 and 800 suspected insurgent sympathizers after recapturing the town of Asaba during the Biafran War.[63] While both Kenya and Nigeria’s security forces still face accusations of human rights abuses, the aforementioned examples suggest their governments’ counterinsurgency doctrine is gradually becoming less reliant on brute force.

While insurgencies have consistently proven capable of adapting to their operational environment, the most consequential evolution in irregular warfare has occurred among state security forces. Beginning in the middle of the twentieth century, Western democracies have gradually constrained their militaries’ ability to prosecute counterinsurgency campaigns, prioritizing liberal-democratic norms over their desire to quickly defeat their adversary. This has not only affected the ways the West has waged war in Afghanistan and Iraq, but also influenced the counterinsurgency doctrine of other countries within the former’s sphere of influence. Building off this research, scholars may wish to investigate the efficacy of “soft” counterinsurgency approaches, and whether the West’s commitment to such practices may survive in an era marked by the rise of populist movements that appear less interested in adhering to liberal-democratic ideals.

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Tate, Winifred. "Human Rights Law and Military Aid Delivery: A Case Study of the Leahy Law." Political and Legal Anthropology Review 34, no. 2 (November 2011): 337-54. Accessed April 3, 2019. doi:10.1111/j.1555-2934.2011.01169.x.

United States. Department of Defense. Joint Chiefs of Staff. Irregular Warfare: Countering Irregular Threats Joint Operating Concept. By Michael Mullen. May 17, 2010. Accessed April 3, 2019. https://www.jcs.mil/Portals/36/Documents/Doctrine/concepts/joc_iw_v2.pdf?ver=2017-12-28-162021-510.

Watts, Stephen. "What Are the Trends in Armed Conflicts, and What Do They Mean for U.S. Defense Policy." Rand. 2017. Accessed April 3, 2019. https://www.rand.org/content/dam/rand/pubs/research_reports/RR1900/RR1904/RAND_RR1904.pdf.

End Notes


[1] Stephen Watts, “What are the Trends in Armed Conflicts,” Rand, 2017, https://www.rand.org/content/dam/rand/pubs/research_reports/RR1900/RR1904/RAND_RR1904.pdf

[2] Michael Mullen, “Irregular Warfare: Countering Irregular Threats Joint Operating Concept” (Government Publication, Washington, D.C., 2010), 9.

[3] Here, the “West” refers to liberal-democracies in North America and Western Europe, principally the United States, United Kingdom, and France.

[4] Neville Bolt, The Violent Image (London: Hurst, 2012), xxiii-xxiv.

Bruce Hoffman, Inside Terrorism (New York: Columbia University Press, 2006), 63-80.

John Mackinlay, The Insurgent Archipelago (London: Hurst, 2009), 6.

Steven Metz, “The Internet, New Media, and the Evolution of Insurgency,” Paramaters (2012): 80-90.

[5] Patrick Johnston and Seth Jones, “The Future of Insurgency,” Studies in Conflict & Terrorism 36, no. 1 (2013): 1-25, doi: 10.1080/1057610X.2013.739077.

Laia Barcells and Stathis Kalyvas, “International System and Technologies of Rebellion,” American Political Science Review 104, no. 3 (2010): 415-429, doi: 10.1017/S0003055410000286.

[6] Antoine Bousquet, “Complexity Theory and the War on Terror,” Journal of International Relations and Development 15, no. 3 (2012): 345-369, doi: 10.1057/jird.2011.24.

Mark Duffield, “War as a Network Enterprise,” Cultural Values 6, no. 1 (2002): 153-165, doi: 10.1080/1362517022019793.

David Kilcullen, “Countering Global Insurgency,” Journal of Strategic Studies 28, no. 4 (2005): 597-617, doi: 10.1080/01402390500300956.

[7] Brahima Sanou, Measuring the Information Society Report 2016 (Geneva: International Telecommunication Union, 2016), iii.

[8] John Campbell, “Boko Haram: Origins, Challenges, and Responses,” Norwegian Peacebuilding Centre, October 2014, https://www.files.ethz.ch/isn/184795/5cf0ebc94fb36d66309681cda24664f9.pdf.

