Advance Endorsements for Counterinsurgency in Crisis
23 May 2013 – My forthcoming book, Counterinsurgency in Crisis: Britain and the Challenges of Modern Warfare is due to hit the shelves in October 2013. It is written together with Robert Egnelland will be published as part of the Columbia University Press Studies in Terrorism and Irregular Warfare. Synopsis and advance endorsements follow:
The British military – long considered the masters of counterinsurgency – encountered significant problems in Iraq and Afghanistan when confronted with insurgent violence. In their efforts to apply the principles and doctrines of past campaigns, they failed to prevent Basra and Helmand from descending into lawlessness, criminality, and violence. By juxtaposing the deterioration of these situations against Britain’s celebrated legacy of counterinsurgency, this investigation identifies both the contributions and limitations of traditional tactics in such settings, exposing a disconcerting gap between ambitions and resources, intent and commitment. Building upon this detailed account of the Basra and Helmand campaigns, this volume conducts an unprecedented assessment of British military institutional adaptation in response to operations gone awry. It calls attention to the effectiveness of insurgent tactics and the danger of ungoverned spaces shielding hostile groups and underscores the need for the military organizations to acquire new skills for meeting the irregular threats of future wars.
Advance praise for Counterinsurgency in Crisis:
“A sobering indictment of the British performance in Iraq and Afghanistan. It provides shrewd analysis – the best yet – of what went wrong and why, and the lessons that must be learnt. Essential reading for policymakers, strategists and practitioners, both military and civilian”
Lieutenant General Sir John Kiszely
“Impeccably researched and elegantly written, Counterinsurgency in Crisis is important because what the United Kingdom and its allies learn from experiences in Afghanistan and Iraq is likely to be as important as the outcomes of those wars. Indeed, if we are to prepare well for future conflict, Ucko and Egnell warn, we must not let false interpretations dominate historical memory.Counterinsurgency in Crisis is at once a work of military history, intellectual history, and historiography. It is highly recommended for students, academics, diplomats, and military leaders.”
H.R. McMaster, Author, Dereliction of Duty: Lyndon Johnson, Robert McNamara, the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the Lies that Led to Vietnam
“In this critical and important study, Ucko and Egnell challenge the British Army’s record at counterinsurgency. They demonstrate the need for a more careful reading of history and for a clear-eyed assessment of the campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan. An essential read for those seeking to learn lessons from Britain’s recent small wars.”
Professor Theo Farrell, Head of the Department of War Studies. King’s College London
“A balanced and clear-sighted evaluation of the problems that affected British Army Operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.”
M.L.R. Smith, Kings College London
More information to follow…
Now available: New Counterinsurgency Era in Stereo!
18 August 2012 – Like to know about counterinsurgency — but can’t read? Or maybe you have a long commute and never find time to pick up that book? Well, do I have something for you: The New Counterinsurgency Era is now, thanks to Redwood Audiobooks, available to download as an audiobook. Not only for the visually impaired but perfect also for road trips, long-haul flights or while working out!
Now out: Routledge Handbook on Insurgency and Counterinsurgency
21 January 2012 – Paul B. Rich, and Isabelle Duyvesteyn have edited a ‘handbook on insurgency and counterinsurgency’ that is now available to buy through Amazon.co.uk. The book is divided into three parts: 1) theoretical and analytical issues; 2) insurgent movements; and 3) counterinsurgency cases. It features an impressive collection of counterinsurgency authors (Beckett, Metz, Kilcullen, Betz, Chin, etc.), along with some who do not commonly write on this topic and whose perspectives on it may therefore be all the more valuable (I’m thinking primarily of Christopher Coker, my erstwhile professor at LSE). Suffice to say I am proud to be included in this book, with a chapter titled: ‘Whither Counterinsurgency: The Rise and Fall of a Divisive Concept’.
