Care and Counterinsurgency

Publication Date: 
August 2009

CISSM Working Paper

Civil Violence Project
Document Type: 
Working Papers

A subsequent version of this paper was published in the Journal of Military Ethics.

Counterinsurgents have a different relationship with both their enemies and civilians in the area of operations than conventional warfighters.  For counterinsurgents, civilians are not just bystanders who need to be kept out of the way of the fighting--they are actively enlisted, coerced, and fought over by both sides.  And, enemy combatants are not just targets of kinetic operations, they are potential sources of information, potential allies, and often members of the very community that the counterinsurgency is supposed to be aiding.

In this paper, I will argue that these observations have two serious implications for the training of counterinsurgents.  First, the moral challenges of counterinsurgency should be met not with more-finely-crafted rules but with virtues of character.  Counterinsurgents are placed in complex situations in which even low-ranking personnel will need to exercise their judgment in ways that rules are unlikely to fully capture. 

Second, the virtues that counterinsurgents should exhibit are importantly different from the core of the 'warrior ethos' that most Western militaries inculcate.   Counterinsurgency requires military virtues, such as loyalty and devotion to service, of course.  But it also requires distinctive virtues of attentiveness, creativity, and restraint--as well as a subtly but importantly modified concept of courage.