Category Archive 'Insurgency'

25 Jan 2008

The American Roots of the Geneva Conventions

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In the American Scholar, David Bosco traces the roots of today’s Geneva Conventions to “Lieber’s Code” adopted by the US Army during the American Civil War from a paper on the treatment of insurgents and guerillas by Francis Leiber (1798-1872) a professor at Columbia University.

Unfortunately, the prospects for another “Lieber moment” appear slim. Many American leaders feel estranged from recent developments in international humanitarian and criminal law. The bewildering network of international conventions, courts, and commissions that is so inspiring to activists often appears menacing to those officials responsible for security policy. The ICC’s birth, for example, occasioned far more handwringing than applause in the Pentagon and the State Department. The pride Lieber felt about being part of the international effort at codification has all but dissipated in government circles.

This change of tone and tactics has much to do with the geometry of power. Lieber’s United States was weak, divided, and struggling to assure foreign observers that it could contribute to the civilizing goals of international law. Today’s United States has unparalleled power, and the international law that once signified membership in a rarefied club now threatens to hinder its freedom of action. Lieber also operated in a simpler legal age. His code, we should not forget, was a unilateral declaration; it was not negotiated with the Confederacy, let alone the rest of the world. The prospect today of amending the international rules governing warfare via negotiations with dozens of countries—some of them hostile—is daunting.

Yet the unwillingness to take up the task has had painful consequences. As the United States conducts its global campaign against terrorism, the Bush administration has often preferred to operate in the murky spaces between vague provisions of existing law. Bush officials have sometimes grumbled about the inadequacy of the existing framework but have proffered little to take its place. The effect on American legitimacy and reputation has been grievous; many foreigners, including close allies, have concluded that the world’s superpower now operates outside the law.

Thanks to Karen Myers.

16 May 2007

Study Shows Insurgencies Can Be Defeated

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USAToday recently reported an in-progress study by military historians commissioned by the Department of Defense demonstrates that insurgencies can be defeated, but doing so takes time and requires ingenuity and patience.

Insurgencies, such as the one the United States is fighting in Iraq, last an average of more than 10 years, according to a study commissioned by the Defense Department.

For the United States, the good news is that rebels lose more often than they win. Chances for stopping an insurgency improve after 10 years, the study shows. …

“The violence in Iraq is going to go on a minimum for at least three or four more years and in reality another five plus years,” said Christopher Lawrence, director of The Dupuy Institute, which is conducting the study.

The Iraq war is in its fifth year.

The Annandale, Va.-based Dupuy Institute is under a Defense Department contract to study insurgencies to help give commanders more information about what works and what doesn’t. The study is due to be completed in September.

The military recently produced a new counterinsurgency manual that establishes doctrine for waging a counterinsurgency.

According to the manual, defeating an insurgency requires:

•An understanding of local society;

•Good intelligence about the enemy;

•Establishing security and a rule of law;

•Establishing a long-term commitment.

The new doctrine points out the limits to using overwhelming firepower, which could anger civilians, and the need to find political solutions to win over the population.

The manual says counterinsurgency is much more complex than other forms of warfare, requiring the coordination of political, military and economic efforts.

As part of the study, the institute built a database of 63 post-World War II insurgencies, including Vietnam, the French in Algeria and the Soviets in Afghanistan.

The United States experience in Vietnam soured the U.S. military on insurgencies, Lawrence said. The prevailing military doctrine after Vietnam emphasized building conventional capabilities to counter the Soviet threat. “The subject (of counterinsurgencies) has not been seriously analyzed by the Army since the 1960s,” Lawrence said.

Not all insurgencies are quagmires, the report shows. Insurgents only win in 41% of the conflicts in the database, Lawrence said. The remainder were victories for the counterinsurgents, were inconclusive or are still going on.

One of the most successful counterinsurgencies was the British victory over communist insurgents in Malaysia during the 1950s.

Col. Timothy Reese, director of the Combat Studies Institute at Fort Leavenworth, Kan., cautions against reading too much into it.

Each conflict is unique, and the differences are as important as the similarities, Reese said.

“War cannot be reduced to a formula,” Reese said. “War is an art as much as it is a science.”

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