U.S. Counterinsurgency: Spoilers of Instability

  • Colonel Patrick L. Harvey

The execution of current U.S. counterinsurgency (COIN) doctrine is insufficient because spoilers, specifically those driven by ideology, have changed the face of insurgency and COIN warfare. The contemporary COIN environment is significantly different from the environment that colonial theorists Mao Tse-tung and David Galula experienced. While their theories and principles of insurgency and COIN identify the population as the center of gravity, contemporary spoilers have profoundly changed the operating environment. As the operating environment evolved, the doctrine also evolved. However, flaws in execution still exist for various reasons that are discussed in this paper. This research paper examines the evolution of U.S. COIN doctrine, reviews the theoretical foundation of current doctrine, offers an analysis of the environment through the lens of Mao Tse tung and David Galula compared to the contemporary environment, and identifies flaws in the application of current doctrine. Finally, recommendations are offered to diminish the impact spoilers have in the future COIN campaigns. It is argued that the current approach to waging COIN must be restructured in favor of more narrowly focused objectives.