Sanusi Ohiare, “Expanding Electiricity Access to All in Nigeria,” Energy, Sustainability and Society 5, no. 8, (2015): 2, doi: 10.1186/s13705-015-0037-9.

[9] “CNN Worldwide Fact Sheet,” CNN, January 2019, http://cnnpressroom.blogs.cnn.com/cnn-fact-sheet/.

[10] Bolt, The Violent Image, 1.

[11] Alok Bansal, “Factors Leading to Insurgency in Balochistan,” Small Wars & Insurgencies 19, no. 2 (2008): 182, doi: 10.1080/09592310802061356.

[12] Operation Banner,” (Government Publication, London, 2006), 65.

[13] Christopher Day, “The Resilience of the Lord’s Resistance Army,” Oxford Research Group, July 3, 2017, https://www.oxfordresearchgroup.org.uk/Blog/the-resiliance-of-the-lords-resistance-army.

Adib Bencherif and Aurelie Campana, “Alliances of Convenience,” Mediterranean Politics 22, no. 1 (2017): 121-122, doi: http://doi.org/10.1080/13629395.2016.1230942.

Michelle Jaramillo, “The Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC),” Journal of Strategic Security 9, no. 1 (2016): 52-53, doi: 10.5038/1944-0472.9.1.1509.

[14] Bansal, “Factors Leading to Insurgency in Balochistan,” 182.

[15] Brian Linn, The Philippine War, 1899-1902 (Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 2000), 137-138.

[16] “Operation Banner,” 14.

[17] Matthew Cancian, “Tactics, Techniques, and Procedures of the Islamic State,” Military Review (2017): 52-60.

Iro Aghedo, “Nigeria’s Boko Haram: From Guerrilla Strategy to Conventional War,” The Commonwealth Journal of International Affairs 104, no. 4 (2015): 515, doi: 10.1080/00358533.2015.1063839.

[18] Mackinlay, The Insurgent Archipelago, 1.

[19] Colin McInnes, Spectator-Sport War: The West and Contemporary Conflict (Boulder: Lynne Rienner Publishers, 2002), 2.

[20] James Joes, “Counterinsurgency in the Philippines 1898-1954,” Counterinsurgency in Modern Warfare, edited by Carter Malkasian and Daniel Marston, Osprey Publishing, 2008, 64.

[21] Thomas Pakenham, The Boer War, page xv

[22] Richard Halloran, “U.S. Withdrawing its Military Force on Lebanon Coast,” The New York Times (New York, NY), March 31, 1984.

[23] Eric Schmitt, “U.S. Weighs Withdrawal from Somalia,” The New York Times (New York, NY), July, 22, 1994.

[24] Steven Erlanger and Alissa Rubin, “France Weighs Pullout After 4 of Its Soldiers are Killed,” The New York Times (New York, NY), January 20, 2012.

Martin Petty, “French Combat Troops Withdraw from Afghan War,” Reuters (London, UK), November 20, 2012.

[25] “Casualty Status,” Department of Defense, April 2, 2019, https://dod.defense.gov/News/Casualty-Status/.

[26] McInnes, Spectator-Sport War, 56.

[27] Colin Clarke, Molly Dunigan, Beth Grill, and Christopher Paul, “Moving Beyond Population-Centric vs. Enemy-Centric Counterinsurgency,” Small Wars & Insurgencies 27, no 6 (2016): 1023, doi: 10.1080/09592318.2016.1233643.

[28] Richard Stubbs, “From Search and Destroy to Hearts and Minds,”in Counterinsurgency in Modern Warfare, ed. Carter Malkasian and Daniel Marston (Oxford: Osprey Publishing, 2008), 123.

Paul Dixon, “‘Hearts and Minds?’ British Counterinsurgency from Malaya to Iraq,” Journal of Strategic Studies 32, no. 3 (2009): 353, doi: 10.1080/01402390902928172.

[29] B. Brooks, Media Constraints on Wartime Decision-Making” (bachelor’s thesis, University of Virginia, 2017), 5.

