The Cold War and Counter-Insurgency

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Due to the American-led interventions in Afghanistan and Iraq, theories surrounding counter-insurgency, or COIN, have aroused intense debate in political, military, and academic circles in the United States, Britain, and other Western countries. This article shows that current thinking about how to fight and defeat insurgent movements is based primarily on Cold War-era theories and conflicts. It traces the evolution in COIN thinking both before and during the Cold War—incorporating Western and Eastern bloc experiences of war against insurgents from Malaya to Afghanistan—but also illustrates the conceptual difficulties of applying doctrines based on the historical record of this era. The article concludes by arguing that theories derived from the experiences of states involved in COIN campaigns from 1945 to 1991 still retain utility, but that there are significant differences between Cold War insurgencies and current conflicts associated with the “war on terror”/“long war” which affect the applicability of doctrines based on historical analysis and the works of Thompson, Kitson, Galula, and other “classic” theorists.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)142-163
Number of pages22
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Jan 2011


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