New PRISM article out: ‘Counterinsurgency After Afghanistan’
1 December 2011 – Volume 3, number 1, of PRISM, the journal of the National Defense University’s Center of Complex Operations, has recently hit the shelves. I authored the leading article, titled ‘Counterinsurgency after Afghanistan: a Concept in Crisis‘. Here is the abstract:
Once celebrated as having pulled Iraq back from the brink, the concept of counterinsurgency is now in crisis due to its record in Afghanistan. By examining the contribution of counterinsurgency to military thinking, its limitations as a concept and its proper use, this article seeks to identify those aspects of counterinsurgency theory that should be retained, even if the term itself is once again cast aside. The value of counterinsurgency theory depends on what is expected from it. It provides no strategy or campaign plan, but merely a collection of insights and principles. These insights appear commonsensical but nonetheless challenge dominant misconceptions about the nature of war. The lessons of recent counterinsurgency campaigns must therefore be retained for future military interventions – and prompt greater caution among military strategists and policy makers about precisely such undertakings. Careful study and research is needed to determine how best to apply these principles to future operations, and it is fair to say that the theory is better at raising the right questions than in providing the answers.
University of South Carolina conference ‘War by Another Means’: videos now online
14 November 2011 – In October, I attended a conference at University of South Carolina to discuss different ‘perspectives on insurgency’. The conference organizers have recently shared the proceedings with the broader community by uploading the videos on their site, which can be found here. I had been invited to partake in a round-table with Maj.-Gen. David Blackledge, Douglas Porch and Erin Simpson and contributed with some comments on the future of counterinsurgency (video here). I also participated in a panel on ‘Why Insurgencies Work’, together with Jeffrey Record (video here). You can find the rest of the videos uploaded here. Thanks to CAPT Brett Lea and the Walker Institute of International and Area Studies for organising this event.
Nathan Freier reviews New Counterinsurgency Era in Parameters
10 November 2011 – The latest issue of Parameters contains a review of my book, The New Counterinsurgency Era. Parameters is the US Army War College’s quarterly journal and the reviewer is Nathan Freier, a Visiting Professor at the War College’s Peacekeeping and Stability Operations Institute and a Senior Fellow in the New Defense Approaches Program at CSIS. For this reason, I was particularly appreciative of the kind words Professor Freier had to say about the book:
David Ucko’s book perfectly captures the central paradox in contemporary defense policymaking. According to Ucko, in spite of almost a decade of irregular warfighting against various insurgent and terrorist actors, “corporate level” DOD remains reluctant to institutionalize armed stabilization and extended counterinsurgency (COIN) at the expense of or in addition to preparation for more conventional conflicts.
I thought Freier’s comments on the ‘indirect approach’ were particularly relevant and help place the book, published in 2009, within a fairly relevant debate.
Perhaps Ucko’s most biting criticism is saved for advocates of a special forces (SF) or SF-like “indirect approach” to pressing irregular challenges. According to Ucko, this group recognizes the need to adapt to irregular warfighting but seeks to do so at very low visibility and cost, saving room inside the defense program for traditional military challenges. Readers will find that Ucko has tapped into a recent powerful Defense predilection that seeks to offset the hazards associated with most unconventional challenges by either preventing them outright or combating them through cultivating more capable partner security forces worldwide. To Ucko and many others, the “indirect approach”— like conventional deterrence and dissuasion—is clearly preferred, as it offsets the broad costs of large-scale military operations. Building partner capacity alone, however, does not obviate the need for general purpose forces that are ready for direct intervention. Believing it does incurs enormous strategic risk.
The whole review can be accessed here.
SWP Studie: Counterinsurgency and its Discontents
18 April 2011 – Stiftung Wissenschaft und Politik has published my Research Paper on ‘Counterinsurgency and its Discontents‘. The paper explores counterinsurgency as a concept, the implications of its demise, and its legacy. It assesses the benefits and dangers of the concept and how its principles and theory may be integrated into our understanding of military intervention and of war-to-peace transitions. An abstract for the study can be found here and the full article is linked here.
Bernard Brodie Prize and Choice Award for Outstanding Book of 2010
8 January 2011 – I am honoured to report that my article ‘Peacebuilding After Afghanistan‘, in Contemporary Security Policy, has been nominated for the Bernard Brodie Prize, awarded to ‘the outstanding article appearing in the journal during the previous year’.
