Insurgency has existed as long as people have used violence to resist states and empires but its strategic significance has ebbed and flowed throughout history, increasing when conventional war between great powers was unlikely and states were ineffective at defeating it. During the Cold War, nuclear weapons diminished the probability of direct warfare between the superpowers, leading them towards proxy conflict. Combined with the crumbling of European colonial empires and the political mobilization of the peasantry in many parts of the world, this increased the strategic significance of insurgency. The refinement of insurgent methods by the Chinese, Vietnamese, Algerians and others led to its ‘golden age’. A type of conflict that previously festered at the periphery of global statecraft then moved to the fore. One result was the emergence of an insurgency industry in the West, centred not only in militaries, government agencies and intelligence services, but also in segments of academia, journalism, research institutes and, to some extent, security-related corporations.1 This first appeared in European nations involved with anti-colonial insurgencies, particularly the United Kingdom and France. But once decolonization was complete, the United States dominated. This industry shaped not only the way that states and their militaries undertook counterinsurgency, but also the way insurgency was understood in the academic world and among the wider public. And because American and European ideas about insurgency were considered ‘modern’, they influenced non-Western nations, particularly those keen to obtain outside support. Many of them sent their best officers to the United States and Europe for professional education, allowing them to absorb Western ideas about insurgency. In the 1990s a number of nations in South America and Asia remained involved in insurgency-based conflicts but the insurgency industry collapsed in Europe and North America. In the United States, particularly within the military, involvement in counterinsurgency was considered unlikely. If it did happen, thinking went, the United States would only provide limited advice and support, primarily by the small US Army Special Forces community. No new doctrine emerged; insurgency faded from the curriculum in the military’s professional education system. A generation of officers gave it little thought. Research institutes and defence contractors abandoned counterinsurgency and instead embraced multinational peacekeeping and humanitarian intervention, both elevated from strategic insignificance to significance by conflict in the Balkans and sub-Saharan Africa. Interest among academics also faded.2 Insurgency persisted in Colombia, Sri Lanka, Indonesia, Peru, Burma, the Philippines, Nepal, Uganda, Sierra

Leone, Liberia, South Africa, India, Chechnya and, perhaps most importantly, Palestine. But, for the West, these were the death throes of the old security system, anachronisms which did not merit new thinking and serious attention. In most cases, the states confronting the insurgents were happy to have it that way. Then Iraq and Afghanistan rocketed insurgency back to a position of strategic significance for the West. In short order, the insurgency industry was reborn. Academics and think tank analysts rediscovered the topic. It exploded in the military educational systems. New – or apparently new – concepts and doctrine blossomed. This process followed the normal pattern for reviving dormant topics: just as the European Renaissance of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries was based on classical learning, the insurgency industry dusted off old theories, models and concepts from the Cold War, and applied them with only modest revision. Cold War-era thinkers such as the French officer David Galula, US Army colonel John McCuen, Central Intelligence Agency official Douglas Blaufarb and British officer Robert Thompson were once again all the rage (Galula 2006; McCuen 1966; Blaufarb 1977; Thompson 1978). Even new analysis relied largely on Cold War case studies (Nagl 2005). The problem is that the basic conceptualization of insurgency – the stock-in-trade of the industry – arose from and reflected the Western tradition as applied through colonialism. It is based on a model of politics and development which is culture specific and – importantly – only partly applicable to those parts of the world susceptible to insurgency. It demanded a reengineering of the political, economic, security and even social systems that was possible only through colonialism, at least in nations not part of Western culture. Thus the orthodox conceptualization may not be wholly inapplicable in the contemporary security environment, but does not fully reflect reality in conflict-prone regions. In one sense it is correct: insurgency is a symptom of deeper social, economic and political shortcomings. The problem comes from assuming that encouraging a state to emulate the Western political model is the cure, or that insurgency is distinct from other dimensions of the deeper pathology. The solution is a broad reconceptualization of insurgency.