Strategic Horizons: As Insurgency Mutates, U.S. Response Must Evolve

Strategic Horizons: As Insurgency Mutates, U.S. Response Must Evolve

The life of an insurgent is not easy. When state security forces possess advanced surveillance technology, even remote areas are unsafe. Fear is persistent; death can come quickly, silently and at any time. If security forces penetrate a rebel movement or local competitors arise, only paranoid insurgents survive. Over time, fear and paranoia become grinding, exacting a heavy psychological price. And in the end, insurgents seldom win: Most are killed, defeated or fade away without a clear victory.

Why, then, would anyone become an insurgent? Put simply, people do so out of desperation. Insurgents consider the status quo unjust and intolerable but feel they cannot change it through nonviolent means or conventional military actions. Thus they devolve to insurgency, hoping over time to wear down the government until it collapses or at least makes major concessions, whether to incorporate insurgent leaders into the national power structure or at least give them independence or autonomy. This means that however many drones state security services buy or how much they train for counterinsurgency—which for most is not much—insurgency will remain a destabilizing element in the future security environment.

Insurgency is, however, mutating. Today, there are two major forms, each needing a different response. One is the traditional type, a legacy of colonialism, when nations were created with little regard for ethnic, sectarian or religious homogeneity and the colonial overlord focused wealth and power in a selected local elite that the external power considered the most advanced and capable. Insurgencies of this type usually pit the core of a nation—the inheritors of colonial elites—against peripheralized people seeking to redress what they see as injustice, inequity or impiety. Traditional insurgents often use ideology to rationalize violence and inspire followers. In the 20th century, this was normally Marxism or nationalism; today, Salafi jihadism provides the ideological foundation for many insurgencies.

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