[SEE: Pakistan’s Changed Doctrine: Perspectives and Perceptions]
REFLECTIONS FROM A U.S. COUNTERINSURGENCY PERSPECTIVE
David P. Fidler
1 INTRODUCTION In December 2006, the Indian Army and the U.S. Army and Marine Corps respectively issued new doctrines on conducting counterinsurgency (COIN) operations (Indian Army 2006; U.S. Army and Marine Corps 2007). The near simultaneous release of the Indian and U.S. doctrines revealed that both countries had engaged at the same time in developing doctrine applicable to COIN. To the knowledge of the Indian and U.S. participants of this research project, development of the Indian and U.S. doctrines occurred independently, with no attempts to share lessons learned, best practices, and doctrinal principles. This fortuitous coincidence creates the opportunity to engage in comparative analysis of the two doctrines. In keeping with the objective of gleaning lessons from India’s experiences fighting counterinsurgencies, this paper focuses on what the United States can learn from the Indian doctrine applicable to COIN. Comparative analysis of the two doctrines provides, however, food for thought about larger issues, including the importance of doctrine for COIN operations and the relationship between democracy and COIN doctrine. ORIGINS AND PURPOSES OF THE NEW INDIAN AND U.S. DOCTRINES ON COUNTERINSURGENCY The simultaneous development of doctrines applicable to COIN by India and the United States do not share proximate causes, but the origins and purposes of the two doctrines partake of a 1 This paper will appear as a chapter in India and Counterinsurgency: Lessons Learned (S. Ganguly and D. P. Fidler, eds.) (London: Routledge, 2009), in press.
deeper, common concern facing both democracies. The direct motivations for development of
the U.S. doctrine flow from difficulties and challenges the United States confronted with
insurgencies in Afghanistan and Iraq. The U. S. military was unprepared to fight COIN
campaigns in Afghanistan and Iraq when the insurgencies threatened the U.S. interventions in
those countries (Nagl 2007: xiii). The U.S. Army and Marine Corps developed the
Counterinsurgency Field Manual (CFM) to address the most urgent threats faced by U.S.
political and military leaders.
By contrast, development of the Indian Doctrine on Sub-Conventional Operations
(DSCO) does not appear motivated by any urgent crisis within or beyond India. Although India
was engaged in COIN activities while it developed its doctrine (e.g., efforts to end the
insurgency in Nagaland (Shekatkar 2009) and the challenge posed by the Naxalite insurgents
(Oetken 2009), the doctrine makes no reference to these on-going problems as stimulants for its
development. In fact, the Indian doctrine rarely mentions specific COIN campaigns India has
Rather than a document triggered by specific crises, the Indian doctrine appears to
reflect an effort to capture, in the words of the Chief of the Indian Army Staff, ‘our collective
wisdom and philosophy that we have acquired over almost five decades in fighting such warfare’
(Indian Army 2006: i).
Behind this difference in the origins of the two doctrines stand other features that
illuminate the motivations for their respective development. Both India and the United States felt
compelled to develop COIN doctrine at the same time, but the two countries have radically
divergent histories with respect to engaging in COIN. The U.S. experience with countering
The Indian doctrine only mentions specific campaigns twice. See Indian Army 2006: 7
(referring to ‘multi-pronged national initiatives in J[ammu] & K[ashmir], North East, and the
Naxal violence affected states’) and 63 (mentioning the ‘ongoing insurgencies in J&K and North
insurgencies within its borders ended in the nineteenth century with the conclusion of the Civil
War and the destruction of native American opposition to Manifest Destiny. U.S. involvement in
COIN operations in the twentieth century was entirely overseas, and, although not infrequent,
these operations failed to make any lasting impression on how the U.S. military and civilian
government prepared for armed conflicts. Indeed, the tragedy of Vietnam stimulated efforts
within the U.S. military to forget the COIN lessons learned in that conflict and to avoid having to
fight similar wars in the future (Cassidy 2006). The shock of being unprepared for the
insurgencies in Afghanistan and Iraq sent the United States in search of COIN doctrine.
By contrast, India has been engaged in fighting insurgenciess within its territory for
virtually its entire existence (Chadha 2005). India’s only experience with waging COIN beyond
its shores was in Sri Lanka (Mehta 2009; Gill and Lamm 2009). The Indian Army’s near-
continuous involvement in COIN since India’s independence contributed to the evolution of
COIN strategies and tactics, contained in various operational and training documents (Banerjee
2009). However, prior to December 2006, the Indian Army had never synthesized its COIN
know-how in a single doctrinal document. India’s approach to COIN had developed largely in a
‘common law’ fashion, with strategies and tactics passed along over time without systematic
efforts to codify the guiding principles. As the case studies in this book highlight, this approach
did not serve India well because military officers, soldiers, and civilian officials had to re-learn
painfully the lessons of how to engage effectively in COIN with each new insurgency challenge.
Thus, for different reasons, the United States and India determined they needed to craft
formal doctrine on COIN. For India, the exercise was mainly one of codification—collecting in
one document guidance accumulated over the course of more than fifty years. The objective was
not to revolutionize how the Indian Army or government thought about how to fight
insurgencies. For the United States, the exercise of developing doctrine was revolutionary
because it challenged dominant military and political mindsets that abhorred irregular warfare
and sought to embed COIN capabilities in the nation’s arsenal of instruments of civilian and
military power. As Sewall (2007: xxi) argued, the CFM is radical because it ‘challenges much of
what is holy about the American way of war.’ This difference between India and the United
States perhaps helps explain why the Indian doctrine has not been subject to much public
scrutiny or discussion in India,
while the CFM caused an avalanche of interest, commentary,
and debate in the United States (Heuser 2007; Kahl 2007a; Luttwak 2007; Peters 2007).
