Why irregulars win: asymmetry of motivations and the outcomes of irregular warfare

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Authors
Ballow, Andrew R.
Subjects
insurgents
guerrillas
irregulars
insurgencies
civil war
asymmetric warfare
gray zone
strategy
counterinsurgency
guerrilla warfare
special operations
pseudo operations
World War II
Cold War
post-Cold War
unconventional warfare
conventional warfare
motivation
external support
safe havens
Vietnam War
Algerian War of Independence
Arreguín-Toft
Jeffery Record
Gil Merom
Andrew Mack
Advisors
Arquilla, John
Date of Issue
2016-12
Date
Dec-16
Publisher
Monterey, California: Naval Postgraduate School
Language
Abstract
The U.S. military is first-rate, yet it struggles to fight and win irregular wars. Surprisingly, throughout the course of history great powers have had difficulty with small wars. One must ask then, why and how do irregulars win as often as they do? The answer to this question will enable the United States to support irregulars more effectively, and defeat irregulars more efficiently. This thesis considers seventeen irregular conflicts between WWII and the present day to determine why irregulars win when they do, and how asymmetries of motivation can affect the outcome of irregular wars. A mixed methodology, including heuristics, process tracing, and comparison of case studies is used to evaluate irregular wars and the motivations of the combatants. The findings suggest that asymmetries of motivation only partially explain why irregulars succeed. Irregulars can succeed when motivations are symmetric as well as asymmetric. Internal conflicts that exhibited symmetrical motivation were often long, bloody, and costly affairs resolved primarily by negotiations. Alternatively, when asymmetries of motivation have existed, the weak were able to influence intrinsic and extrinsic motivations to coerce their adversaries to quit. Ultimately, the findings from this thesis indicate that opinion and public support significantly influence an actor's motivation and will to fight. In light of this, this thesis suggests that SOF should focus on advising irregulars to shape opinions and perceptions to undermine their opponents' will to fight. Furthermore, the U.S. government should focus more on the application of political and psychological warfare to enable U.S. SOF operations in support of both counterinsurgency and unconventional warfare operations.
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Thesis
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Department
Graduate School of Operational and Information Science
Defense Analysis (DA)
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Distribution Statement
Approved for public release; distribution is unlimited.
Rights
This publication is a work of the U.S. Government as defined in Title 17, United States Code, Section 101. Copyright protection is not available for this work in the United States.
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