MESOP : Arguments and Analysis – “Death Solves All Problems: The Authoritarian Counterinsurgency Toolkit” (Daniel Byman, War on the Rocks)

“Bashar al-Assad should be losing. His regime has slaughtered civilians, turned Syria’s people against one another, politicized the country’s military, maintained a discriminatory political system, and won neither hearts nor minds. Yet he has defied skeptics and still hangs on to power. Nor is Assad the lonely dictator killing his way to victory. Algeria, China, and Egypt are confronting insurgencies and are largely trying to repress their way to success — as they have done in the past. Russia alone has confronted over 20 insurgencies in the last century and has suppressed the vast majority of them successfully.

As scholar Yuri Zhukov contends, Russia’s long history suggests ‘repression works, but not in moderation.’ Scholars and policymakers, however, often wrongly assume authoritarian states will fail to defeat insurgents unless they reform and neglect the distinct ways they wage counterinsurgency. How good is the authoritarian record against insurgencies, and what tools do they use to win? Their track record is better than is generally recognized — almost as good as that of democracies, in fact. Yet to win, authoritarian regimes employ a distinct toolkit that can lead to victory, but comes with many costs and limits, ranging from their inability to use much of their military power, frequent corruption, poor military learning, and the risk that authoritarians’ heavy use of repression makes it more likely that war will break out in the future should state control weaken.” Read all