HomeAU PressBook ReviewsDisplay Review

Air University Press

Insurgency & Terrorism: Inside Modern Revolutionary Warfare

Insurgency & Terrorism: Inside Modern Revolutionary Warfare by Bard E. O'Neill. Brassey's, 2001, 182 pp.

In his study of insurgencies and terrorism, Bard O'Neill offers a framework that he originally developed in 1970 and continually expanded until the publication of Insurgency & Terrorism. The author extracted the framework from his extensive evaluation of theoretical and historical writings, articles, monographs, and books written by scholars, participants, journalists, and other observers, as well as written and oral case studies following many visits to countries that faced insurgencies. The main purpose of O'Neill's book is to provide a method that will assist participants, journalists, students, government analysts, scholars, and military members in their analysis of insurgencies and terrorism (p. 10). However, readers should note that O'Neill developed his framework through the lens of an asymmetrical and bipolar international system. That is, his case studies were examined from the post-World War II era through 1990, all while the United States and Soviet Union were struggling to maintain the status quo as the world's two preeminent powers. The author surmises that most insurgent leaders were natural allies of the communist bloc, with the Soviet Union and the People's Republic of China intent on upsetting the existing order and structure of power.

Bard O'Neill is a professor of international affairs at the National War College and author of several books and articles relating to foreign policy and the study of insurgency. A Senior Research Fellow at the National Defense University in 1979, he has served as an adviser to prominent officials in the Department of State and Department of Defense. Additionally, he led various study groups with cabinet members and heads of state as director of Middle East studies. Notwithstanding his impressive qualifications, his painstaking research over several decades, coupled with critiques from some of his distinguished colleagues, gives this book its credibility.

O'Neill argues that all of the insurgencies he examined fall into his developed framework. He begins with a brief summary of insurgencies between 1945 and 1990, presenting readers with seven types and four strategies of insurgency. The seven types are anarchist, egalitarian, traditionalist, pluralist, secessionist, reformist, and preservationist, and the four strategies are conspiracy, protracted popular war, military focus, and urban warfare (pp. 17-22). He then details four complications for analysts when they attempt to identify insurgent movements such as goal transformation, goal conflicts, misleading rhetoric, and goal ambiguity. Finally, the author associates three forms of warfare used during insurgent conflicts--conventional warfare, terrorism, and guerrilla warfare (p. 24). Subsequent chapters examine insurgent strategies, the physical and human environment, popular and external support, and the insurgent organization and unity. To demonstrate his points, O'Neill uses historical examples and numerous case studies from the Muslim Brotherhood, Malayan Communist Party, Vietcong, and Ba'athists, as well as from the American Civil War, Lenin's Marxist revolution, the US experience in Vietnam, and the Soviet experience in Afghanistan. Particularly noteworthy is his theoretical analysis of Mao's guerrilla war strategies, which are also highlighted in Field Manual (FM) 3-24, Counterinsurgency, December 2006

Following seven chapters that address the framework and variables which have a bearing on the growth and result of insurgencies, he presents the most important variable--the government response. As FM 3-24 prescribes, to develop the proper response to an insurgency, the government must know the enemy by emphasizing intelligence. A shallow examination or misunderstanding of the insurgency on the part of the government will result in flawed policies and behaviors. O'Neill offers case studies with varied levels of success and failure in terms of how the government's counterinsurgency effort responded to the environment, won popular support, and attacked insurgents' external support channels. He believes that a competent, capable government administration with well-coordinated political, security, and economic policies, along with a well-trained military, can frustrate and defeat an insurgency. Insurgency & Terrorism does not offer a particular prescription for a government that must deal with an insurgency; however, his framework, backed by a multitude of case studies, allows the reader to ascertain the best counterinsurgency treatment. In fact, he urges readers to evaluate each instance through an objective lens, examine all variables, and in the end--above all--remain flexible and maintain integrity (pp. 152-53).

O'Neill's efforts to be methodical and impartial in his approach to insurgency and terrorism make this book a valuable study. His definitions and categories may differ from those of other manuals or books, but one of Insurgency & Terrorism's strengths is that its framework is adequately flexible to allow for review and modification, as admitted by the author in the beginning. Nevertheless, to add further relevance, the author should revisit a few areas. The unforeseen advances in technology and social media that have occurred since the book was published beg for increased research in this area--specifically, how insurgents can use social media as a weapon and a global recruiting tool with recommendations on government responses to curtail its effective use by insurgent groups. Additionally, this work would be greatly enhanced by an amended chapter that places special emphasis on the United States' recent intimate encounters and engagements with insurgencies in Iraq and Afghanistan.

MAJ Michael M. Wellock, USA
Maxwell AFB, Alabama


"The views expressed are those of the author(s) and do not reflect the official policy or position of the US government or the Department of Defense."

Strategic Studies Quarterly (SSQ) and the Air & Space Power Journal (ASPJ) publish book reviews to inform readers and enhance the content of articles in the journals.