C.E. Callwell, Small Wars: Their Principles and Practice (1896)

The roots of modern counterinsurgency strategy are deep. As far back as Roman times historians like Tacitus recorded accounts of regular forces battling local guerrillas, and from these origins a long tradition of studying these peculiar types of conflicts was born. One of the most historically significant efforts to encapsulate lessons from irregular wars, or “small wars,” comes from the pen of British officer C. E. Callwell. Caldwell’s exploration of this type of warfare that yielded what remains one of the most insightful treatments of insurgency and counterinsurgency. While his work is a far cry from modern population-centric visions of counterinsurgency, it represents an important starting point in the development of modern counterinsurgency strategy and tactics.

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Tacitus, Agricola (circa 98 AD)

The Agricola (On the Life and Character of Julius Agricola) is a riveting read. A classic work crafted by the Roman politician and historian Cornelius Tacitus at the very end of the first century AD, modern students of strategy and diplomacy continue to find the account of Roman general and politician Agricola’s exploits in Britain timely and relevant. Part eulogy, part history, part anthropological study, and part military analysis, among other things, the short work explores diverse topics while ostensibly being Tacitus’s way of honoring his father-in-law. Three topics stand out – Agricola as a study of leadership, politics, and counterinsurgency strategy.

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David Galula, Counterinsurgency Warfare: Theory and Practice (1964)

While great power war defined the first half of the twentieth century, insurgencies defined its latter half. Given present trends, these types of conflicts will rage for the foreseeable future, and students of strategy and diplomacy will want to consider classic counterinsurgency (COIN) writings as they face this future. Central among these is Counterinsurgency Warfare: Theory and Practice by David Galula. This book written in 1964 was in many ways a forgotten work; however, it quickly grew in prominence as the United States and its allies found themselves facing insurgencies in Iraq and Afghanistan during the opening years of the twenty-first century.

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