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The Future of Insurgency

Authored by Dr. Steven Metz.

December 10, 1993

29 Pages

Brief Synopsis

Security professionals and strategists are discovering the post-cold war world is as rife with persistent, low-level violence as its predecessors. In fact, many regions are experiencing a rise in the amount of conflict in the absence of restraints previously imposed by the superpowers. Since frustration in many parts of the Third World is actually increasing, insurgency--the use of low-level, protracted violence to overthrow a political system or force some sort of fundamental change in the political and economic status quo--will be an enduring security problem.

Unfortunately, most existing doctrine and strategy for dealing with insurgency are based on old forms of the phenomenon, especially rural, protracted, "people's war." But as this type of insurgency becomes obsolete, new forms will emerge. It is important to speculate on these future forms in order to assist in the evolution of counterinsurgency strategy and doctrine.

Dr. Steven Metz uses a psychological method of analysis to argue that two forms of insurgency, which he calls the "spiritual" and the "commercial," will pose the greatest intellectual challenges to security professionals, military leaders, and strategists. The specific nature of such challenges will vary from region to region.


Insurgency will persist even after the end of the cold war. But as insurgent strategists recognize the bankruptcy of old techniques, especially protracted, rural "people's war," they will innovate. It is vital for those interested in preventing or controlling insurgency to think creatively, speculate on the new forms that will emerge, and craft new frames of reference to serve as the foundation for strategy and doctrine.

The key to post-cold war insurgency is its psychological component. The greatest shortcoming of Third World states (including most of the former Soviet bloc) is their inability to meet the psychological needs of their populations, especially a sense of meaning during the stressful periods of rapid change associated with development. This shortcoming will generate frustration and discontent which can be used by insurgent strategists.

Two forms of insurgency are likely to dominate the post-cold war world. Spiritual insurgency is the descendant of the cold war-era revolutionary insurgency. It will be driven by the problems of modernization, the search for meaning, and the pursuit of justice. The other form will be commercial insurgency. This will be driven less by the desire for justice than wealth. Its psychological foundation is a warped translation of Western popular culture which equates wealth, personal meaning, and power.

The dominance of one of these two forms will vary from region to region. Latin America is likely to suffer more from continued and expanded commercial insurgency than from spiritual. Sub-Saharan Africa will be particularly prone to insurgency. Initially the spiritual form will be pervasive, with the potential for commercial insurgency to develop later. The likelihood of spiritual insurgency is also high in the Middle East (including Arab North Africa). The Asia/Pacific region and the former Soviet bloc will probably experience both spiritual and commercial insurgency.

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