Theory of Irregular War


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About the Book

From Afghanistan to Angola, Indonesia to Iran, and Colombia to Congo, violent reactions erupt, states collapse, and militaries relentlessly pursue operations doomed to fail. And yet, no useful theory exists to explain this common tragedy. All over the world, people and states clash violently outside their established political systems, as unfulfilled demands of control and productivity bend the modern state to a breaking point. This book lays out how dysfunctional governments disrupt social orders, make territory insecure, and interfere with political-economic institutions. These give rise to a form of organized violence against the state known as irregular war. Research reveals why this frequent phenomenon is so poorly understood among conventional forces in those conflicts and the states who send their children to die in them.

About the Author(s)

Jonathan Hackett is a U.S. Marine with two decades of experience. He has held positions at the Defense Intelligence Agency, National Security Agency, Marine Forces Special Operations Command, and the Marine Corps operating forces prior to teaching full spectrum human intelligence operations and security cooperation in Dam Neck, Virginia.

Bibliographic Details

Jonathan W. Hackett

Format: softcover (6 x 9)
Pages: 261
Bibliographic Info: 15 photos, notes, bibliography, index
Copyright Date: 2024
pISBN: 978-1-4766-8905-0
eISBN: 978-1-4766-5154-5
Imprint: McFarland

Table of Contents

Acknowledgments ix
Preface 1

Part I: Thinking About Irregular War
1. Enemies of the State 5
Existing Theoretical Frameworks 6
A Note on Method 13
A Note on Sources 16
Structure of the Book 18

2. A Framework of Thought, Action, and Justice 21
A School of Thought and Action 22
John Rawls and the Theory of Justice 25
The Functional Sovereign 28
The Dysfunctional Sovereign 31
Violent Resistance and the Dysfunctional Sovereign 33
‘Asabiyyah and Anomie 35

3. The Structure of Irregular War 38
Theories and Philosophies of War, or “On Clausewitz” 38
Irregular War: A Social, Territorial, and Political Affair 44
Irregular War and Social Order 45
Irregular War and Sovereign Territory 48
Irregular War and ­Political-Economic Institutions 50
The Conduct of Irregular War 52
Structures of Conflict: Insurgency and Revolution 54

Part II: The Synecdoche Trap
4. Problems of Scope, Method, Bias, and Character 61
Problem One: Scope 62
Problem Two: “Methodismus” 64
Problem Three: Bias 67
Problem Four: Character 73
The Human Element 76

5. Conventional War Theory and Regular Wars 78
Law and Doctrine 79
Doctrinal Disconnect 81
Wars, Conventional and Regular 84

6. Conventional Forces in Irregular Wars 86
Combatting Bandits in Small Wars 87
A French Vision of Disaster 98
The British Method 102
American Force 104
Suppression and Destruction 110
­Third-Party Intervention 111

Part III: A Theory of Irregular War
7. Irregular War Conditions 127
Conditions of Social Order and Sovereign Dysfunction 127
Conditions of Sovereign Territory and Sovereign Dysfunction 134
Conditions of ­Political-Economic Institutions and Sovereign Dysfunction 143

8. The Elements: People, Politics, and Propaganda 150
Thinkers and Actors 150
The Why 155
Wings of Resistance 162
Ideology and the Message 166

9. A Dialectic of Irregular War 173
The Intersection of People and the State 173
The State and Its Enemies 178
Irregular Wars and Sovereign Dysfunction 186

Concluding Irregular Wars 197
Chapter Notes 201
References 227
Index 243

Book Reviews & Awards

  • “If Jonathan Hackett’s Theory of Irregular War had been available in the early 2000s, we might have taken far more thoughtful approaches in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Libya, and the many other conflicts of the post-9/11 era. Hackett weaves together his ground-up experience with a ruthless academic critique of contemporary theory and practice in what will surely be essential reading for the inevitable irregular wars to come.”—Dr. Ben Connable, author of How Insurgencies End
  • “Analytically rigorous and methodologically sound, Hackett’s work is a precious contribution to the literature on irregular war. Theorizing, especially in social studies, is not for the faint-hearted, but Hackett accomplishes that mission with grace and humility.”—Bilal Y. Saab, former senior advisor in the Office of the Secretary of Defense, author of Rebuilding Arab Defense
  • “Jonathan Hackett has written a riveting case study of irregular warfare, absolutely breathtaking in its research depth.”—Owen West, former Assistant Secretary of Defense for Special Operations/Low Intensity Conflict
  • “Jonathan Hackett advances a provocative theory of irregular warfare in this brilliantly structured, and rigorously researched book. His firsthand experiences in fighting irregular wars coupled with his scholarly excellence results in an elegant, engaging, and convincing argument. This book should transform how scholars study irregular wars and how practitioners prepare for it.”—Dr. Sandor Fabian, chair of engagements at the Irregular Warfare Center