Counterinsurgency and Political Control : US Military Strategies Regarding Regional Conflict

With US forces in Iraq and Afghanistan fighting rather ruthless counterinsurgency campaigns, the topic of insurgency and counterinsurgency is of pressing relevance. At the same time, questions of internal violence in developing countries have generally been high on the political and academic agenda in the context of “failed” and “failing states”. This paper describes and analyzes US military doctrines in regard to controlling regional conflicts. It introduces the relevant US military approaches to the academic discourse. The focal points of analysis are the strategies and concepts of the US military (mainly of the US Army and the US Marine Corps) in regard to counterinsurgency. The links between military combat and non-combat operations of the armed forces and civilian policies are of special concern. In order to understand the US counterinsurgency strategies, this paper places them within both a historical perspective and the context of the development of military doctrine. It discusses the concepts of “Small Wars”, “Low-Intensity Conflict” (LIC or “Low-Intensity Warfare”), “Military Operations Other than War” (MOOTW) and “Stability and Support Operations”, which all deal with questions of pro-insurgency, counterinsurgency and related topics. One of the results of the analyses is that the political and social aspects of counterinsurgency are of key importance. The US armed forces are quite aware of this in principle, but to a surprising degree fail to transform this into operational concepts. Counterinsurgency is not a matter of military conquest, but of social control. And while the US Army and the Marine Corps clearly understand this in principle, they often are at a loss as to how to achieve this on the ground. The political context, US governmental policies and the military culture often lead to practices contradicting key elements of the military doctrine. Insurgencies and counterinsurgencies are basically struggles for legitimacy, both locally and internationally, using political and military means. In a context of often unilateral or even imperial US foreign policy or policies of doubtful legality, the US armed forces may be militarily superior to all potential foes, but quite vulnerable in the competition for political legitimacy.


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