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Stabilization and the Problem of Insurgency
 
By
Eric Brahm


July 2006
 

Lasting peace requires stability. There are a number of factors that contribute to whether conditions become stabilized and peace realized or conflict reemerges perhaps in altered form. Reconstruction and economic development, for example, are needed to create opportunity as an alternative to fighting. In some cases, state building or nation building may also be necessary. In fragile post-conflict situations, stabilization involves "[t]he process by which underlying tensions that might lead to resurgence in violence and a break-down in law and order are managed and reduced, while efforts are made to support preconditions for successful longer-term development."[1] In the immediate post-conflict period, there are people to be fed, basic services to be established, refugees and internally displaced persons to be reintegrated, to say nothing of advancing a political transition and addressing the root causes of the conflict.[2]

In particular, security, power, and jobs are typically crucial in stabilization operations.[3] Any peacebuilding situation is a delicate one. Many issues, both old and new, threaten the fragile peace and motivate insurgents to try to disrupt the nascent peace process. The feeling of insecurity that insurgencies foment contributes to instability and inhibits efforts to move conflict in more constructive directions.

Broadly speaking, insurgency is a strategy to overthrow the established order. As Metz puts it,

"[a]n insurgency is born when a governing power fails to address social or regional polarization, sectarianism, endemic corruption, crime, various forms of radicalism, or rising expectations. The margin of error is narrower for an outside occupying power than for an inept or repressive national regime as people tend to find the mistakes or bad behavior by one of their own more tolerable than that of outsiders. Because imperialism was delegitimized in the second half of the twentieth century, minor errors of judgment or practice have provoked armed opposition against rule by outsiders."[4]

Insurgents may be seeking to free the country from foreign occupation. This was true of a number of anti-colonial struggles such as in Vietnam, Malaya, and Algeria. More recently, US occupation of Iraq and Afghanistan have served as inspiration. Insurgents may also be seeking autonomy or independence, such as the case of Islamic separatists in the southern Philippines, due to a perception that the government is dominated by other, potentially hostile groups. In other instances, insurgents want simply to remove a government that has oppressed them or in other ways displeased the group. Insurgency is also a strategy for spoilers who would like to disrupt a peace process.

With the goal of toppling a constituted government, insurgency is an organized movement with the goal of defeating a much more powerful foe. Because they are typically the weaker power, insurgents utilize guerrilla tactics, subversion, and asymmetric violence. Above all, the goal is a protracted conflict that will wear down the will of the opponent, the population, and the international community. The tactics, combined with psychological warfare, are intended to wear down the will of opponents. Insurgent groups are typically composed of a small minority of the population, but another goal of their actions is to mobilize a mass political base.

Insurgent Motivations

Since the early twentieth century, many an insurgency has been driven by nationalist and Marxist ideas to fight an oppressive government. Insurgencies can be a means through which political entrepreneurs attempt to activate latent ethnic or religious identities in order to build a power base and to gain control of resources. Where these identities have been mobilized, as is true of Iraq, the fragile post-conflict period often provides an opportunity to settle old scores, at the risk of stability. That said, many recent insurgencies have found cash to be a better recruitment tool than ideology.[5]

Problems of addressing injustices of the past often figure prominently in insurgencies. Sometimes, it may reflect a failure to acknowledge these past transgressions and, at other times, the means of transitional justice through which the past is dealt with may generate renewed tensions. Lustration can be another source of tension. In Iraq, for example, after US forces purged the bureaucracy and armed forces of Ba'th party members, the Ba'thists, who were largely Sunni Muslims, were stripped of their social and economic position and, therefore, could see no benefit in the new order. As such, Sunnis in particular have figured prominently in the insurgency there. Retributive justice efforts, namely trials, may generate resentment,[6] particularly if the leadership of a particular group is isolated for punishment. Foregoing these steps to deal with the past, however, may anger victims of past human rights abuses, particularly if compensation and reparations are not forthcoming. Amnesty for past abuses, however, is sometimes necessary in order to make the peace process possible in the first place. One clear risk in these circumstances is that all groups will come to identify with a sense of victimhood that may lead groups to insurgency.