Despite these divergent origins and purposes, the motivations behind the doctrines are
united in one important consideration—both India and the United States believe that they will
face insurgent violence in the future for which they must prepare. The doctrines respectively
recognize that India’s and the United States’ superior power in conventional warfare creates
incentives for enemies to engage in asymmetrical conflicts, such as terrorism, insurgency, and
proxy wars. For example, the Indian doctrine asserts that ‘insurrectionist movements are likely to
continue on account of religious, cultural and socio-economic disparities. These will continue to
be exploited by state and non state actors to further their nefarious designs and also to offset the
asymmetry in combat power’ (Indian Army 2006: 5). Similarly, the CFM acknowledges that
‘[m]ost enemies either do not try to defeat the United States with conventional operations or do
not limit themselves to purely military means. . . . Instead, they try to exhaust U.S. national will,
aiming to win by undermining and outlasting public support’ (U.S. Army and Marine Corps
2007: li). In addition, both doctrines express awareness of the changing nature of the insurgency
threat, particularly the manner in which insurgencies exploit technologies and grievances
An exception can be found in Navlakha 2007. For analysis of the development of India’s
approach to COIN prior to the issuance of the DSCO, see Rajagopalan 2000, 2007, and 2008:
associated with globalization (Indian Army 2006: 5-6; U.S. Army and Marine Corps 2007: 7-8).
Heightening the importance of this awareness is the position of India and the United
States as ‘status quo’ powers in the international system with increasingly interlocking political
and economic interests. Chastened by its misadventure in Iraq, the United States finds itself
confronted with challenges from revisionist powers, such as China and Russia, and revolutionary
non-state actors, such as Al Qaeda. This context involves threats to U.S. security within its
borders and overseas. In this context, failed or failing states and their ungoverned spaces present
opportunities for threats to emerge to the stability and functioning of the U.S. and the
international political and economic systems. As the CFM puts it, ‘[p]ower vacuums breed
insurgencies’ (U.S. Army and Marine Corps 2007: 7).
India’s rise as a great power is dependent on its acceptance and integration into the post-
Cold War international system. India has become more economically integrated by embracing
globalization, and its political and strategic interests align more with the United States than in the
past, as evidenced by increasing Indo-U.S. cooperation across many fields of endeavor. As a
status quo power, India too fears disruption of the current system, and, like the United States, its
fears include international concerns and worries about its internal security. Unlike the United
States, India faces serious socio-economic, ethnic, and religious problems at home that can
weaken its ability to govern effectively within its territory, producing possibilities for more
terrorism and insurgency violence (Indian Army 2006: 7). In this regard, the continuing problem
of Naxalite violence underscores India’s domestic vulnerability to insurgency and terrorism
Despite different origins and purposes, the Indian and U.S. doctrines on COIN represent
acknowledgment by both countries that political action and violence by insurgencies plugged
into globalization, and perhaps supported by hostile countries, constitute strategic threats to their
interests at home and abroad. This acknowledgment is part of what makes these doctrines
significant not only for each country’s individual policies but also for their mutual interests in
preparing for and responding effectively to this common threat. This reality then heightens the
importance of comparing and contrasting the Indian and U.S. doctrines on COIN.
THE VALUE OF COMPARISON: SENSING SIMILARITIES, DISSECTING
The experiences of India and the United States in waging COIN may, at first glance, suggest that
India’s predominantly domestic campaigns and the United States’ exclusively foreign operations
limit the value of comparative analysis. This impression is, however, mistaken. From the U.S.
perspective, India offers lessons in five areas:
• The importance of doctrine in preparing for and waging COIN effectively;
• Confirmation of U.S. doctrine by similar conclusions reached by India;
• Insights produced by analyzing where U.S. and Indian doctrines differ;
• Instruction for the United States in how to help other countries prepare for handling
potential insurgency violence within their own territories; and
• Challenges democracies face in conducting COIN campaigns.
Doctrine and counterinsurgency: complexity, counterintuitiveness, and capabilities
The simultaneous emergence of the Indian and U.S. doctrines on COIN does not represent a
revolution in terms of how the militaries of both countries view the importance of doctrine. The
U.S. military has long invested in developing doctrine. The big change for the United States was
not suddenly awakening to the importance of doctrine but was abandoning its traditional
antipathy for preparing to wage unconventional warfare. Once that policy decision occurred, the
U.S. Army’s and Marine Corps’ desire to develop comprehensive COIN doctrine connects
readily to the doctrine-centric approach of the U.S. military to its missions.
