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Counterinsurgency and American Strategy, Past and Future

Tuesday, Jan. 24, 2012

Americans often assume that insurgency is a modern phenomenon, invented by Mao Zedong and refined by his emulators. The notion permeates official thinking, including Department of Defense definitions and doctrines. In reality, insurgency has existed ever since states and empires began attempting to impose their will on people too weak to resist with conventional military means. Indeed, counterinsurgency is a common function for most states and an inevitable one for empires.

That said, the strategic significance of insurgency has ebbed and flowed over time. When the chance of direct conflict between great powers was high, insurgency became background noise in the security system. But when direct conflict between the great powers was unlikely, insurgency assumed greater strategic significance. Since it was the only game in town, it often drew the attention of great powers as well as the weak or flawed states directly challenged by an insurgency-based opponent. ...

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