In related news, The New Counterinsurgency Era was included by Choice Magazine as one of their ‘Outstanding Academic Titles of 2010′ in the ‘International Relations’ category. Here is a complete list of all award-winning books.
‘Peacebuilding After Afghanistan’ now out in Contemporary Security Policy
18 December 2010 – An article on the future of peacebuilding after Afghanistan is included in the latest issue of Contemporary Security Policy. The article has been nominated for the 2010 Bernard Brodie Prize, given to the most outstanding article appearing in the journal during the previous year. You can access the whole article for free here, or begin with the abstract, reproduced below:
Engagement in various forms of peace-building has increased dramatically since the Cold War, yet what is the future of peace-building in the aftermath of the troubled intervention in Afghanistan? This article argues that while many Western and allied governments will feel chastened by the experience in Central Asia, their impulse to ‘do good’ internationally will not altogether disappear. Instead, to manage the complexity of future interventions, intervening government may be tempted to reinvoke the traditional peace-building principles drawn from the 1990s – neutrality, consent-based operations, and the minimum use of force. Such a tendency, this article argues, is based on a flawed historical understanding of the experiences of the 1990s and underestimates what it takes to build peace after war. Dissecting the peace-building principles in light of more recent experiences with counterinsurgency, the article explores the full requirements for effective intervention in war-to-peace transitions. It then concludes by discussing what these requirements mean for those states that express interest in peace-building, but whose commitment and capabilities are often found lacking.
A related Kings of War blog post can be found here.
Review of New COIN Era by Air Force Research Institute
17 December 2010 – Maj. Ryan Messer, USAF, has penned a review of The New Counterinsurgency Era for the US Air Force Research Institute. The review in its entirety can be accessed here. He writes:
‘Throughout The New Counterinsurgency Era, Ucko presents a clear argument with detailed analysis to support his thesis that the US military must institutionalize lessons learned from our most recent campaigns’.
Proceedings of RSIS conference on ’small wars’ now available online
16 December 2010 – The people at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies (RSIS) have released a report covering the conference they hosted in Singapore in early August on ‘Fighting Small Wars in the New Century’. The proceedings are obviously not as detailed as the presentations themselves, but nonetheless provide a feel for the proceedings. You can find the whole report here.
The New Counterinsurgency Era reviewed in Perspectives of Politics
2 December 2010 – Professor Mark Phythian, head of the Department of Politics and International Relations at Leicester University, has reviewed The New Counterinsurgency Era in the latest issue of Perspectives on Politics. Professor Phythian writes:
“The New Counterinsurgency Era is an articulate and thoughtful appeal for institutional acceptance of the continued centrality of counterinsurgency to the U.S. military... Developments on the ground in Iraq will inform assessments of the success of the counterinsurgency campaign there over the medium term, but… Ucko’s central argument has an importance that goes beyond current campaigns“.
The review can be read in its entirety here.
Reintegrating Armed Forces in paperback available on Amazon.com
1 December 2010 – Amazon.com has finally made Reintegrating Armed Groups available in paperback. It is now on general sale for $39.95. No preview is offered as of yet, but you can access one over at the Routledge site.
Department of War Studies podcast on Afghanistan and NATO
4 November 2010 – The Department of War Studies, King’s College London, my alma mater and current employer, has released a podcast on Afghanistan and NATO. The podcast contains a lengthy interview with Prof. Theo Farrell on his recent research on British military adaption in Afghanistan. It then moves on for a shorter segment on my recent research on NATO and Article 5. For those of you in London, you can also find out what is going on at the Department in terms of public events. Here it is:
Faut-Il Brûler la Contre-Insurrection - new edited volume on counterinsurgency – now available
3 November 2010 – Faut-Il Brûler la Contre-Insurrection, edited by Georges Henri-Bricet des Vallons, has recently been published. The edited volume includes some of the leading voices in the counterinsurgency debate, both in France and across the Atlantic, and I am honoured to see my own piece on the dilemmas of US counterinsurgency doctrine reproduced as one of the book’s chapters. Other contributors include: Georges Henri-Bricet des Vallons, Elie Tenenbaum, Ahmed S. Hashim, Stéphane Taillat, Michel Goya, Gian P. Gentile and many others. You can buy a copy here or here.