[30] Linn, The Philippine War, 199.

[31] Linn, The Philippine War, 215.

[32] Linn, The Philippine War, 64, 72-76, 215.

[33] Philip E. Catton, “Counter-Insurgency and Nation Building,” International History Review 21, no. 4 (1999): 919, doi: 10.1080/07075332.1999.9640883.

[34] Stubbs, “From Search and Destroy to Hearts and Minds,” 116.

Ian R. Smith and Andreas Stucki, “The Colonial Development of Concentration Camps (1868-1902),” The Journal of Imperial and Commonwealth History 39, no. 3 (2011): 417, doi: 10.1080/03086534.2011.598746.

[35] Smith and Stucki, “The Colonial Development of Concentration Camps,” 417.

[36] David Anderson, Histories of the Hanged: The Dirty War in Kenya and the End of Empire (New York, W.W. Norton & Company, 2005), 152, 159, 176, 254.

[37] Joyce Laverty Miller, “The Syrian Revolt of 1925,” International Journal of Middle East Studies 8, no. 4 (1977): 545, doi: 10.1017/S0020743800026118.

[38] Douglas Little, "Cold War and Colonialism in Africa," Pacific Historical Review 59, no. 4 (1990): 540, doi:10.2307/3640238.

[39] Douglas Porch, “French Imperial Warfare,” in Counterinsurgency in Modern Warfare, ed. Carter Malkasian and Daniel Marston (Oxford: Osprey Publishing, 2008), 106-108.

[40] Porch, “French Imperial Warfare,” 108.

[41] David Petraeus, “Learning Counterinsurgency: Observations from Soldiering in Iraq,” Military Review (2006): 5-8.

[42] Petraeus, “Learning Counterinsurgency,” 5.

[43] Thomas Cantrell, Michael T. Flynn, and Rich Juergens, “Employing ISR: SOF Best Practices,” Joint Forces Quarterly 50 (2008): 56-57.

Gideon Rose, “Generation Kill,” Foreign Affairs, March 2013, https://www.foreignaffairs.com/interviews/2013-02-11/generation-kill.

[44] Ian G.W. Shaw, “Predator Empire: The Geopolitics of US Drone Warfare,” Geopolitics 18, no. 3 (2013): 552, doi: 10.1080/14650045.2012.749241.

[45] Claudia Aradau and Rens Van Munster, "Exceptionalism and the War on Terror," British Journal of Criminology 49, no. 5 (June 12, 2009): 698, doi:10.1093/bjc/azp036.

Leila Nadya Sadat, “Extraordinary Rendition, Torture, and Other Nightmares from the War on Terror,” George Washington Law Review 75, no. 7 (2007): 1201.

[46] Dianne Feinstein, “Committee Study of the Central Intelligence Agency’s Detention and Interrogation Program” (Government Publication, London, 2012).

Dominic Grieve, “Detainee Mistreatment and Rendition: Current Issues” (Government Publication, London, 2018).

[47] Porch, “French Imperial Warfare,” 108.

[48] John Nagl, “Counterinsurgency in Vietnam,” in Counterinsurgency in Modern Warfare, ed. Carter Malkasian and Daniel Marston (Oxford: Osprey Publishing, 2008), 141-142.

[49] Jayshree Bajoria, Holly Fletcher, and Beina Xu, “The East Turkestan Islamic Movement,” Council on Foreign Relations, September 4, 2014, https://www.cfr.org/backgrounder/east-turkestan-islamic-movement-etim#chapter-title-0-6.

[50] Bajoria, Fletcher, and Xu, “The East Turkestan Islamic Movement”

Elizabeth Davis, “Uyghur Muslim Ethnic Separatism in Xinjiang, China,” Asian Affairs: An American Review 35, no. 1 (2008): 18, doi: 10.3200/AAFS.35.1.15-30.

[51] Teresa Joseph, “Kashmir, Human Rights and the Indian Press,” Contemporary South Asia 9, no. 1 (2000): 43, doi: 10.1080/713658719.

