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Thread: Thinking Small: Applying Hobbes to Counterinsurgency

  1. #1
    Small Wars Journal SWJED's Avatar
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    Default Thinking Small: Applying Hobbes to Counterinsurgency

    Thinking Small: Applying Hobbes to Counterinsurgency
    by LTC Raymond Millen, Small Wars Journal

    Perhaps the most bandied about premise in counterinsurgency strategy is the need to win the hearts and minds of the affected population. In abstract, both the insurgents and counterinsurgents vie for the allegiance of the people through social, economic, and political incentives. Yet, this premise begs the question: if the rectitude of hearts and minds is indisputable, why does it have such a poor record of success? The lackluster results of its application are certainly not from a lack of effort and resources. Here lies the rub. The aforementioned incentives are founded on a tacit assumption that people have a choice in the matter. If they don’t, what eclipses hearts and minds?

    In his book, Leviathan, Thomas Hobbes contends that the pursuit of self-preservation dominates human behavior first and foremost. The covenant between the citizen and the government centers on security, not only at the macro-level (e.g., sovereignty of the state) but also the micro-level (e.g., sovereignty of local governance). People created society and surrendered some individual sovereignty in exchange for the collective good of security. It is within this province that citizens are able to pursue happiness and societal progress. Hence, this covenant is founded on a tacit security agreement between the citizen and the government.

    Insurgents understand and seek to shatter the covenant by creating the conditions of insecurity as a means of gaining control of the population in their area of operation. Subversion of government authority through terrorist acts, selected assassinations of officials, murder and threats perpetrated on the populace, and general mayhem ultimately results in the intimidation of the populace and hence its acquiescence to insurgent activities. With the individual’s faith in and allegiance to the government in question, the government’s task of reasserting its authority and regaining the confidence of the people becomes infinitely more difficult.

    All this is not to say that the present understanding of hearts and minds is unimportant, it is, but its application must be sequenced properly. Or stated another way, the attainment of security must be the first stage of hearts and minds. Without a solid foundation of security, the other incentives will crumble on a bed of sand. The challenge lies in the ways and means of achieving these ends.

    In view of Hobbes’ contention that self-preservation dominates human behavior, this article addresses the operational and tactical calculus for the prosecution of a counterinsurgency strategy: 1) the centrality of local communities in the conflict; 2) the methodology for securing local communities; 3) restoring the covenant between the government and the people; and 4) enhancing the covenant. Success for any counterinsurgency hinges on three factors: understanding the plight of the people caught in the vise of an insurgency; acknowledging that insurgents derive their strength from population centers; and denying insurgents access to local communities. In short, counterinsurgency strategy should focus on creating security spheres for every community (e.g., city, town, village, or hamlet) as the first step in restoring local societies. For the U.S. military, pursuit of this calculus carries significant political-military implications...

  2. #2
    Council Member Spud's Avatar
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    I thought this was going to be about Hobbes of Calvin and Hobbes fame

    Can't imagine anyone better to teach COIN than a tiger

  3. #3
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    Carlisle, PA

    Wink Original Title

    I had originally titled the article, "Countering Calvinist Insurgency," but was afraid of being labeled a Calvinist. I'm just thankful Calvin and Hobbes are on our side. Imagine if that fertile mind was devoted to insurgency.

  4. #4
    Council Member wm's Avatar
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    Dec 2006
    On the Lunatic Fringe

    Default The Rules of Insurgency, AKA Calvinball

    Quote Originally Posted by RaymondMillen View Post
    I had originally titled the article, "Countering Calvinist Insurgency," but was afraid of being labeled a Calvinist. I'm just thankful Calvin and Hobbes are on our side. Imagine if that fertile mind was devoted to insurgency.
    I suspect that insurgency is the forte of Bill Watterson--

    Permanent Rule: You may not play Calvinball the same way twice.

    Primary Rule: The following rules are subject to be changed, amended, or deleted by any player(s) involved. These rules are not required, nor necessary to play Calvinball

    See the complete rules for Calvinball here
    Vir prudens non contra ventum mingit
    The greatest educational dogma is also its greatest fallacy: the belief that what must be learned can necessarily be taught. — Sydney J. Harris

  5. #5
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    Hilo, HI


    Worth the read.

    Also, the author's take off point may be obvious, but I think it never hurts to remind that the intimidated villager who won't talk to you is not a free agent, has precious little "choice in the matter," and therefore is far more deserving of our sympathy than our ire.

    Last edited by Mike in Hilo; 08-07-2008 at 01:21 AM. Reason: typo

  6. #6
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    Default 2d the opinion it is worth the read

    Although this article was largely common sense, and most of the article appears to be ideas already floated in other recent (and not so recent)articles, it is a well written article that explains to those who still don't get it why the population is the center of gravity.

    Not sure I concur with the proposal of four man cadre elements, but as the author stated that would depend on a number of variables. He also didn't address how to transition the cadre out, but I would assume the newly formed and vetted host nation security forces would eventually assume the role of the cadre in this situation. Using contractors as cadre members is a touchy area, but perhaps doable if DoD or another government agency had appropriate control over them. I tend to think that the profit motive will tend to over ride the best course of action option if contractors are in charge of the operation.

    None the less the author captured the argument well, and it was a point I made a couple of years ago on this council when I argued against using the number of schools built in Iraq as a success metric. My point was it didn't mean anything if the parents didn't feel it was safe to send their kids to school. Later the new metric was the number of kids going to school, which actually means something relevant to the COIN effort. Also key is who appoints the teachers, but that is another class/or post for a later date.

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