In This Review

The Insurgent’s Dilemma: A Struggle to Prevail
The Insurgent’s Dilemma: A Struggle to Prevail
By David H. Ucko
Hurst, 2022, 328 pp

The recent Western experiences in Afghanistan and Iraq have shaped how experts think about insurgencies, which has led to a degree of fatalism about the possibility of defeating them. In this thoughtful history, Ucko offers a healthy corrective to this view, noting that insurgencies, such as those waged by the Tamil Tigers in Sri Lanka and the so-called Islamic State (or ISIS) in Iraq and Syria, often fail. With an impressive range of examples, he explores strategies used by insurgent groups from the colonial era to the digital age. Few insurgents have the power to confront a state directly, and those who rush into military action often falter. Ucko identifies three alternative approaches that offer better prospects for success. “Localized” insurgencies involve carving out a sphere of influence in a particular rural or urban area, as happened with the Jaish al-Mahdi militia in Baghdad’s Sadr City. “Infiltrative” insurgents, such as Sinn Fein in Northern Ireland, use legitimate political pathways to subvert the state while denying any connection to violence. And “ideational” insurgents create compelling narratives to generate momentum—for example, right-wing white supremacists in the United States. Ucko also discusses ways to combat and defeat these sorts of insurgencies.