As the official recovering undergraduate of COIN, I spend an unhealthy amount of time thinking about counterinsurgency from a purely academic perspective. Over the past few months, I’m been starting to wonder whether or not COIN is beginning to lose the intellectual edge that has made it such a successful doctrine.

Don’t get me wrong – Andrew Exum, who is smarter than me and a mensch, still maintains the COIN reading list, and the Small Wars Journal community and (I’m given to understand) the official military discussion forums have led to truly rapid development of new tactics and new ways of thinking. But the challenges of being practicioners have resulted in a different set of books and articles being written, and read, than was previously the case. 

In other words, COIN has entered the world of practical wisdom,  where thinking and doing flow together.  But I’m not sure that the same hunger exists for reading cutting-edge political science works and bringing them to the fight. Exum’s list includes few works that couldn’t have been added in 2006, to be frank, with additions such as Weinstein’s Inside Rebellion that were published years ago. (Kilcullen is a notable exception, but I’d argue his book is one such practical work) Where’re the links to exciting working papers from colloquia like Yale’s Order, Conflict, and Violence program? What’s the new samizdat that gets passed around like the Logic of Violence in Civil War was? If the MacChrystal era is supposed to be the era of innovative thinking in Afghanistan, why aren’t we looking more outside of the box?

Why does this matter? If I’m right, we’re seeing an era of COIN respecialization, where the broad conceptual and historical context that drove so much of the rapid response to insurgencies in Iraq is being under-emphasized. And the problems of Afghanistan are not the problems of Iraq, or Sri Lanka, or a hypothetical failed state in Latin America. We’re building evolutionary solutions to area problems at the expense of the work that could lead to revolutionary answers.  And in the long run, that may cost us. 

 (crossposted to Argument by Spaghetti)  

Dave Kasten

Dave Kasten