The following discussion illustrates how the definition becomes blurred under political influence.
The French expert on Indochina and Vietnam, Bernard Fall, entitled one of his major books Street without joy: insurgency in Indochina, 1946-63. Fall himself, however, wrote later on that "revolutionary warfare" might be a more accurate term. Insurgency has been used for years in professional military literature. Under the British, the situation in Malaya (now Malaysia) was often called the "Malayan insurgency". , or "the Troubles" in Northern Ireland. Insurgencies have existed in many countries and regions, including the Philippines, Afghanistan, Chechnya, Kashmir, Yemen, Djibouti, Colombia, Sri Lanka, and Democratic Republic of the Congo, the American colonies of Great Britain, and the Confederate States of America. Each had different specifics but share the property of an attempt to disrupt the central government by means considered illegal by that government. North points out, however, that insurgents today need not be part of a highly organized movement:
"Some are networked with only loose objectives and mission-type orders to enhance their survival. Most are divided and factionalized by area, composition, or goals. Strike one against the current definition of insurgency. It is not relevant to the enemies we face today. Many of these enemies do not currently seek the overthrow of a constituted government...weak government control is useful and perhaps essential for many of these “enemies of the state” to survive and operate."
A variety of terms, none precisely defined, all fall under the category of insurgency: rebellion, uprisings, etc. The value of the formal models discussed below is to have a taxonomy to categorize insurgencies. No two insurgencies are identical. The basis of the insurgency can be political, economic, religious, or ethnic, or a combination of factors. For example, "The Troubles" of Northern Ireland are most often described as Protestant versus Catholic, but there was significant economic disparity that contributed to the conflict. Fall as well as the United States Marine Corps have used "small wars"; the Marine Small Wars Manual was a pre-World War II classic reference. The Northern Irish situation has been called terrorism, an ethnic conflict, a guerrilla war, a low intensity conflict, and sometimes a civil war. The term Irish Civil War is, however, more often used for the 1922-1923 conflict.
Iraq is not unique in having only a government and multiple sets of insurgents. Historic insurgencies, such as the Russian Civil War, have been multipolar rather than a straightforward model made up of two sides. While the Angolan Civil War had two main sides, MPLA and UNITA. FLEC, however, was a simultaneous separatist movement for the independence of the Cabinda region. Multipolarity extends the definition of insurgency to situations where there is no recognized authority, as in the Somali Civil War, especially the period, from 1998 to 2006, where it broke into quasi-autonomous smaller states, fighting among one another in changing alliances.
If there is a rebellion against an constituted authority (for example an authority recognised as such by the United Nations) and those taking part in the rebellion are not recognised as belligerents then the rebellion is an insurgency. However not all rebellions are insurgencies, as state of belligerency may exist between one or more sovereign states and rebel forces. For example during the American Civil War, the Confederate States of America, was not recognized as a sovereign state, but it was recognized as a belligerent power, and thus Confederate warships were given the same rights as United States warships in foreign ports.
When insurgency is used to describe a movement's unlawfulness by virtue of not being authorized by or in accordance with the law of the land, its use is neutral. However when it is used by a state or another authority under threat, "insurgency" often also carries an implication that the rebels cause is illegitimate, whereas those rising up will see the authority itself as being illegitimate.
The use of the term insurgency does recognise the political motivation of those who participate in an insurgency, while the term brigandry implies no political motivation. If an uprising has little support (for example those who continue to resist towards the end of an armed conflict when most of their allies have surrendered) then such a resistance may be described as brigandry and those who participate as brigands.
The distinction on whether an uprising is an insurgency or a belligerency has not been as clearly codified as many other areas covered by the internationally accepted laws of war for two reasons. The first is that international law traditionally does not encroach on matter which are solely the internal affairs of a sovereign state (although recent developments such as the responsibility to protect is starting to undermine this traditional approach). The second is because at the Hague Conference of 1899 there was disagreement between the Great Powers who considered francs-tireurs to be unlawful combatants subject to execution on capture and smaller states who maintained that they should be considered lawful combatants. The dispute resulted in a compromise wording being included in the Hague Conventions known as the Martens Clause after the diplomat who drafted the clause.
The Third Geneva Convention, as well as the other Geneva Conventions, are oriented to conflict involving nation-states, and only loosely address irregular forces:
"Members of other militias and members of other volunteer corps, including those of organized resistance movements, belonging to a Party to the conflict and operating in or outside their own territory, even if this territory is occupied, provided that such militias or volunteer corps, including such organized resistance movements..."
