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Wednesday 21 Feb 2018 | 13:15 | SYDNEY
Wednesday 21 Feb 2018 | 13:15 | SYDNEY

Some counterinsurgency fundamentals



28 October 2008 15:02

I recently attended a workshop at All Souls College, Oxford, conducted by the Leverhulme Programme on the Changing Character of War. The workshop, sponsored by the French Army’s École Spéciale Militaire de Saint-Cyr, was investigating the doctrinal approaches that regular armies take in response to irregular threats. My primary task at the event was to present a paper about the development of the Australian Army’s new Counterinsurgency Manual, published earlier this month.

The discussion at the workshop was fascinating and wide ranging – frankly, it needed to be in order to stop the continual distraction offered by All Souls’ amazing architecture, which dates back to the early 15th century. 

The body of the workshop was conducted under the Chatham House rule, so I cannot report on the detail of the presentations, suffice to say that they were by highly credible people and were extremely interesting to a student of counterinsurgency. The Director of the Changing Character of War Programme, Hew Strachan (also the Chichele Professor of the history of war) went on the record with some interesting observations during the day’s summation.

One observation was that the day’s discussion had highlighted again the imperative for contemporary counterinsurgents to have sound information operations campaigns both within the operational theatre and linked to the home audience. The 2008 Lowy Institute Poll result, showing a decline in public support for our involvement in the Afghan conflict, reinforces the argument that creating a compelling narrative to explain the conflict to the ‘home front’ is an important issue in countering insurgencies.

Another observation was that despite advances in military science and technology over the last few centuries, counterinsurgency conflicts still require relatively intensive commitment of troops in order secure the population and isolate the insurgents. Hew Strachan commented that perhaps one good thing about this fact for Treasuries in the West in this era of global financial difficulty was that battalions are cheaper to acquire and run that fast jets and other defence acquisitions that Western states covet.  

That is to say, the defence capability we need to fight the wars we are in is relatively cheap compared to the capabilities needed to fight the wars that we do not have. Given Australia's long term budgetary position as described by ASPI, this raises thoughts about the merits of organising for possible (expensive) contingencies as opposed to likely (and current) cheaper contingencies.

Photo by Flickr user Lakerae, used under a Creative Commons license.

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