In This Review

Insurgents, Terrorists, and Militias
Insurgents, Terrorists, and Militias
By "Richard H. Shultz, Jr. and Andrea J. Dew"
Columbia University Press, 2006, 328 pp
Counterinsurgency and the Global War on Terror: Military Culture and Irregular War
Counterinsurgency and the Global War on Terror: Military Culture and Irregular War
By Robert M. Cassidy
Praeger Security International, 2006, 224 pp
Afghanistan and the Troubled Future of Unconventional Warfare
Afghanistan and the Troubled Future of Unconventional Warfare
By Hy S. Rothstein
Naval Institute Press, 2006, 224 pp

Counterinsurgency is now replacing peace operations as a central theme in strategic studies. Shultz and Dew argue that in many of the places where Western forces might find themselves confronting local insurgencies, they need to recognize the cultural and historical context, in which forms of warfare are interwoven with the organization of local society. They are likely to face warrior cultures led by local chieftains, who can compensate for their lack of firepower with local knowledge, popular authority, and an array of suitable tactics for which regular forces tend to be poorly prepared. All of this is a warning against the arrogance of Western countries that believe that at such an advanced stage of social and political development, they should be readily able to make others conform to their will. Shultz and Dew illustrate their point with detailed case studies of Somalia, Chechnya, Afghanistan, and Iraq, going back to colonial times to demonstrate the bloody consequences of a failure to understand local societies.

Cassidy also takes up the theme of military culture, but after contemplating the possibility of a global Islamist insurgency, he looks at the would-be counterinsurgents who are attempting to cope with the resulting asymmetric struggle. Following workmanlike evaluations of the Russian and British approaches (which get low and high marks, respectively), he turns his attention to the persistent refusal by the U.S. military to prepare for irregular warfare, on the basis that policymakers should be dissuaded from getting the country involved in such wars in the first place. This story has been told before, but Cassidy's account is richer than most and benefits from the evident exasperation of a U.S. Special Forces officer trying to cope with a conflict for which his country seems so unready. To demonstrate that Western countries need not be paralyzed by their military cultures, he finds evidence in past practice, including in the Indian wars and the Philippines, that it is possible to deal with insurgents in a politically astute manner. The requirements are minimal but include credible force, close cooperation between civil and military agencies, indigenous forces employed where possible, and legitimate political processes, even when this means drawing in opposition elements.

Rothstein, also with long experience in Special Forces operations, evinces a similar exasperation with the failure of the U.S. political and military establishments to address the special demands of what he calls "unconventional warfare" and reaches similar conclusions about what might be required to do better. He analyzes Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan to demonstrate the failure of the military to follow up after the defeat of Taliban and al Qaeda forces in a largely conventional encounter and its tendency to remain preoccupied with numbers of enemy captured and killed. His close attention to theories of organizational change and military culture leads him to despair of the U.S. Army's ability to adapt to new conditions -- and so he argues for a separate service for unconventional warfare.