Insurgents may also be displeased with the nature of a peace agreement. Whereas democracy is often seen as an effective conflict management tool, the process of democratization is filled with many pitfalls, not least of which is a failure to establish truly representative institutions. While elections can provide an opportunity to channel participation in more productive directions, the task of rebuilding institutions is contentious. In situations where an external actor has temporary authority, in order to effectively and peacefully hand over power, the lack of a clear path of devolution of power designed in consultation with all groups can generate resentment and prompt insurgency.[7]

Tactics of Insurgents

In their relatively weak position, insurgents typically employ guerrilla tactics and try to build broader public support. Generally, the goal is to ultimately become a larger, more organized force. In Iraq, however, a plethora of insurgent groups have remained separate resembling a 'netwar' than the typical centralized conceptions of insurgency.[8] Decentralization may, in fact, be an effective strategy. Different insurgent groups have drawn support from Ba'thist loyalists, Islamists, foreigners, nationalists, and those who lost loved ones or their livelihoods as a result of the US invasion. The presence of many insurgent groups has complicated things for Americans in terms of devising effective military tactics, negotiating with different groups, and even discerning the motives of insurgents. Information technology has allowed for the rapid spread of lessons from insurgencies elsewhere.[9]

Insurgents have no hope of matching the military might of the government or occupying power. As a result, their actions are designed to erode public support for their opponents and sap their opponents' will to fight on. Insurgent attacks demonstrate that the government cannot protect its citizens. Even if insurgents lose more fighters, attacks generate public fear and dissatisfaction with the government (and external interveners or occupiers as the case may be). With security guarantees such an important component of peacebuilding, ongoing insurgency threatens the credibility of these guarantees. Where the dominant power is a foreign occupier, and therefore has the option of simply leaving, the insurgency becomes a contest of wills in which insurgents attempt to make continued occupation too costly in terms of casualties and spent resources.[10] Domestically, insurgents do not need widespread active support; public complacency is sufficient. Such acquiescence is likely in many post-conflict situations like Iraq where long periods of abusive rule have taught people that "the best way to survive is to stay out of conflicts between the powerful."[11]

One common tactic for insurgents is to attempt to disrupt reconstruction efforts. It is an attempt to generate public impatience with the government's inability to create economic opportunity. Attacks against infrastructure targets, such the electricity grid and the oil industry in Iraq, are designed to delay economic recovery, increase popular discontent, and further undermine support for the government. Insurgents also often attempt to intimidate non-government organizations and foreign contractors to prevent them from delivering services. Ultimately, continued instability will inhibit investment and limit prospects for economic development.

With insurgents lacking any international standing, they are often less constrained by legal and ethical norms. However, if they hope to ever take control of the government and need international legitimacy, it would be beneficial to for them to moderate their behavior. This may also be important to avoid alienating potential domestic support. Iraqi insurgents, for example, appear to be cognizant of public opinion in that they have changed tactics, such as the use of beheadings, after widespread revulsion at the practice.[12]

Counterinsurgency Strategies

There are certainly a number of ideas regarding effective military tactics in dealing with insurgency.[13] However, effective counterinsurgency strategies requires much more than a military response. In fact, it is important to link political and military tactics.[14] Outside assistance has often proved crucial in sustaining insurgencies. [15] Diplomatic [ track I] efforts or military efforts to inhibit insurgents from getting supplies, however, have poor track records. Whether domestic or external, insurgencies rely on financiers and arms suppliers to sustain themselves militarily.[16] Efforts to cut off sources of financing are important, but challenging. Military intervention has become increasingly common in the post-Cold War world as a means of ending violence, which may result in part from insurgency. While multilateral missions complicate coordination and bureaucratic management, they also spread risk across different participants and appear to be more successful.[17] At the same time, military intervention seems just as likely to invigorate or generate new insurgencies as to bring them to an end. Overall, the timing of counterinsurgency strategy is also important. Insurgencies are more successfully dealt with if recognized early on.[18] The amount of resources committed is also highly correlated with success of stabilization missions.[19] At least a five year commitment seems necessary. Finally, there is a need for intervention coordination, particularly with respect to Track I - Track II cooperation, to address the range of issues and diverse views in order to advance stabilization and avoid confusion given the many actors involved in most modern stabilization and reconstruction operations.

