Why Time Works Against a Counterinsurgency

Eric Jardine


Through a detailed historical analysis of the British counterinsurgency efforts in Malaya, this paper provides a timely and policy-relevant answer to the question: Why does time work against a counterinsurgency? As the case study indicates, time, quite paradoxically, works against the counterinsurgency in two distinct categorical fashions. First, time functions against the counterinsurgency in a political sense. That is, the frequently external quality of a counterinsurgency lessens the extent of the possible political commitment which they can expect to receive from their home population. As a result, they often need to complete their campaign in a more expedient fashion. Secondly, in a more insidious and common result, time works against the counterinsurgency in a material way. That is, in the absence of control over the local population, public goods—such as aid and humanitarian assistance—given directly to the local people come to support the very insurrection that confronts the counterinsurgency.

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JMSS is a publication of the Centre for Military, Security and Strategic Studies at the University of Calgary.

JMSS gratefully acknowledges the financial support of the Social Science and Humanities Research Council.