Breaking Down “Hearts & Minds:” The Power of Individual Causal Mechanisms in an Insurgency

April 18, 2013 | Republished from Small Wars Journal

Octavian Manea: Why do you talk about variety of insurgencies?  Should we see Baghdad, Anbar, and Basra as different insurgencies?

Roger D. Petersen: Different countries and different regions possess certain qualities that form the potential “building blocks” for sustained insurgency.  Whether that potential is realized or not depends upon the resources of government and the counterinsurgent and the way those resources are used. In Iraq, those building blocks included remnants of the former Baathist regime such as its bureaucracy and various security forces, tribal groups, clans, ethnic identities and religious and linguistic cleavages. When the combination of “building blocks,” resources, and strategies differ among regions, then those regions are essentially different types of insurgencies. I think the combination and interaction of these elements were very different in 4 different regions of Iraq: Kurdistan and the north, Basra and the south, Baghdad, and Anbar.

OM: In your research you pointed out to a spectrum of conceivable individual roles in an insurgency. What is the methodology behind this typology?

RDP: This methodology comes from my 2001 book (Resistance and Rebellion: Lessons from Eastern Europe) which focused on Lithuanian resistance to Soviets in the 1940’s. Insurgency is a complex phenomenon, especially in how violent organization and networks are created and sustained, and the methodology of that book involved breaking down this complexity into component parts and then building back up into a coherent whole. At the base of this process is the way individuals position themselves relative to the dramatic and violent events of insurgency. Most people may wish to remain neutral and just take care of their families but events push significant numbers of individuals into roles of unarmed support of insurgents, or local armed position of a militia, membership in a mobile non-local organization, or equivalent positions in support of the government.  Furthermore, individuals may move back and forth along this spectrum of roles. If one is skeptical of broad and vague theories at a high level of aggregation, as I am, then you need to get down and observe dynamics at a basic level. Observing movement along this spectrum of roles is one way to do that.

OM: What are causal mechanisms? Why are the causal mechanisms important for a social scientist trying to understand an insurgent setting?

RDP: There are different understandings of what defines a causal mechanism among social scientists.  My own definition is that a mechanism is a specific causal pattern that explains individual action over a wide range of settings.  A mechanism must be specific and causal, on the one hand, but general and able to apply to a wide range of cases.  For example, the “tyranny of sunk costs” is a mechanism.  There is a specific causal logic—previous heavy investment produces continuation of an action that is no longer optimal.  And the mechanism is general in that it can apply over a wide range of settings.  Tyranny of sunk costs can apply to car ownership—it might be best to get rid of a problematic car but I may be less likely to do so if I just put some money into fixing the transmission, and also to a bad marriage—maybe my marriage is hopeless but I just paid a lot of money to a marriage counselor so I keep going on.  Given the spectrum concept above, with individuals moving back and forth along seven positions, the use of a causal mechanism approach is natural and crucial.  The method seeks to understand which causal mechanisms push and pull individuals from one position to another.  For example, which causal mechanisms—which small grained causal forces—pull individuals out of neutrality and into unarmed support for insurgents?  Which mechanisms pull them the other way into unarmed support for the government?  Which mechanisms pull them into armed participation?   … MORE

Octavian Manea is pursuing, as a Fulbright student, an M.A. in International Relations with a focus on global security and post-conflict reconstruction at the Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs, Syracuse University.

Roger D. Petersen is an Associate Professor of Political Science at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Petersen studies comparative politics with a special focus on conflict and violence, mainly in Eastern Europe, but also in Colombia. He has written three books: Resistance and Rebellion: Lessons from Eastern Europe (Cambridge University Press, 2001); Understanding Ethnic Violence: Fear, Hatred, Resentment in Twentieth Century Eastern Europe (Cambridge University Press, 2002); and Western Intervention in the Balkans: The Strategic Use of Emotion in Conflict (Cambridge University Press, 2011). He is co-author, together with Jon Lindsay of Varieties of Insurgency and Counterinsurgency in Iraq, 2003-2009, US Naval War College, 2012.

