Ensuring National Government Stability After US Counterinsurgency Operations: The Critical Measure of Success

by Dallas Shaw


*This book is in the Rapid Communications in Conflict and Security (RCCS) Series (General Editor: Geoffrey R.H. Burn).

The use of American combat formations to assist another state in killing its own rebellious citizens is an immense departure from normal international interactions between the US and states the US supports. In fact, the US has only used conventional combat formations on ten occasions to assist a foreign state in defeating their own insurgencies—in nine of these cases, the US was the lead. The employment of US combat formations in the COIN operations of another state is indicative of how dire US policy makers perceived the situation and their certitude that the host-nation could not defeat the insurgency and/or protect its people on its own.

Before 1950, the US intervened twice as often using combat formations in foreign counterinsurgencies as after 1950, but remained just as long. However, the states that resulted from US COIN interventions before 1950 have tended to last an average of ten times longer after US forces withdrew than the states that resulted from interventions after 1950, before violent overthrow or significant loss of territory. Why?

Much of the debate regarding US COIN operations since 1950 in Vietnam, Iraq, and Afghanistan has centered around discussions of population-centric COIN or enemy-centric COIN. But how do we explain how the US was successful at population-centric and enemy-centric COIN in Vietnam but failed to produce a state that was able to survive longer than 3.5 years on average after US combat formations departed. Or conversely, how do we explain how the US failed in population-centric and enemy-centric COIN in Nicaragua, but succeeded in producing a state that lasted over four decades?

Since 1950 there has been outstanding research done on the variables at work in successful COIN. John Nagl, David Petraeus, James Mattis, David Kilcullen, and Andrew Krepinevich have done excellent work in describing successful population-centric COIN methods for US troops to employ while they are present. However, the work of these outstanding scholar-practitioners has little to say about why, since 1950, the states the US supported using these methods could not survive longer than 3.5 years after US forces withdrew without a US reintervention. Similarly, authors like David Ucko have done exceptional work detailing how authoritarian states have proved themselves particularly adept at enemy-centric COIN methods. However, even when the US successfully applied enemy-centric COIN methods, this body of scholarship has little to say about why, since 1950, the states the US supported using these methods could not survive longer than 3.5 years.

Other bodies of COIN scholarship have looked at how the weak win and the strong lose. They try to understand how insurgents like the Viet Cong were able to outlast the US. However, the most obvious element in foreign COIN—the host-nation—has been missed. The real question is why did the insurgents outlast the host-nation government? Similarly, other authors have looked at how counterinsurgents learn and adapt or fail to learn and adapt in COIN. They have compared how one foreign counterinsurgent learned and adapted compared to another foreign counterinsurgent. The critical issue that needs to be addressed is how prepared is the host-nation to compete with the insurgents when the foreign counterinsurgent leaves.

In this first longitudinal and latitudinal study of all US foreign COIN interventions using combat formations, Dallas Shaw examines the variables involved in increasing state longevity after withdrawal (SLAW). This book proposes a theory of state-centric COIN such that state longevity increases after US withdrawal when the US employs institution inhabiting strategies to develop host-nation governance and security in the course of COIN interventions. This book uses small-N qualitative case-study methodologies to both develop and to test his theory of state-centric COIN. He relies on process tracing, contextually constrained historical comparison, and hoop tests to both infer a theory of state-centric counterinsurgency and test it alongside competing hypotheses.

This study examines four key detailed case studies and then combines this with qualitative methodologies to identify the variables most associated with increases in SLAW. Shaw compares two cases where the US intervened and created tabula rasa conditions of governance and security and in essence started from scratch to create a new state during a COIN intervention. He then pairs two other cases of US COIN intervention in existing host-nations. The result is a latitudinal comparison of all four cases to determine which variables are most closely related to increasing SLAW.

Ensuring National Government Stability After US Counterinsurgency Operations is an important volume for all security studies, political science, and professional military education collections. It will address how the US defines success in large-scale COIN and helps to create states that are able to long endure after US withdrawal. This book will help policy makers think about how to intervene, when it chooses to, and how to describe the goals of intervention in foreign COIN.


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