THE MAGAZINE

Insurgency and Terrorism: From Revolution to Apocalypse, Second Edition

By Colonel Britt Mallow

*****Insurgency and Terrorism: From Revolution to Apocalypse, Second Edition. By Bard E. O'Neill; published by Potomac Books, www.potomacbooksinc.com (Web); 216 pages; $21.95.

Insurgent and terrorist threats constitute two of the major challenges facing security professionals today. In this book Bard O'Neill, a professor at the U.S. National War College and an authority on Middle East and defense issues, provides a useful framework for the study of these critical issues.

Insurgency is the struggle between nonruling and ruling groups, in which political resources and violence are used either to effect change or prevent it. As O'Neill correctly points out, insurgency has historically been the most prevalent form of armed conflict in organized societies, and since World War II, insurgency and terrorism have become the predominant types of political violence.

One of the most difficult tasks for policymakers, military, other public, and private sector security personnel has always been to understand the nature and strategy of insurgent and terrorist groups so that they can either counter the threats or operate within threatened environments.

Over his 40 years of study, O’Neill has designed a systemic, analytic approach that allows professionals and students alike to break down and organize what they know about the threat environment. This framework first considers the nature of the insurgency, then strategies, environment, support mechanisms, group organization, and government response. The author uses examples to illustrate points and stimulate thought.

O’Neill's framework presents competing possibilities for the nature of numerous groups, and clearly identifies problems with groups whose true goals may be hidden, ambiguous, conflicting, changing, or evolving. For example, he asks the reader to consider whether al Qaeda is apocalyptic, anarchic, or truly guided by a traditional Islamic vision? The approach gives practitioners a way to better understand groups and the threats they pose.

From the nature of an insurgency, the book moves to an examination of means, both political and violent. As the framework progresses, O'Neill suggests methods to analyze strategies, from covert conspiratorial to selective violence and open warfare. He contrasts Mao Zedong’s protracted warfare strategy with strategies used in the U.S. Civil War; he also contrasts the urban methods of the Irish Republican Army with those of various Palestinian groups. He includes an interesting discussion on the evolving al Qaeda movement, which grew from having a regional to a transnational strategy.

In later chapters, O’Neill's considers the factors that affect insurgent and terrorist groups: their environment, support bases, internal organization, and the role of the opposing authorities. Each section is filled with relevant examples and a good discussion of ways to consider different situations.

Far from the model of a rigid prescriptive text, this book approaches its subject in a way that allows full consideration of complexities in this difficult area. The reader won’t find all the answers spelled out here, but rather a set of terrific questions—those one must ask to understand a potential enemy.

The author provides not only a useful text for studies of political violence but also—and more importantly—a readable guide for security practitioners.

Reviewer: Colonel Britt Mallow, (U.S. Army–ret.) is a Middle East and counterterrorism specialist with SRA International’s Touchstone Consulting Group. He is a member of the ASIS International Council on Global Terrorism, International Crime, and Political Instability.

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