Defence & Strategy


A Visionary and a Practitioner: the Bernard Kouchner vs. David Kilcullen


The aim of this article is the presentation of the most modern theory by David J. Kilcullen, devoted to counterinsurgency. The core element of Kilcullen´s theory is establishing the counterinsurgency term. Because of this fact Kilcullen focused on the human and his security. Thus, it is possible to state that the Kilcullen´s thesis is connected with the human security theory. On the other hand, the humankind and the human security idea is concerned by Bernard Kouchner, the present Minister of Foreign Affairs in France. Kouchner was called as "the father of modern interventionism" and his idea of conducting humanitarian intervention was used during the NATO operation in Balkans in the 90s. The author of the article is searching links between the Kilcullen´s and Kouchner´s thesis.

ikona souboruArticle in PDF About the Author

Cílem textu je představení nejnovější teorie Davida Kilcullena věnované protipovstalectví. Klíčovým prvkem Kilcullenovy teorie je vymezení termínu protipovstalectví. V souvislosti s tím se Kilcullen zaměřuje na otázku člověka a jeho bezpečnosti. Je možné konstatovat, že Kilcullenova teze je spojena s teorií lidské bezpečnosti. Na druhé straně, lidstvem a idejí lidské bezpečnosti se zabývá také Bernard Kouchner, současný ministr zahraničí Francie. Kouchner byl označován za "otce moderního intervencionismu" a jeho idea vedení humanitární intervence byla využita v průběhu operace NATO na Balkáně v 90. letech. Autorka v článku hledá pojítka mezi tezemi Kilcullena a Kouchnera.

Klíčová slova
Humanitární bezpečnost, humanitární intervence, polovojenské síly, povstání, protipovstalectví, vedení války.

Counterinsuregency (COIN), Counter-warfare, Humanitarian interventionism, Human security, Insurgency, Paramilitary forces, Warfare.


The contemporary global situation is dominated by terrorists attacks and, consequently, counterterrorism operations conducted by the international community. The world leader in this activity is the US supported by the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) member countries. On the other hand, in Europe it is France, which is excluded from the NATO military structure, but Paris is interested in the human security policy and promotion of it in the Third World and in the post-conflict environment. Thus, it is possible to state that the modern armed forces will need to meet the full spectrum of challenges – from fighting a conventional or WMD-armed foe to conducting counterterrorism, counterinsurgency and stability operations. The above mentioned situation could lead to discussion of the role of the French Minister of Foreign Affairs Bernard Kouchner`s humanitarian interventionism theory, and David Kilcullen`s, Adviser to General David Petraeus, counterinsurgency theory. The first of them, Kouchner, could be named as a “visionary” – creator of the idea of the modern interventionism; the second, Kilcullen, a “practitioner” who realizes counterinsurgency activity on the theatre of operations. The main link between both of them is focusing on the human and his basic need – security. Thus, it is possible to say they concentrate on human security.


As far as human security in France is mentioned, the genesis of this policy is probably connected with the activity of the founder of the Medecins sans Frontieres (MSF) organization, French doctor and politician, present Minister of Foreign Affairs in this country Bernard Kouchner.

Firstly, it is necessary to explain the humanitarian intervention term. Humanitarian intervention refers “(…) only to coercive action taken by states, at their initiative, and involving the use of armed force, for the purpose of preventing or putting a halt to serious and wide-scale violations of human rights, in particular the right to life, inside the territory of another state”.[1] In this definition the military power is emphasized what could sound controversial, especially for the United Nations Organization (UN) members. On the other hand, both the state sovereignty and human rights are concerned by the UN Chart.

As far as the figure of Bernard Kouchner is mentioned, he was born in 1939 in Avignon, France. He studied medicine and he began his political career as a member of the French Communist Party (PCF), from which he was expelled in 1966. He is a long-time advocate of humanitarian intervention. This doctrine was established for the first time in the famous book entitled Ledevior d`ingérence (The duty to intervene), which was written by Kouchner and Italian professor MarioBettati from Sorbona University, Paris.[2] Because of that book, Kouchner is known today as “the father of modern interventionism”. According to him. liberal democracies not only have a right but are morally obliged to override the sovereignty of another nation in the name of protecting human rights.