In terms of diffusing insurgencies, a number of dos and don'ts present themselves. Counterinsurgency efforts need effective communication and need to be attentive to perceptions. It is important to actively communicate with the general population in order to manage expectations, build support, and allay suspicions.[20] At the same time, it is crucial to make realistic promises. Otherwise, it is likely to generate resentment amongst the public when the government or occupying power fails to live up to them. Counterinsurgencies also need to be careful to avoid resorting to terror tactics of their own. This is likely to only serve as a recruiting tool for insurgents as well as hurting one's own troop morale, to say nothing of damaging one's international reputation.

Maintaining order in the face of insurgency is another important task. This does not only mean military force, but also law enforcement and a functioning legal system. This can be a tall order, particularly when an abusive police and judiciary are part of what motivated the insurgency in the first place. However, despite their tainted past, wholesale purges can result in a serious lack of expertise that is sorely needed as the US found in Iraq when it eliminated all Ba'th party members from the police after the takeover.

Economics also matter a great deal. As Henderson puts it, "[e]conomic reconstruction depends upon adequate security; yet security depends upon successful reconstruction."[21]

There are a number of government economic functions that need to be restored after a period of conflict. In particular, maintaining security of records, such as contracts and records of property ownership, is important for stabilization and reconstruction.[22] In places like post-invasion Iraq, there is a long history of government corruption that inhibits economic reconstruction. Even implementation and enforcement of regulations are important. However, there is a potential tradeoff in that the corrupt elites may be needed for their technical or political skills.[23] Post-conflict governments also have the challenge of preventing currency collapse, hyperinflation, and stimulating the growth of a private sector to create jobs and some minimal standard of living. The importance of infrastructure for reconstruction for economic development cannot be overemphasized. Aside from the damage from years of conflict or mismanagement, they are a frequent target for insurgents wanting to foment instability.

Fighting insurgency may also require acknowledging the grievances of the insurgents. In the case of Malaya, for example, incentives such as political and economic development were more important for the British counterinsurgency effort than were punitive measures.[24] There is often a reluctance to address the insurgents' grievances because to do so appears to validate the violent tactics of the insurgents. However, the insurgents often do have legitimate grievances, so the challenge is to recognize those, while not sending the message that violence pays. This is not easy. Another problem can be discerning the motivations of insurgents. This is particularly true of situations like Iraq, where different groups are motivated by different concerns.[25] One option is to offer political and economic deals to local leaders to divide the insurgents. The government may also consider offering an amnesty for insurgents, particularly for those not directly involved in fatal attacks. Where insurgents have been left out of the new political order, a power-sharing agreement may be in order. Where insurgents are fighting foreign occupation, establishing an interim indigenous government, to say nothing of involving locals, may be helpful.

For the rank-in-file of the insurgency, they may be motivated by the lack of an effective disarmament, demobilization, and reintegration (DDR)[26] program. Despite their importance, DDR often gets scant attention in structuring peace agreements and, therefore, can prove destabilizing.[27] Former soldiers need to see a future in peace. Therefore, in the immediate term, fighters need job counseling, health care, family services, cash, clothing, food, and housing. For stability, a gun buy-back program is also important. Longer term, they need access to credit, professional and vocational training, job creation programs, and veterans' programs.[28] In circumstances where soldiers do not see good prospects, particularly where lustration has cut off their prospects, joining a burgeoning insurgency may appear attractive. Although most aid programs target the economic losers of conflict, targeting the winners, particularly former combatants, is just as important for preventing conflict from remerging.[29]

In the longer term, ending insurgency and successful stabilization requires broader social structural change and measures for reconciliation. The development of civil society and democracy, for example, provide alternatives to insurgency for voicing grievances.

