Occupation of Another Country

Military forces engaged in occupation of another country, whether as invaders or as peacekeepers, encounter continued resistance.

Following any intervention in the affairs of another country, there is a need to restabilise it, but the press release for Christopher J. Coyne’s book, After War, noted that:

“…the record of U.S.-led reconstructions has been mixed at best.  For every West Germany or Japan, there is a Cuba, Haiti, Somalia, or Vietnam, and more recently, Afghanistan and Iraq.”

There are several reasons why long-term peacekeeping forces are likely to encounter military problems:

●  Insurrections against an invader are likely to be perceived as legitimate.  Ferdinand Mount’s article, Lost legitimacy, observed that:

“However tepid people’s adherence to the prevailing local ideology, they will fight to keep out invaders….  A national will to resist, scarcely guessed at by the natives themselves, is forged by the invasion and is strengthened by the grief and rage generated by the death and destruction.”

●  Time is on the side of the people who live in a territory.  The invaders want to go home as soon as possible (unless they come from a neighbouring country trying to acquire territory), whereas local people can afford to be patient.  Al-Qaeda recognised this – as quoted in Kydd and Walter’s paper, The Strategies of Terrorism:

“We gained experience in guerrilla and attritional warfare in our struggle [in Afghanistan] against the great oppressive superpower, Russia, in which we and the mujahidin ground it down for 10 years until it went bankrupt, and decided to withdraw in defeat….  We are continuing to make America bleed to the point of bankruptcy.” (page 15 of PDF).

●  Whilst public support remains strong for overseas wars that have a clear legitimacy, it gradually evaporates if its forces remain in occupation of another country for a protracted period.  There is a steady stream of casualties returning home in body bags and it is politically inevitable that the invader has to retreat in the end.

If foreign wars are not to be extended indefinitely, it is essential to have an exit strategy.  In a paper published by SETA, The US exit strategy from Iraq to Syria, it was stated that:

“There was no exit strategy for the war in Iraq; there was just a decision to exit from Iraq instead.”

There is some debate, though, about what such a strategy should consist of.  Some people define it as a desired end-state and others refer to need for a limit on time and/or expenditure.  In this book, the term is used to mean a costed plan for reaching a desired end-state – such as handing over the responsibility for security to local government, or to an international peace-keeping force if the operation had UN approval.  This requirement should be taken into account at the outset, when deciding whether or not to embark upon a military operation.


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This page is intended to form part of Edition 4 of the Patterns of Power series of books.  An archived copy of it is held at https://www.patternsofpower.org/edition04/7414.htm.