In terms of India, as noted earlier, the Indian Army was not bereft of thinking on COIN
prior to December 2006 (Rajagopalan 2000 and 2007). The guidance was not, however,
synthesized in one overarching document. In addition, on the civilian side, ‘there is little
evidence that Indian decision-makers ever systematically thought through the [COIN] issue’ and
‘the only conceptual Indian government template that exists for understanding and dealing with
internal rebellions remains Nehru’s thinking on these issues in the 1950s’ (Rajagopalan 2007:
91). The development of the DSCO indicates that the Indian Army concluded that the traditional
approach was no longer adequate. Like the U.S. Army and Marine Corps, the Indian Army
decided to provide more rational, centralized, and harmonized doctrinal guidance on COIN
Two other factors may also explain the Indian Army’s decision to issue a synthesized
doctrine. First, despite repeated experiences with COIN campaigns, the preparedness of Indian
civilian and military personnel for COIN operations tended to be poor at the start of each new
COIN effort. The ‘common law’ approach to COIN doctrine was not very effective. Second, as
discussed in the process of this research project, the India Army’s materials on COIN tended to
be of poor quality and lacking in standardization. In addition to the traditional, decentralized
approach to doctrine, continued marginalization of COIN capabilities within the Indian Army
may have contributed to this state of affairs (Rajagopalan 2000: 60).
The change of direction on COIN doctrine in India and the United States raises questions
about the importance of doctrine to waging effective COIN campaigns. In short, why is doctrine
particularly important to undertaking COIN operations at home or abroad? Doctrine is, of course,
important to many types of military tasks, but doctrine may play a heightened role for engaging
in COIN successfully. Explaining this enhanced role for doctrine requires pinpointing aspects of
COIN that increase the need to orient soldiers and politicians to the nature of the task they face.
Three features of COIN help illuminate the necessity for harmonized doctrinal guidance.
First, as literature on COIN makes clear, COIN operations are enormously complex
conceptually, strategically, and tactically. COIN campaigns require coordinated political,
economic, social, and military actions to gain the support of the people affected by an
insurgency’s propaganda, intimidation, and violence. This coordination must occur at the highest
policy levels and be executed from those political heights down to the most local levels on the
ground. The sheer complexity of COIN operations counsels strongly for creating and
implementing a common blueprint for actions required for waging COIN campaigns effectively.
Second, those engaging in COIN operations are often required to behave in
counterintuitive ways, which mandates explaining why such counterintuitive behavior makes
sense and constitutes the most effective ways to battle an insurgency. For civilian officials, the
requirement to coordinate political actions closely with military operations is an unusual task,
which produces disconcerting ambiguities and tensions in the civilian-military relationship. This
unsettling context arises even when all involved are committed to the primacy of civilian control
of military actions. For soldiers and military officers predominantly trained to engage in
conventional warfare, waging COIN confronts them with counterintuitive responsibilities. The
CFM captured this reality in identifying paradoxes of COIN operations (Table 1).
Table 1. Paradoxes of Counterinsurgency Operations
Sometimes, the more you protect your force,
the less secure you may be
The host nation doing something tolerably is
normally better than us doing it well
Sometimes, the more force is used, the less
effective it is
If a tactic works this week, it might not work
next week; if it works in this province, it might
not work in the next
The more successful the counterinsurgency is,
the less force can be used and the more risk
must be accepted
Tactical success guarantees nothing
Sometimes doing nothing is the best reaction
Many important decisions are not made by
Some of the best weapons for
counterinsurgents do not shoot
Source: U.S. Army and Marine Corps 2007: 48-51
These paradoxes may be more counterintuitive for the U.S. military than the Indian Army
because the Indian Army has constitutional and statutory responsibilities to provide support and
aid to civil authorities in times of domestic disturbances (Indian Army 2006: 15). However, as
revealed by the difficulties the Indian Army has experienced in COIN campaigns, these
constitutional and statutory duties have not translated easily into Army thinking and training,
even after more than fifty years of experience countering insurgencies. The Indian experience
should stand as a warning to the United States that the mere presence of doctrine does not
translate into sustainable capabilities.
Third, the need for robust and diverse military and civilian capabilities in COIN
operations requires doctrine to help focus political attention on undertaking the necessary
transformations in policy, resource allocation, and training. Leaders and legislators will demand
to know why COIN capabilities deserve more political and economic support. Without question,
the CFM has heightened political and military awareness in the United States of the changes
needed in civilian and military agencies to mount more effective COIN efforts (Nagl 2007: xix).
The Indian DSCO has not generated similar levels of policy interest, but it has produced some
heightened awareness of the challenges facing the Indian government and military in this realm.
Producing doctrine does not, by itself, generate COIN capabilities, but creating and refining
those capabilities might be more difficult without doctrine to stimulate and inform political and
An irony of the development of the Indian and U.S. doctrines is that the military has
taken the lead in what experts acknowledge is primarily a political endeavor the success of which
depends on the capabilities of civilian actors. The DSCO states that ‘all actions of the security
forces must have a civil face and be directed towards strengthening the hands of the civil
authorities’ (Indian Army 2006: 15). Similarly, the CFM asserts that ‘[r]esolving most
insurgencies requires a political solution; it is thus imperative that counterinsurgent actions do
not hinder achieving that political solution’(U.S. Army and Marine Corps 2007: 40). If political
factors are primary, then civilian input into COIN doctrine should be significant, if not
The development of the CFM involved diverse actors, including human rights
organizations, but the lack of preparedness and capacity on the part of the U.S civilian agencies,
especially the Department of State, to assist the military in COIN efforts in Afghanistan and Iraq
revealed limited civilian engagement in, and capabilities for, COIN. These civilian weaknesses
affected the development of doctrine. As Sewall (2007: xl) argued:
Because counterinsurgency is predominantly political, military doctrine should flow from
a broader strategic framework. But political leaders have failed to provide a compelling
one. Since the armed forces are carrying almost the entire burden in Afghanistan and
Iraq, it is unsurprising that they felt compelled to tack the problem anyway. But the
doctrine is a moon without a planet to orbit.
