What's happening at the
Wednesday 23 Aug 2017 | 02:40 | SYDNEY
Wednesday 23 Aug 2017 | 02:40 | SYDNEY

By

COMMENTS

10 March 2011 10:10

Several readers suggested answers to Malcom Cook's Gillard question (what is the Gillard Government's approach to foreign policy'). Charles writes:

How can Julia know what her foreign policy is, when she doesn't know what her domestic policies are' I hope this helps.

Markus Pfister adds: 

Perhaps her Foreign Minister could explain that one'

Raoul Heinrichs' argument for Australia's withdrawal from Afghanistan also stirred debate. Crispin Rovere wrote to offer:

A quote from the 1968 Strategic Basis of Australian Defence Policy: "The Vietnam War has amply demonstrated the fundamental fact that where governments are politically weak, administratively incompetent and unable to attract loyalties  by drawing the population into effective programmes for economic reform and growth, then the military force faces an almost impossible task in countering insurgency."

If only we'd read our own literature.

Finally, Anton Kuruc argues that a long war favours the counterinsurgency: 

I read the Raoul Heinrichs' piece about Afghanistan with interest. I found one part of his synopsis quite interesting. Raoul argued that: "Despite our best efforts, and those of our allies, the situation on the ground is hopeless. The war is lost, and has been for years. This is not due to incompetence, weakness or lack of heart, but rather because of the profound asymmetry of the conflict. Whereas the Taliban can win just by surviving, coalition forces must fulfill an overwhelming set of objectives, including building up Afghan security forces, clamping down on corruption, and administering large swathes of territory without alienating the Afghan population"

The interesting part of this comment is the that the Taliban can win just by surviving. It seems to reflect the old adage that insurgencies succeed by avoiding defeat. Therefore, the longer an insurgency lasts the more likely the insurgent is to win. This is a pretty widely held and uncontroversial view. But is it right'

The RAND Corporation has provided an interesting data set in Victory Has a Thousand Fathers: Sources of Success in Counterinsurgency. This monograph reviews counterinsurgency practice over the 30 most recently resolved insurgencies. I extracted conflict duration from the dataset and analysed it.The proposition that time favours the insurgent is totally wrong. The longer an insurgency lasts, the more likely the counterinsurgent is to win. If the duration of the conflict is broken into four year periods we find that there were 11 insurgencies that lasted four years or less and the insurgent won 10 of these. There were four insurgencies that lasted between 5-8 years and the insurgent won all four. There were eight insurgencies that lasted between 9-12 and the insurgent won five of these. Of the seven insurgencies that lasted longer than 12 years the counterinsurgent won four. The probability of success shifts in the counterinsurgent favour after the tenth year. Of the 30 most recently resolved insurgencies the counterinsurgent only won once in less than ten years. Once an insurgency enters the 11th year the counterinsurgent’s likelihood of winning increases to 55%. This rate increases as more time passes.

We are now closing on the ten year point where the odds are about to swing strongly in our favour.

The Rand monograph makes clear that good practice determines success. But its seems equally clear that time is an important factor. It might be that it takes time to achieve good practice and to allow its effects to take hold. The prescriptions that Raoul provides, such as not patrolling and only training the Afghan Army from inside the wire are the opposite of good practice.

What Raoul does describe in the passage I cited is technically called a self fulfilling prophecy. A loss is predicted, which leads allies to remove their forces thereby virtually guaranteeing that the predicted loss occurs. Contrary to Raoul's assertion such a loss is not due to some vague asymmetrical advantage of the insurgent or the complexity of the counterinsurgent's many tasks. Clausewitz wrote that war is a violent clash of wills and what Raoul describes is a lack of political will on the part of the counterinsurgency. Losing the political will to win just as the odds start to swing in our favour doesn't seem wise. I trust that the Prime Minister will find the wisdom and will to continue in Afghanistan.   

Comments are always welcome. Please keep sending them through via the email options link at the bottom of each post, or to blogeditor@lowyinstitute.org.