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Shadows of Things Past and Images of the Future: Lessons for the Insurgencies in Our Midst

Authored by Dr. Max G. Manwaring. | November 2004

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This monograph begins with a short discussion of contemporary insurgency. It argues that in studying terror war, guerrilla war, or any other common term for insurgency war, we find these expressions mischaracterize the activities of armed groups that are attempting to gain political control of a state. These organizations are engaged in a highly complex political act--political war. Given that this type of conflict is likely to challenge U.S. and other global leadership over the next several years, it is important to understand that the final results of insurgency or counterinsurgency are never determined by arms alone. Rather, the results depend on winning the political support of the people.

In these terms, it is helpful to examine some key harbinger case studies from which the first contemporary lessons of modern insurgency were learned. They stress: (1) insurgencies may be populist-nationalist as well as Marxist-Maoist oriented, (2) they may be urban as well as rural-based, and (3) they may be highly political-psychological as well as military conflicts. Additionally, this monograph emphasizes some broader lessons learned. Among other things, the Argentine case provides a basis from which to understand better the problem of current and future radical populism and urban insurgency. All three cases--but especially the Peruvian case--invoke the fundamental strategic political issue of state failure. The Italian case emphasizes the issue of military vs. political victory, and its implications for the future of the state.

This monograph concludes with the idea that the complex realities of contemporary political-insurgency wars must be understood as holistic processes that rely on various civilian and military agencies and contingents working together in an integrated fashion to achieve mutually agreed political-strategic ends. In this connection, at a minimum, three strategic-level imperatives are needed to begin to deal effectively with unconventional conflict situations. They are: (1) civil-military and military-to-military dialogue regarding viable security and stability, (2) fundamental education and understanding requirements, and (3) the strategic application of U.S. military power. The associated recommendations take us beyond doing ?something? for something?s sake to the cooperative, holistic, and long-term planning and implementation of the strategic ends, ways, and means that directly support the achievement of a political endgame.