The United States Department of Defense (DOD) defines it as "An organized movement aimed at the overthrow of a constituted government through use of subversion and armed conflict." The new United States counterinsurgency Field Manual, proposes a structure that includes both insurgency and counterinsurgency[COIN]. (italics in original)
Insurgency and its tactics are as old as warfare itself. Joint doctrine defines an insurgency as an organized movement aimed at the overthrow of a constituted government through the use of subversion and armed conflict. These definitions are a good starting point, but they do not properly highlight a key paradox: though insurgency and COIN are two sides of a phenomenon that has been called revolutionary war or internal war, they are distinctly different types of operations. In addition, insurgency and COIN are included within a broad category of conflict known as irregular warfare.
This definition does not consider the morality of the conflict, or the different viewpoints of the government and the insurgents. It is focused more on the operational aspects of the types of actions taken by the insurgents and the counterinsurgents.
As an example of a definition that does not cover all insurgencies, consider that of Robert R. Tomes, and then consider the French Revolution (e.g., no cell system), American Revolution (e.g., little to no attempt to terrorize civilians), or consecutive coups in 1977 and 1999 Pakistan (e.g., initial actions focused internally to the government rather than seeking broad support). Tomes spoke of four requisites: in a 2004 article, identifies four elements that "typically encompass an insurgency":
This definition fits well with Mao's Phase I , but does not deal well with larger civil wars. Mao does assume terrorism is usually part of the early phases, but it is not always present in revolutionary insurgency.
Tomes offers an indirect definition of insurgency, drawn from Trinquier's definition of counterinsurgency: "an interlocking system of actions—political, economic, psychological, military—that aims at the [insurgents’ intended] overthrow of the established authority in a country and its replacement by another regime"
Metz observes that past models of insurgency do not perfectly fit modern insurgency, in that current instances are far more likely to have a multinational or transnational character than those of the past. Several insurgencies may belong to more complex conflicts, involving "third forces (armed groups which affect the outcome, such as militias) and fourth forces (unarmed groups which affect the outcome, such as international media), who may be distinct from the core insurgents and the recognized government. While overt state sponsorship becomes less common, sponsorship by transnational groups is more common. "The nesting of insurgency within complex conflicts associated with state weakness or failure..." [see the discussion of failed states below] Metz suggests that contemporary insurgencies have far more complex and shifting participation than traditional wars, where discrete belligerents seek a clear strategic victory.
General dictionary definitions are rarely adequate, as the reality is that there is no simple definition that will fit into the few paragraphs available in such references. Unfortunately, public statements by politicians and media, for a variety of reasons, tend to oversimplify conflicts to a point where major issues and tactics are lost.
Without attempting a comprehensive definition of terrorism, it would be useful to delineate some broad characteristics of the phenomenon. Terrorism is, in most cases, essentially a political act. It is meant to inflict dramatic and deadly injury on civilians and to create an atmosphere of fear, generally for a political or ideological (whether secular or religious) purpose. Terrorism is a criminal act, but it is more than mere criminality. To overcome the problem of terrorism it is necessary to understand its political nature as well as its basic criminality and psychology. The United Nations needs to address both sides of this equation.”
Yet another conflict of definitions involves insurgency versus terrorism. The winning essay of the 24th Annual United States Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Strategic Essay Contest, by Michael F. Morris, said [A pure terrorist group] "may pursue political, even revolutionary, goals, but their violence replaces rather than complements a political program." Morris made the point that the use, or non-use, of terrorism does not define insurgency, "but that organizational traits have traditionally provided another means to tell the two apart. Insurgencies normally field fighting forces orders of magnitude larger than those of terrorist organizations." Insurgencies have a political purpose, and may provide social services and have an overt, even legal, political wing. Their covert wing carries out attacks on military forces with tactics such as raids and ambushes, as well as acts of terror such as attacks that cause deliberate civilian casualties.
Mao considered terrorism a basic part of his first part of the three phases of revolutionary warfare. Several insurgency models recognize that completed acts of terrorism widen the security gap; the Marxist guerrilla theoretician Carlos Marighella specifically recommended acts of terror, as a means of accomplishing something that fits the concept of opening the security gap. Mao considered terrorism to be part of forming a guerilla movement.
