ISA Linkage Edition

18 February 2015, 1749 EST

Welcome to sunny and warm New Orleans (or at least sunnier and warmer than wherever most of us have come from!). If you are stepping away from conferencing for a bit, here are a few good reads on the security front. I’ll likely come back in the new few days with one on energy/environment and health. Here I link to work from Alan Kuperman, Jay Ulfelder, Phil Hazlewood, Paul Staniland, and Graeme Wood, covering Libya, body counts, insurgencies, and ISIS. Enjoy.


In the wake of ISIS’s emergence in Libya, my colleague Alan Kuperman weighs in on the debacle that is Libya in Foreign Affairs:

This grim math leads to a depressing but unavoidable conclusion. Before NATO’s intervention, Libya’s civil war was on the verge of ending, at the cost of barely 1,000 lives. Since then, however, Libya has suffered at least 10,000 additional deaths from conflict. In other words, NATO’s intervention appears to have increased the violent death toll more than tenfold.


Jay Ulfelder, following on AFP reporter Phil Hazlewood’s blog post below, on the challenges of counting casualties in war zones:

I do not doubt the basic truth of the gulags’ existence and the horrible things done there, but as a social scientist, I have to consider how those selection processes and motivations shape what we think we know.

Phil Hazlewood – how can we know of Boko Haram’s atrocities?

No one can travel there, not even AFP’s local Nigerian staff. Telecommunications are destroyed. The only option is for survivors of Boko Haram raids to make it to an area still under government control – like the Borno state capital, Maiduguri – or over the border into Chad to tell their stories. Sometimes that can take weeks.

Photos and video, the proof that seems to be increasingly required to establish beyond doubt that an attack took place? Forget it….

There’s been a lot of attention paid to what happened in Baga – and rightly so. Amnesty and Human Rights Watch have published satellite images indicating the level of destruction. But even that couldn’t give an accurate figure of the dead.

“No one stayed back to count the bodies,” one Baga resident told HRW. “We were still running to get out of town.”


Paul Staniland in The New York Times expounds on his typology of insurgencies, suggesting that different strategies are needed for different kinds of insurgencies, distinguishing between “integrated,” “vanguard,” and “parochial” insurgents:

But unless they quickly embed themselves in local communities, vanguards are vulnerable to dissent and disobedience from below. That’s why Al Qaeda in Iraq was so susceptible to the Sunni Awakening in 2007. Similarly, the Islamic State has been able to rapidly expand as a vanguard, but its major weakness remains the possibility of counterrevolt by wary local allies.

Vanguard groups are also vulnerable to a wider range of government strategies than integrated groups. If their leadership is quickly eliminated or politically co-opted, the organization crumbles. The key to counterinsurgency against them, then, is to quickly target leaders while preventing these groups from rebuilding.


Graeme Wood with a long essay in The Atlantic on what ISIS wants:

We have misunderstood the nature of the Islamic State in at least two ways. First, we tend to see jihadism as monolithic, and to apply the logic of al‑Qaeda to an organization that has decisively eclipsed it….

We are misled in a second way, by a well-intentioned but dishonest campaign to deny the Islamic State’s medieval religious nature….

Virtually every major decision and law promulgated by the Islamic State adheres to what it calls, in its press and pronouncements, and on its billboards, license plates, stationery, and coins, “the Prophetic methodology,” which means following the prophecy and example of Muhammad, in punctilious detail. Muslims can reject the Islamic State; nearly all do. But pretending that it isn’t actually a religious, millenarian group, with theology that must be understood to be combatted, has already led the United States to underestimate it and back foolish schemes to counter it. We’ll need to get acquainted with the Islamic State’s intellectual genealogy if we are to react in a way that will not strengthen it, but instead help it self-immolate in its own excessive zeal.