10 June 2009

Accidental insurgencies

No, this not more commentary on Joel's barely veiled accusation that his own Defence Department plotted his undoing.

At "Read More" below is my review of a recent book by David Kilcullen on counter-insurgency warfare: The Accidental Guerilla: Fighting Small Wars in the midst of a Big One .

I recommend it highly to students of geo-politics and strategy. It's challenging, but does repay the effort.

The Accidental Guerrilla: Fighting Small Wars in the Midst of a Big One
By David Kilcullen

Lt Col David Kilcullen, apparently rose to fame in the US whilst serving in the Australian Army, when his article “Twenty-Eight Articles: fundamentals of company-level counterinsurgency”, was published in the Military Review and read by General David Petraeus. Petraeus was so impressed he sent it by email to his officers in the US Army. Kilcullen was subsequently recruited by the General to serve with him in Iraq, helping implement the successful “Surge” strategy based around some of the principles he espouses. And it seems that the “Surge” may have salvaged that war for the US and the Iraqi people. Kilcullen is currently such a hot property that even our own ABC is prepared to entertain his views from time to time in interviews on its current affairs programs.

In this intriguing book he develops that article into a more detailed analysis and broadens its scope. It challenges us in a number ways: On one plane he is summarizing the current state of counter-insurgency doctrine, with an emphasis on recent developments, including his own contributions. This is mainly his insight into how, in certain theatres, warrior-like tribes people join insurgencies just for sake of the fight, not for the cause. These are his “accidental guerillas”. He makes some carefully thought through observations on how to minimize this phenomena, as part of his wider discussion of counter-insurgency tactics. On another plane he gives us a partial version of the story of his own journey to acquiring these important tactical and societal insights. His account of his time as a young officer serving with the Australian Army in the UN sponsored occupation of East Timor, was especially illuminating. He then attempts to synthesize the current state of his thinking with some tentative, yet commanding, strategic conclusions about terrorism and Western military objectives. It is a fascinating and enriching mixture.

On one view he might be seen to be elevating his acute tactical insights to strategic overstatement. However his self awareness and the intellectual courage he displays in so truly grappling with the intractable but crucial geo-political dangers we face, is an inspiration. He observes that much of the way geo-political issues are now defined is in the negative, i.e. by what things are not, rather than what they are, e.g. COUNTER insurgency, NON state combatants, etc. He suggests that this limits us and we now need sharper linguistic tools to navigate in this area. And by his analysis he shows us how to re-appropriate words that post modernist academia has discarded; words like freedom and civilization.

Kilcullen's book takes us to the actual places we need to go culturally to help ensure our freedoms do survive. Although challenging, this book needs to be read to properly inform our debates with the rigour and complexity that the ideas we fight for deserve.

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