Kouchner’s point of view was used during the NATO operation in former Yugoslavia in the 90’s as an ideological basis. Taking into account the Canadian (so-called freedom from fear approach) and Japanese (freedom from want) schools of human security[3] and the activity of Kouchner, it is necessary to highlight the French influence on humanitarian intervention, and in particular focus on the role of Bernard Kouchner and the promotion of international interference within sovereign states. The origins of Kouchner's notion of a legal obligation to interfere are traced back to the Biafra war, and to fierce debates about “third-worldism” in Paris. Furthermore, the point of view of “the father of modern interventionism” is similar to the above-mentioned Canadian school of human security. The political situation in the Balkan countries is an example of this situation. The Kosovo conflict, the situation in Bosnia and Herzegovina – the necessity of humanitarian support of international community – could lead to the conclusion that in these countries this conception of human security (freedom from fear) is accepted. On the other hand, it seems that in Serbia the Canadian approach is developed as well. For example, in this country the Belgrade School of Security Studies was established, in cooperation with Norwegian and Canadian authorities. The School focuses on humanitarian intervention issues. The humanitarian intervention doctrine is also being developed in Macedonia.

To conclude, Tim Allen and David Styan described Bernard Kouchner as “(…) a hugely controversial figure in France, and although he is passionately Francophone and is keen to assert a leading French role in global humanitarianism, he is often dismissed in his own country as a maverick”.[4] The election of Kouchner to the position of the Minister of Foreign Affairs in France will probably change this opinion and lead to the promotion of the Kouchner´s idea.


The author of the Three Pillars of Counterinsurgency theory is a former Australian Army officer, Ltcol. David Kilcullen, PhD. Colonel Kilcullen, who was born in 1967, is currently serving as Senior Counterinsurgency Adviser in Multi-National Force in Iraq and advises to American General David Howell Petraeus. He left the Australian Army in 2005 and now he is a senior civil servant, seconded to the United States State Department. He worked in several Middle Eastern countries with regular and irregular police and mili­tary forces since 9/11, and was a special adviser for irregular warfare during the 2005 U.S. Quadrennial Defense Review. It is possible to state that Kilcullen is a leading contemporary practitioner and theorist of counterinsurgency (COIN) and counterterrorism.

Before Kilcullen developed his counterinsurgency theory, he had focused on conflict research. Thus, it is important to analyze his papers, which present the his way to the Three Pillars Counterinsurgency theory. For the purpose of that article – to explain Kilcullen`s theory – it is necessary to mention his previous attempts to defining insurgency and counterinsurgency, which means his PhD dissertation as well. Firstly, in 2000 he presented his PhD thesis entitled The Political Consequences of Military Operations in Indonesia 1945–99. A fieldwork analysis of the political power-diffusion effects of guerilla conflict at the University of New South Wales – Australian Defence Force Academy.[5] This paper is a case study of the political effects of low-intensity warfare in Indonesia since 1945 and East Timor, and focused on the effects of guerrilla warfare on non-state political systems in traditional societies. Moreover, previously Kilcullen had served in several counterinsurgency and guerrilla warfare campaigns in Southeast Asia and the Middle East, as well as in peacekeeping and peace enforcement operations. The experiences form these activities were used by the author in his thesis. First and foremost, the author searched the most convenient definitions of insurgency and counterinsurgency by analyzing modern literature. What is interesting, Kilcullen emphasized the fact that: “The most satisfactory definition (…) was proposed by the French military theorist Gabriel Bonnet in 1958. Arguing from a historical analysis of revolutionary warfare and from recent experience in Indochina, Bonnet asserted that (…) <insurgency is the use of irregular warfare to propagate an ideology or political system>”.[6] Finally, Kilcullen chose French explanation, because “this definition avoids implicit value-judgements and the assumption of illegitimacy in the insurgent movement”.[7] As far as the counterinsurgency definition is concerned, the author noted that insurgency and counterinsurgency are “two sides of one coin”.[8] Kilcullen tried to combine this statement with the Bonnet definition, which led him to the conclusion that “insurgency is the use of irregular warfare to prevent its propagation. (…) [On the other hand] the terms <insurgency> and <counterinsurgency> are imprecise and often influenced by considerations of political legitimacy”.[9] To conclude, it is necessary to highlight that Kilcullen chose French approach for defining the guerilla warfare.

