The Insurgent’s Dilemma: A Struggle to Prevail w/ David Ucko

28 Apr 2022 – 12:00 PM – 1:30 PM EDT
National Defense University Library Special Collections and online
300 5th Avenue
Washington, DC 20319
United States

Join David Ucko for a talk on his new book The Insurgent’s Dilemma, where he will share three particularly adaptive strategies—and their implications for response.

With a few notable exceptions, insurgents are no longer winning. Efforts at counterinsurgency may stutter, but states are surviving—and denying their adversary the power they seek. In the face of this “insurgent’s dilemma,” a select few are learning new ways to ply their trade. With subversion, spin and disinformation claiming center stage, the state’s power is sapped—sometimes without it noticing. Therein lines potential also for state sponsors of insurgency, seeking to erode power and contest legitimacy. There are as always options for response, but all will require greater creativity in how we think of and approach counterinsurgency.

About the book

Despite attracting headlines and hype, insurgents rarely win. Even when they claim territory and threaten governmental writ, they typically face a military backlash too powerful to withstand. States struggle with addressing the political roots of such movements, and their military efforts mostly just ‘mow the grass’; yet, for the insurgent, the grass is nonetheless mowed–and the armed project must start over. This is the insurgent’s dilemma: the difficulty of asserting oneself, of violently challenging authority, and of establishing sustainable power.

In the face of this dilemma, some insurgents are learning new ways to ply their trade. With subversion, spin and disinformation claiming centre stage, insurgency is being reinvented, to exploit the vulnerabilities of our times and gain new strategic salience for tomorrow. As the most promising approaches are refined and repurposed, what we think of as counterinsurgency will also need to change.

The Insurgent’s Dilemma explores three particularly adaptive strategies and their implications for response. These emerging strategies target the state where it is weak and sap its power, sometimes without it noticing. There are options for response, but fresh thinking is urgently needed–about society, legitimacy and political violence itself.

About the author

David H. Ucko is Professor and Department Chair at the College of International Security Affairs (CISA), National Defense University, Washington DC. He is also an adjunct professor at Johns Hopkins University and a senior visiting research fellow in the Department of War Studies, King’s College London. He tweets as @DavidUcko.


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