Parliamentary Book Shelf: Reviews

Article 5 / 10 , Vol 45 No. 4 (Winter)

Parliamentary Book Shelf: Reviews

When Bad States Win: Rethinking Counterinsurgency Strategy
Jeffrey Treistman
McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2022, 232 pages

In his book, When Bad States Win: Rethinking Counterinsurgency Strategy, Jeffrey Treistman explores different political strategies against insurgencies and recommends alternative political actions to combat oppressive regimes. Readers are engaged to refine their understanding of how states defeat insurgencies and what measures can effectively combat authoritarian governments. Treistman is currently an Assistant Professor of National Security at the University of New Haven’s Henry C. Lee College of Criminal Justice and Forensic Sciences. A portion of his book also references his past experience as a Policy Advisor for the Department of State in Iraq.

His main arguments centre on rejecting conventional democratic approaches toward combating oppressive governments. Although liberal democratic strategies are typically at the forefront of most political conversations, the author suggests more effective methods for defeating bad states. 

The author’s research follows a mixed-methods approach and presents quantitative and qualitative analyses. With extensive methodological investigation and descriptive interpretation, the author describes his step-by-step process with specificity and conceptually defines his variables so readers might better understand his findings. His explanation of the use of barbarism includes different oppressive and violent tactics, such as sexual violence and torture. The complexity of other terms, such as war and rebellion, are discussed in political contexts. Readers have a clear and concise description of each variable, which refines the final analytical interpretations. 

A notable point to gather from the book is how to define our understanding of effective strategies to combat and defeat oppressive states and defend human rights. The author establishes fundamental components of a successful or failed insurgency. Much of this information reveals itself when the author comparatively describes different political events to test his theory. For example, he contrasts Nicaraguan and Sri Lankan counterinsurgency responses, where an emphasis is placed on the need for strong military forces to defeat a rebellion. In fact, the book centres its argument on the necessity for an oppressive state to use brutal or violent retaliations in order to defeat uprisings.

Using meticulously assembled data, the book answers unsettled questions about authoritarianism and identifies factors that support oppressive states. Treistman’s work differentiates itself from other forms of political thought by dismantling common assumptions about democracy and offering technical recommendations to defeat bad governments. More so, the research provokes the reader to rethink typical strategies for combating dictatorships.

Alternatively, readers can interpret the book as a warning of the potential rise of authoritarian regimes as democratic states decline. Democratic practices and ideologies are at the heart of his discussion. Treistman encourages us to employ this information to better protect human rights when creating and modifying national and international security policy.

Tiana Nowzari

Bachelor candidate, Sociology,
Toronto Metropolitan University