Insurgencies usually lose

According to a paper on the Small Wars site:

Six Reasons Insurgencies Lose: A Contrarian View, by Donald A. Stoker.

Insurgencies generally lose, not win. The Dupuy Institute, using a database for an ongoing research project that includes 63 post-World War II insurgencies, found that the insurgents only win 41% of the time.

I would have thought that they lose more often than that because they often lose against a government that either accommodates them or eliminates them.  Remember, this is the war of the weak against the strong, so the fact that they win better than two times out of five should be sobering.

Another point to consider is that one must choose one’s time frame carefully:  A number of the insurgencies Stoker mentions, while initially suppressed, were ultimately successful.  This is protracted war and one has to take the long view (TX Hammes explains this phenomenon as well as I’ve seen it done in The Sling and the Stone).

Still, even with all that, a 59% chance of success is nothing that would give me any confidence in COIN (I entitled one of my books Certain to Win for a reason).

There is, however, a more fundamental problem with this paper.  What Stoker and by extension the Dupuy Institute don’t do is break out rebellions–inside a country against the ruling government–and “wars of national liberation” against an outside occupier.  Absent this distinction, the analysis is at best misleading.

Clearly we are in the latter category in both Iraq and Afghanistan.  To lump our experience in with the Greeks or British and Malays renders the conclusion meaningless.  And one could argue that some of his failed insurgencies, such as the Boer War and the Filipino Insurrection, were ultimately successful.

Still … 41%, including all the “domestic” insurgencies, where the odds are much lower than that.  If you were leading the country, would you have committed our troops and several trillion dollars of our treasure (which would come in handy right now) for what is at best coin toss odds?

As a side note — using the number “41%” as a probability is dubious practice, of course, because the population of insurgencies is hardly homogeneous.  However, the fact that a lot of insurgencies succeed, and those against occupiers succeed pretty often, should have factored into our national decision-making.

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