I was recently asked my thoughts on why I think governments fail at countering insurgencies.
As I had recently completed that chapter of my book, I could list several reasons why I believe that governments fail in countering an insurgency. (It must, however, be borne in mind that these reasons are different from those of why a law enforcement agency or the armed forces fail at COIN).
There is no single reason why governments fail in countering an insurgency; rather it is a colliding of a host of different factors and reasons that culminate at the right time to give impetus to an insurgency.
I believe that many governments fail to recognise that an insurgency is not “war” but rather a means to an end.
The following are inter alia some of the more common reasons (I have only briefly listed the points) why governments fail when having to counter an insurgency:
1. Poor intelligence
2. The lack of a realistic containment strategy and weak policies
3. Denial or out of touch with the situation
4. Lack of unity between government agencies and departments
5. Ineffective policing approaches and techniques
6. Incompetence and inefficiency within government agencies and departments
7. Unacceptable high levels of corruption and crime
8. Failure to understand the importance of perception of the nation
9. Failure to understand the insurgent’s strategy
10. Failure to isolate insurgents
11. Believing that relative strengths decide the victor
12. Failure to prepare
13. Lack of credibility
14. Lack of legitimacy
15. Lack of information to the nation
16. Lack of national and international support
17. Poor governance and service delivery
18. Divine right (A misguided belief that when having assumed power the government has a divine right to govern and to promulgate self-serving agendas)
19. Abuse of power
20. Failure to listen to the nation
21. Losing the moral high ground
22. Over-reliance on foreign aid and assistance
Governments that govern at the expense of the nation as opposed to governing for the nation place themselves in a position that will be rapidly exploited by aggrieved people and may ultimately result in a national uprising, a challenge to their authority or even into an insurgency.
Governments will inadvertently provide the insurgents with numerous advantages if they fail to take note of the above factors. These factors provide the insurgents with a fertile breeding ground for discontent and recruitment. With national and international media coverage and support, the insurgency will intensify and government reaction may result in both heavy-handed action and over-reaction.
Unlike a conventional war, a COIN conflict’s main effort is aimed at restoring faith in the government and redressing real or perceived wrongs against the populace who are partaking or supporting the insurgency. Failure to do so will simply fuel the insurgency.
When government’s failure is handed-down to the armed forces to “rectify”, the armed forces become the target of government pressure to resolve the situation as fast as possible as well as actions and propaganda by the insurgents who, by their very actions, get free publicity in the media for their cause.