Written by a former Gurkha officer and United Nations researcher with many years of conflict-related experience, The Insurgent Archipelago proposes that in the post-Cold War era, the concept of insurgency has unique and neglected relevance. It is seen foremost as a political action, and terrorism and insurgency are very much interconnected. In the contemporary context, Mackinlay supplants, rather controversially, "insurgency" for "terrorism" in many instances.
This book describes how insurgency rapidly transformed from the officially apprehended Maoist typology "into several different forms by the 1990s". Here, the orthodoxy of the strong linkage between the distinct nature of different insurgencies and the societies from which they arise is prominent. Transposing it into the global setting, as Mackinlay usefully attempts, requires perhaps more detailed exemplification.
This "post-Maoist" development has distinct characteristics: the new insurgents mostly arise from a "global movement" or population. This is the "archipelago" of supporters of the contemporary jihadi activities labelled here as "insurgency". As in the Maoist phase, popular support is critical, but the new forms connect active supporters "diversified into host populations, frontline populations, concerned populations and intervening populations".
A significant additional feature is that there is no Clausewitzian centre of gravity that can be "overwhelmed, protected or managed by either side". The fact that post-Maoists struggle for objectives that seem "to have an unrealistic or intangible character" is no doubt connected.
In addition to these features, Mackinlay sees the use of "the propaganda of the deed" - terrorist attacks - as a crucial feature of the new forms of insurgency, communicating "the imagery of the violence to a globally dispersed audience through the efforts of media".
Mackinlay's conceptual integration of "terrorism" into "insurgency" is an indication of the wider absence of an ethical aspect to the analysis of the contemporary context of global conflict.
The connection between ethics and legitimacy seems important to the waging of war generally, and arguably is more important to terrorism/insurgency. Legitimacy underpins support and support, rightly, is identified here as a key feature for post-Maoist insurgency. The absence of a discussion of legitimacy means that the analysis is skewed: most people, wherever they live, utterly reject the barbarism of suicide bomb and improvised explosive device (IED) attacks on civilians in the "Muslim world" and the West. Legitimacy represents a true limit on the activities of jihadi insurgency.
The Insurgent Archipelago is impressive in the effective connections it makes between the ongoing revolution in mass communication, recent mass migratory flows and the evolving nature of contemporary global society. It prominently signals the failure of Western states to come to terms with these aspects of insurgency.
But the author doesn't engage with other important aspects of the post-Cold War era, most significantly recent developments in military affairs such as the extensive use of unmanned drones and precision-guided munitions, which, even with all their inadequacies, have been revolutionary; on the other side, the rise of suicide bombing and IED technological enhancement have had tactical if not strategic impact. Insurgents have struck with devastating effect, producing military casualties of morale-sapping significance: the recent attack on the Central Intelligence Agency in Khost, Afghanistan illustrates this perfectly ... for the price of just one jihadi life.
The book's broad, bold historical sweep is impressive and Mackinlay is a talented writer, bringing a fresh approach and new language to this pressing military and political dilemma.
The Insurgent Archipelago
By John Mackinlay. Hurst, 256pp, £45.00 and £20.00. ISBN 9781849040129 and 40136. Published 17 December 2009