Is the Green Revolution an insurgency?
Feb. 11 was the 31st anniversary of Iran's Islamic Revolution. President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad marked the occasion by declaring to hundreds of thousands gathered at Tehran's Azadi Square that Iran was a "nuclear state." Meanwhile, a heavy presence of security forces in Tehran appeared to have successfully suppressed counterdemonstrations by regime opponents. In an essay for Small Wars Journal, Dan Cox, an associate professor at the U.S. Army's Command and General Staff College, wonders whether Iran's rulers are battling an embryonic insurgency. And if so, is the regime successfully implementing Western-designed counterinsurgency (COIN) theory to snuff out the opposition?
Cox refers back to the French military commander David Galula, one of the original COIN gurus, and others to analyze the Iranian government's actions against the protesters. In response to well-developed insurgencies, Galula and other Western COIN theorists have recommended a gentle hand -- counterinsurgents should limit the use of force, protect the population, and stress economic development in order to isolate the insurgents. However, Cox points out the lesser-known advice Galula and other COIN theorists have for embryonic insurgencies. The COIN gurus recommend early recognition of the problem and a harsh decisive response. Cox concludes that the Iranian government, taking advantage of its authoritarian position, is employing the recommendations of these Western theorists and to good effect.
First, the regime appears to have developed good intelligence on the opposition. The opposition movement appears broad, but scattered, disorganized, and probably lacking many internal security measures. The security services have likely had an easy time penetrating the movement's leadership network and monitoring its electronic communications.
Second, Cox's research of the Western COIN theorists suggests the importance of early coercive countermeasures against the opposition. According to the New York Times, the security services have arrested more than a thousand people over the past two months, including scores of journalists, a variety of activists, relatives of opposition leaders, and others. Since June, eleven regime opponents have been sentenced to death, two have been hanged, and five more are on trial for their lives.
Finally, Galula and other Western COIN theorists stress the importance of controlling the media and information. Modern technology would presumably favor the insurgent's efforts to distribute anti-government propaganda and expose the regime's coercive countermeasures to scrutiny. In Iran, the government has corralled or expelled Western journalists and arrested domestic journalists not sympathetic to the regime. The government also seems to have effectively strangled the new media; Internet bandwidth available to the protesters seems minimal, and the government has shut down Google's Gmail service and other social networking services.
Cox concludes that the Iranian government, in accordance with Western COIN theorists, has rapidly and efficiently responded to the embryonic insurgency. It has penetrated the protest movement, arrested the movement's organizers and propagandists, and achieved dominance over information and communications. Naturally, there are more chapters to this story. But thus far, the Iranian government is showing how to stop an insurgency before it gets started.