Alexander Alderson reviews The New Counterinsurgency Era
1 November 2010 – Col Alex Alderson, director of the British Land Forces Counterinsurgency Centre, has a great review of The New Counterinsurgency Era in the latest issue of the RUSI Journal (vol. 155, no. 5). It is always nice to know your work is being read, much more so to hear it is appreciated, and even more so when it is by someone with Col Alderson’s background and experience. He writes:
“The issues he raises have far wider implications for defence and strategy than effective stability operations. To what extent should defence respond to the particular forms of warfare we have seen in Iraq and Afghanistan? To what extent are they sui generis, to be dealt with on their own terms before we move on to more intellectually familiar ground? … Ucko’s book remains relevant to today’s discussions surrounding the security and defence reviews, both here and in the US”.
Article on NATO and Article 5 published at World Politics Review
26 October 2010 – World Politics Review has today published an article of mine on NATO and Article 5. The article builds on a blog post at Kings of War entitled ‘Some Unspoken Truths About NATO’, but deals specifically with the current relevance and meaning of NATO’s security guarantees. Access to the article requires membership of World Politics Review and can be accessed here.
Reintegrating Armed Groups now available in paperback from Amazon.co.uk
21 September 2010 – Reintegrating Armed Groups After Conflict: Politics, Violence and Transition, co-edited by Mats Berdal and myself, is now available in paperback from Amazon.co.uk. The book looks at the political reintegration of armed groups after civil wars and the challenges of transforming ‘rebel’, ‘insurgent’ or other non-state armed groups into viable political entities (click here for more information). A review of the book, penned last year by Brig.-Gen. H. R. McMaster, can be found here.
New COIN Era reviewed in Contemporary Security Policy
20 August 2010 – Aaron Karp, Lecturer in the Department of Political Science and Geography at Old Dominion University, has penned a review of The New Counterinsurgency Era in the latest issue of Contemporary Security Policy:
“David Ucko’s The New Counterinsurgency Era, is a deceptive work. Its restrained, almost flat tone conceals a vigorous attack on the US Department of Defense.”
Politics article on British counterinsurgency in Basra
4 August 2010 – Alex Stevenson covers my article on British counterinsurgency at Politics.co.uk. His article provides a quite good snapshot of my full-length journal article, which you can find here.
Article on British counterinsurgency in Basra now out in Survival
22 July 2010 – Survival, the bi-monthly journal of the International Institute of Strategic Studies, has just released its most recent issue, which includes my article on ‘Lessons from Basra: the Future of British Counter-Insurgency’. The article revisits what happened during Operation Telic and, based on this account, makes some broader points about the bleak future of British counter-insurgency, once held as the masters of how to conduct such operations.
Here is the abstract (full access to journal requires log-in).
Public and media attention over the ongoing Iraq Inquiry commissioned by the UK government in summer 2009 has focused primarily on Prime Minister Tony Blair’s determination to involve the UK in the overthrow of Saddam Hussein. But for Britain’s role in international peace and security, the conduct of operations in Iraq and the circumstances of the British withdrawal in 2009 are likely to have effects as far-reaching as the initial invasion of the country in 2003. The lessons the armed forces draw from this campaign, how they interpret it, will inform both the British military’s future relation to counter-insurgency and the future of British civil-military relations.
New COIN Era reviewed in Political Science Quarterly
1 July 2010 – Andrea M. Lopez, Associate Professor at Susquehanna University, has reviewed The New Counterinsurgency Era in the latest issue of the Political Science Quarterly:
“Ucko goes into great depth regarding how the DoD – and in particular the U.S. Army and Marines – relearned the lessons of Vietnam and other counterinsurgencies by adjusting technology, doctrine, force structure, and culture and education of personnel. Yet, as Ucko expertly reveals, there continues to be ambivalence within the DoD toward counterinsurgency.”
