Rethinking Victory in Counterinsurgency   [open pdf - 1MB]

From the Abstract, "Americans are averse to war and easily frustrated with wars of limited objectives. As such, Americans have a cultural aversion to counterinsurgency (COIN). Moreover, Americans have grown to expect total victory in the form of unconditional surrender as the termination of any conflict. We consider anything less as a loss or stalemate. The nature of COIN is inherently political, eighty percent political and twenty percent military. It has been said that there cannot be a purely military solution to an insurgency because insurgency is not a primarily military activity. As such, the use of the term 'victory' as a description of the termination of conflict when the U.S. involves itself in COIN is problematic. The political nature of COIN and the American way of viewing war and termination of conflict require that we adopt a new definition of 'victory' in a COIN operation. The term 'victory,' as the term is classically defined and as viewed by Americans, does not fit in COIN planning or execution owing to the nature of the objective in a COIN operation. In any conflict, the definition of what constitutes 'victory' and who defines 'victory' can remain fluid and this is especially true in COIN. A comparison of the British experience in Northern Ireland, which many consider victory, to the U.S. experience in Iraq, which many consider a loss, demonstrates the need for a better definition for the termination of a COIN operation. Based on analysis of the outcomes of historical case studies of COIN operations and what portends to be the future of warfare, this paper argues that we create a definition of 'success' for the termination of a COIN operation and replace the term 'victory' in COIN in the military's vocabulary."

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