In terms of India, the development of India’s COIN doctrine has not involved the civilian
government agencies affected, such as state and central police forces. This lack of involvement
of civilian government in the development of doctrine for an endeavor that is fundamentally
political rather than military is striking in the cases of both the United States and India. The lack
of civilian involvement is perhaps more striking with respect to India given the internal threats
the country has faced from insurgencies and the fact that the ‘Indian state has always seen
counter-insurgency as a political rather than military problem, and . . . has insisted that the Indian
Army accept it as such’ (Rajagopalan 2007: 75). The dominant role of the military in the
formulation of COIN doctrines and the weak capabilities or participation of political and civilian
agencies connect to problems both countries have experienced with achieving unity of effort
between military and civilian entities in COIN contexts.
Doctrinal similarities: Sharing core principles and practices
Comparative analysis of the Indian and U.S. doctrines reveals many similarities, and these
similarities help confirm that the conclusions reached independently by both countries have
general validity in COIN campaigns. Given that India’s experiences have predominantly been
domestic and the United States’ COIN endeavors have exclusively been external, the frequency
of similarities in the two doctrines highlights core principles of COIN theory applicable no
matter the context. Table 2 contains a non-exhaustive list of similarities in the doctrines. More
specifically from the U.S. perspective, the similarities between the doctrines indicate that the
urgency with which the U.S. Army and Marine Corps produced the CFM between 2004 and
2006 did not lead the effort astray because its conclusions resonate so well with the codification
of India’s fifty-plus years of experience fighting insurgency movements.
More importantly for the United States, the similarities between the CFM and India’s
DSCO can be useful in U.S. efforts to convince host nations with which it works of the
importance of certain principles in COIN operations. In the future, the United States will be
involved in supporting countries facing insurgencies, but without the U.S. military footprint seen
in Afghanistan and Iraq. In those cases, the quality of the host nation’s COIN strategies, tactics,
and capabilities will be even more important. India’s doctrine stands as independent
confirmation that the COIN principles promulgated by the United States as an external actor are
also appropriate for the host nation to embrace as well. In fact, India’s experience may be more
persuasive given that it accrued over five decades of difficult COIN conflicts, as opposed to the
United States’ belated conversion to COIN’s importance in the wake of problems in Afghanistan
and Iraq. Further, the Indian Army’s decision to issue a doctrinal document helps underscore the
need for host-nation militaries and governments faced with possible insurgency violence to
prepare strategy, guidance, and capabilities to undertake the arduous task of COIN operations.
Doctrinal differences: External COIN v. Internal COIN
Despite similarities, the Indian and U.S. doctrines exhibit significant differences. Some of the
differences in the documents are stylistic, such as frequent use of historical and contemporary
examples in the CFM compared with the complete lack of such examples in the DSCO. The
CFM is also more detailed and lengthy than the comparatively sparse document produced by the
Indian Army. More important than these presentational matters are substantive differences in the
doctrines themselves. Most, if not all, of these differences flow from the external/internal
distinction that marks comparison of the U.S. and Indian experiences with COIN.
Table 2. Key Similarities between the Indian and U.S. Counterinsurgency Doctrines
Doctrine on Sub-Conventional Operations
Counterinsurgency Field Manual
Use of elements of
Management and resolution ‘of such conflicts necessitates
a multi-pronged thrust by all elements of national power’
‘Counterinsurgents . . . use all instruments of national
power’ (p. 2)
The ‘[p]opulace invariably emerges as the ‘Centre of
Gravity’ in all sub[-] conventional operations’ (p. 16)
‘Focus on the population, its needs, and its security’ (p.
Role of military forces
‘The role of the Armed Forces . . . is to act as facilitator to
bring down the level of violence so that a political process
can be initiated’ (p. 16); and to provide aid to civil
authorities (p. 15)
Military forces undertake offensive and defensive
operations to create a secure environment, and stability
operations to improve the legitimacy of the
counterinsurgent forces (pp. 5-6)
Dealing with external
support of insurgents
Stressing the need to prevent external support (p. 18) and
inclusion of this task as a line of military operation (p. 25)
Stressing that insurgents must be isolated from external
support (p. 42)
Use of force
Stressing ‘minimum use of kinetic force’ (p. 3)
Emphasizing the importance for counterinsurgents to
‘calculate carefully the type and amount of force to be
applied’ and the need to ‘use escalation of force/force
continuum procedures to minimize potential loss of life’
Rules of engagement
‘The use of force should be judicious and governed by
explicit rules of engagement that must hinge on the
principle of ‘minimum force’’ (p. 33)
‘Training counterinsurgents in ROE [rules of engagement]
should be reinforced regularly’ (p. 350)
‘The management of perceptions of all state and non state
players in the domestic, regional and international
environment is of paramount importance’ (p. 19)
Asserting that information operations may be the most
important logical line of operations for counterinsurgents
Integration of efforts
Stressing the importance of an ‘‘Apex Body’ that . . .
coordinates and oversees the functioning of all the
agencies, including security forces, in the conflict zone’
‘All organizations contributing to a COIN operation
should strive . . . for maximum unity of effort’ (p. 57)
‘operations have to be undertaken with full respect to
Human Rights’ (p. 21, and Chapter 8: Human Rights, pp.