Reintegrating Armed Groups reviewed in Journal of Strategic Studies
19 June 2010 – Florian Otto, PhD candidate at the Department of War Studies, King’s College London, has reviewed Reintegrating Armed Groups after Conflict: Politics, Violence and Transition in the latest issue of the Journal for Strategic Studies:
“The editors deserve praise for bringing together eight thoroughly researched and insightful as well as highly readable articles. Berdal’s and Ucko’s book furthermore merits attention because it highlights that political reintegration is, above all, ‘political’…. The book is particularly recommended to students and scholars researching post-conflict reconstruction, peace-building and structural conflict prevention as well as to practitioners active in these fields.”
Defence Studies releases double issue on ‘The Janus Face of War: Counter Insurgency in the Post Modern Era’
30 May 2010 – Defence Studies, the official journal of the Joint Services Command and Staff College, has released a double issue dedicated to the ‘The Janus Face of War: Counter Insurgency in the Post Modern Era’. Volume 10, issues 1 and 2 of the journal holds many gems, along with an article of mine entitled ‘The Malayan Emergency: The Legacy and Relevance of a Counter-Insurgency Success Story’. Here is the abstract (full access to journal requires log-in):
The Malayan Emergency has long been presented as a rare counter-insurgency success story, one in which the insurgents were defeated and an independent, democratic and multi-ethnic state emerged. Because of this status, the Malaya campaign has tended to be over-farmed for useful parallels and ‘lessons learned’. Not only has this resulted (and built on) superficial historical analysis; it has also engendered a backlash, with scholars increasingly questioning the current relevance of the campaign, along with its portrayal as a ‘success-story’. This article engages with this polemic by providing a historical analysis of the Malayan Emergency and answering three questions central to its historiography: was it a ‘model’ counter- insurgency campaign; what does it tell us about the ‘British approach’ to low-intensity conflict; and is it at all relevant to our understanding and prosecution of counter-insurgency today and tomorrow?
Reintegrating Armed Groups After Conflict paperback now available for pre-order
25 May 2010 – Reintegrating Armed Groups After Conflict: Politics, Violence and Transitions is now available to pre-order in paperback, via Amazon.
New Counterinsurgency Era now available for Kindle
20 May 2010 – The New Counterinsurgency Era: Transforming the U.S. Military for Modern Wars is now available for Kindle, via Amazon.
The New Counterinsurgency Era reviewed in International Affairs
28 January 2010 – Richard Bennet of the Council on Foreign Relations reviews The New Counterinsurgency Era in volume 86, issue 1 of Chatham House’s International Affairs.
“Ucko shows his strong command over the events in Iraq as they transpired, the reaction those events produced in Washington and the subsequent doctrinal changes that resulted…The book may indeed come to serve as a place marker at this critical juncture in American military history”.
The rest of the review is available here, though Athens log-in is needed.
New Sécurité Globale Issue on Counterinsurgency
28 January 2010 – The latest issue of Sécurité Globale, edited by Georges-Henri bricet des Vallons and Stéphane Taillat is now out, and includes an article I wrote on the dilemmas of U.S. counterinsurgency doctrine. You should be able to buy the issue here though the site appears to be having some trouble at the moment.
Mark Moynar’s Question of Command Reviewed in Journal of Military Affairs
8 January 2010 – The latest issue of the Journal of Military History includes my review of Mark Moyar’s book, A Question of Command: Counterinsurgency from the Civil War to Iraq (Yale University Press, 2009). You can read the whole review here.
Eliot Cohen reviews The New Counterinsurgency Era in the Washington Post
5 December 2009 – Professor Eliot A. Cohen included The New Counterinsurgency Era in his review article for the Washington Post, looking at recently published works on counterinsurgency. The article, ‘Obama’s COIN Toss‘, makes some very good point about the prospects for Afghanistan and the meaning of strategy. About my book in particular, Cohen writes:
“’The New Counterinsurgency Era’ is a dense, scholarly and useful work on how the American military adapted to counterinsurgency during the Iraq war, both on the ground and in the classrooms of Fort Leavenworth.”
