Friday, February 25, 2005

Predicting Insurgency

A classic theme one returns to again and again in the study of counterinsurgency operations is the fact that counterinsurgents should aim to predict and prevent or pre-empt insurgencies beofre they emerge. Given the almost invariably lengthy effort required to uproot an embedded insurgency (frequently a decade-plus) it is clear that prevention is better than a cure.

Counterinsurgency theorist-practitioners have recognised this fairly simple fact since at least the time of the Mau Mau Emergency. It is notable, therefore, that while this wisdom is of long standing and general acceptance, few if any counterinsurgent forces have been able to turn theory to practice (although perhaps the finest counterinsurgents of the 20th century, the British repeatedly failed in this area) and catch insurgencies before they do the military equivalent of erupting from John Hurt's chest and scrittering away into the air ventilation system.

There have been numerous attempts to construct empirically based models for understanding and predicting behaviour in the defence field - most recently, interesting work has been undertaken in attempting to create a predictive model to act as an early warning of potential genocides before they emerge. Whether a reliable model can be constructed for preventive counterinsurgency is an interesting question. Although obviously existing counterinsurgency theory does take in broad themes and truths and notes the various factors that make up most insurgent efforts (and more recent works have tried to pinpoint potential geographical flashpoints and potential areas of crisis), the record since most of these works were published in the halcyon days of counterinsurgency theory in the 1960s has not been particularly good.

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