British Counterinsurgency in the Post-Imperial Era (review)
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British Counterinsurgency in the Post-Imperial Era, by Thomas R. Mockaitis. London: Macmillan, 1995. xvi, 165 p. $69.95/Cloth.

In Mockaitis’ previous work, British Counterinsurgency, 1919–1960 (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1990), the author laid out the origins, evolution, and codification of British counterinsurgency doctrine and elucidated three basic principles of the British approach: minimum force, civil-military cooperation, and tactical flexibility. He argued that these principles, when applied with the appropriate mix of “hearts and minds” activities and conducted within the framework of a workable political solution, produced counterinsurgency successes for the British. It was not until the Malayan Emergency of 1948–1960 that all three principles were properly applied in combination. The principles, which until that time had been transmitted through word of mouth based on regimental experience, were then finally set down in a written counterinsurgency doctrine.

In his sequel to that volume, British Counterinsurgency in the Post-Imperial Era, Mockaitis attempts in part to disprove critics of British success in Malaya who have argued that it was due mostly to unique and favorable circumstances. To them, victory was a foregone conclusion based on British sovereign authority in Malaya, lack of external support for the insurgents, and the fact that an overwhelming majority of the guerrillas were ethnic Chinese, which made isolation of the insurgents from their support groups immensely easier. In his rebuttal, Mockaitis has provided a chapter each on the four main counterinsurgency campaigns fought by the British in the post-imperial era: Konfrontasi between Malaysia and Indonesia (1962–1966); the struggle against Arab Marxists in South Arabia (1963–1967) and in the Dhofar region of Oman (1965–1975); and the continuing struggle in Northern Ireland (1969-present). He concludes the study with a chapter on the development of counterinsurgency doctrine in the British Army and a final chapter on the relevance of the British experience to second-generation peacekeeping and “operations other than war,” a term adopted from the US military.

The four campaigns were not simply chosen for heuristic purposes, as they are the four largest campaigns in the post-1960 period. Thus the [End Page 192] record is somewhat mixed: Malaysia and Oman were decided successes, whereas South Arabia and Aden were complete failures. In Northern Ireland, the British Army initially tried to apply doctrine from the Malayan Emergency, only to find it politically and practically inappropriate in a largely urban environment that is part of the United Kingdom. By abiding by the three principals and having the ability and time to adapt, the security forces in Ulster have managed to maintain “an acceptable level of violence.” The author is right to point out that the chief failure of Britain in both South Arabia and Northern Ireland was largely in the political sphere, not in the military. In Aden the costs were too high and the British left. In Ulster, the price of leaving is too high, but in the absence of a political solution, the security forces can only mitigate, not eliminate the violence.

The case study chapters are concise and useful reading, focusing for the most part on the counterinsurgency principles and techniques which appeared in each campaign. Although a reader with no contextual knowledge may be at a disadvantage, there is enough background provided to support the author’s analysis and convince the reader. The case studies do suffer from a lack of primary source research, especially when compared to Mockaitis’ extensive archival research in his first book. The author rightly points out, however, that while the relevant documents are not yet open, many of the key officials who were involved in the operations are still alive. They may not survive long enough to be consulted in conjunction with the relevant documents; hence the author’s use of interviews. But due to the sensitive nature of some of the information and the penalties of the Official Secrets Act, the interviews were not for attribution. Indeed, I could find no citations of any interviews in the book; the reader is left to guess at the extent to which the interviews provided data.

The author presents interesting and thought provoking observations on the impact...