Best Defense

More questions about COIN (V): Are the historical precedents we cite any good?

More questions about COIN (V): Are the historical precedents we cite any good?

By Major Tom Mcilwaine, Queen’s Royal Hussars

Best Defense guest columnist

Question Set Five — Historical case studies suggest that minimum force, civil primacy, and acting within the law are vital. But those historical case studies — are we sure about them? Now I know all about the wide and varied research that could be used to back up the principles articulated in FM 3-24; I have read Christopher Paul’s and Colin Clarke’s skillful deconstruction of Gentile’s argument that FM 3-24 is "evidence free". The supplementary questions that underpin this question relate to how many of these campaigns were actually used by the authors of FM 3-24? Was the insurgency in Tajikistan really at the forefront of the authors’ minds? Or were they in fact relying more on a narrow spectrum of British and French experiences? I suspect they probably were. Are Malaya, Kenya and Algeria ringing any bells?

So we are in fact drawing some pretty big conclusions from a pretty narrow sample size. And as the next question will suggest, some of those historical case studies might not actually stand up to scrutiny.

(To be continued)