Canadian Defence & Foreign Affairs Institute

Canadian Defence & Foreign Affairs Institute

December 14, 2009 10:00 ET

Canadian Defence & Foreign Affairs Institute: Democracies Can't Fight Insurgencies Well, but They Can Fight Them Less Badly

CALGARY, ALBERTA--(Marketwire - Dec. 14, 2009) - Canadian Defence & Foreign Affairs Institute released a report today, Democracies and Small Wars.

Many observers of recent wars have observed that heavy, western, high-tech armies are not very good at defeating enemies who do not fight the way they do. They have difficulty dealing with enemies who avoid our strengths and exploit our weaknesses. In this new paper CDFAI Fellow Barry Cooper brings together a wide range of contemporary scholarship bearing on this important political and strategic question, the implications of which are being worked out in practice every day in Afghanistan and Iraq.

He argues that the strategy pursued in counter-insurgency warfare must incorporate both military and political elements or it is doomed to failure. He also states that pursuing a strategy of brutality will not only fail to crush an insurgency, but will make matters worse. This is not, in fact, because democracies are squeamish, but because the host country's people are at the heart of the conflict. Winning their support is crucial to success and any strategy that negatively affects the people is simply counter-productive.

The big question for democracies is, however, whether they should even pursue stability operations or are they wasting their resources by doing this? Democracies need patience to persist in these operations but time is not on their side. The end goal for democracies is to leave the host country and, knowing this, the insurgents can wait. Adding to the complexity of fighting small wars is the end result. Unlike major conventional conflicts that end in peace agreements, the conflict continues on a smaller scale in small wars after the democratic forces have left.

Nevertheless, democracies will likely continue fighting these types of wars and Dr. Cooper argues that although democracies may never fight them well, they can fight them less badly.

The complete report, Democracies and Small Wars, is available online at

CDFAI is a "think tank" pursuing authoritative research and new ideas aimed at ensuring Canada has a respected and influential voice in the international arena.

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