War Amongst the People

(This is an archived extract from the book Patterns of Power: Edition 2)

Rupert Smith used the term “war amongst the people”,[1] to describe fighting which takes place where people are living – as happens in a civil war (7.2.6), for example, and when a country has been invaded.  In these situations, a military capability designed for war between armies is ineffective:

·      Some weapons used by armies are designed to kill a lot of people on a battlefield, so ‘collateral damage’ to property and civilian casualties are inevitable, no matter how much care is taken to protect the population.  

·      The resentment of people whose families have suffered losses has the effect of increasing support for the resistance and intensifying the conflict.  For each terrorist or guerrilla killed, several others spring up as replacements when friends and family members seek to avenge the deaths.

·      Soldiers might not be trained to deal with keeping order in a civilian context, where the people confronting them are not ‘enemies’ but the population of the country they are meant to serve.

Force is therefore of limited use from a purely military perspective in a ‘war amongst the people’.

© PatternsofPower.org, 2014                                                 

[1] General Sir Rupert Smith described “war amongst the people” as an emerging trend in chapter 7of his book The Utility of Force (pp. 267 ff.), where he pointed out that military equipment designed for “industrial war” is unsuitable (p. 269).  In chapter 9 he gave Bosnia as an example of how this works in practice.