 

 


 

[1] United States Joint Forces Command. 2005. US Government Draft Planning Framework for Reconstruction, Stabilization, and Conflict Transformation. J7 Pamphlet Version 1.

[2] Krasner, Stephen D., Pascual, Carlos, Addressing State Failure, Foreign Affairs, Jul/Aug2005, Vol. 84, Issue 4.

[3] Hans Binnendijk and Stuart E. Johnson, eds. 2004. Transforming for Stabilization and Reconstruction Operations. Washington DC: National Defense University Press. http://www.ndu.edu/CTNSP/S&R-book/S&R.pdf

[4] Steven Metz. 2003-4. Insurgency and Counterinsurgency in Iraq. The Washington Quarterly 27:1 p. 26.

[5] Steven Metz. 2003-4. Insurgency and Counterinsurgency in Iraq. The Washington Quarterly 27:1 p. 29.

[6] Snyder, Jack L. "Trials and Errors: Principle and Pragmatism in Strategies of International Justice"

International Security Volume 28, Number 3, Winter 2003/04, pp. 5-44.

[7i] Jose Luis Herrero. 2005. Building State Institutions. In Gerd Junne and Willemijn Verkoren, eds. Postconflict Development: Meeting New Challenges. Boulder: Lynne Rienner. p. 55-56.

[8] Bruce Hoffman. 2005. Insurgency and Counterinsurgency in Iraq. RAND Occasional Papers OP-127. http://www.rand.org/pubs/occasional-papers/2005/RAND-OP127.pdf. On netwar, see John Arquilla, David Ronfeldt, and Michele Zanini, "Networks, Netwar, and Information-Age Terrorism," in Ian O. Lesser et al., Countering the New Terrorism (Santa Monica, Calif.: The RAND Corporation, MR-989-AF, 1999). This appears, however, to be changing. See International Crisis Group. 2006. In Their Own Words: Reading the Iraqi Insurgency. Middle East Report No. 50. 15 February. http://www.crisisgroup.org/home/index.cfm?l=1&id=3953.

[9] Jim Krane, "Iraqi Insurgents Use Tactics They Learned from Chechens, Taliban, Al-Qaida,"

ArmyTimes.com, January 5, 2004.

[10] Steven Metz. 2003-4. Insurgency and Counterinsurgency in Iraq. The Washington Quarterly 27:1 p. 31.

[11] Steven Metz. 2003-4. Insurgency and Counterinsurgency in Iraq. The Washington Quarterly 27:1 p. 32.

[12] International Crisis Group. 2006. In Their Own Words: Reading the Iraqi Insurgency. Middle East Report No. 50. 15 February. http://www.crisisgroup.org/home/index.cfm?l=1&id=3953.

[13] See for example David Galula. Counterinsurgency Warfare : Theory and Practice. Praeger Security International Paperback, 1964.; Anthony James Joes. Resisting Rebellion: The History and Politics of Counterinsurgency. University Press of Kentucky, 2004.; Leroy Thompson. The Counter-Insurgency Manual. Greenhill Books, 2006.

[14] John A. Nagl, Counterinsurgency Lessons from Malaya to Vietnam: Learning to Eat Soup with a Knife (Westport, Conn., and London: Praeger, 2002).

[15] Anthony James Joes. 2004. Resisting Rebellion: The History and Politics of Counterinsurgency. Lexington: University of Kentucky Press.

