Experts Identify Operational and Ethical Lessons from Overlooked Counterinsurgencies

October 21, 2008
by Lindsay Hodges Anderson

More than 60 experts from academic, military, governmental and non-governmental organizations gathered in Washington D.C. Oct.1 and 2 to evaluate historical and contemporary conflicts in different regions of the world.

The conference, “Overlooked and Understudied Counterinsurgencies,” was co-sponsored by the Carr Center for Human Rights Policy’s Program on National Security and Human Rights and the Joint Special Operations University. The agenda focused on expanding counterinsurgency inquiry beyond the traditional post-colonial case studies.

“It is essential to widen our aperture of understanding of insurgency and counterinsurgency,” said Sarah Sewall, faculty director, Carr Center for Human Rights Policy. “These 21st century challenges require looking beyond the usual case studies and demand engagement from practitioners and theorists from varied fields and perspectives.”

Conference participants discussed the nature of conflicts and effectiveness of counterinsurgency tactics and strategies in Burma, Nepal, the Philippines, Kashmir, Colombia, the Spanish Basque Region and Sri Lanka.

The case studies highlighted different lessons for specific countries’ insurgent movements and the evidence of counter-productive tactics and strategies was useful to the U.S. military and policy-makers in attendance.

“The conference illuminated the ideological origins of a variety of insurgent movements from ethno-nationalist to Maoist to Islamist,” said Sewall. “While the conference did not offer a solution to these disparate conflicts, a handful of lessons were distilled from the various studies as tools to mitigate the severity of the violence and to improve humanitarian approaches to counterinsurgency and counter-terrorism.”

The National Security and Human Rights Program explores the relationship of military power and human rights through research, facilitated dialogue, and publications.

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Eric Olson

Eric Olson, commander, United States Special Operations Command, was the first speaker at the two-day event.

“These 21st century challenges require looking beyond the usual case studies and demand engagement from practitioners and theorists from varied fields and perspectives” - Sarah Sewall

Sarah Sewall

Sarah Sewall, program and Carr Center for Human Rights Policy director.