[52] Emma Gilligan, Terror in Chechnya: Russia and the Tragedy of Civilians in War (Princeton, Princeton University Press, 2009), 26.

[53] Gilligan, Terror in Chechnya, 26.

[54] "Russia/Syria: War Crimes in Month of Bombing Aleppo," Human Rights Watch, December 5, 2016, https://www.hrw.org/news/2016/12/01/russia/syria-war-crimes-month-bombing-aleppo.

"Syria/Russia: Airstrikes, Siege Killing Civilians," Human Rights Watch, January 3, 2018, https://www.hrw.org/news/2017/12/22/syria/russia-airstrikes-siege-killing-civilians.

[55] "Russians Happier With Putin Than With Country's Direction," Gallup, December 8, 2017, https://news.gallup.com/poll/223382/russians-happier-putin-country-direction.aspx.

[56] Tariq Ahmad, “Human Rights & Democracy: The 2017 Foreign & Commonwealth Office Report” (Government Publication, London, 2018).

Federica Mogherini, “EU Annual Report on Human Rights and Democracy in the World 2017” (Government Publication, Brussels, 2018).

[57] "Leahy Fact Sheet," U.S. Department of State, March 09, 2018, https://www.state.gov/j/drl/rls/fs/2018/279141.htm.

[58] Charles Comer, “Leahy in Indonesia: Damned if You Do (and Even if You Don’t),” Asian Affairs: An American Review 37, no. 2 (2010): 53, doi: 10.1080/00927671003791348.

Winifred Tate, “Human Rights Law and Military Aid Delivery,” Political and Legal Anthropology Review 34, no. 2 (2011): 337, doi: 10.1111/j.1555-2934.2011.01169.

[59] Dara Conduit, “The Patterns of Syrian Uprising,” British Journal of Middle Eastern Studies 44, no. 1 (2017): 74, doi: 10.1080/13530194.2016.1182421.

[60] Fatima Azmiya Badurdeen and Paul Goldsmith, “Initiative and Perceptions to Counter Violent Extremism in the Coastal Region of Kenya,” Journal of Deradicalization, no. 16 (2018): 76-77, doi: 10.1163/2210-7975_hrd-4029-2016005.

[61] Badurdeen and Goldsmith, “Initiative and Perceptions to Counter Violent Extremism in the Coastal Region of Kenya,” 76-77.

[62] Vanda Felbab-Brown, The Limits of Punishment: Transitional Justice & Violent Extremism (Tokyo: United Nations University, 2018, 94.

[63] John de St. Jorre, The Nigerian Civil War (London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1972), 237, 405.

S. Elizabeth Bird and Fraser Ottanelli, “The Asaba Massacre and the Nigerian Civil War,” Journal of Genocide Research 16, no. 2-3 (2014): 381, doi: 10.1080/14623528.2014.936718.

About the Author(s)

Brandon Brooks will receive a Master's of Arts in International Conflict Studies from King's College London in January 2020. He is currently working as an International Protection Officer for the non-governmental organization, Nonviolent Peaceforce, in South Sudan.

Comments

We forget that the counterinsurgencies we become involved are fighting the war for the host country; it is their war not ours. The host governments sit back and rakes in the development money.... If the host nation governing elites refuse to fight for themselves, how can we think we will "win" their war?

From the concluding paragraph of our article above:

"While insurgencies have consistently proven capable of adapting to their operational environment, the most consequential evolution in irregular warfare has occurred among state security forces. Beginning in the middle of the twentieth century, Western democracies have gradually constrained their militaries’ ability to prosecute counterinsurgency campaigns, prioritizing liberal-democratic norms over their desire to quickly defeat their adversary. This has not only affected the ways the West has waged war in Afghanistan and Iraq, but also influenced the counterinsurgency doctrine of other countries within the former’s sphere of influence. Building off this research, scholars may wish to investigate the efficacy of “soft” counterinsurgency approaches, and whether the West’s commitment to such practices may survive in an era marked by the rise of populist movements that appear less interested in adhering to liberal-democratic ideals."

