Formalizing the Informal: Historical Lessons on Local Defense in Counterinsurgency
by Matthew P. Dearing
Journal Article | December 1, 2011 - 11:04pm
In September, Human Rights Watch released a scathing report on the Afghan Local Police (ALP), a paramilitary institution under control of the Minister of Interior and being trained by US Special Operations Forces in Afghanistan. ... These lessons suggest that paramilitary groups require: 1) supervision from state sponsors; 2) broad and deep cutting institutional reach; and 3) support from path dependent models.
...First, even in environments of "softened sovereignty," the vast majority of paramilitary groups are organized by, or with consent of the state in order to act as a force multiplier and an economy of force in support of military or law enforcement operations. While state-sponsored militias are supportive of the state, they also represent a form of contentious politics that use violence as a means to "protect the established order as opposed to overthrowing it."
Second, David Kilcullen suggests that in an insurgency, when the state is facing an existential threat, authority "flows away from civilian leaders at the level of the central or national state, toward local armed leaders, and toward the village or tribal level." Such leaders are empowered with legitimacy from the state; they are "embedded" within the local social system, and are given increasing authority as the conflict persists. These cases provide examples of weak states, facing intra-state war, attempting to quell insurgency in areas that were alternatively governed. Its important to keep in mind a major difference between these cases and Afghanistan, that is, liberal peace theory did not play a part in the state-building efforts such as it has in Afghanistan.
One of the first lessons is the role of the state as a supervisor and supporter of local capacity-building initiatives.
A second lesson is that national paramilitary organizations should be incorporated into broad umbrella institutions that represent civic objectives and enable legitimate controlling processes over diverse violence wielders.
A third lesson is the historical role of paramilitarism in areas of alternative governance.
A final lesson is based upon planning for future operations. ...there will be greater reliance on paramilitary organizations and the value they provide as local state-builders.