‘Respect for the full panoply of human rights should be
the goal of the host nation’ (p. 361)
Rule of law
Doctrine ‘underscores the need for scrupulous upholding
of [the] laws of the land’ (p. 3)
‘Establishing the rule of law is a key goal and end state in
COIN’ (p. 360) and the rule of law ‘is a powerful
potential tool for counterinsurgents’ (p. 39)
Topic Doctrine on Sub-Conventional Operations Counterinsurgency Field Manual Use of lines of operation Describing ‘lines of military operations’ required in sub-
conventional conflict (p. 25) Utilizing ‘logical lines of operations’ to direct COIN
activities (pp. 154-88) Metrics Listing ‘indicators for gauging the success of military
operations in the conflict zone’ (p. 38) Stressing the importance of engaging in assessment of
COIN operations (pp. 188-91) Understanding the local
context Stressing the ‘imperative that the physical, human and
informational facets of the conflict zone are correctly
understood’ (p. 27) ‘Successful conduct of COIN operations depends on
thoroughly understanding the society and culture within
which they are being conducted’ (p. 40) Training Highlighting the importance of training (Chapter 6:
Training, pp. 48-52) ‘Train military forces to conduct counterinsurgency
operations’ (p. 51) Role of intelligence ‘Intelligence is the medium for the real time flow of
information leading to conduct of successful operations’
(p. 40, and Chapter 4: Intelligence, pp. 40-3) ‘Counterinsurgency . . . is an intelligence-driven
endeavor’ (p. 79, and Chapter 3: Intelligence in
Counterinsurgency) Small team tactics ‘In this environment, operations based on small teams
increase chances of contact and success’ (p. 34) ‘Aggressive saturation patrolling, ambushes, and listening
post operations must be conducted, risk shared with the
populace, and contact maintained’ (p. 48) Development actions Emphasizing that ‘efforts must be made to address
aspirations of the locals by undertaking civic action
programmes like resuscitation of schools, medical
facilities, communication network and projects that
generate self[-]employment opportunities’ (p. 36) Discussing the importance of economic development as a
logical line of operation (pp. 171-3) Junior leadership ‘Sub[-]conventional operations are invariably
decentralized at the unit and sub[-]unit level, thus placing
heavy demands on junior leadership’ (p. 52) Emphasizing that ‘young leaders–so-called ‘strategic
corporals’–often make decisions at the tactical level that
have strategic consequences’ (p. 50), which means
‘[j]unior leaders especially need . . . skills in a COIN
environment because of the decentralized nature of
operations’ (p. 239) Stress on troops Emphasizing the importance of managing stress among
troops in sub-conventional operations (pp. 36-7) ‘Leaders remain aware of the emotional toll that constant
combat takes on their subordinates and the potential for
injuries resulting from stress’ (p. 240) Sustaining the effort ‘Commanders at all levels must ensure that compatible
logistic support, to include replenishment of war like
material, supplies, medical and postal cover, are given due
attention’ (p. 37) Highlighting the critical important of logistics and
sustainment units in COIN operations (Chapter 8:
Sustainment, pp. 255-85)
The U.S. doctrine contains many features that respond to the challenges the United States
faces in conducting COIN operations in foreign countries. Understandably, the Indian doctrine
does not contain corresponding concerns because India’s main COIN challenges have been
within its territory. The situation of the two countries with respect to these COIN contexts is not
likely to change in the future. For example, given the difficulty of COIN, hovering over the
CFM is the question whether the United States should intervene in another nation through COIN
operations. As Sewall (2007: xliii) observed, the CFM ‘is neutral regarding the choice for war.
Ironically, though, the manual’s ultimate value may lie in better informing the nation’s jus ad
The same question does not hover over the DSCO because India does not have the luxury
of deciding whether to respond to insurgent violence in its territory. The equivalent political
question for India is how to prevent violence from occurring in the first place. As Navlakha
(2007: 1246) argued, ‘Because most conflicts, before they graduate to armed resistance/struggle,
begin with the articulation of popular concerns and aspirations[,] . . . the effort ought to be
directed at redressing them before the rot sets in.’ Prevention questions arise for the United
States, but, as an external actor, it has less ability to redress political, economic, and social
problems in other states than the Indian government has to address problems within its territory
that may become tinder for insurgent violence.
Another difference in the U.S. and Indian doctrines concerns the emphasis placed on the
legitimacy of COIN operations. The CFM is obsessed with legitimacy: ‘The primary objective of
any COIN operation is to foster development of effective governance by a legitimate
government’ (U.S. Army and Marine Corps 2007: 37). The U.S. concern with legitimacy in
COIN is two-fold. First, as an intervening power, the United States confronts legitimacy
challenges with respect to its intervention and subsequent behavior in the host nation. These
challenges connect to many issues, including the legality of the intervention, support from the
international community, and sensitivity of U.S. military forces and civilian personnel to local
traditions, cultures, and religions. Second, the United States faces the objective of helping create
and/or maintain a legitimate government in the host nation. Accomplishing this task requires the
United States to become involved in, among other things, supporting political institutions,
developing host-nation security forces, providing essential services, and creating economic
India’s DSCO contains different legitimacy concerns, which reflect the internal focus of
this document and most of India’s COIN experiences. Whether India has a legitimate basis to
respond to an insurgency within its territory is simply not an issue for the DSCO. Although it
recognizes that political and socio-economic grievances stimulate insurgency and terrorism, the
DSCO tends to cast dispersions on the legitimacy of such violence: ‘The modus operandi of the
weaker side [in sub-conventional warfare] is generally characterised by irrationality,
indiscrimination, unpredictability and ruthlessly destructive behavior’ (Indian Army 2006: 1).
addition, the DSCO contains nothing to suggest that the Indian Army developed it to inform
COIN operations outside India, as occurred in Sri Lanka. Thus, the DSCO never addresses the
question of the legitimacy of Indian intervention in another country.
