Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


Political Science

Major Professor

Brandon Prins

Committee Members

John Scheb, David Brulé, David Folz, James Klett


Why have foreign counterinsurgency operations had such low success rates since 1945? While operations of this type succeeded at the rate of 85.71% during the period of 1816-1945, they declined by 56.30 percentage points to just 29.49% during period of 1945-1997 (Sarkees, 2000: 123-144). This occurred even though foreign powers were often fighting in the same territories where they had previously been overwhelmingly victorious.

I argue that military defeats suffered by European states during the Second World War convinced the peoples of the developing world that colonial control could be successfully challenged. As guerrilla struggles emerged in post-war Asia and Africa, colonial powers conducting counterinsurgency operations in those regions were constrained by a revised international order in which the existing multi-polar world had been replaced by a nuclear-armed, bi-polar East-West confrontation that offered the possibility of real-time, system-wide deadly responses to provocations. The United Nations Charter also offered support for territorial self-determination in Articles 1, 55, 73, and 76 (United Nations Charter, 1945, Articles 1, 55, and 73); support that was heightened by the growing number of former colonial states within the United Nations membership. This broad political and military support for native rule legitimated the existence and heightened the resolve of post-war nationalism (Westad, 1992), making nationalistic insurgencies virtually impossible to truly defeat, regardless of the counterinsurgency strategy employed.

To further evaluate these arguments, I developed hypotheses that advance the propositions that (a) counterinsurgency campaigns facing significant United Nations opposition will fail more often than those which do not, (b) insurgencies which receive broad support from great powers will be more likely to succeed than those which do not, and (c) the employment of either of the two primary counterinsurgency strategies will not be significant in success or failure of counterinsurgency efforts. Those hypotheses were then tested by briefly comparing information across the 17 case studies contained in the Correlates of War (COW) Extra-State Dataset for the period of 1945-1997 (see Appendix I), and then evaluated in depth through four case studies drawn from that dataset. The results were compelling, and offer significant support for all three hypotheses.

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