While it is less commonly used by current U.S. spokesmen, that may be due to the hyperbolic way it was used in the past, in a specifically anticommunist context. U.S. Secretary of State Dean Rusk did in April 1962, when he declared that urgent action was required before the “enemy’s subversive politico-military teams find fertile spawning grounds for their fish eggs.”
In a Western context, Rosenau cites a British Secret Intelligence Service definition as "a generalized intention to (emphasis added) “overthrow or undermine parliamentary democracy by political, industrial or violent means.” While insurgents do not necessarily use terror, it is hard to imagine any insurgency meeting its goals without undermining aspects of the legitimacy or power of the government or faction it opposes. Rosenau mentions a more recent definition that suggests subversion includes measures short of violence, which still serve the purposes of insurgents. Rarely, subversion alone can change a government; this arguably happened in the liberalization of Eastern Europe. To the Communist government of Poland, Solidarity appeared subversive but not violent.
The Third Geneva Convention speaks of the "armed conflict not of an international character", interpreted by the International Committee of the Red Cross to include civil wars. Among those conditions listed are these four basic requirements.
As regards the United States, the 4th and 5th chapters of Robert Struble, Jr.’s style="font-style : italic;">Treatise on Twelve Lights,, 2007-08 ed., distinguish between an agenda for an Article V Constitutional Convention (“Insurrection of Suede”, chapter 4),, and his plan B, (“Recourse to the Sword,” chapter 5), wherein insurgents might turn, as a last resort, to armed insurrection. With either means, violent or not, the aim is radically to alter (or restore) the Constitution of a strong state.
There is much media and political focus on transnational terrorism, but insurgency can be national, or at least separatist within one nation and not involve terror. There is also a widespread and incorrect assumption, based on equating terror and insurgency, that insurgency is usually Islamic. Such an assumption can easily be challenged by examples, of which those marked with an asterisk clearly fall into more than one category, and the categories themselves are arbitrary. If a categorization seems incorrect, that reflects the difficulty in analyzing movements.
|Anticolonialist||Resistance to occupation||Nationalist or separatist||Civil war||Marxist||Religious and/or Racist|
|American colonists||American colonists||Confederate States of America||Confederate States of America||Weather Underground||Ku Klux Klan|
|Irish nationalists prior to 1922||Armia Krajowa Polish Home Army||Irish nationalists prior to 1922||Spanish Loyalists||26th of July Movement (Cuba)||al-Qaeda|
|Viet Minh*||French Resistance[||Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam||Viet Minh*||Viet Minh*||Hezbollah|
|Provisional IRA, Real IRA, Official IRA||Provisional IRA, Real IRA, Official IRA||Free Thai Movement||Anbar Salvation Council (IN)||National Liberation Army (Bolivia)(ELN)||Lord's Resistance Army (C)(UG,SD)|
|National Liberation Front/Viet Cong*||Yugoslav Partisans||Sudan People's Liberation Army||National Liberation Front/Viet Cong*||National Liberation Front/Viet Cong*||Jaish-e-Mohammed (M)(PK/KS)|
|Mau Mau (Kenya)||Baathists (Iraq)||Baathists (Iraq)||National Liberation Front||pro-Patrice Lumumba Simba (DRC)||al-Qaeda in Iraq, Islamic State of Iraq|
|Boxer Rebellion||Badr Organization||Badr Organization||Badr Organization||Khmer Rouge||Gush Emunim Underground(J)(IL)|
|Boers||Hukbalahap (WWII)||Chechen Republic of Ichkeria, Caucasian Emirate||African National Congress||Hukbalahap (post-WWII)*||Armed Islamic Group (Algeria)|
|Abu Sayyaf (Philippines)||Norwegian Resistance (WWII)||Front de Liberation Quebecois||Irish Republican Army 1922-1927||Red Brigades||Abu Sayyaf (Philippines)|
|Shining Path (Peru)||July 20 plot (Germany)||Mahdi Army (SD)||Spanish Nationalists||Indian Communist Party||Mahdi Army (SD)|
|FRELIMO (Angolan)||Chinese Communist Party*||Caprivi Liberation Army||Chinese Communist Party*||Chinese Communist Party*||Lashkar-e-Toiba (M) (Pak/Kash)|
|National Liberation Front (Algeria)(FLN)||Holger Danske (Denmark)||Bolsheviks* (Russia)||Bolsheviks* (Russia)||Bolsheviks* (Russia)||Army of God (C) (US)|
|EOKA (Greek Cypriot)||Soviet Partisans||Túpac Amaru Revolutionary Movement (MRTA) (Peru)*||Chetniks||Túpac Amaru Revolutionary Movement (MRTA) (Peru)*||Hizbul Mujahideen (M)(PK/Ka)|
