Importance of population support in counterinsurgency : a case of the Taiping rebellion
Ha, Yu Xin
Date of Issue2017-03-28
S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies
The Taiping Rebellion was one of the most devastating insurgencies in China and the world in the nineteenth century, yet it has not been studied extensively in insurgency and counterinsurgency (COIN) research. The defeat of this rebellion with strong population support by military means appeared to undermine the importance of population support in COIN victory, contradicting the classical population-centric COIN made famous by theorists such as David Galula and the "winning hearts and minds" strategy of British COIN in Malaya. While many classical COIN theorists believe that population support is important for domestic COIN victory in that the population-centric approach appeared more effective than the enemy-centric approach, recent research providing empirical evidence for the enemy-centric approach's effectiveness in successful COIN and the possibility of combining approaches prompted this dissertation to view the importance of population support from a different perspective. This dissertation asserts that population support is important in two aspects: 1) in providing strategic and tactical advantages (e.g. manpower and material support) to the counterinsurgents; and 2) in assisting the counterinsurgents to decide the most appropriate approach to use in COIN, whether enemy-centric, population-centric or a combination of both, depending on whether the nature of population support would allow active population support to be gained for the counterinsurgents and lost for the insurgents so as to enjoy the advantages in 1). In the case of the Taiping Rebellion, which had strong population support and huge area of operations, this dissertation argues that the government's choice of the enemy-centric approach was not sufficiently effective for it to gain population support for COIN victory and contributed to the prolonged insurgency. The rebellion was ultimately defeated by the lost of population support as a result of its internal deficiencies, no~ the government's enemy-centric strategy, as can be seen from the strategy's ineffectiveness when the rebellion still enjoyed strong population support. This dissertation then follows up with the proposal that the most appropriate strategy would be a combination of both approaches given the nature of the population support, which was not fully committed to the rebel cause, and which was possible for the government to persuade to their own side.
DRNTU::Social sciences::Political science