O’Shea Joins INSCT as Research & Practice Associate

Dan O'SheaINSCT is pleased to announce the addition of Commander Dan O’Shea to its roster of distinguished Research and Practice Associates. INSCT Research and Practice Associates bring additional academic and practical subject matter expertise to the institute. They engage in collaborative projects, teach, and share their original research and practitioner perspectives. Often located at other institutions, associates share INSCT’s commitment to interdisciplinary eduaction, research, and public service.

Commander Dan O’Shea, is a qualified Navy SEAL officer and Commander (O-5) in the US Naval Reserves assigned to US Special Operations Command (USSOCOM) Naval Reserve Detachment.

Following the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, O’Shea was voluntarily recalled to and served as a Special Operations Command CENTRAL (SOCCENT) liaison and staff planning officer assigned to the US Central Command (USCENTCOM) headquarters in Tampa and Qatar during the wartime planning and execution of Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF) and Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF) … more.

INSCT Video: Combating Hostage Terrorism with CDR Dan O’Shea

CDR Dan O’Shea, is a qualified Navy SEAL officer and Commander (O-5) in the US Naval Reserves assigned to US Special Operations Command (USSOCOM) Naval Reserve Detachment.

Following the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, O’Shea was voluntarily recalled to and served as a Special Operations Command CENTRAL (SOCCENT) liaison and staff planning officer assigned to the US Central Command (USCENTCOM) headquarters in Tampa and Qatar during the wartime planning and execution of Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF) and Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF).

In July 2004, O’Shea established and served as Coordinator of the Hostage Working Group (HWG), at the US Embassy in Baghdad Iraq until April 2006. HWG was the US Mission’s primary planning facilitator, intelligence fusion node, and coordinating element for all hostage-taking incidents in Iraq. O’Shea was directly involved at the strategic and tactical level in the US/Coalition response to every major international kidnapping case.

(Part of the Carol Becker Middle East Speaker Series.)

Security in the Middle East & Islam

Syracuse University Institute for Security Policy and Law’s projects on Security in the Middle East and Islam address topics fundamental to the rule of law, conflict resolution, and postconflict reconstruction in this region, including the application of international humanitarian law, human rights law, and postconflict justice.

New Battlefields, Old Laws

One of SPL’s signature projects, New Battlefields/Old Laws (NBOL) began with a 2007 symposium to commemorate the 100th anniversary of The Hague Convention of 1907. Held at the Omni Shoreham Hotel in Washington, DC, this conference brought together an international team of scholars, government officials, and human rights experts, moderated by NPR’s Robert Siegel and Tom Ricks of The Washington Post.

The project has since grown into a series of interdisciplinary workshops and publications that reexamine the application of centuries-old customs and laws of armed conflict in the age of asymmetric warfare. This project has produced two books that closely examine international humanitarian law in the 21st century: New Battlefields/Old Laws: Critical Debates from the Hague Convention to Asymmetric Warfare (Columbia UP, 2011) and Counterinsurgency Law: New Directions in Asymmetric Warfare (Oxford UP, 2012).

Program on Security in the Middle East

SPL’s Program on Security in the Middle East is a unique graduate program that facilitates student engagement with scholars, renowned experts, and practitioners.

Becker Lecture Series

As part of SPL’s Program on Security in the Middle East, SPL hosts renowned scholars and experts to discuss the pressing challenges and complexities of security in the Middle East. Carol Becker speakers present to the SU community and meet with SPL students to discuss and debate security challenges facing the region.

Syrian Accountability Project

Started at Syracuse University College of Law in 2011, the Syrian Accountability Project (SAP) is a cooperative effort between activists, non-governmental organizations, students, and other interested parties to document war crimes and crimes against humanity in the context of the Syrian Crisis.

Seven Months with Saddam

With George L. Piro, Director, FBI High Value Detainee Interrogation Group

Selected as the High Value Detainee Interrogation Group (HIG) Director in September 2011, Special Agent George Piro leads Intelligence Community and FBI participation in the HIG, an interagency unit, overseen by the Counterterrorism Security Group within the White House. In March 2003, he was selected to the FBIs Counterterrorism Rapid Deployment Team at FBI headquarters in Washington, DC, and was promoted to Supervisory Special Agent within the team. Piro was the Team Leader and interrogator for the FBI team responsible for the interrogation of Saddam Hussein.