Furthermore, Kilcullen started to develop the idea of counterinsurgency in his well-known paper entitled Complex Warfighting. This study identifies the contemporary conflict environment as complex, diverse, diffuse and highly lethal. Consequently, land forces should meet all new requirements provoked by modern conflicts: they must be versatile, agile and able to orchestrate effects in a precise and discriminating fashion. This demands modular, highly educated and skilled forces with a capacity for network-enabled operations, optimized for close combat in combined arms teams. In addition, “every soldier in contemporary conflict requires capabilities such as individual initiative, cultural sensitivity, linguistic competence, mastery of sophisticated weapons and sensors, and a capacity for small group independent operations – characteristics (…)”.[10] It means the primacy of the human in the military operations theatre: “The Australian Army’s philosophy of war views warfare as fundamentally a human, societal activity, rather than a technical or engineering problem. War is a form of armed politics, and politics is about influencing and controlling people and perceptions. War is a free creative human activity, inextricably linked to human will, emotion and psychology”.[11] It is possible to state that this idea is connected with the human security theory which is studied by Australians as well.[12] On the other hand, this is very significant and important link with the French, Bernard Kouchner`s approach, which mainly focuses on the humankind. For Kilcullen “(…) warfare in the land environment is "human-centric"”.[13]

The 11th of September, 2001 tragedy in the U.S. led Kilcullen to the profound study on global insurgency connected with the global War on Terrorism. He emphasized that “(…) counterinsurgency theory is more relevant to this War than the traditional counterterrorism”.[14] In this statement it is possible to discover the core idea of Kilcullen`s theory: counterterrorism is connected with the technology and hard-power; counterinsurgency, however, links to the soft-power policy, human security and stabilization activity realized by unconventional forces such as constabulary forces (paramilitary forces) as well.[15] Kilcullen stated that traditional counterinsurgency paradigm will not work for the present war. Thus, a fundamental reappraisal of counterinsurgency is needed, to develop methods effective against a globalised insurgency. The idea of new paradigm for counterinsurgency came back in the next Kilcullen’s study which was devoted to this theory as well. In Counterinsurgency Redux the author studied the relevance of the classical counterinsurgency theory to modern conflict, using as the examples conflicts in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan and the Horn of Africa. He strongly highlighted the fact that “two theoretical points may help frame the discussion. First, obviously, the concept of <counter-insurgency> is logically contingent on that of <insurgency>. Counterinsurgency is <all measures adopted to suppress an insurgency>. Thus, the nature of counterinsurgency is not fixed, but shifting: it evolves in response to changes in insurgency. There is no constant set of operational techniques in counterinsurgency; rather, this is a form of <counter-warfare> that applies all elements of national power against insurrection. As insurrection changes, so does counterinsurgency. Hence, to understand modern counterinsurgency, one must first understand modern insurgency”.[16]

Last, but not least, the most well-known and widely-read paper of Colonel Kilcullen, “Twenty-Eight Articles”: Fundamentals of Company-level Counterinsurgency also includes the explanation of counterinsurgency. What is more, this unique COIN guide was appreciated and, consequently, later formalized as Annex A to FM 3-24, the U.S. Army`s new counterinsurgency doctrine, and is in use by the U.S., Australian, British, Canadian, Dutch, Iraqi and Afghan armies as a training document. The author of the above-mentioned article provided indications for junior and non-commissioned officers involved in counterinsurgency operations in Afghanistan and Iraq. Because of that fact, Kilcullen also simply described counterinsurgency as “(…) a competition with the insurgent for the right to win the hearts, minds, and acquiescence of the population. You are being sent in because the insurgents, at their strongest, can defeat anything with less strength than you”.[17] Furthermore, in “Twenty-Eight Articles” Kilcullen mentioned the golden hour, the term which was used also by Anne Moisan from the National Defense University, Washington D.C. The golden hour concerns the best moment in which the stabilization stage of the foreign operation should be started.[18] Australian officer described the golden hour as following: “You have deployed, completed reception and staging, and (if you are lucky) attended the in-country counterinsurgency school. Now it is time to enter your sector and start your tour. This is the golden hour. Mistakes made now will haunt you for the rest of your tour, while early successes will set the tone for victory. You will look back on your early actions and cringe at your clumsiness. So be it. But you must act”.[19]

