Guerrilla War and Failed States

John Robb observes that, “One of the most confusing aspect of modern insurgency for the ‘experts’ is that nearly every guerrilla group worth observing is advancing on the objective of state failure rather than state replacement.” Contrary to the traditional Mao-Ho-Castro model, the goal is not takeover of the state but rather chaos.

I think that’s right. Don Snow noticed that trend in the 1990s in places like the Andean drug states and the horn of Africa. It seems to be the case now in parts of the Middle East.

Aside from possibly changing the definitions of “victory” and “civil war,” though, I’m not sure what this means. Other than a lot more bloodshed, of course.

FILED UNDER: Africa, Middle East, Uncategorized,
James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Bithead says:

    Well, to set yourself up, you have to remove what’s there, first. THen only can you rush in to fill the vaccum.

  2. legion says:

    Well, that assumes you _want_ to hold political power. If all you are is a criminal group (I’m thinking drug cartels in SoAm and Afghanistan), then the chaos of no effective central gov’t just boosts your profits (no functioning law enforcement to work against), and once someone does move into the vacuum, you just buy them off or foment the same chaos as before…

  3. Dave Schuler says:

    As Robb continues in the linked post, it may actually be better for the insurgents if they weaken but don’t eliminate the state. The state continues to be responsible for and provide services.

    IMO the next step to take from Robb’s observations is not merely redefining victory from the point of view of the insurgent but from our own. We’re victorious so long as the state continues to exist and have reasonable strength. Corollary: the counter-insurgency never ends.