Leaving Without Losing: The War on Terror after Iraq & Afghanistan

With Dr. Mark Katz

As the United States withdraws its combat troops from Iraq and Afghanistan, politicians, foreign policy specialists, and the public worry about the consequences of leaving. Neither nation can be considered stable and progress toward democracy—a principal aim of America and the West—is fragile at best. International relations scholar Mark N. Katz asks, “Could ending both wars actually help the United States and its allies overcome radical Islam in the long term?”

Dr. Mark Katz is Professor of Government and Politics at George Mason University. He is the author of The Third World in Soviet Military Thought (Johns Hopkins University Press, 1982); Russia and Arabia: Soviet Foreign Policy Toward the Arabian Peninsula (Johns Hopkins University Press, 1986); Gorbachev’s Military Policy in the Third World (Center for Strategic and International Studies, 1989), Revolutions and Revolutionary Waves (St. Martin’s Press, 1997); Reflections on Revolutions (St. Martin’s Press, 1999); and Leaving without Losing: The War on Terror after Iraq and Afghanistan (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2012).

This event is co-sponsored by the SU Maxwell School Department of International Relations and the Middle Eastern Studies Program.

The Future of Security Sector Reform

David F. Everett Postconflict Reconstruction Speaker Series

With Mark Sedra, Senior Fellow, Center for International Governance Innovation (CIGI) and Research Scholar, University of Waterloo, Canada

Mark Sedra directs all of CIGI’s Security Sector Governance Projects, which produce field-based research and analysis on numerous ongoing war-to-peace transitions, including those in Afghanistan, Burundi, Haiti, Southern Sudan, and Timor-Leste. In addition to his work at CIGI, Sedra is a research scholar in the University of Waterloo’s department of political science and a faculty member at the Balsillie School of International Affairs. He is a member of the International Security Sector Advisory Team, an initiative developed at the Geneva Centre for the Democratic Control of the Armed Forces. He has co-authored two books; served as an editor for two others; and produced numerous journal articles, book chapters, policy papers, technical reports, and op-eds. He also has served as a consultant and adviser to numerous government agencies, intergovernmental bodies, and non-governmental organizations, such as DFAIT, the Canadian Ministry of Public Safety, the UK Department for International Development, and the United Nations.

The Role of NGOs in Postconflict Zones

David F. Everett Postconflict Reconstruction Speaker Series

With Rudy von Bernuth, Vice President and Managing Director, Children in Emergencies and Crisis, Save the Children

Von Bernuth supervises all programs and policies related to emergency response, humanitarian assistance, and food assistance. With 40 years of experience in international development and emergency relief programs, he has directed response efforts in Afghanistan, Bosnia, Croatia, Iraq, Rwanda, Sudan and Tajikistan, among others.

Wartime Contracting

Panel Discussion with:

  • Joanna Ayers, US General Accounting Office
  • Col. David Berg, US Army
  • Robert Toole
  • William C. Banks, Director, INSCT

In this panel, the focus will be on contracts as a policy tool, but one being used extensively in Iraq and Afghanistan, but also increasingly in conflict, postconflict, and weak/fragile states. There are of course a host of issues to be discussed. In recent remarks, US Secretary of Defense Robert Gates has described the situation around wartime contracting as death by a thousand paper cuts. Of course the real challenge then is that each small decision is not well integrated with each subsequent decision and certainly not aligned with a larger strategic orientation and goal. Extricating oneself from these increasingly complex processes can be a Herculean challenge.

Resilience & Sustainability in Postconflict Reconstruction

On August 26 and 27, 2009 INSCT participated in a two-day, joint research conference hosted by the US Army’s Peacekeeping and Stability Operations Institute (PKSOI), located at the US Army War College in Carlisle Barracks, PA.

This collaboration explored the topics of resilience and sustainability in the context of postconflict reconstruction and stability and transition operations.  This event was an extension of INSCT’s ongoing Project on Resilience and Security.  Conference participants include INSCT research staff and faculty: Nick Armstrong, Keli Perrin, Patricia Longstaff, and Bruce Dayton.