From Andrew Mack's "Why Big Countries Lose Small Wars: The Politics of Asymmetric Conflict:"

"In order to avoid defeat, the insurgents must retain a minimum degree of invulnerability.  In order to win, they  must be able to impose a steady accumulation of "costs" on their opponent.  They must not only be undefeated; they must be seen as undefeated.  Strategically, the insurgents aim must be to provoke the external power into escalating its forces on the ground.  This, in itself, will incur economic and political costs in the metropolis.  Such a process of escalation did, in fact, mark the history of the conflicts in Indochina, Algeria, Portuguese Africa, Vietnam and the current conflict in Ulster."

https://www.jstor.org/stable/2009880?seq=11#metadata_info_tab_contents

In the grand scheme of things, to wit: from the perspective of the U.S./the West's determination to transform both our own states and societies (via such things as our recent pro-globalization/pro-modernization domestic policies) -- and our determination to transform the Rest of the World also (via such things as our pro-globalzation/pro-modernization foreign policies);

 In this regard, the U.S./the West, in both instances (in the case of both our domestic and our foreign such initiatives) would now seem to have been formally and decisively defeated, for example, as:

a.  From a domestic policy perspective, the Brexit and the election of President Trump would seem to indicate.  (In this regard, consider "the rise of populist movements" in our author's concluding paragraph above?)  And

b.  From a foreign policy point of view, as the following statements by former British Prime Minister Theresa May and present U.S. President Donald Trump would seem to confirm:

Former British Prime Minister Theresa May:

“It is in our interests – those of Britain and America together – to stand strong together to defend our values, our interests and the very ideas in which we believe,” she said.

"This cannot mean a return to the failed policies of the past. The days of Britain and America intervening in sovereign countries in an attempt to remake the world in our own image are over.”

https://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/home-news/theresa-may-donald-trump-us-uk-no-longer-foreign-intervention-iraq-afghanistan-a7548551.html

Present U.S. President Donald Trump:

"We do not expect diverse countries to share the same cultures, traditions, or even systems of government, but we do expect all nations to uphold these two core sovereign duties: to respect the interests of their own people and the rights of every other sovereign nation.”

“Strong sovereign nations let diverse countries with different values, different cultures, and different dreams not just coexist, but work side by side on the basis of mutual respect.”

https://qz.com/1081499/unga-2017-trump-mentioned-sovereignty-21-times-in-a-speech-heralding-a-new-american-view-of-the-world/

In this regard (the U.S./the West, re: its "transformative/"modernizing" agenda for both its own states and societies and those of the Rest of the World also, has now been formally defeated, as the Brexit, the election of President Trump and the "capitulation" statements noted above would seem to confirm),

In this regard, should we consider that:

a.  Our opponents (successful?) use of such things as a "political attrition" strategy

b.  Identified and discussed by Andrew Mack in his "Why Big Countries Lose Small Wars" above

c.  This may have played -- at least in the transforming/modernizing the Rest of the World case -- a major role?

Herein, the U.S./the West's efforts to defeat this such "political attrition" strategy -- by moving (much too late?) to embrace a "less-troops/more long-term/"war amongst the people" approach -- having failed?

How to confirm this defeat?  Again by seeing:

a.  The retreat from efforts to transform and modernize our own states and societies, 

b.  And the retreat from efforts to transform and modernize the states and societies of the Rest of the World

c.  That I have identified above.

(The effect of these such defeats?  Schumpeter [see my earlier comments below] might say:

a.  The "cultural backwardness" entities [the conservative elements of both "our" and indeed "their" civilizations]

b.  These folks have won -- as such things as the power and appeal of "backwards-looking" "golden age" concepts as the "Caliphate," and the "Make America Great Again movements" -- would seem to indicate?  

 And, thus,

a.  Both at home and abroad

b.  Expect the "Dark Ages?" )

As noted in my first two comments below, our interventions and campaigns of late, these would not seem to be in the nature of classical counterinsurgency (see Kilcullen below). 

