COIN: A Study of Strategic Illusion

Small Wars & Insurgencies, 26:3, 345-376, 2015.

40 Pages Posted: 14 Mar 2015 Last revised: 15 Dec 2015

See all articles by Amitai Etzioni

Amitai Etzioni

The George Washington University

Date Written: March 12, 2015


Has the United States military become a learning institution, one able to transition from relying on a conventional war model to fighting against irregular adversaries such as insurgents and terrorists? This paper examines the United States’ interventions in Iraq and Afghanistan in an effort to respond to this question. It shows that there are two major ways for a military to fail to be a learning” institution: It may stick to its old dogma or — acquire a new one but one that is unrealistic. Those who saw counterinsurgency (COIN) doctrine as the best way to stabilize Iraq and Afghanistan made the US military into a learning organization but-- taught it the wrong lesson. They failed to take into account the absence of the sociological conditions that make a post-conflict environment amenable to nation-building — which is an integral part of the main variants of counterinsurgency. The paper closes by outlining the foremost reasons the US military continues to be a poorly adaptive organization.

Suggested Citation

Etzioni, Amitai, COIN: A Study of Strategic Illusion (March 12, 2015). Small Wars & Insurgencies, 26:3, 345-376, 2015., Available at SSRN:

Amitai Etzioni (Contact Author)

The George Washington University ( email )

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