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Strategies for Ending Insurgencies: Inclusive Versus Suppressive Policies
James L. Fuemmeler and David A. Anderson, 6/1/2012


From 1989 through 2008, 117 of the 124 active armed conflicts around the world were intrastate insurgencies (Kegley, 2010: 378). Insurgencies are predicted to remain the major form of conflict in the coming decades. When an insurgency[1] establishes itself, what is the most effective approach to ending it while maintaining a functioning government and minimizing the loss of life by all parties involved? Through the assessment of six counterinsurgency (COIN) country case studies, this research sets out to determine whether more inclusive government policies[2] produce better outcomes in combating insurgencies than more suppressive[3] policies. Particular focus is placed on whether enacted policy achieved the desired end state, relatively quickly, with the fewest number of casualties.

The primary assessment data used for this study is derived from Paul, Clarke, and Grill’s 2010 research, which was drawn heavily from Connable and Libicki’s 2010 work. Connable and Libicki studied 89 separate country cases to determine the different ways that insurgencies end (Connable and Libicki, 2010: 180, 215-218). In their study, Paul, Clarke, and Grill developed a list of ‘good’ and ‘bad’ practices in the conduct of COIN operations via country surveys. Many of their survey questions’ results apply to this study and are displayed in later tables. In both studies the conflicts involved fighting between states and non-state actors seeking to overthrow the government or to take territorial control of a region within the country. The studies did not exclude influences from outside actors who may have assisted either side by way of arms, sanctuary mediation, etc. Regardless, outside influences do not affect the ability to measure the inclusiveness of government actions. In all cases, at least 1,000 people were killed over the course of each conflict studied with at least an average of 100 deaths per year experienced by the insurgents and government/populous (Paul, Clarke, and Grill, 2010: 6).

The case studies were selected based on four considerations. First, the country conflicts had to be already resolved. Second, they had to fairly represent those resolved by suppressive or inclusive means. Third, they had to come from a wide range of geographical locations. Finally, they had to represent a cross section of conflict results (e.g., those won by governments, by insurgents, and those ending with mixed results. The cases selected for this study are Algeria v. Armed Islamic Group (GIA) (1992-2004: Government won); Turkey v. Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) (1984-1999: Government won); Nicaragua v. Somoza (1978-1979: Insurgents won); Kosovo (1998-1999: Insurgents won); Kampuchea (1978-1992: Mixed result); and El Salvador (1979-1992: Mixed result).


The case studies themselves are first individually summarized, followed by a chronology of significant events and research data presented in supporting tables. The first table in each country case study is a timeline of relevant historical events. The second table in each case exhibits applicable aggregated questionnaire findings derived from Paul, Clarke, and Grill’s study. In their study, the insurgencies were often broken into phases. The phased results for this study have been aggregated into single “Yes” or “No” outcomes in order to qualitatively assess individual country results. The third table represents possible inclusive actions taken by the host government. Inclusive actions were broken into four categories. “Held negotiations,” which is self-explanatory, included within this category are cease-fires. “Legislative changes,” which represents the governments’ efforts, through removal or adding of laws, to address insurgent concerns (e.g., eliminating a ban against the use of a language). “Insurgent representation,” represents the government’s accommodation/acceptance of insurgent political groups participating in the political process. “Withholding the use of force” represents the governments’ refusal to use military means to end the insurgency. Also included in this category is the offering of amnesty to insurgents. The fourth table reflects “conflict outcomes.”

Tables 1 and 2 have been color-coded to indicate their inclusive policy connections with the inclusive policy categories in Table 3. The non color-coded information contained in Tables 1 and 2 is either inclusive or suppressive in nature and collectively influenced answers to the inclusive policy categories depicted in Table 3. Table 4 represents final outcome data (e.g., length of insurgency in terms of time and total number of deaths).

Case Studies
1: Nicaragua (Somoza) 1978-1979.