The legitimacy concerns in the DSCO revolve around India’s responses to insurgency and
terrorist violence in its territory. India has an unquestioned right to respond to such violence, and
The CFM contains similar sentiments: ‘insurgents are constrained by neither the law of war nor
the bounds of human decency as Western nations understand them. . . . These amoral and often
barbaric enemies survive by their wits, constantly adapting to the situation’ (U.S. Army and
Marine Corps 2007: 52).
to take an uncompromising stance when the violence aims for secession from India. The DSCO’s
emphasis on respect for human rights and the rule of law shows the Indian Army is aware that
the legitimacy of actions taken by the Army (and the civilian government) is subject to scrutiny
and criticism. Controversies about the activities of the Indian Army in waging COIN (e.g.,
allegations of disproportionate use of force or human rights violations of detained persons) do
not, however, undermine the legitimacy of India’s right to combat internal violence or to oppose
absolutely secessionist demands. The domestic context of India’s COIN operations, as presented
in the DSCO, allows India to avoid the fragile linkages the United States confronts in foreign
campaigns between the legitimacy of U.S. involvement in the conflict, performance in COIN
operations, and support for the host nation’s government.
These different legitimacy perspectives inform other differences in the two doctrines. For
example, the CFM draws frequently on international law as an important component in U.S.
engagement in COIN operations (Fidler 2007), particularly with respect to complying with the
laws of war and fostering the rule of law in the host nation (U.S. Army and Marine Corps 2007:
351-3, 360-1). By contrast, the DSCO never mentions international law of any kind and draws
only on the Indian Constitution and statutes for legal guidance for Indian Army actions. The
DSCO’s approach does not mean the Indian Army is hostile towards international law, any more
than the CFM’s use of international law represents an American love affair with the law of
nations. The substantive content of Indian law may reflect or incorporate relevant international
legal norms. Although Navlakha (2007: 1245) criticized the DSCO for not specifically including
Common Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions, which sets minimum standards for non-
international armed conflict, Indian law and the guidance provided in the DSCO (e.g., List of
Do’s and Don’ts) appear consonant with Common Article 3’s substance. The difference in the
utilization of international law signals different contexts for the doctrines in terms of how the
legality of actions influences perceptions of legitimacy in COIN.
Other doctrinal differences also reflect the external/internal environments addressed by
the U.S. and Indian doctrines respectively. For example, the CFM pays far more attention to
developing host-nation security forces
than the DSCO gives to Indian Army support for training
state police forces. As the case study on the Punjab explained, Indian Army training of the
Punjab police allowed the police to play the major role in defeating the Sikh insurgency
(Marwah 2009; Fair 2009). The DSCO does not, however, mention, let alone highlight, this
important role the Indian Army plays in combating insurgencies inside India. Why the DSCO
fails to highlight this aspect of Indian Army support to civil authorities is not clear, but it may
reflect sensitivities in Indian politics concerning civil-military relations.
Similarly, the CFM spends more time on other key aspects of military support to civil
governance, including providing essential services and engaging in economic development
activities, than does the DSCO. The DSCO mentions these tasks, but it does not elaborate on
them much, perhaps because the Indian Army’s engagement in civil support functions is
understood and less controversial and difficult than the challenges the U.S. military faces inside
foreign countries undertaking non-military tasks.
The Indian doctrine also does not focus as extensively as the U.S. doctrine on the
importance of cultural and language skills in COIN operations. Commentators have noted how
radical the CFM’s emphasis on cultural and language skills is for the U.S. military (Heuser
2007), and the U.S. military’s growing interest in developing and exploiting these skills has
generated controversy, especially with respect to the military’s deployment of anthropologists in
See, e.g., U.S. Army and Marine Corps 2007: 199-235 (Chapter 6: Developing Host-Nation
so-called ‘Human Terrain Teams’ (Rohde 2007). The DSCO asserts the importance of military
units acquiring ‘detailed knowledge of the area of operations, its people, their customs,
traditions, language and religious beliefs’ (Indian Army 2006: 49), but it does not elaborate on
this need or reflect on cultural and language problems Indian Army troops have faced in COIN
operations in different regions (e.g., in the northeast and Punjab). Again, the absence of detailed
discussion may signal that India, as a multi-ethnic, multi-cultural, and multi-lingual nation, faces
language and culture issues in every policy context, and the importance of dealing with these
issues in sub-conventional operations goes without saying.
