7.4.1 War Amongst the People

The invasion of another country necessitates a war amongst the people, where it is hard to identify targets or avoid civilian casualties.

General Sir Rupert Smith, in his book The Utility of Force, put forward the following thesis:

“It is now time to recognise that a paradigm shift in war has undoubtedly occurred: from armies with comparable forces doing battle on a field to strategic confrontation between a range of combatants, not all of which are armies, and using different types of weapons, often improvised. The old paradigm was that of interstate industrial war. The new one is the paradigm of war amongst the people.” (p.3)

His description of this new paradigm is apt when considering several recent wars:

●  American interventions in Iraq and Afghanistan were very costly and did not achieve a lasting peace (

●  Israel’s invasion of Gaza in 2023 has proved very problematic and probably counterproductive.

At first sight, it would appear that Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is following an earlier model.  It involved troops using conventional weapons to oppose each other in 2023, rather like the two world wars in the 20th century: ‘industrial war’ in Rupert Smith’s terminology.  He used that term in his book to describe how the outcome of war depended on industry’s ability to supply sufficient arms and ammunition – and that initially applied to the Russian invasion.  It seems highly likely, though, that if Russia had conquered the whole of Ukraine as it had originally intended, it would then have experienced an endless war amongst the people as the population would have resisted.

It is questionable whether an invasion can ever result in a stable peace settlement.  The invaders will always be confronted by an insurrection.  It is argued below that “success” is hard to achieve because of practical problems in dealing with guerrilla warfare:

●  The weapons available are of limited usefulness against continued resistance, as they were mostly designed to combat another country’s armed forces and destroy military targets ( Some weapons are forbidden by international law, so their use might result in repercussions.

●  Asymmetric guerrilla warfare reduces an army’s chances of ‘winning’, because resistance fighters can inflict heavy losses on the invading forces without losing many of their own people (

●  It is difficult to conduct war against a dispersed opposition amidst the civilian population ( It is hard to identify targets, and civilian casualties have the effect of radicalising people and increasing the resistance.

●  There are problems in occupying an invaded country (unless it is a neighbouring territory): resistance forces know that the invaders will want to go home after a while (



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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/edition04/741a.htm.