The right fights: How should intervention forces approach insurgencies?

Rohan Jayawardena

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis

167 Downloads (Pure)


The purpose of this study was to determine whether conducting counterinsurgency—taking measures to defeat or destroy insurgencies—aided or impeded external interventions designed to stabilise failing states. Protracted instability and low-level conflict have high human costs—both arising from the violence of the conflict, and from the impact of violence on development and standard of living. Literature on counterinsurgency has tended to make positive examples of “existential” counterinsurgencies such as the British response to the Malayan Emergency (1948–1960) or the Sri Lankan campaign against the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Elam (1983–2009), while using external interventions—the United States in Vietnam, the Soviet Union in Afghanistan—as negative examples. In order to contribute to the body of scholarship on external interventions, this study used comparative historical analysis of seven external intervention cases to determine whether external interventions have options other than the destruction of insurgencies. The cases studied were the United States (US)-led intervention in Vietnam, the Soviet intervention in Afghanistan, the US and United Nations (UN) interventions in Somalia, the Economic Union of West African States and UN interventions in Sierra Leone, the United Kingdom intervention in Sierra Leone, the Australian-led interventions in East Timor / Timor-Leste, and the Australian-led intervention in Solomon Islands.
In each case the study examined the situation that prompted the intervention, the degree of strategic advantage/disadvantage enjoyed by the intervening powers, and the design and conduct of the intervention. The study examined the intervention forces’ approach to insurgencies, militias and state forces, and any visible links to the degree of success of the operation. It then examined the effects of other factors on campaign success and conflict termination, and identified themes common to all cases. The study also examined literature on rebellion, and Peacebuilding, linking Gurr’s use of Relative Deprivation Theory to Galtung’s concept of structural violence, and its antithesis, Positive Peace as steps to conflict termination.
The study found that the cases featuring the greatest degree of force used against insurgencies and other militias displayed increased violence, with negative effects on stability. However, the study acknowledged that accommodations with insurgencies or other militias were not always feasible or strategically acceptable. Some degree of force against armed groups was often necessary, so that the risk of applying it needed to be identified and mitigated. The study found that a markedly dominant intervention force was likely to deter conflict, while down-sizing this force could provoke instability by increasing militias’ resolve to fight. The study therefore recommended that intervening powers deploy a dominant force, but use an indirect approach to minimise the level of conflict, not link stability to an existential threat to militias and, where possible, combined their dominant capabilities with avenues for lawful pursuit of militia goals to coerce compliance and reintegration, rather than trying to destroy militias. The study also recommended that intervening powers retain security forces in-theatre post-conflict, to allow other elements of the intervention effort to rebuild state institutions and reform state regimes, redressing structural violence and relative deprivation.
Original languageEnglish
QualificationDoctor of Policing and Security
Awarding Institution
  • Charles Sturt University
  • Prunckun, Henry, Principal Supervisor
  • Whitford, Troy, Principal Supervisor
  • McKinley, Amber, Co-Supervisor
Place of PublicationAustralia
Publication statusPublished - 2020


Dive into the research topics of 'The right fights: How should intervention forces approach insurgencies?'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this