The DSCO also spends little to no time addressing funding and logistical issues that arise
during COIN operations, while the CFM shows more concern about these matters. Again, the
explanation relates to the external/internal difference in COIN contexts. U.S. law on foreign and
military assistance forces the U.S. government to fund COIN operations in a highly complex
fashion, which forces doctrine to confront the issue up front (U.S. Army and Marine Corps 2007:
347-9, 357-60). The emphasis on logistical support for sustainable COIN operations is easy to
understand from the perspective of the United States intervening thousands of miles from its
shores (U.S. Army and Marine Corps 2007: 255-85).
The DSCO never addresses funding issues, which might be odd given the federal
structure of India’s governance and the need to coordinate central and state government
resources. As for logistical matters, the DSCO devotes one sentence to it as a ‘miscellaneous’
issue under operational facets of COIN efforts (Indian Army 2006: 37). The DSCO provides no
information on ‘best practices’ on logistics, even though the Indian Army has faced logistical
problems in COIN operations in difficult terrain (e.g., the northeast). However, compared to the
logistical tasks faced by the United States in its external COIN campaigns, the Indian Army faces
an easier logistics context that perhaps requires less doctrinal attention.
In the end, the differences between the Indian and U.S. doctrines do not reflect
fundamental divergence in COIN concepts or strategies. The main differences are either stylistic
or reflect emphases particular to the contexts in which India (internal) and the United States
(external) mainly wage COIN. These differences are important for the United States, particularly
with respect to efforts it might make with other countries in improving their approaches to COIN
doctrine, strategies, and capabilities. As India’s doctrine reflects, a country will approach internal
COIN challenges differently from how the U.S. tackles its foreign COIN campaigns. A different
approach does not necessarily mean that the United States and the foreign government will be at
odds on core principles for COIN, as the similarities between the Indian and U.S. doctrines
illustrate. Thus, in keeping with U.S. doctrine on COIN, a host nation developing COIN doctrine
tolerably is normally better than the United States doing it well.
DEMOCRACY AND COUNTERINSURGENCY DOCTRINE
Comparative analysis of the Indian and U.S. doctrines should not lose sight that both are
democratic polities that share values and interests, including the ironclad necessity of civilian
control over military forces. In many ways, democracy and its associated tenets, such as the rule
of law and respect for human rights, pre-determines what COIN doctrine for a democracy
contains. As democracies, the United States and India face philosophical and jurisprudential
determinants of their COIN doctrines that they cannot adjust or avoid. This reality represents an
opportunity and a burden for democratic countries.
The opportunity appears in how the ‘best practices’ of COIN, such as the strategy of
making the people the center of gravity in the struggle, resonate with democracy’s principles,
such as its emphasis on the sovereignty of the people. Democracy has no exclusive or inherent
claim to the hearts and minds of a population, but, at least doctrinally, what governments must
strategically achieve in COIN fits well with democratic aspirations. Doctrinal emphasis on the
rule of law, respect for human rights, strengthening civilian authorities, catalyzing economic
opportunity, and empowering communities finds ready acceptance in democratic sensibilities.
Despite serious mistakes and failures, India’s fifty years of experience fighting insurgencies
reveal the resiliency of the Indian democracy when confronted by multiple variations of this
threat. The democratic determinants of COIN doctrine lessen somewhat the doctrine’s
importance because the framework of democratic ideals, principles, and rules applies whether
formal doctrine for military and civilian agencies exists. In other words, strict implementation of
COIN doctrine within a democracy carries less significance because of the ‘safety net’
democratic politics provides. Perhaps this reasoning helps explain the late development of formal
COIN doctrine by India, despite its extensive experience in this realm.
The burden for democratic countries of these philosophical determinants of COIN
doctrine is two-fold. First, as the United States discovered in its COIN operations in Vietnam,
Afghanistan, and Iraq, a democracy undertaking COIN efforts in foreign, non-democratic nations
proves difficult and dangerous. The legitimacy linkages the United States confronts in external
COIN operations have a gossamer quality easily damaged by events on the ground, particularly
failures by the host nation to live up to the benchmarks of democracy building. This reality
heightens the importance of high levels of compliance with COIN doctrine. Without high
compliance, the United States faces the burden of carrying more of the military and civilian
sacrifice of COIN operations with dwindling legitimacy at home, in the host nation, and in the
international community. The external COIN context always means there is an exit strategy, no
matter how disastrous withdrawal of U.S. support may be for the government and people of the
host nation. In short, the United States has no democratic ‘safety net’ to cushion failure to
implement effectively COIN doctrine in foreign countries with no traditions of democracy.
Second, the burden imposed by the philosophical determinants of COIN doctrine appears
in the difficulties these determinants create for military and civilian actors involved in COIN.
The mandate to respect the rule of law provides good illustrations of this burden. Continuing
controversies in India about the Armed Forces Special Powers Act (AFSPA) reveal deep
tensions in this democratic society created by the necessity to use high levels of force within the
rule of law (Government of India 2005). The Indian Army believes that its troops need the
authority and the protection provided by the AFSPA in order to accomplish their assigned COIN
missions (Government of India 2005: 8), but critics complain that the authority given is
excessive and the immunity rendered frees soldiers from worrying about the rule of law
(Navlakha 2007). Similar concerns arise in external COIN operations by the United States, as
revealed by accusations that the U.S. military personnel have violated the laws of war in Iraq and
Afghanistan with impunity (Kahl 2007b) and that U.S. private contractors operating in the
conflict zone, such as Blackwater, are subject to no laws whatsoever (Dickinson 2007).
For India and the United States as democracies, COIN doctrine is predominantly an
exercise in applied ideology that has to occur simultaneously across civilian and military sectors.
