Insurgency and Counterinsurgency
A Global History
Rowman and Littlefield, Lanham, Maryland, 2016, 288 pages
Book Review published on: May 5, 2017
Jeremy Black’s recent book is much more than a comprehensive history of insurgency and counterinsurgency operations. Insurgency and Counterinsurgency reads almost like an index of small wars and the essential supplemental reading pertaining to them. In the preface, the author invokes Carl von Clausewitz, pointing out that insurgencies and counterinsurgencies are also an extension of politics. The book then moves from continent to continent and between historical periods at a machine-gun pace.
The book is unique in that the author attempts to scrutinize insurgencies from a global perspective rather than from the perspective of a Western theorist. Black discusses the small wars of Asia, Africa, and South America with as much attention as those of European nations, and those in China and India prior to their exposure to colonial powers.
Black’s analyses of the American Revolution and the Civil War are of particular note not only for their depth but also as concise representations of these events as parts of larger movements around the world. Especially of interest is his choice to use the terms “insurgency,” “insurrection,” and “civil war” interchangeably.
The author continues to move rapidly from period to period, from discussing the small wars of the late-nineteenth century to the larger conflicts of the two world wars. Further, the insurgencies and counterinsurgency operations of the 1950s through the present day are explicated with attention to their postcolonial roots. For example, Algeria, Malaya, and Vietnam are shown to have been rooted in the aftermath of World War II; all three conflicts begin with a nation’s struggle for independence from a colonial power and end with its eventual achievement.
While discussing insurgency in Vietnam, Afghanistan, and Iraq, Black channels Andrew Krepinevich; in all three conflicts, the U.S. military fought reactively instead of proactively. Further, the author makes an interesting point regarding British counterinsurgency operations—while British forces may have successfully dealt with the Malayan emergency, their involvement in counterinsurgency since 2001 has been mostly unsuccessful.
Black’s research, writing, and analysis of his subject matter are on point. Due to the tempo of current events, and considering the kinetic operations against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, the ongoing operations in Afghanistan and the recent skirmishes off the coast of Yemen, his discussion of these conflicts seems to anticipate their conclusion when they are, in reality, escalating. What should be an example of the author’s ability to anticipate future operations, instead, seems like a discussion of current events.
This work is essential for anyone with an interest in insurgency and counterinsurgency. Black references the foundational writers of insurgency and counterinsurgency theory to include Clausewitz, Mao Tse-tung, and David Galula, and combatant commanders of the past two decades such as Gen. David Petraeus and Gen. Stanley McChrystal, while also including the analysis of newer thinkers such as John Nagl and David Kilcullen. The conclusion of the work looks to the future of warfare on the hybrid battlefield, heavily influenced by the rise of population, globalization, and the growth of megacities around the world. Black notes that, though every lesson learned in the counterinsurgency operations of the past cannot be neatly applied to those of the future, they should not be soon forgotten either.
Book Review written by: Staff Sgt. Brian Darling, New Jersey Army National Guard, Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst, New Jersey