Rather, our interventions and campaigns since WWII; these, instead, would seem to be more in the nature of revolutionary/transformative/modernizing warfare and, thus, more in the nature of (a) eliminating the way of life, the way of governance, the values, etc., of other states and societies and, in the place of same, (b) installing our own such attributes.  (Our "victory," at the end of the Old Cold War, being thought of in this way?)    

Thus, the purpose of our such revolutionary warfare/transformative/modernizing endeavors -- and as I have attempted to explain and illustrate using the Trump NSS re: Africa below -- is, and much as in colonial times, to:  

a.  Organize, order and orient these "outlying" states and societies; this,

b.  So that they might better provide for the capitalism and free trade wants, needs and desires of the U.S./the West.

Herein, what stood/stands in the way of our achieving our such revolutionary/transformative/modernizing  objectives for other states and societies -- today much as in colonial times -- was/is their "cultural backwardness,"  to wit: the cultural characteristics which do not, as in the West, optimally provide for such things as capitalism and free trade.

Now comes the question that, I believe, our author Brandon Brooks wants us to "get after," this being: why, of late, have moved more in the soft power direction; this, to achieve our such revolutionary/transformative/modernization goals for other states and societies?  

In this regard, let us consider the insight provided by Andrew Mack in his "Why Big Countries Lose Small Wars."  In his such publication, Mack tells us (if I read him right) that:

a.  Given the asymmetrical character of these conflicts, to wit: (a) the exceptionally more-powerful imperial entity fights only a "limited war" and this only to "modernize" other states and societies so that they might be better exploited; this while (b) the much less-powerful populations -- of these such "outlying" states and societies -- they fight what for them is a "total war," to wit: a war to retain, or to regain, their preferred and time-honored way of life, their preferred and time-honored way of governance, their preferred and time-honored values, attitudes and beliefs, etc.; 

Given this asymmetrical character of our conflicts, these much-weaker opponents now employ a "political attrition" strategy against the imperial powers, to wit: a strategy designed to cause the imperial power to, over time, exhaust itself, and to, specifically, exhaust its political will to continue these, asymmetrical, "transformative" endeavors.  (Worked in Vietnam versus the much more-powerful U.S./the West; worked in Afghanistan versus the much more powerful Soviets and now also the much more powerful Americans and their allies?)

As Mack notes in his referenced publication above, one of the primary goals of our enemies, re: their such "political attrition" strategy, is to cause the imperial power to "increase its forces on the ground"/to utilize and to increase its hard power approach.

Thus:

a.  By the imperial power (for example, the U.S./the West) now adopting, instead, a more-long-term, less-troops and less-hard power approach (Rupert Smith's "war amongst the people?"),

b.  The imperial power, thereby, attacks their opponents such "political attrition" strategy?  (As per Sun Tzu?)

Thus:

a. Is it in this such "defeat our much-weaker opponents' 'political attrition' strategy light" that:

b.  We might best understand our move to "soft-power," and to "war amongst the people?"

Addendum to my comment below:

Given that our author of this article above, Brandon Brooks, is now working for an NGO in South Sudan, these additional observations may provide useful:

First, from the Trump National Security Strategy re: Africa, to understand what our "transformative" efforts are designed to achieve:

"ECONOMIC: We will expand trade and commercial ties to create jobs and build wealth for Americans and Africans. We will work with reform-oriented governments to help establish conditions that can transform them into trading partners and improve their business environment. We will support economic integration among African states. We will work with nations that seek to move beyond assistance to partnerships that promote prosperity. We will offer American goods and services, both because it is profitable for us and because it serves as an alternative to China’s often extractive economic footprint on the continent."

https://www.whitehouse.gov/wp-content/uploads/2017/12/NSS-Final-12-18-2017-0905.pdf (See Page 52.) 

From this such perspective, one can easily see that the problem that the less-developed world presented to the U.S./the West in earlier times -- and again today -- this is the problem noted by Joseph Schumpeter, cir. 1919, of:

a.  "Cultural backwardness" which -- then as now -- 

b.  Gets in the way of "normal economic intercourse" (to wit: capitalism and free trade). 