[16] Ahmed S. Hashim. 2005. Iraq's Chaos: Why the insurgency won't go away. Boston Review. http://bostonreview.net/BR29.5/hashim.php

[17] Hans Binnendijk and Stuart E. Johnson, eds. 2004. Transforming for Stabilization and Reconstruction Operations. Washington DC: National Defense University Press. http://www.ndu.edu/CTNSP/docUploaded/S&R.pdf

[18] Bruce Hoffman and Jennifer M. Taw, Defense Policy and Low-Intensity Conflict: The Development of Britain's "Small Wars" Doctrine During the 1950s (Santa Monica, Calif.: The RAND Corporation, R-4501-A, 1991), p. vii.; Bruce Hoffman and Jennifer M. Taw, A Strategic Framework for Countering Terrorism and Insurgency (Santa Monica, Calif.: The RAND Corporation, N-3506-DOS, 1992).

[19] Hans Binnendijk and Stuart E. Johnson, eds. 2004. Transforming for Stabilization and Reconstruction Operations. Washington DC: National Defense University Press.http://www.ndu.edu/CTNSP/docUploaded/S&R.pdf ; James Dobbins, John G. McGinn, Keith Crane, Seth G. Jones, Rollie Lal, Andrew Rathmell, Rachel M. Swanger, Anga Timilsina. 2003. America's role in nationbuilding: from Germany to Iraq. RAND Corporation. http://www.rand.org/pubs/monograph_reports/MR1753.html

[20] Hans Binnendijk and Stuart E. Johnson, eds. 2004. Transforming for Stabilization and Reconstruction Operations. Washington DC: National Defense University Press. http://www.ndu.edu/CTNSP/docUploaded/S&R.pdf

[21] Anne Ellen Henderson. 2005. The Coalition Provisional Authority's Experience: with Economic Reconstruction in Iraq: Lessons Identified. USIP Special Report No. 138. http://www.usip.org/files/resources/sr138.pdf

[22] Hans Binnendijk and Stuart E. Johnson, eds. 2004. Transforming for Stabilization and Reconstruction Operations. Washington DC: National Defense University Press. http://www.ndu.edu/CTNSP/docUploaded/S&R.pdf See also the essay on land tenure for a quick example of this problem and some solutions.

[23] Anne Ellen Henderson. 2005. The Coalition Provisional Authority's Experience: with Economic Reconstruction in Iraq: Lessons Identified. USIP Special Report No. 138. http://www.usip.org/files/resources/sr138.pdf

[24] Steven Metz. 2003-4. Insurgency and Counterinsurgency in Iraq. The Washington Quarterly 27:1 p. 33

[25] Ahmed Hashim. 2006. Insurgency and Counter-Insurgency in Iraq. Ithaca: Cornell University Press.

[26] For case studies of DDR, see Mats Berdal. 1996. Disarmament and Demobilization After Civil Wars. Adelphi Papers 303 (New York: Oxford University Press).; Nat J. Colletta, Markus Kostner, and Ingo Wiederhofer. 1996. The Transition from War to Peace in Sub-Saharan Africa. Washington DC: World Bank.; Bernd Hoffmann and Colin Gleichmann. 2000. Programmes for the Demobilization and Reintegration of Ex-Combatants: Changing Perspectives in Development and Security. Eschborn: Deutsche Gesellschaft fuer Technische Zusammenarbeit.

[27] Dirk Salomons. 2005. Security: An Absolute Prerequisite. In Gerd Junne and Willemijn Verkoren, eds. Postconflict Development: Meeting New Challenges. Boulder: Lynne Rienner. p. 27.

[28] Dirk Salomons. 2005. Security: An Absolute Prerequisite. In Gerd Junne and Willemijn Verkoren, eds. Postconflict Development: Meeting New Challenges. Boulder: Lynne Rienner. p. 34.

[29] Bertine Kamphuis. 2005. Economic Policy for Building Peace. In Gerd Junne and Willemijn Verkoren, eds. Postconflict Development: Meeting New Challenges. Boulder: Lynne Rienner. p. 193.


Use the following to cite this article:
Brahm, Eric. "Stabilization and the Problem of Insurgency." Beyond Intractability. Eds. Guy Burgess and Heidi Burgess. Conflict Information Consortium, University of Colorado, Boulder. Posted: July 2006 <http://www.beyondintractability.org/essay/stabilization>.

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