To sum up, all the mentioned ideas which Kilcullen systematically has developed in his above-mentioned articles, he included in his Three Pillars of Counterinsurgency theory. For the first time Colonel Kilcullen presented this idea in 2006 during a conference organized by the U.S. government.[20] 26 September 2007, however, during the seminar devoted to counterinsurgency organized by the Small Wars Centre of Excellence in the Marine Corps Base in Quantico, Virginia, U.S. he suited this theory to the situation of the American Army in Iraq.[21] First of all, Kilcullen proposed the new way of understanding insurgency and counterinsurgency terms. For him insurgency is an organized movement aimed at the overthrow of a constituted government through the use of subversion and armed conflict. This is also an organized, protracted politico-military struggle designed to weaken the control and legitimacy of an established government, occupying power, or other political authority while increasing insurgent control. Insurgency is connected with the definition of counterinsurgency, which is military, paramilitary, political, economic, psychological, and civic actions taken by a government to defeat insurgency. Kilcullen emphasized that political power is the central issue in insurgencies and counterinsurgencies.[22] He used to call counterinsurgency a counter-warfare as well.

The above-mentioned definition of counterinsurgency led Kilcullen to establishing very modern and interesting the Three Pillars of Counterinsurgency theory. Picture 1. presents a set of Kilcullen`s theses.

Picture 1. Three Pillars of Counterinsurgency theory by David J. Kilcullen.

Source: KILCULLEN David J., Counterinsurgency in Iraq: Theory and Practice, 2007. Speech. Counterinsurgency Seminar, 26.09.2007 Marine Corps Base, Quantico, Virginia.

According to this theory the above-mentioned three pillars of counterinsurgency are: control over the security, political and economic system. As far as the subject of this article is concerned, the control over security system should be discussed. Firstly, Kilcullen mentioned such elements of this system as military and police. In my opinion, the paramilitary element could be included here as well. By paramilitary element I understand the constabulary forces like Italian Carabinieri or French Gendarmerie Nationale, which are prepared to stabilize the post-conflict environment. These forces could be used as a human security tool[23] - the human security theory is mentioned by Kilcullen as well. Paramilitaries are ready to provide public order and security during operations abroad and, generally, security to the population; these values were included by Kilcullen in the first pillar. Moreover, the second very important element of Kilcullen`s conception is information at every level: global, regional, local. Using this factor, it is possible to conduct intelligence, information and media operations.


Admiral Michael Mullen, the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman, said that: “The conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan will one day end. We must be ready for who – and what – comes after”.[24] This statement means that now the countries, which participate in the counterterrorism operations should focus on the stabilization phase. Short analysis of the Bernard Kouchner`s humanitarian interventionism doctrine and counterinsurgency theory by David Kilcullen could provide a lesson learned for the contemporary political and military leaders.

Both, Kouchner and Killcullen, although the first of them is decelerated Francophone and the second – Australian, which means he is affected by the English approach to the security issues, concentrate on the human element. For the “visionary” Kouchner, human element means providing basic human security by the intervention in the country, in which human rights are not observed. For the “practitioner” Kilcullen, it is a human who is the most important element as well: the most important are officers and their capabilities on the theatre operations and the most important is safety of the population in the conflict area. Both of them, although they agree to armed humanitarian intervention, avoid using hard power, which means technology and conventional weapons. Moreover, Killcullen connected hard power with the counterterrorism activity.

Thus, it seems that the solution would be using the paramilitary forces (police forces with military status) to stabilize the post-conflict environment. They do not use (or use as a last resort) force. They are ready to provide public order and security, because their soldiers have done it for the years in their own countries. Finally, they are trained to observe human rights and are able to provide humanitarian aid. This way, it is possible to state that the paramilitaries could be a core link between the French and Australian approaches to the interventionism and counterinsurgency.


[1] ALLEN Tim, STYAN David. A right to interfere? Bernard Kouchner and the new humanitarianism.

[2] Journal of International Development. August 2000, vol. 12, no. 6, p. 825-842.

[3] ARMITAGE David T. Jr., MOISAN Anne M. Constabulary Forces and Postconflict Transition: The Euro-Atlantic Dimension. Strategic Forum. 11.2005, no. 218.

[4] BETTATI Mario, KOUCHNER Bernard, Le devior d`ingérence. Peut-on les laisser mourir?, Paris: Odile Jacob, 1987.

[5] Defense News, 08.10.2007.

[6] KERR Pauline. The evolving dialectic between state-centric and human-centric security. Department of International Relations Australian National University Working Paper, 09.2003 Canberra, no. 2.

[7] KILCULLEN David J., Countering Global Insurgency, 30.11.2004. Available on WWW: http://smallwarsjournal.com/documents/kilcullen.pdf.

