The myth of British minimum force in counterinsurgency campaigns during decolonisation (1945-1970)

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This article argues that the dominant paradigm in studies of British small wars positing a central role of minimum force in doctrinal guidelines for counterinsurgency needs to be even more fundamentally revised than has been argued in recent debates. More specifically, it argues that minimum force is nowhere to be found in British doctrine during the small wars of decolonisation. The need for revision also applies to the way British counterinsurgency is usually sharply contrasted with French counterinsurgency. British doctrine during this period is better understood when placed in its proper historical context. This means comparing it with the other two most significant examples of doctrinal development for small wars of decolonisation - those of France and Portugal. This comparison shows that British counterinsurgency was not uniquely population-centric, and this characteristic cannot, therefore, be the reason for its arguably superior if far from infallible performance. Evidence for these arguments comes primarily from doctrinal sources developed specifically to deal with counterinsurgency, complemented with insights from key military thinkers and archival sources of relevance practices. Some wider implications of this analysis for the relationship between combat experience and doctrinal development as well as for counterinsurgency are identified.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)245-279
Number of pages35
JournalJournal of Strategic Studies
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - Apr 2011
Externally publishedYes


  • Colonial wars
  • Counterinsurgency
  • Doctrine


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