In January of 1978, the Nicaraguan government was suspected of orchestrating the murder of the editor of a leading Nicaraguan newspaper, leading to increased support from dissatisfied citizens for the Sandinista National Liberation Front (FSLN). With growing support, the FSLN was emboldened to carry out a raid on the capital on August 23, 1978. The government responded with brutal attacks against insurgent-controlled areas and extended suppressive violence across civilian populations. Indiscriminate bombings and attacks by the government gained support for the FSLN from the population and caused the withdrawal of support for the government by the international community (Paul, Clarke, and Grill 2010 (Case studies): 5-7). The growing strength of the insurgency and the government’s willingness to meet them with extreme violence led to an insurgents’ victory.

Table 1-1: Case Study Chronology

Table 1-1

(Booth, 1985: 159-182)

Table 1-2: Country Assessment

Table 1-2

(Paul, Clarke, and Grill, 2010: Spreadsheet Data).

Table 1-3: Inclusive Actions Taken by Government

Table 1-3

Created by the authors

Table 1-4: Outcomes

Table 1-4

(Correlates of War, accessed 16 March, 2012)

2: Kampuchea (Cambodia) 1978-1992.

The insurgency in Kampuchea began as an attack on the Khmer Rouge government by Vietnam, which created a small military force of Cambodian exiles and supported the group with 200,000 Vietnamese soldiers. Vietnam was frustrated with numerous cross-border incursions by Kampuchea and wanted to end the harassment. The Vietnamese forces smashed the Khmer Rouge and drove them from the cities of eastern Cambodia. The Khmer refugees received support and sanctuary from the Thai government and reconstituted the hills and jungles of western Cambodia for an extended insurgency against the Vietnamese forces (Paul, Clarke, and Grill 2010 (Case studies): 28-29). Vietnam reacted against growing insurgent forces with a massive armed offensive and conscripted thousands of civilians to do manual labor erecting a defensive border. Vietnam eventually withdrew its forces due to expense, leaving a puppet regime behind. The international community stepped in to ensure elections took place and the puppet regime and the Khmer Rouge were voted out of positions of power in the 1993 elections (Paul, Clarke, and Grill 2010 (Case studies): 30-32). The overly suppressive practices by the Khmer Rouge and the Vietnam proxy government, led to both losing the support of the people.

Table 2-1: Case Study Chronology

Table 2-1

(Paul, Clarke, and Grill, 2010: Spreadsheet Data).

Table 2-2: Country Assessment

Table 2-2

Table 2-3: Inclusive Actions Taken

Table 2-3

Created by the authors

Table 2-4: Outcomes

Table 2-4

(Correlates of War, accessed 16 March, 2012)

3: El Salvador 1979-1992.

Dictator led El Salvador faced a challenge from the Farabundo Martí National Liberation Front (FMLN). The insurgency began the conflict against an oppressive, feudal government whose military’s only successes were against civilians. The Salvadorian government, with United States support, survived long enough to gain legitimacy through elections and improvements in human rights policies. During the long conflict, the Salvadorian government made democratic changes and improved its human rights practices. With revisions to the constitution, limits on the military, amnesty to the insurgents, and the transition of the FMLN to a political party, El Salvador ended its insurgency successfully (Paul, Clarke, and Grill 2010 (Case studies): 37-41).

Table 3-1: Case Study Chronology

Table 3-1

(MacLeod, 2006: 20-27), (McClintock, 1998: 53-154)

Table 3-2: Country Assessment

Table 3-2

(Paul, Clarke, and Grill, 2010: Spreadsheet Data).

Table 3-3: Inclusive Actions Taken

Table 3-3

Created by the authors

Table 3-4: Outcomes

Table 3-4

(Correlates of War, accessed 16 March, 2012)

4: Turkey (PKK) 1984–1999.

