Reframing the Historical Problematic of Insurgency: How the Professional Military Literature Created a New History and Missed the Past

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Colleges, School and Institutes


This article explores how current professional military scholarship on insurgency and counterinsurgency (COIN) uses history to frame its arguments. It then attempts to reframe the current historical problematic surrounding insurgency. First, the article shows that the historical narrative of professional military scholarship on insurgency and its theoretical grounding are highly flawed. They are both parochial and profoundly ahistorical. Second, the paper constructs an alternative narrative of insurgency beginning from the ideas of the German legal philosopher Carl Schmitt (1888–1985), returning insurgency to history. This alternative narrative emphasizes the critical role played by the fall of European public law (jus publicum Europaeum). As a consequence of this and other historically contingent events, war in Europe lost its relative autonomy from society during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. In turn, insurgency became an increasingly prominent and normatively accepted form of warfare by the mid-twentieth century.


Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)553-588
Number of pages36
JournalThe Journal of Strategic Studies
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 27 Jul 2009