The Good Friday Agreement in 1998 brought to an end a religious sectarian conflict which had raged in Northern Ireland for nearly three decades and resulted in over 3,500 deaths. During that time the British government developed a sophisticated strategy that aimed to prevent a Protestant insurrection whilst at the same time convincing the Irish Republican Army (IRA), that ‘the ballot box and not the Armalite’ was the only viable solution to resolving this internal conflict. A vital component of this strategy was the deployment of a garrison force of between 11,000 and 14,000 soldiers whose job it was to support the civilian government, restore order and contain the threat posed by terrorism. Fundamental to the success of this campaign was the recognition that, in spite of a massive numerical superiority enjoyed by the security services (25,000 soldiers and police versus 300 active terrorists) there was no military solution in Northern Ireland. This campaign reinforced Galula’s maxim that counterinsurgency is 80 per cent political and 20 per cent military (Galula 1964: 63). In essence, this conflict demonstrates that in this kind of war force works best when used in support of a wider political and economic strategy which attacks the root causes of the conflict. Much of what was seen as ‘best practice’ in this internal war supposedly grew out of a set of values and traditions which could be equated to a British way in small wars which was based on the British military’s experience of past colonial campaigns (Strachan 2006). According to Pimlott, the recognition by the British military that force had such a limited role to play in counterinsurgency stemmed from the paucity of resources available to the British. This imbalance between resources and commitments was most pronounced in the inter-war period when the British Empire was at its maximum size at a time when the political consciousness of those colonised was starting to challenge the legitimacy of empire (Gwynn 1936). Lacking sufficient force to impose its will resulted in the British understanding that success depended on dealing with the political roots of a conflict rather than prosecuting a campaign to annihilate the threat. In practice this meant using force discriminately and proportionately so that reconciliation became possible (Pimlott 1988: 17-20). In a similar vein, Strachan emphasised the importance of the civil-military relationship which emerged in the era of colonial warfare as an additional force multiplier. As such the military became accustomed to working closely with the political authorities. Equally important, the British military also played a key role in establishing governance in newly conquered territories. An important question that Strachan addresses is how this experience was captured and survived within the memory of an institution which had little in the way of formal written

doctrine. Within the context of the era of decolonisation he believes this experience was captured in the first instance by soldiers who served in campaigns in the inter-war period on the North West Frontier and Palestine. This experience was then brought to bear in Malaya. Again little in the way of formal doctrine emerged from this conflict and so lessons learned were disseminated as officers left Malaya for other theatres of war. A second important repository of information came from books written by the likes of Sir Robert Thompson and Sir Julian Paget. In the case of Northern Ireland, Frank Kitson’s Low Intensity Operations provided a contemporary overview of how to make colonial counterinsurgency operate within the social, political and economic setting of Northern Ireland (Strachan, 2007). Although it took many years to apply these lessons properly, both the government and the security services learned from earlier failures and by the late 1970s both possessed a range of capabilities and skills which made them quite formidable in this largely urban conflict. In the case of the army a key part of its ability to learn and adapt was helped by the creation of the Northern Ireland Training and Assistance Team (NITAT) in 1972 which drew upon the latest operational experience to provide comprehensive pre-deployment training to all units going to Northern Ireland. Another component of the army’s increased effectiveness was the conceptual and doctrinal application of tactics, techniques and procedures taken from earlier campaigns and their fusion with new ideas developed to deal with the specific challenges of fighting the IRA. Most important was the focus placed on intelligence. To this end the army created a new intelligence unit called 14 Intelligence which became heavily involved in the surveillance and infiltration of the IRA. They also invested heavily in the creation of an extensive system of passive and active surveillance across the province as a whole based upon cameras, telephone bugs, the use of other electronic sensors and powerful computers which were connected to all units down to the level of the company. Equally important was the use of ordinary soldiers on the street providing information based on their observation of changes in day-to-day life in their sector and information provided by the local Catholic community. To obtain this information it was important for the military to treat the Catholic population with a modicum of respect and to compete with the IRA for the hearts and minds of the people. Of even greater importance was the role of the police and in particular Special Branch in penetrating the organisation of the IRA and providing valuable intelligence which allowed a more discriminate campaign to be carried out (Chin 2007: 119-47). These contemporary lessons were captured in the 1977 edition of the British army counterinsurgency (COIN) doctrine, the main tenets of which were represented by the six principles of British counterinsurgency. These principles were as follows:

1 recognition of the political nature of the problem; 2 civilian supremacy of the campaign and application of a coordinated government and secu-

rity plan which ties civil, police and military agencies together; 3 the development of an effective intelligence and surveillance network; 4 split the insurgents from the people via propaganda, winning hearts and minds and imposi-

tion of physical security; 5 destroy the isolated insurgent; 6 conduct political reform to prevent a recurrence of conflict.