Insurgencies are extremely difficult to defeat once they become entrenched. Counterinsurgency campaigns require extensive military, diplomatic, and economic resources over prolonged periods of time, and ultimately require resolution of some of the underlying political grievances that led the insurgents to take up arms. A better approach is to prevent insurgencies from arising in the first place, and to prevent nascent insurgencies from taking root in local populations. Since the wide range of U.S. global interests makes it likely to continue to intervene abroad, the pressing policy question for the United States is therefore how to minimize the development of insurgencies during foreign interventions. This paper seeks to answer that question. A wide literature exists on ways to prevent the resurgence of conflict after interventions, but these mostly focus on cases that involve civil wars, internal conflict, or state collapse. By contrast, little work has been done on how to prevent conflict in the aftermath of major combat operations, since it is generally assumed that victory in major combat means an end to hostilities. Yet as recent U.S. operations in Afghanistan and particularly in Iraq demonstrate, major combat operations that lead to regime change can create insurgencies that are fuelled by opponents of the new political order. Tanks and infantry units may no longer be fighting for supremacy on the battlefield, but victory is not complete if an insurgency rages and continues to take casualties among combatants and civilians alike. This paper starts by examining the experience in Iraq, in order to identify some of the missed opportunities and mistakes that led to the insurgency there. It then moves beyond the Iraq experience, and identifies three factors that can help prevent insurgencies: an official surrender or peace settlement; maintaining public order; and reconstructing local security forces. These factors may not be able to completely prevent insurgencies from developing before, during, or after U.S. military operations, but they may be able to minimize the threat that they pose by denying them the legitimacy, local support, and personnel that they need to thrive.
Reprinted with permission from Defence Studies, Volume 6, Number 3, September 2006, pp. 278-291. Copyright © 2006 Taylor & Francis.