Mass, Methods, and Means: The Northern Ireland ‘Model’ of Counter-insurgency

  • John Bew
Part of the Rethinking Political Violence series book series (RPV)


The aim of this chapter is to provide a corrective to the post-dated script writing which has characterised contemporary understanding of the British Army’s campaign in Northern Ireland. The campaign is now often viewed through the prism of more recent operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. However, this means that the historical record has become partially obscured and the ‘lessons’ lifted from Northern Ireland are sometimes based on a limited understanding of the nature of that campaign. What follows is not a reflection on counter-insurgency (COIN) doctrine or practise, but an attempt to caution against COIN-centric interpretations of how a complex civil conflict was brought to an end after around thirty years of comparatively low-level violence. Nothing in the chapter is intended to be prescriptive for current or future campaigns; the aim is to provide a clearer historical record of a campaign which remains central to British conceptions of irregular warfare; and to move from generic points about ‘what to do’ and ‘what not to do’ in comparable situations to a better understanding of the mosaic of failures and successes which make up British security policy in Northern Ireland.


Security Policy Critical Perspective Deadly Force British State Irregular Warfare 
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© John Bew 2014

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