The PKK was an outlawed party denied its existence by the Turkish Constitution. The PKK fought for existence in outlying Kurdish villages against a very oppressive Turkish government that isolated villages from insurgents and aggressively pursued PKK members. The government forcibly evacuated uncontrollable villages and collateral damage was heavy during engagements. The PKK was also responsible for many civilian deaths and enforced mandatory conscription into the militant group. Turkey continued to increase pressure on the PKK and became even more indiscriminate in their attacks on insurgent areas. The government also attacked PKK sanctuaries across the borders of other states. Eventually, the PKK leader was captured and agreed to act as a peace broker. The conflict ended for a short time, but the PKK revitalized itself and continues its movement against the Turkish government (Paul, Clarke, and Grill 2010 (Case studies): 87-92).

Table 4-1: Case Study Chronology

Table 4-1

Table 4-1

(Marcus, 2007: 80-310), (Lundgren, 2007: 48-81)

Table 4-2: Country Assessment

Table 4-2

(Paul, Clarke, and Grill 2010 (Case studies): 87), (Marcus, 2007: 308-310), (“Turkey”, 2000)

(-) Inconclusive result 

Table 4-3: Inclusive Actions Taken

Table 4-3

Created by authors.

Table 4-4: Outcomes

Table 4-4

(Paul, Clarke, and Grill 2010 (Case studies): 87), (Marcus, 2007: 308-310), (“Turkey”, 2000)

(†) Reported deaths are disputed due to mismatch between Turkish claims of PKK killed and PKK reported casualty counts. These numbers come from an address by the Turkish President in a U.S. Dept. of State Report.

5: Algeria (GIA) 1992–2004.

The Algerian government cancelled elections in 1992 due to fear of certain victory by the Islamic Salvation Front. The GIA led popular protests that quickly became violent and turned into a terrorist campaign in the capital. The Algerian government responded with a military policy including the arming of local militias who committed arbitrary killings. The GIA began urban bombings and village massacres, condoning the seizure of property, kidnapping and rape. The government responded with indiscriminate attacks of its own, but the GIA was so much greater in its disregard for human rights, that the population soon turned its support toward the government as the lesser of two evils. Algeria offered two periods of amnesty and reduced the role of the militia. These actions combined with more precise military strikes led to the end of the GIA as a serious threat by 2004 (Paul, Clarke, and Grill 2010 (Case studies): 168-173).

Table 5-1: Case Study Chronology

Table 5-1

(Ashour, 2009: 114- 132), (Naylor, 2006: 258), (Project Ploughshares)

Table 5-2: Country Assessment

Table 5-2

(Paul, Clarke, and Grill, 2010: Spreadsheet Data).

Table 5-3: Inclusive Actions Taken

Table 5-3

Created by the authors

Table 5-4: Outcomes

Table 5-4

(Blanche, 2006: 25), (Paul, Clarke, and Grill 2010 (Case studies): 87)

6. Kosovo 1998-1999.

Serbian leader Slobodan Milosevic sowed the seeds for an Albanian insurgency with his ethnically oppressive policies. A shadow government was formed in the Kosovo region as well as an armed insurgency organization (KLA). The KLA began launching small scale attacks in 1996 and the Yugoslav forces began an ethnic cleansing campaign. Hundreds of thousands of refugees fled across neighboring borders as the government targeted civilians and conducted multiple massacres. The KLA was not capable of facing Yugoslav forces on its own and owed its survival much to the assistance of NATO air strikes and the campaign NATO began against Yugoslav forces in March of 1999 (Paul, Clarke, and Grill, 2010 (Case studies): 282-287). The KLA formally disbanded in September 1999 and Kosovo eventually gained autonomous control under Albanian leadership (O’Neill, 2002: 146).

Table 6-1: Case Study Chronology

Table 6-1

(Kosovo, 1999: 35-44), (Nation, 2003: 225- 226 ), (O'Neill, 2002: 145-146), (Zolo, 2002: 188-195)

Table 6-2: Country Assessment

Table 6-2

(Paul, Clarke, and Grill, 2010: Spreadsheet Data).

