Dec 5, 2007

Counterinsurgency in the 21st Century: The Foundation and Implications of the New U.S. Doctrine

The new issue of Strategic Insights [Center for Contemporary Conflict, U.S. Naval Postgraduate School] includes a student thesis titled Counterinsurgency in the 21st Century: The Foundation and Implications of the New U.S. Doctrine
by Raymond M. Mattox (Maj., USA) and Peter S. Rodgers (Capt., USA). [141-page pdf]

In December 2006, the U.S. Army published its new counterinsurgency (COIN) Field Manual (FM 3-24). FM 3-24 is the much-anticipated capstone doctrinal COIN guide for the U.S. Army and Marine Corps. Its intent is “to fill a doctrinal gap,” for fighting COIN by delivering “a manual that provides principles and guidelines for counterinsurgency operations.” The importance of developing a coherent, interdisciplinary approach that helps to fill the “doctrinal” and capability gaps facing the U.S. military in the asymmetrical warfare spectrum, including COIN, cannot be overstated. In light of this, how well do the new guidelines in FM 3-24 for conducting a COIN campaign align with historical and social science lessons on counterinsurgency? FM 3-24 outlines U.S. COIN doctrine in the form of strategies called Logical Lines of Operation (LLOs). With this in mind, are there cases in the Middle East where FM 3- 24’s LLOs have been applied and produced their intended effects? If they were not used and the state power’s desired “endstate” was achieved, what strategies were used to achieve the COIN campaign objectives? This thesis assesses the extent to which the field manual aligns with insights and practices from historical COIN campaigns in the Middle East as well as the new doctrine’s ability to supply the United States with a COIN strategy that incorporates insights and conclusions from academia. Our findings indicate that FM 3-24 is a necessary step in developing an effective and coherent U.S. approach to COIN. However, it fails to incorporate some more contemporary social movement theory explanations into its strategies. For example, it fails to recognize the relative importance political inclusion in counterinsurgency strategies versus other variables, such as security, as a primary means of success in counterinsurgency campaigns.


A large body of contemporary scholarship asserts that insurgencies and other violent social events, such as revolutions and riots, are extreme examples of what Sidney Tarrow calls “contentious collective action” and that they should be studied and explained in the context of social movement theory. Likewise, Charles Tilly describes “social movements as a series of contentious performances, displays and campaigns by which ordinary people [make] collective claims on others.” While there is considerable debate among scholars as to the most significant causes of “contentious collective action” occurring outside of the accepted state institutions and with the purpose of overthrowing those institutions, it is widely accepted by many scholars that the sufficient and necessary causal factors of insurgencies must be conceptualized within SMT as part of a contentious political relationship between an authority and a group resisting authority.

We will discuss SMT and its incorporation into FM 3-24 in more detail later, but as an initial explanation for the purposes of this thesis, social movements are defined as collective, contentious and sustained actions taken by people to challenge another group of people based on a claim. Therefore, in the most basic sense, social movement theories seek to explain how, when and why people act collectively in support of or against another group of people. Therefore, SMT provides crucial explanatory power for understanding insurgencies and implications for developing effective COIN doctrine.

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