Skip to main content

The Australian Army Counterinsurgency and Small Wars Reading Guide

Insurgency is a form of warfare as old as warfare itself, and it has gone by many names in the past: guerrilla warfare, partisan warfare, revolutionary warfare, insurrectionary warfare, irregular warfare, unconventional warfare, peoples’ war and terrorism. All have been—and are—used to describe the same broad phenomenon, though they do not all have the exact same meaning and have not necessarily been used simultaneously.

Modern insurgency, closely identified in the second half of the twentieth century with national liberation struggles and revolutionary Marxism derived from the writings—and practice—of Mao (among others), has a well defined theoretical literature. So, too, does counterinsurgency. There is, likewise, a sizeable historical literature that provides numerous case studies in the field.

Virtually all of this literature affirms the proposition that the struggle against insurgency is inherently political in nature, and further, that the traditionally military component of successful counterinsurgency represents only a proportion of the total counterinsurgent effort. Notwithstanding this fundamental—if elementary—observation, Edward Luttwak has noted that modern militaries and the governments they serve too often find it hard, ‘amidst the frustrations of fighting an almost invisible enemy ... to resist the tempting delusion that some clever new tactics, or even some clever new technology, can defeat the insurgents’.

This reading list is intended to counter such tempting delusions, or at least to subject them to rigorous scrutiny. It makes no attempt, and no claim, to be exhaustive or definitive: such a list would run to many thousands of entries and quickly prove self-defeating. The list is divided into two parts: a strongly historical section, and a contemporary one. Arguments about insurgency in the present are frequently couched in historical terms, or by appeal to historical precedent. The quality of the argument is often determined by the quality of the history and depth of historical understanding conscripted to support it.

The readings offered here are a mix of books and articles; the books are mostly classics, key texts or works of insurgent or counterinsurgent theory, while the articles reflect recent (sometimes very recent) scholarship dealing with contemporary insurgencies associated with the Global War on Terror, or ask new questions of older case studies prompted by recent operational experience. Recognising that many of those to whom this list is directed are either ‘time poor’, or else already well versed in the basics of insurgent and counterinsurgent theory and history, articles have been preferred over books where possible.


Publication Date

Latest Land Power Forum