"Where cultural backwardness of a region makes normal economic intercourse dependent on colonization, it does not matter, assuming free trade, which of the civilized nations undertakes the task of colonization." 

https://www.panarchy.org/schumpeter/imperialism.html

And thus today, and much as in earlier times, the "correction action" to this such problem is understood more in terms of state and societal "transformation" -- or, if you prefer, state and societal state and societal "modernization -- this to be achieved:

a.  Via such things as colonization back then and

b.  Via such things as nation-building and foreign aid today.

Bottom Line Thought -- Based on the Above:

In the David Kulcullen item, that I provide in my initial comment below, you may -- upon looking carefully -- note:

a.  The problem -- yesterday as today -- of "cultural backwardness,"

b.  The use of "revolutionary (transformative) warfare" -- then as now -- to "support modernization;" this, so as to correct this problem.  And see: 

c.  How these such "transformative"/"revolutionary warfare" activities "echo colonial campaigns, and include entirely new elements arising from the effects of globalization." 

In looking at things in this manner, one is drawn to yet another late 19th/early 20th Century thinker -- this time, a military one -- C.E .Callwell, who expressed the problem along these lines:

"Small wars are a heritage of extended empire, a certain epilogue to encroachments into lands beyond the confines of existing civilization, and this has been so from early ages to the present time. 

The great nation which seeks expansion in remote quarters of the globe must accept the consequences.

Small wars dog the footsteps of the pioneers of civilization in the regions afar off."

https://www.amazon.com/Small-Wars-Their-Principles-Practice/dp/1438513887 (See Section II:  Causes of Small Wars.)

(And, herein, we should note, Callwell does not advocate the use of "soft power" -- to achieve these "transformative " "pioneers of [western] civilization" objectives  -- back then; such like to do more harm than good/aggravate the problem rather than alleviate it?)

 

 

Bottom Line Question Up Front:

Given that the goal of the U.S./the West -- since at least the end of World War II -- has been to transform the outlying states and societies of the world more along modern western political, economic, social and value lines, 

Then might this such understanding help to explain why the U.S./the West, post-World War II, has been more inclined to use "soft power" to achieve our such transformative -- "better peace" -- objectives?   

In this regard, consider the following:

First, re: our "transformative" objectives, from Hans Morgenthau's 1967 "To Intervene or Not to Intervene:"

"The United States and the Soviet Union face each other not only as two great powers which in the traditional ways compete for advantage. They also face each other as the fountainheads of two hostile and incompatible ideologies, systems of government and ways of life, each trying to expand the reach of its respective political values and institutions and to prevent the expansion of the other."

Next, re: our "transformative" goals, from Sir Adam Roberts "Transformative Military Occupation: Applying the Laws of War and Human Rights:"

"Within the existing framework of international law, is it legitimate for an occupying power, in the name of creating the conditions for a more democratic and peaceful state, to introduce fundamental changes in the constitutional, social, economic, and legal order within an occupied territory? This is the central question addressed here. To put it in other ways, is the body of treaty-based international law relating to occupations, some of which is more than a century old, appropriate to conditions sometimes faced today? ...

These questions have arisen in various conflicts and occupations since 1945—including the tragic situation in Iraq since the United States–led invasion of March–April 2003. They have arisen because of the cautious, even restrictive assumption in the laws of war (also called international humanitarian law or, traditionally, jus in bello) that occupying powers should respect the existing laws and economic arrangements within the occupied territory, and should therefore, by implication, make as few changes as possible. This conservationist principle in the laws of war stands in potential conflict with the transformative goals of certain occupations."

https://weblearn.ox.ac.uk/access/content/user/1044/ajil_-_roberts_on_transformative_military_occupation.pdf

Last, re: both (a) our "transformative objectives" and (b) our determination to use "soft power" in the pursuit of same, from Gian Gentile's "A Strategy of Tactics: Population-Centric COIN and the Army:"

"The new American way of war commits the US military to campaigns of counterinsurgency and nation-building in the world’s troubled spots. In essence it is total war—how else can one understand it any differently when COIN experts talk about American power “changing entire societies”—but it is a total war without the commensurate total support of will and resources from the American people. This strategic mismatch might prove catastrophic in the years ahead if the United States cannot figure out how to align means with ends in a successful strategy. The new American way of war perverts and thus prevents us from doing so.