The doctrines are not utilitarian tools that can be wielded without a substantive vision of the
political end state. This reality colors everything about COIN operations undertaken by
democracies. Not surprisingly, the tensions that arise in this context resemble the controversies
about what the ‘rule of law’ means in COIN operations and nation-building efforts (Stigall 2006;
Stromseth, Wippman, and Brooks 2006: 56-84; Center for Law and Military Operations 2007).
Should the ‘rule of law’ be minimal and linked simply to creating functioning rules and
institutions, or should it have a substantive edge by requiring certain kinds of institutions and
As the CFM argues, the traditional American way of war, which aligned civilian and
military actions in a linear relationship (e.g., reconstruction as a post-combat Phase IV activity),
cannot accommodate these COIN challenges. The United States must adjust to a much more
difficult way to apply its ideology, or abandon involvement in COIN conflicts. The democratic
determinants of COIN doctrine render impossible the option of turning COIN into a purely
military contest, with the brutality and suffering that approach would entail. The last time the
United States faced this choice after Vietnam, its military and civilian leaders jettisoned the idea
of preparing to fight COIN conflicts more effectively, and the direct and indirect costs to the
United States as a democracy have been severe in the Afghan and Iraqi conflicts.
As the case studies in this book illuminate, Indian democracy has struggled with
remaining true to democratic principles while waging COIN campaigns. This struggle includes
India’s tendency to have to re-learn the lessons of COIN with each new COIN operation, which
is not an effective way to engage in the COIN exercise of applied ideology. Although India has
not yet lost a COIN conflict within its territory, ‘a thin line divides success and failure in such
operations’ (Indian Army 2006: iv). Whether the promulgation of the DSCO thickens that line
for India remains to be seen.
Thinking of COIN doctrine as an exercise in applied ideology for India and the United
States means that these two countries’ doctrines are not easily exportable to other nations in need
of better COIN capabilities that do not have democratic legacies. The United States can see in
India’s doctrine a potential model for other countries to consider in developing their own
national COIN strategies and doctrines, particularly because the Indian doctrine has so much in
common with the new U.S. approach. But that commonality limits the utility of the Indian
doctrine as a national template for other countries making the difficult transition to democracy in
the midst of insurgent violence. The extent of the limits is inversely proportional to the scope of
the nation’s governance capabilities because engaging in COIN as applied ideology is a
capability-intensive exercise that simultaneously taxes legislative, judicial, executive, military,
and non-governmental capacities.
CONCLUSION: THE FUTURE OF THE INDIAN AND U.S. DOCTRINES
The Indian and the U.S. doctrines maintain that these countries will confront increased threats
from insurgency movements and other forms of irregular, asymmetrical warfare in the future.
These predictions make the DSCO and the CFM priority documents for military and civilian
agencies in India and the United States. Whether the doctrines will receive such priority is not, as
of this writing, clear. The CFM could become a relic of the conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq if
the United States decreases its presence and commitment to those countries. Negative outcomes
for the United States in one or both of these theaters could stimulate another retreat from the
development of more serious COIN capabilities.
In terms of India, retreat from insurgency threats, such as the on-going problems in the
northeast and the Naxalite problem, is not an option, but the need to respond to sub-conventional
threats does not ensure the successful implementation of the DSCO. After all, the DSCO
ostensibly is a codification of learning already part of Indian Army expertise, but this learning
had trouble gaining serious traction within the Indian Army and beyond over the course of fifty
years of experience countering insurgencies. Further, critics of the Indian experiences with COIN
operations might emphasize the need to prevent asymmetrical conflicts within India by focusing
more political attention on socio-economic injustices, ethnic tensions, religious disputes, and
governance failings. The DSCO does not provide a blueprint for such preventive politics and
thus, in the eyes of critics, does not deserve priority within civilian government agencies.
Leaving aside the possibilities for marginalization, metrics for the future health of the
Indian and U.S. doctrines arise in four areas:
• The extent to which the doctrines become embedded in the training and education of
military officers and soldiers in the Indian Army and the U.S. military;
• The impact of the doctrines on the formulation of civilian strategies, the creation and
maintenance of improved civilian capabilities to engage in the political dimensions of
COIN operations, and the quality of the integration of these civilian strategies and
capabilities with the U.S. military;
• How well India and the United States refine the application of the doctrines to mitigate
tensions and reduce controversies in their application, such as those involving how the
rule of law applies to COIN security forces; and
• The level of cooperation and shared learning India and the United States develop on the
basis of their common understanding of the nature of the asymmetrical threat and the
political likemindedness reflected in the similar features of their COIN doctrines.
This paper’s comparative analysis of the Indian and U.S. doctrines on COIN reveals a
host of lessons that the United States can learn from the Indian experience. The lessons are not
revolutionary, in the sense that they should alter the way the United States thinks about COIN
operations. Rather, the lessons confirm the radical moves the U.S. Army and Marine Corps made
with the CFM and illuminate ways in which the Indian experience has more relevance to the U.S.
interests in COIN than previously realized or acknowledged. As the United States looks beyond
Afghanistan and Iraq in terms of future COIN challenges, India’s experiences and doctrine may
become increasingly interesting, especially if the two countries can engage each other more
productively as democracies facing violent, asymmetrical threats that may become the dominant
type of warfare in the next phase of the twenty-first century.
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