Table 6-3: Inclusive Actions Taken

Table 6-3

Created by Authors.

Table 6-4: Outcomes

Table 6-4

(Correlates of War, accessed 16 March, 2012), (Spiegel, 2000: 2204)


Table 3 (Inclusive Actions Taken) represents aggregated data drawn from each case study in order to qualitatively assess the inclusiveness of government policy toward their respective insurgents. A percentage of inclusiveness value was assigned to each government in order to compare the case studies across time (Chart A), by total deaths (Chart B), and by deaths per month (Chart C). In order to determine each government’s inclusiveness in terms of a percentage, the information from tables 1 and 2 was used to qualitatively derive inclusiveness of government policies in relationship to four inclusive policy categories contained in table 3. Each “yes” answer was given one point and each “no” answer was given a zero. Adding the values together and dividing by four (the number of inclusive variables used) provides the percentage of inclusiveness of each government’s policy approach. Table 7.1 is an aggregation of inclusiveness and outcome data from tables 3 and 4 of each country case study for ease of comparison.

Table 7.1: Inclusiveness and Outcome Data

Table 7-1

Chart A shows that inclusive policies do not necessarily reduce the length of an insurgency. This is true even in cases when inclusive policies included negotiations with insurgents and also when the government made legislative changes to accommodate insurgent’ grievances.

Chart B indicates that employing some degree of inclusive policy in addressing an insurgency generally results in fewer total deaths.

Chart C does indicate that inclusive-minded government policies, on average, result in fewer deaths per month.


Inclusive policies toward an insurgency could not be proven to reduce the total number of deaths when compared to the use of suppressive policies. Furthermore, the length of time that an insurgency lasts cannot be controlled solely by inclusive policies. The authors do not want these results to be taken as condoning the use of suppressive policies. In fact, Paul, Clarke, and Grill, 2010 determined that although suppressive practices performed by governments during counterinsurgency operations may prove successful in some phases of COIN operations, they ultimately led to insurgent success in all but two of their studied cases.

The unexpected finding that death rates per month are lower for inclusive-minded governments is significant and should be a research focal point going forward. Proving that there is a lower rate at which casualties occur through employing inclusive means would be a powerful tool to convince governments to employ them more often than suppressive policies when combating insurgencies. Further research should also be conducted to test the reliability of this study’s results. This can be achieved by simply adding additional cases to the mix. Finally, these additional cases should include countries that did not exercise the use of military force. The fact that all the countries assessed in this study employed the use of force at some time may have skewed the outcome.


1. This study defines insurgency as an “organized, protracted politico-military struggle designed to weaken the control and legitimacy of an established government, occupying power, or other political authority while increasing insurgent control,” (FM 3-24, 2006: 1-1).

2. Inclusive policies are those by which the government recognizes the insurgents as other then criminals.  This includes negotiations, cease-fires, amnesty offers, right to political groups and representation, power-sharing offers, and elections (Connable and Libicki, 2010: 180).

3. Suppression is defined as the government’s use of deadly force, enactment of unfair laws against a group of people based on race, language, or other cultural aspects, or arresting people unlawfully and without proceeding with judicial action.

About the Authors

LCDR James L. Fuemmeler is an active duty U.S. Naval Officer who has completed two deployments aboard the USS Nimitz where he flew in support of operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. He is a 2001 graduate of the United States Naval Academy and recent post-graduate of Webster University where he majored in International Relations. He completed the U.S. Army’s Command and General Staff College Intermediate Level Education training in 2012 and continues service in support of current operations.

Dr. David A. Anderson is a retired U.S. Marine Corps officer. He is now a professor of Strategic Studies and Odom Chair of Joint, Interagency, and Multinational Operations at the U.S. Army Command and General Staff College, Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, where he teaches strategic and operational studies, as well as economics. He is also an adjunct professor for Webster University, where he teaches various international relations courses including, International Political Economy and Globalization. He has published over fifty articles on military, economics, and international relations related topics.

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