The ancient Chinese philosopher of war Sun Tzu had this to say about the conduct of war and implicitly about its nature: Strategy without tactics is the slowest route to victory . . . . Tactics without strategy is the noise before defeat . . . . There is no instance of a nation benefiting from prolonged warfare . . . . Speed is the essence of war.

The new American way of war—wars amongst the people—has turned Sun Tzu’s maxim on its head. These days it is customary to think of war and conflict as prolonged affairs that afflict the farthest-flung precincts of US influence, thereby demanding a long-term American military presence on the ground. We are told by the experts that this new way of war requires time, patience, modest amounts of blood, and vast amounts of treasure. Sun Tzu was highlighting strategy, and strategy is about choice, options, and the wisest use of resources in war to achieve political objectives. Yet in the new way of American war, tactics have buried strategy, and it precludes any options other than an endless and likely futile struggle to achieve the loyalty of populations that, in the end, may be peripheral to American interests."

https://ssi.armywarcollege.edu/pubs/parameters/articles/09autumn/gentile.pdf

Bottom Line Thought -- Based on the Above:

As David Kilcullen in his "Counterinsurgency Redux" informed us, the U.S./the West is, given its "transformative" goals for other states and societies,

a.  NOT engaged in "counterinsurgency" -- but rather --

b.  IS engaged in "revolutionary warfare;" this,

c.  While our opponents are engaged, accordingly, in "resistance warfare:"

" ... Thus, Galula asserts that ‘whereas in conventional war, either side can initiate the conflict, only one – the insurgent – can initiate a revolutionary war, for counter-insurgency is only an effect of insurgency’.  But, in several modern campaigns – Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan and Chechnya, for example – the government or invading coalition forces initiated the campaign, whereas insurgents are strategically reactive (as in ‘resistance warfare’). Such patterns are readily recognizable in historical examples of resistance warfare, but less so in classical counter-insurgency theory.

Politically, in many cases today, the counter-insurgent represents revolutionary change, while the insurgent fights to preserve the status quo of ungoverned spaces, or to repel an occupier – a political relationship opposite to that envisaged in classical counter-insurgency. Pakistan's campaign in Waziristan since 2003 exemplifies this. The enemy includes al-Qaeda-linked extremists and Taliban, but also local tribesmen fighting to preserve their traditional culture against twenty-first-century encroachment.  The problem of weaning these fighters away from extremist sponsors, while simultaneously supporting modernization, does somewhat resemble pacification in traditional counter-insurgency. But it also echoes colonial campaigns, and includes entirely new elements arising from the effects of globalization."

https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/00396330601062790  (See the paragraph beginning with "Similarly, in classical insurgency, the insurgent initiates.")

Thus, the question becomes:

a.  Does the fact that the U.S./the West is engaged -- not in counterinsurgency but rather in revolutionary warfare:  

"Revolutionary warfare is never confined within the bounds of military action. Because its purpose is to destroy an existing society and its institutions and to replace them with a completely new structure, any revolutionary war is a unity of which the constituent parts, in varying importance, are military, political, economic, social, and psychological."

https://www.marines.mil/Portals/1/Publications/FMFRP%2012-18%20%20Mao%20Tse-tung%20on%20Guerrilla%20Warfare.pdf  (See Page 7 of the Introduction.)

"Conventional war rarely challenges the political system; even "unconventional" partisan war usually seeks the preservation of that system or restoration of the status quo ante -- revolutionary war aims at the liquidation of the existing power structure and at a transformation in the structure of society."

(Google the 1972 Rand study entitled:  "Can and Should the United States Preserve a Military Capability for Revolutionary Conflict?"  Therein, look to the bottom of Page 54 and the top of Page 55.)

b.  Does this help explain why the U.S./the West would choose to more often use "soft power" -- rather than "hard power" -- to achieve its such state and societal "transformative" -- these such "revolutionary warfare" -- our such "better peace" goals; for example, as addressed by Gian Gentile above?