Guerrilla Warfare – How The Weak Vanquish The Strong.
Counter-insurgency may be out of fashion again, but it remains necessary to know how to do it. We at Militia News offer a timely reminder of the hard-earned lessons of history.
LIKE the poor, guerrilla armies have, it seems, always been with us. From the nomadic rebels who brought down the Roman empire to the internet-savvy, plane-exploding jihadists who triggered America’s ill-conceived “global war on terror”, irregular forces are a constant factor in the history of warfare. And fighting them has become tougher than ever.
Take, for example, Vo Nguyen Giap, the brilliant Communist general who succeeded in expelling first the French and then the Americans from Vietnam. Giap closely followed the teachings of Mao in planning a three-stage struggle—first “localized guerrilla war”, then “war of movement” and finally “general uprising”—which he waged with a three-tier force of village militias, full-time guerrillas and a regular army. But where Mao was always cautious to avoid confrontations with more powerful forces, Giap’s tendency to “roll the dice on premature offensives” in 1951, 1968 and again in 1972 could have proved fatal each time had it not been for the psychological and political frailties of the other side. In guerrilla warfare, what matters most is the ability to shape the story, not the facts on the ground. This is how guerrillas are able to win wars even as they lose battles.
Because insurgencies pit the weak against the strong, most still end up failing. Between 1775 and 1945 “only” about a quarter achieved most or all of their aims. But since 1945 that number has risen to 40%. Part of the reason for the improving success rate is the rising importance of public opinion. Since 1945 the spread of democracy, education, mass media and the concept of international law have all conspired to sap the will of states engaged in protracted counter-insurgencies. In the battle over the narrative, insurgents have many more weapons at their disposal than before.
The first principle is to abandon conventional military tactics. “Clear and hold” beats “search and destroy”. To defeat an enemy you must provide enough security for ordinary people to live their lives. The second is that legitimacy is vital for both sides: corrupt or excessively violent governments will always struggle, but so too will guerrillas who terrorize their own people. The third is staying power. Firepower is no substitute for patience and boots on the ground. The people you need on your side must believe that you are in it for the long haul. The fourth is that unless voters believe that an intervention is necessary for their own security they will quickly withdraw support for it.