The Leavenworth Way of War

History Discussion at CGSC

Mao and Current Insurgencies

There are a wide variety of insurgent groups who have operated against U.S. forces in Iraq and Afghanistan since 2003. Very few, if any, have followed a Maoist strategy. Some analysists believe that this fact proves that Mao’s Revolutionary War theory is not relevant to the type of adversaries faced by the U.S. in the GWOT. Are these analysists correct?


January 24, 2013 - Posted by | H300, military history, Professional Military Education | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,


  1. It may be that the insurgent groups faced in the GWoT do not follow Maoist Revoultionary Theory per se. However, insurgent groups DO attempt first to build political support for their cause and undermine the government using violent attacks and (rarely) conventional attacks. While the political efforts may not get the publicity of, say, a suicide attack, the attacks play an important political role in portraying the government as weak and ineffective. At the same time, insurgent rhetoric heightens the passions of the people against the government and help ensure a willing following among the populace. Further, insurgents seem to recognize the need to take the long view and demonstrate a willingness to take significant loses. The insurgent approach does not rely on instilling a sense of belonging among the people, but relies on appealing to a sense of religious duty. As such, insurgents seem to have adapted Maoist Theory to accomodate their religious beliefs.

    Comment by Kenneth Mortimer, 11A | February 5, 2013

  2. The “fact” that analysts have not correlated current insurgencies with Maoist strategy does not eliminate to the need to continuously examine insurgent groups against both Foco and Maoist strategies to determine their foundation. Some insurgents believe they are fighting a war to establish an Islamic caliphate, which could be aligned with the political line of effort in Maoist strategy. Since the establishment of an Islamic caliphate will take time, maybe even centuries, the conflicts the United States is engaged in could easily fall in line with the guerilla line of effort and as the insurgencies fail, they fall back to the political ideology. Additionally, the influx of the Islamic culture across Europe should not be discounted. Radical Islam may exist in Europe and could establish the revolutionary foundation, much like the original Maoist strategy.
    If I were the analyst for a day, I would start with the problem statement of “What would an insurgency to establish an Islamic caliphate look like if they followed Maoist strategy?” I would bet the Western analysts could find many more connections to Mao than they think.

    Comment by Bryan J Dutcher | February 6, 2013

  3. The absence of the Maoist strategy by the various insurgent groups in Iraq and Afghanistan does not mean that the theory is not relevant. However, the Maoist strategy is based on conditions in china during a specific period in time.  As a result the model will only have loose connections when trying to understand every case of insurgency, even when using Vietnam as a case study. For example, the political and guerrilla phases of the Maoist strategy in Vietnam were influenced by the people’s disconnect with the elite political class more than they were systematic approaches. The people of South Vietnam did not relate to or believe in the South Vietnam political party empowered by the French. Therefore, the success or failure or the Maoist strategy was secondary to this fact. 

    Ultimately, we fail by trying to understand insurgency by making the problems fit into the Maoist strategy. Mao was a revolutionary who was critical to the success of the strategy. One must ask if a revolutionary is present in Afghanistan or Iraq to set the similar conditions. I would argue that there is no one revolutionary within the terrorist groups. Instead you have a series of disorganized leaders ready to step up and meet their own objectives within various networks. This makes it possible for the present day insurgency to function. 

    In order to apply the Maoist strategy successfully we will have to be more flexible with the application. Specifically, each phase make have branches and sequels rather than a systematic approach of political, guerrilla, conventional. However, there is still much to be gained by using the Maoist strategy as model. It is key for developing strategies against a threat based on winning through spiritual power and the resolve of the people rather than a physical military capability. 

    Comment by Ryan J. Scott | February 27, 2013

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