|Euskadi Ta Askatasuna (ETA) (BQ)||Czech Resistance movement||Republic of Biafra||Satsuma domain (JP)||Malayan National Liberation Army*||Harkat-ul-Mujahideen|
|Hungarian Revolution of 1956*||Hamas (Palestine)||Hungarian Revolution of 1956*||Albigensians||Red Army Faction||Orthodox Serbs (C)|
|Party for a Free Life in Kurdistan||Mahdi Army(Iraq) (M)||Moro Islamic Liberation Front (PI)||Mahdi Army(Iraq)(M)||Japanese Red Army||Moro Islamic Liberation Front (PI)|
|Euskadi Ta Askatasuna (ETA) (BQ)||Czech Resistance movement||Malayan National Liberation Army*||Greek People's Liberation Army (ELAS)*||Malayan National Liberation Army*||Babbar Khalsa(S)(IN)|
In the U.S., there tends to be an incorrect assumption that insurgencies are Islamic. A general point here is not only that they are not always Islamic, but not always religious. It is well to expand on Cordesman/s point that
[the US] must show that the US focus on counterterrorism is not anti-Islamic and anti-Arab, and does not put counterterrorism before the same values in the rule of law and human rights that the US seeks to encourage throughout the world. The US should build on its very real successes in quiet bilateral cooperation in counterterrorism, and publicly recognize regional successes as well as point out occasional delays and failures. It must also recognize that every country in the region has a different set of threat perceptions than the US, defines terrorism and terrorist in different ways. Cooperation means partnership, not imposing a US view or issuing threats, sanctions, and demands.
Fukuyama argued that political means, rather than direct military measures, are the most effective ways to defeat that insurgency. David Kilcullen wrote "We must distinguish Al Qa’eda and the broader militant movements it symbolises – entities that use terrorism – from the tactic of terrorism itself."
There may be utility in examining a war not specifically on the tactic of terror, but in coordination among multiple national or regional insurgencies. It may be politically infeasible to refer to a conflict as an "insurgency" rather than by some more charged term, but military analysts, when concepts associated with insurgency fit, should not ignore those ideas in their planning. Additionally, the recommendations can be applied to the strategic campaign, even if it is politically unfeasible to use precise terminology
While it may be reasonable to consider transnational insurgency, Cordesman points out some of the myths in trying to have a worldwide view of terror:
Social scientists, soldiers, and sources of change have been modeling insurgency for nearly a century, if one starts with Mao. Counterinsurgency models, not mutually exclusive from one another, come from Kilcullen, McCormick, Barnett and Eizenstat. Kilcullen describes the "pillars" of a stable society, while Eizenstat addresses the "gaps" that form cracks in societal stability. McCormick's model shows the interplay among the actors: insurgents, government, population and external organizations. Barnett discusses the relationship of the country with the outside world, and Cordesman focuses on the specifics of providing security.
Kilcullen gives a useful visual overview of the actors in the models, which generally agrees with a model represents home as a box defined by geographic, ethnic, economic, social, cultural, and religious characteristics. Inside the box are governments, counterinsurgent forces, insurgent leaders, insurgent forces, and the general population, which is made up of three groups:
The three pillar model repeats later as part of the gaps to be closed to end an insurgency. "Obviously enough, you cannot command what you do not control. Therefore, unity of command (between agencies or among government and non-government actors) means little in this environment." Unity of command is one of the axioms of military doctrine that change with the use of swarming:. In Edwards' swarming model, as in Kilcullen's mode, unity of command becomes "unity of effort at best, and collaboration or deconfliction at least.''.
As in swarming, Kilcullen "depends less on a shared command and control hierarchy, and more on a shared diagnosis of the problem (i.e., the distributed knowledge of swarms), platforms for collaboration, information sharing and deconfliction. Each player must understand the others’ strengths, weaknesses, capabilities and objectives, and inter-agency teams must be structured for versatility (the ability to perform a wide variety of tasks) and agility (the ability to transition rapidly and smoothly between tasks)."
