Since World War II, the days of bloody conflict between sovereign nations seems to be in the past. Democracies are able to solve their problems democratically and more unified world order has created a system in which countries do not go to war with each other. However, conflict still exists primarily in the form of violence against and by non-state actors. Smaller groups like terrorist organizations, nationalists, drug cartels, and rebel groups alike have caused significant problems for countries that engage in these conflicts. Military powers like the Soviet Union, United States, France and Israel have all been pushed back, demoralized, or simply defeated by smaller, under equipped groups of insurgents. As more frequently terrorist organizations represent an insurgent threat, security and military officials must adapt to battle this threat and understand why the mighty do not always win.
Despite its recent rise in areas such as the Middle East and North Africa, guerilla conflicts have been around since the Romans conquered the known world. The Jewish insurgency frustrated the Romans to the point where they decided to utterly destroy any remnants of their holiest temple. The United States became an independent nation in large part due the guerilla masters, like Francis Marion, that roamed the southern states ambushing British soldiers and defying the respected rules of war. Ho Chi Minh in Vietnam pushed back two world powers by implementing guerilla warfare with the utmost precision and brutal proficiency. Ahmad Shah Massoud used the mountainous terrain of Afghanistan to constantly push back the Soviets. Undermanned and outgunned, these insurgents have created a history and lore that fuels the spirts of the lowly rebel in countries around the globe.
On the other side, counter-insurgency strategy (COIN) has developed to better fight the smaller enemies. For years, a scorched earth policy was used to decimate and eradicate any threat to the more powerful actor. However, as the international community became more relevant, human rights abuses more difficult to hide, and a more resilient insurgent was born, the time came for a new way to win. Men such as David Galula, learned from his experiences in Algeria to offer new insights on countering insurgencies. Terms like population control and “winning hearts and minds” filled the literature on the subject. In a modern case, General David Petraeus would reshape American COIN by applying hard tactics of leadership decapitation and tight security measures with creating a positive relationship and prioritizing the safety of the local population. However, a foreign power can do all in its power and perform a perfect COIN operation, but if the local government is not able to effectively lead than the insurgents will soon return to prominence. Keeping with the Iraq example, the US had essentially defeated AQI/ISI by killing key leaders and instituting population control before sectarian violence on behalf of the Iraqi government gave ISI new life. Corruption, inability to provide public goods, and being unable to protect its citizens will spell disaster for any state that has overpowered an insurgency.
The growing threat of terrorist organizations that control and govern territory provides a strong case for increased knowledge and understand on guerilla conflicts. Governments must learn to adapt to fight insurgencies physically and psychologically. Their inability to evolve in one or both of those of those facets has led to insurgent victory in every corner of the globe. Governments and militaries need innovations in intelligence, weaponry, vehicles, surveillance and countless other aspects of warfare to combat the growth of insurgent and guerilla conflict. As warfare evolves, so too must the tools of war.