Hard Hearts and Open Minds? Governance, Identity and the Intellectual Foundations of Counterinsurgency Strategy


The premise of most Western thinking on counterinsurgency is that success depends on establishing a perception of legitimacy among local populations. The path to legitimacy is often seen as the improvement of governance in the form of effective and efficient administration of government and public services. However, good governance is not the only basis for claims to legitimacy, especially in environments where ethnic or religious identities are politically salient. Some experience in Iraq suggests that in environments where such identities are contested, claims to legitimacy may rest primarily on the identity of who governs, rather than on how whoever governs, governs. This article outlines the intellectual foundations of existing policy and doctrine on counterinsurgency, and argues that development and analysis of counterinsurgency strategy would benefit from a greater focus on the role of ethnic and religious identity in irregular warfare.