AskDefine | Define insurgency

Dictionary Definition

insurgency n : an organized rebellion aimed at overthrowing a constituted government through the use of subversion and armed conflict [syn: insurgence]

User Contributed Dictionary



  1. rebellion; revolt; the state of being insurgent


Extensive Definition

An insurgency is a violent internal uprising against a sovereign government that lacks the organization of a revolution. Its use is subject to heavy political bias. It should not be confused with, or interchanged with the term "resistance." Complicating matters and blurring the definition of the term, it is frequently used as a label for the violent conflict in Iraq, which involves elements of insurgency and an armed resistance movement.
The following discussion illustrates how the definition becomes blurred under political influence.
The French expert on Indochina and Vietnam, Bernard Fall, entitled one of his major books Street without joy: insurgency in Indochina, 1946-63. Fall himself, however, wrote later on that "revolutionary warfare" might be a more accurate term. Insurgency has been used for years in professional military literature. Under the British, the situation in Malaya (now Malaysia) was often called the "Malayan insurgency". , or "the Troubles" in Northern Ireland. Insurgencies have existed in many countries and regions, including the Philippines, Afghanistan, Chechnya, Kashmir, Yemen, Djibouti, Colombia, Sri Lanka, and Democratic Republic of the Congo, the American colonies of Great Britain, and the Confederate States of America. Each had different specifics but share the property of an attempt to disrupt the central government by means considered illegal by that government. North points out, however, that insurgents today need not be part of a highly organized movement: "Some are networked with only loose objectives and mission-type orders to enhance their survival. Most are divided and factionalized by area, composition, or goals. Strike one against the current definition of insurgency. It is not relevant to the enemies we face today. Many of these enemies do not currently seek the overthrow of a constituted government...weak government control is useful and perhaps essential for many of these “enemies of the state” to survive and operate."
The term Iraqi insurgency has been used to describe the guerilla resistance to the US-led coalition forces and the new Iraqi Government in Iraq) While the U.S. news media tend to regard insurgencies as the villains in a situation, so did Great Britain regard the rebellious American colonists at the Battle of Lexington. The Chinese revolution led by Mao Zedong was an insurgency, following a conceptual model about which he wrote extensively. The Northern Irish situation has been called terrorism, an ethnic conflict, a guerrilla war, a low intensity conflict, and sometimes a civil war. The term Irish Civil War is, however, more often used for the 1922-1923 conflict.
Iraq is not unique in having only a government and multiple sets of insurgents. Historic insurgencies, such as the Russian Civil War, have been multipolar rather than a straightforward model made up of two sides. While the Angolan Civil War had two main sides, MPLA and UNITA. FLEC, however, was a simultaneous separatist movement for the independence of the Cabinda region. Multipolarity extends the definition of insurgency to situations where there is no recognized authority, as in the Somali Civil War, especially the period, from 1998 to 2006, where it broke into quasi-autonomous smaller states, fighting among one another in changing alliances.

Working toward definition

Insurgency is most commonly used to describe a movement's unlawfulness by virtue of not being authorized by or in accordance with the law of the land. When used by a state or an authority under threat, "insurgency" implies an illegitimacy of cause upon those rising up, whereas those rising up will see the authority itself as being illegitimate. The term "insurgency" is still neutral. In cases of rebellions, the term insurgents refers to those who are not part of the decision-making entity that has the ability to make laws, but it is still an insurgency. In coups, the insurgents are largely or exclusively part of the existing government.
The Third Geneva Convention, as well as the other Geneva Conventions, are oriented to conflict involving nation-states, and only loosely address irregular forces: "Members of other militias and members of other volunteer corps, including those of organized resistance movements, belonging to a Party to the conflict and operating in or outside their own territory, even if this territory is occupied, provided that such militias or volunteer corps, including such organized resistance movements..." Again, the Geneva Convention definition is inadequate, since many factions began with what might have been considered a small violent act. For example, a seemingly small act, such as a group of rebels firing on Fort Sumter, starting the insurgency called the American Civil War.
The United States Department of Defense (DOD) defines it as "An organized movement aimed at the overthrow of a constituted government through use of subversion and armed conflict." proposes a structure that includes both insurgency and counterinsurgency[COIN]. (italics in original)Insurgency and its tactics are as old as warfare itself. Joint doctrine defines an insurgency as an organized movement aimed at the overthrow of a constituted government through the use of subversion and armed conflict. These definitions are a good starting point, but they do not properly highlight a key paradox: though insurgency and COIN are two sides of a phenomenon that has been called revolutionary war or internal war, they are distinctly different types of operations. In addition, insurgency and COIN are included within a broad category of conflict known as irregular warfare.
This definition, however, does not consider the morality of the conflict, or the different viewpoints of the government and the insurgents. It is focused more on the operational aspects of the types of actions taken by the insurgents and the counterinsurgents.
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