International Relations Counterinsurgency
Ivan Arreguín-Toft
  • LAST REVIEWED: 28 September 2020
  • LAST MODIFIED: 02 March 2011
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199743292-0064


As suggested by its name, “counterinsurgency” is defined as a set of strategies and practices intended to halt insurgency. “Insurgency,” in turn, generally refers to a broad set of strategies and practices (such as guerrilla warfare, terrorism, or nonviolent resistance) intended to destroy or replace an existing structure of authority. In this context, counterinsurgency’s proper focus is how to reestablish a given structure of authority. Variation in existing authority structures across space and time introduces variation in both the choice and effectiveness of counterinsurgency strategies: for example, a counterinsurgency expected to support an authoritarian authority structure may prove ineffective or counterproductive if used against a democratic one (the reverse proving true as well). Cultural differences also play a role, introducing important variation in how a given act of violence (or nonviolence) is interpreted across relevant audiences. Finally, the literature on counterinsurgency has become increasingly divided (since 2001) between academic and military-practitioner communities; leading to a great deal of duplication. General literature on counterinsurgency can be roughly divided into four periods: (1) those written in the early period, from ancient times until the end of World War I; (2) those written during the main period from 1919 to 1979, encompassing the two world wars and decolonization; (3) those written in the “gap” during 1980–2000, during which most students of strategy, security, and foreign policy turned their attention to major conventional and nuclear war; and (4) those written in the contemporary period from 2001 to the present, emerging primarily as a result of a series of spectacular attacks by transnational terror networks, by the Second Intifada in Palestine, and by the rise of insurgencies in Iraq and Afghanistan.


Some research on counterinsurgency is published in general international relations journals, which otherwise are more often concerned with international economics, organizations, or diplomacy. The Journal of Military History is especially helpful in locating such articles, as it publishes lists of all articles on war appearing elsewhere. In addition, there are several specialized journals that regularly or exclusively publish on military affairs, military history, strategic thinking, military theory, and contemporary war. Among the most important journals are International Security, which, although it does not focus mainly on counterinsurgency, contains among the most thoughtful and useful academic treatments of the subject. Two additional journals that contain outstanding contributions by a mix of academic and military-practitioner contributors are Small Wars and Insurgencies and Terrorism and Political Violence. Joint Force Quarterly and Parameters introduce excellent—if at times narrow, technical, and duplicative—essays by military-practitioner contributors. These are especially valuable for the insights they provide into the operation of the contemporary US military and its positions and debates on current US global and national security challenges and the best way to meet them. The Journal of Military and Strategic Studies is published online only. Its relentless focus is current military and security policy debate, and it is also useful for its inclusion of a wider variety of non-US perspectives on security and on counterinsurgency. Finally, the Journal of Military and Strategic Studies and Journal of Strategic Studies each contain a mix of articles on contemporary security issues, including insurgency and counterinsurgency.

  • International Security.

    Most prestigious venue for peer-reviewed articles featuring theory and analysis of contemporary and historical issues in international security.

  • Joint Force Quarterly.

    Joint Force Quarterly is published for the Chairman, Joint Chiefs of Staff, by the Institute for National Strategic Studies, National Defense University, to promote understanding of the integrated employment of land, sea, air, space, and special operations forces. The journal focuses on joint doctrine, integrated operations, coalition warfare, contingency planning, and military operations conducted across the spectrum of conflict, and joint force development.

  • Journal of Military History.

    Published by the Society for Military History under this title from 1989; various titles before that, to 1937. Articles, book reviews, memoirs, research notes, documents on military history across all historical regions and time periods. Publishes exceptionally useful lists of articles on military history from other journals; also prints lists of relevant but unpublished or digitally stored doctoral dissertations.

  • Journal of Military and Strategic Studies.

    Electronic journal of Centre for Military and Strategic Studies, University of Calgary. Mixes some history with current military and security policy debates.

  • Journal of Strategic Studies.

    Written for academic and professional military; focus on technology and contemporary revolutions in military affairs (RMA); some history; mostly practical issues of defense policy, strategic theory, military theory, comparative defense policy. Good source for RMAs and non-US militaries. Occasional thematic issues of high value.

  • Parameters.

    The US Army’s senior professional journal. A rich resource for articles on contemporary insurgency and counterinsurgency.

  • RUSI Journal.

    Since 2001, this journal has published a number of good articles on insurgency and counterinsurgency in Afghanistan and Iraq.

  • Small Wars and Insurgencies.

    Excellent resource for peer-reviewed articles on insurgency and counterinsurgency.

  • Terrorism and Political Violence.

    Peer-reviewed articles on terrorism, counterterrorism, and political violence.

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