Note the similarity between Eizenstat's gaps and Kilcullen's three pillars. In the table below, do not assume that a problematic state is not able, while closing its own gaps, is unable to assist other less developed states
|State type||Needs||Representative examples|
|Militarily strong but weak in other institutions||Lower tensions before working on gaps||Cuba, North Korea|
|Good performers||Continuing development of working institutions. Focused private investment||El Salvador, Ghana, Mongolia, Senegal, Nicaragua, Uganda|
|Weak states||Close one or two gaps||Afghanistan, Egypt, Indonesia, Iraq, Ivory Coast, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Myanmar, Pakistan, Republic of the Congo, Sudan, Syria, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Zimbabwe|
|Failed states||Close all gaps||Angola, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Haiti, Liberia, Palestine, Somalia|
The model depicts four key elements or players:
Anthony Cordesman notes that security requirements differ by region and state in region. Writing on the Middle East, he identified different security needs for specific areas, as well as the US interest in security in those areas.
It is well to understand that counterterrorism, as used by Cordesman, does not mean using terrorism against the terrorism, but an entire spectrum of activities, nonviolent and violent, to disrupt an opposing terrorist organization. The French general, Joseph Gallieni, observed, while a colonial administrator in 1898,
A country is not conquered and pacified when a military operation has decimated its inhabitants and made all heads bow in terror; the ferments of revolt will germinate in the mass and the rancours accumulated by the brutal action of force will make them grow again
Both Kilcullen and Eizenstat define a more abstract goal than does Cordesman. Kilcullen's security pillar is roughly equivalent to Eizenstat's security gap:
"This pillar most engages military commanders’ attention, but of course military means are applied across the model, not just in the security domain, while civilian activity is critically important in the security pillar also ... all three pillars must develop in parallel and stay in balance, while being firmly based in an effective information campaign."
Anthony Cordesman, while speaking of the specific situation in Iraq, makes some points that can be generalized to other nations in turmoil. Cordesman recognizes some value in the groupings in Samuel Huntington's idea of the clash of civilizations, but, rather assuming the civilizations must clash, these civilizations simply can be recognized as actors in a multinational world. In the case of Iraq, Cordesman observes that the burden is on the Islamic civilization, not unilaterally the West, if for no other reason that the civilization to which the problematic nation belongs will have cultural and linguistic context that Western civilization cannot hope to equal. The heart of strengthening weak nations must come from within, and that heart will fail if they deny that the real issue is the future of their civilization, if they tolerate religious, cultural or separatist violence and terrorism when it strikes at unpopular targets, or if they continue to try to export the blame for their own failures to other nations, religions, and cultures.
Not only HN, but regional conflicts threaten to widen gaps. "Pretending that the conflicts in Afghanistan, Chechnya, Darfur, Iraq, Palestine and Sri Lanka are the problems of others or are going to solve themselves is not a solution. It should be noted that some states, especially in the ASEAN group, can be quite strong, but still have difficulties with piracy, terrorism, and drug traffic. There are a number of intelligence-sharing arrangements among countries in this area and the US FID assistance needs can involve economically strong countries in other regions. "Nigeria is among the top ten exporters of crude oil to the United States. ...when rebel leaders in the oil-rich Niger delta vowed to launch an “all-out war on the Nigerian state,” instability helped propel global oil prices to more than $50 per barrel.
Drug cultivation thrives on instability, corruption and poor governance. The world's biggest drug producing centres are in regions beyond the control of the central government, like South Afghanistan, South-West Colombia and East Myanmar. Until government control, democracy and the rule of law are restored, these regions will remain nests of insurgency and drug production - and represent the biggest challenge to containment.
When a country's legitimate government is weak compared to its drug trade infrastructure, part of FID may be defeating that infrastructure, or, minimally, reducing its ability to corrupt or destroy government institutions..
Piracy also may feed into security violations at ports, and as a means by which terrorists transport personnel and materials. An Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) study on the ownership and control of ships reports that anonymous ownership is more the rule than the exception.. There are reports that 15 cargo ships are linked to al-Qaeda. The reputed strongholds in Pakistan hardly will be bases for ships, and weak and failed states become the logical ports.
Military health specialists, as distinct from special operations forces, can have an enormous impact. Training and equipping health and education facilities are key FID capabilities.
In many cases, measures increasing the capacity of a state to fight terrorism also will strengthen its overall IDAD program. These measures can include the following: