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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent, 9 April 2013
This review is from: The British Approach to Counterinsurgency: From Malaya and Northern Ireland to Iraq and Afghanistan (Hardcover)
This is an excellent publication. Based upon a review of all 13 chapters in the book, as opposed to the single chapter that the previous reviewer thought fit to base his judgement on, it is clear that this book examines (and challenges) in a thoughtful and forensic manner the way in which the British have constructed, over time and on the back of campaigns in Malaya, Kenya, Northern Ireland, Iraq, Afghanistan et al a particular self-identity with respect to the practice of counterinsurgency, one which has in many ways seriously distorted wider understanding of those campaigns in general, the manner in which they were (or are) conceptualised and fought, and the broader understanding of COIN theory on the part of the British military. All of which ultimately brings us to the search for answers as to how precisely those campaigns played out in truth, as opposed to false and received wisdoms, or why they fell (or are falling) short of expectations. I'm not going to get into a chapter-by-chapter analysis for reasons of space but the book can broadly be understood as rigorous examination of certain aspects of certain campaigns set against certain tenets of British COIN theory (hearts and minds, primacy of political action, understanding of human terrain, acting in accordance with law, learning and adapting etc.) and illustrates how, in both the historical and contemporary context, these principles have often been largely ignored or, in the case of the first and abiding principle, the primacy of political action, almost impossible to apply in diffuse political scenarios. In other words COIN doctrine as the British Army in particular understands it is either a) often entirely misunderstood or b) incapable of being applied correctly due to ambient political circumstances. These are problematic conclusions deserving of greater comment, something that this collection of respected academic commentators seeks to do. And the notion, proposed by the previous reviewer, that one has to be a serving soldier to identify these ambiguities and contradictions is laughable. As too is the notion that civilians have no place commenting on either the theory or practice of COIN. This might have come as a shock to General David Petraeus, who augmented his FM3-24 writing team with a huge number of civilian academics in order to provide intellectual rigour to new US Counterinsurgency doctrine. And it should also be borne in mind that certain of the contributors to this work, notably Huw Bennett and Sherard Cowper-Coles, have great experience of working alongside the military and in particular alongside recent veterans of British COIN campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan. And all of the contributors have conducted far greater and more thorough research into the history and theory of British COIN than any military commentator with the potential exception of Colonel (retd) David Benest, who interestingly reaches the same conclusions as those writing in this volume. I would challenge the original reviewer, for example, to best Dr Karl Hack on the subject of the Malayan campaign, or Dr Huw Bennet with respect to Kenya. These are bona fide experts in their fields.
In addition the book is bold, insofar that it is brave enough to allow a feminist critique of British counterinsurgency theory, for example. This reviewer was certainly sceptical at the thought of feminist academics commentating on such a specialised field of warfare. Cleverly however, the authors use gender theory in a clear-sighted manner to account for numerous shortcomings in the practice of COIN by militaries, an analytical path that allows them to reach a series of conclusions that are fundamentally logical and correct. Indeed, they are criticisms that any clear thinking veteran of Afghanistan would acknowledge as absolutely legitimate, and indeed are criticisms that this reviewer has heard echoed by many who have served there. In addition there is space for a diplomatic perspective of COIN in the form of Cowper-Coles' contribution, and an excellent analysis of the shifting sands of Iraqi political institutions by Glen Rangwala which will do more than almost any other book or article written so far to illuminate why the British faltered to the extent that they did in applying what were initially perceived to be a set of tried and tested methods to the COIN campaign there.
I cannot recommend this edited volume enough. The author has done an excellent job in bringing together such a diverse set of thinkers to tackle this fascinating subject. Together with David French's The British Way in Counterinsurgency 1945-67 this is a must read for students of the subject.
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Initial post: 23 Apr 2013 13:23:55 BDT
Last edited by the author on 26 Apr 2013 15:38:27 BDT
Squeaker says:
Great review, but paragraphs!!
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