“Incipient insurgency”: Kilcullen

[I think I really dislike this new editor WordPress is making people use. I am going to put the link to the Kilcullen piece at the bottom, as it obscures everything under it.]

When David Kilcullen writes something, I pay attention to it. A recent short article by him (though he has been writing in this vein for some time) declares that the United States is showing warning signs of having an incipient insurgency. Final two paragraphs from the piece, though it’s all worth reading:

One possible interpretation is that America may be in what the CIA Guide to the Analysis of Insurgency calls “incipient insurgency.” This encompasses pre-insurgency and organizational stages; it may involve inchoate action by a range of groups, followed by organization, training, acquisition of resources, and building external and public support, then increasingly frequent antigovernment incidents displaying improved organization and forethought. Many simultaneous proto-insurgencies can coexist, and it may be impossible to determine which (if any) of them will progress to a more serious stage.

Clearly, current conditions in the United States match some – though not all – of these criteria. There is no reason why, even with today’s toxic political polarization, we must inevitably slip further toward conflict. But if we want to avoid that risk, it is essential to recognize that it does exist and that, “insurrection” or not, the best thing to do is to treat the current unrest as a wake-up call and act urgently to address it.

Meanwhile, Fred Kaplan give it a somewhat more strident and overtly political context, in a piece for Slate magazine with other references to Kilcullen’s writing. Bonus points for references to focoism and Stathis Kalyvas’ The Logic of Violence in Civil War.


The word to apply right now is “inchoate”, and I have a feeling that it will be the one to apply for some time to come… widespread but disorganized disorder that will, possibly, persist until it becomes its own reason for continuing on… but nothing approaching the “second Civil War” that some people seem to love to fantasize about. For one thing, events would have to reach the stage where both sides consistently show up with firearms.

So much more to write on this, but I have to get back to more urgent and better-paying tasks…

About brtrain
This blog is mostly devoted to posts, work and resources on "serious" conflict simulation games.

6 Responses to “Incipient insurgency”: Kilcullen

  1. Pete S/ SP says:

    Great articles there. Have you read Kiklcullen’s latest book? I’ve yet to get round to it.



  2. Aaron Danis says:

    Brian, I’m not buying it. Political violence in the U.S. and the world was far worse from 1968-1972, and the county got through it. Then there was the Vietnam War layered on top of a powerful Civil Rights movement, with Soviet active measures and proxy support running in the background. We don’t have the Vietnam War this time; we have a civil rights-lite movement, and Russian/Chinese active measures are perhaps working against each other. The wild card is Trump and the election, which will ratchet up short-term political violence but won’t topple the system because the U.S. has built-in political pressure valves. I’d send you an interesting scenario from the U.S. in the 1960s, but I can’t add an attachment here, so I will try and e-mail it.

    • brtrain says:

      Kilcullen’s point is to draw a distinction between “insurrection” and “insurgency” in his article, and I think he makes it well.
      I don’t buy the scenario of an actual violent revolution either, which was the scenario you sent me.
      What I do buy is the likelihood of continued chaotic disorganized spasmodic low-level violence.
      Conflict exists and at some point maintains itself; it doesn’t necessarily have to lead to regime change.
      I keep thinking of Northern Ireland.


  3. Aaron Danis says:

    Sorry, meant to type “country” in the first line, and by that, I mean the U.S.

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