You can read the whole article here.
Reviews of The New Counterinsurgency Era
25 November 2009 – Jonathan Stevenson has reviewed my book, The New Counterinsurgency Era, in the latest issue of Survival, the bimonthly journal of the International Institute for Strategic Studies. The review can be found in vol. 51, no. 6 of Survival.
“Ucko’s book is an impressive effort, and an invaluable resource for anyone who wants to understand the halting, ambivalent and, as Ucko wisely notes, quite reversible evolution of the US military”.
Paul McLeary also reviewed The New Counterinsurgency Era for the October issue of Aviation Week, focusing primarily on the analysis of the 2006 quadrennial defence review (QDR). Accessing the article, entitled “Happy Talk but No Results”, will require a subscription to Aviation Week.
“While the QDR sounded some hopeful notes for change in the department, it also failed to make decisions, or even recommendations, on procurement issues or force structure alternations that would have to accompany the change in thinking it proposed.
Presentation on U.S. Counterinsurgency Doctrine at Naval War College
18 November 2009 – The Naval War College has posted the videos from its conference on Irregular War, held in early September 2009. You can see all of the presentations, including my own – on U.S. military counterinsurgency doctrine – here.
Abu Muqawama Interview on New Counterinsurgency Era
6 November 2009 — Andrew Exum over at Abu Muqawama featured my book on his blog, Abu Muqawama, and asked me some very important but difficult questions. You can read the whole interview here.
Out now: Cooperating for Peace and Security
2 November 2009 – Bruce C. Jones, Shepard Forman and Richard Gowan, all of the Center for International Cooperation, New York University, have just come out with Cooperating for Peace and Security: Evolving Institutions and Arrangements in a Context of Changing U.S. Security Policy (Cambridge University Press). The book includes a chapter, ‘Whither NATO?’, written by Professor Mats Berdal, King’s College London, and myself on the evolution of NATO and its possible role in international peace and security. Click to read the rest of this post.
Reintegrating Armed Groups After Conflict: review in Survival
29 September 2009 — Brig.-Gen. H. R. McMaster, U.S. Army, reviewed Reintegrating Armed Groups After Conflict: Violence, and Transition (Routledge, 2009) in volume 51, issue 5 of Survival, the International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS) bi-monthly journal of global politics and strategy:
“This is an important book that should be at the top of the reading lists of practitioners and policymakers involved in peacekeeping, counter-insurgency, post-conflict stability and DDR efforts.”
You can find the complete review here.
Interview with International Affairs Forum
18 September 2009 — The International Affairs Forum, of the Center for International Relations, interviewed me about my book, The New Counterinsurgency Era: Transforming the U.S. Military for Modern Wars. Read it here.
Congress Quarterly coverage of New Counterinsurgency Era
11 September 2009 — Tim Starks and Matthew M. Johnson of CQ.com cover my appearance at the Center for a New American Security together with Dr John Nagl. See:
- Tim Starks, ‘RAND Analyst Says Pentagon Needs to “Institutionalize” CI Doctrine’, CQ Homeland Security, 11 September 2009.
- Matthew M. Johnson, ‘Levin Does Not Plan To Legislate Quickening Expansion of Afghan Security Forces’, CQ Today Online News – Defense, 11 September 2009.
Now available: The New Counterinsurgency Era
July 2009 — My book, The New Counterinsurgency Era: Transforming the U.S. Military for Modern Wars (Washington DC: Georgetown University Press, 2009) is now available for purchase, in hardcover and in paperback.
Report on IISS Roundtable on the Role of Economics Instruments in Ending Conflict
6 May 2009 — Following the International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS) roundtable in Washington DC on the role of economic instruments in ending conflict, my conference report is now available online.
Now available: Reintegrating Armed Groups After Conflict: Politics, Violence and Transition
6 April 2009 — My book, Reintegrating Armed Groups After Conflict: Politics, Violence and Transition, (Abingdon: Routledge, 2009), coedited by Mats Berdal and myself, is now out and available for purchase.