Insurgents at SAIS, Part Two


Categorie: COIN, Research, Sam Abrams |

This post follows up on our November 22 post on the “Insurgents and the Future of War” event held at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies on November 16. Counter-insurgency expert Dave Kilcullen gave the keynote. Shawn Brimley, Special Advisor to the Under Secretary of Defense for Policy; Max Manwaring, a professor of military strategy at the Army War College; Christopher Preble, Director of Foreign Policy Studies at the Cato Institute; and Tom Donnelly, resident fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, all participated in a discussion panel. Audio from the event is available here.



After Kilcullen addressed challenges in Afghanistan, he, and later the panel, looked at the future security environment and implications for U.S. strategy. Each speaker recognized the value of having a range of conventional and unconventional military capabilities. To varying degrees, they emphasized the risks of waging counter-insurgency campaigns. Of counterinsurgency capabilities, Kilcullen said, “It doesn’t substitute for strategy and it certainly doesn’t substitute for policy.”

Brimley and Manwaring were similarly concerned about making sure counter-insurgency campaigns comported with grand strategy and military strategy. Preble took pains explain the risks inherent to waging counter-insurgency: they are inherently protracted, expensive and bloody — and incur a cost the American public will tolerate only to achieve vital national interests. Dishonesty about one or the other, in the form of denying the existence of an insurgency or exaggerating the value of fighting one, may work in the short term but will ultimately lead to failure.

Donnelly added that the idea that the development of one set of capabilities denies the development of other capabilities was fallacious. Echoing Brimley, Donnelly said the U.S. was a “systems operator” for the international commons. Policy should reflect these interests, and capabilities developed accordingly, recognizing the fact that irregular threats need to be dealt with to achieve America’s strategic goals. There is no “trade off,” as such; rather, there is being more or less prepared to secure U.S. interests.

(“Lego insurgent” via


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