[8] KILCULLEN David J., Counterinsurgency in Iraq: Theory and Practice, 2007. Speech. Counterinsurgency Seminar, 26.09.2007, Marine Corps Base, Quantico, Virginia.

[9] KILCULLEN David J., Counterinsurgency Redux, 2006. Available on WWW: http://smallwarsjournal.com/documents/kilcullen1.pdf.

[10] KILCULLEN, David J., Future Land Operating Concept. Complex Warfighting, 07.04.2004.

[11] KILCULLEN David J. Political Consequences of Military Operations in Indonesia 1945 – 99. A fieldwork analysis of the political power-diffusion effects of guerilla conflict. PhD dissertation. School of Politics, University Collage, The University of New South Wales 2000. Available on WWW: http://www.library.unsw.edu.au/~thesis/adt-ADFA/uploads/approved/adt-ADFA20060323.121124/public/01front.pdf.

[12] KILCULLEN David J., Three Pillars of Counterinsurgency. Remarks delivered at the U.S. Government Counterinsurgency Conference, Washington D.C. 28.09.2006.

[13] KILCULLEN, David J. ”Twenty-Eight Articles”: Fundamentals of Company-level Counterinsurgency.Military Review, May/June 2006, p. 103 – 108.

[14] MARCZUK, Karina P. Origin, development and perspectives for the human security concept in the European Union. Romanian Journal of European Affairs. July 2007, vol. 7, no. 2, p. 14-32.

[15] MARCZUK Karina P., Trzecia opcja. Gwardie narodowe wybranych państw Basenu Morza ¦ródziemnego – The Third Option. Carabinieri/Gendarmerie like Forces in Selected Mediterranean Countries, Warszawa: Fundacja Studiów Międzynarodowych, 2007.

[16] VERWEY W.D., Humanitarian intervention in the 1990 and beyond: an international law perspective [in:] PIETRESE J.N. (ed.), World Orders in the Making, Basingstoke: Macmillan, 1998.


[1] VERWEY, W.D., Humanitarian intervention in the 1990 and beyond: an international law perspective,
p. 180.

[2] See further: BETTATI, Mario, KOUCHNER, Bernard, Le devior d`ingérence. Peut-on les laisser mourir?.

[3] About Japanese and Canadian schools of human security see further: MARCZUK Karina P., Origin, development and perspectives for the human security concept in the European Union, p. 13-20.

[4] ALLEN, Tim, STYAN, David, A right to interfere? Bernard Kouchner and the new humanitarianism, p. 829.

[5] See further: KILCULLEN, David J., Political Consequences of Military Operations in Indonesia 1945 – 99.
A fieldwork analysis of the political power-diffusion effects of guerilla conflict
. PhD dissertation. School of Politics, University Collage, The University of New South Wales 2000.

[6] Ibidem, p. 10.

[7] Ibidem.

[8] Ibidem.

[9] Ibidem, p. 11.

[10] KILCULLEN, David J., Future Land Operating Concept. Complex Warfighting, p. 8.

[11] Ibidem, p. 13.

[12] See further: KERR, Pauline, The evolving dialectic between state-centric and human-centric security.

[13] KILCULLEN, David J., Future Land Operating Concept…, op.cit., p.13.

[14] KILCULLEN, David J., Countering Global Insurgency, p. 1.

[15] About activity of paramilitary forces during operations abroad see further in: MARCZUK, Karina P., Trzecia opcja. Gwardie narodowe wybranych państw Basenu Morza ¦ródziemnego – The Third Option. Carabinieri/Gendarmerie like Forces in Selected Mediterranean Countries.

[16] KILCULLEN, David J., Counterinsurgency Redux, p. 2.

[17] KILCULLEN, David J.”Twenty-Eight Articles”: Fundamentals of Company-level Counterinsurgency, p. 103.

[18] ARMITAGE, David T. Jr., MOISAN, Anne M. Constabulary Forces and Postconflict Transition: The Euro-Atlantic Dimension.

[19] KILCULLEN, David J.”Twenty-Eight Articles”…, op.cit., p. 105.

[20] See further: KILCULLEN, David J., Three Pillars of Counterinsurgency.

[21] See further: KILCULLEN, David J., Counterinsurgency in Iraq: Theory and Practice, 2007.

[22] See further: ibidem.

[23] MARCZUK, Karina P. Origin, development and perspectives for the human security …, op.cit., p. 24-27.

[24] Defense News, 08.10.2007.

12.1.2008 22:29:28 | read 13501x | Hlavacek


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