Adapting to Win: How Insurgents Fight and Defeat Foreign States in War

In This Review

Adapting to Win: How Insurgents Fight and Defeat Foreign States in War
By Noriyuki Katagiri
University of Pennsylvania Press, 2014
312 pp. $69.95

Katagiri’s analysis confirms the lesson that Mao Zedong learned during the civil war in China: a small group of insurgents relying on primitive strategy and mostly military means is likely to lose in a straightforward fight against a state. Although such a force can survive and even grow during a guerrilla war, to achieve victory, it must use political as much as military action to transform itself into something resembling a conventional army acting on behalf of something resembling a state. Mao developed this formula in the 1930s, and it was the basis for his success and, later, for the success of the Vietnamese Communists and others his movement inspired. Mao’s victory proved to be something of a tipping point: Katagiri shows that before the late 1940s, most insurgencies failed; since Mao’s victory, most insurgencies following his methods have succeeded. Katagiri uses a range of interesting case studies, including wars of colonization and wars of liberation, to develop what he calls “sequencing theory”—the order in which insurgents must take certain steps in order to prevail—and to draw conclusions for counterinsurgency.

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