Macdonald Response to ISSF Article Review 87 (on "The ‘Hearts and Minds’ Fallacy: Violence, Coercion, and Success in Counterinsurgency Warfare")

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H-Diplo | ISSF Article Review 87
H-Diplo/ISSF Editors: Seth Offenbach and Diane Labrosse
H-Diplo/ISSF Web and Production Editor:  George Fujii
Jacqueline L. Hazelton.  “The ‘Hearts and Minds’ Fallacy:  Violence, Coercion, and Success in Counterinsurgency Warfare.”  International Security 42.1 (2017):  80-113.  DOI:
Review by David H. Ucko, College of International Security Affairs, National Defense University, and Jason E. Fritz, American University

Response by Doug Macdonald

I have been reading this thread with interest. I have not yet read Professor Hazelton's book, but I have read her IS article, as well the commentary on H-Diplo. There is one dynamic concerning the Malayan case, however, that has not been mentioned.  Too many theories about COIN concentrate solely on domestic factors in the studied country.  The discussion of the the Malayan case in response to Professor Hazelton’s provocative work in particular concentrates on the domestic “hearts and minds” programs that the British used and whether they were actually implemented or not as dispositive.  What if the fate of the insurgents also included something as simple as the MCP's patrons telling them to shut it down for now?

According to Chinese sources, when Mao was still following the international "line" of "peaceful co-existence" and "Bandung Spirit" in the mid-1950s, he told the Malayan insurgents to cease their activities just after the Geneva Conference on Indochina and Korea of 1954. Negotiations were begun by the Malayan communists with the government to end the "Emergency" around the same time, though they broke down. But the insurgency was a shadow of its earlier self until the late 1960s. In a 2011 CWIHP Working Paper, China scholar Yang Kuisong notes this development:

Mao’s [post-Geneva] peace offensive also influenced the Malayan Communist Party (MCP). During the Second World War, the MCP had organized a guerrilla war against Japan. When the war was over, it had ceased its armed struggle and had been under the suppression of the authorities. Some members had been executed. In 1948, the MCP resumed military resistance, and by 1954 it had a guerrilla force of several hundred people. It sent envoys to China to request aid.  After the 1954 Geneva Conference, Chinese and Soviet officials held a special meeting in Moscow to discuss the MCP’s future development. The meeting produced a resolution stating that because Malaya did not share a border with a socialist country, it was difficult for the MCP to wage armed struggle and that it should change its tactics by adopting a peaceful and democratic approach to develop its strength. Accepting the Chinese and Soviet suggestion, the MCP quickly stopped its guerrilla operations, laid down its arms, and entered into negotiations with the Malayan government.23

The footnote reads: "In 1967, Mao had a conversation with Chin Peng, Secretary General of the Malayan Communist Party. During the meeting, Chin Peng referred to the history of his party during this period. See Mao’s talk with Chin Peng, 17 January 1967." CWIHP, "Changes in Mao Zedong's Attitude towards the Indochina War, 1949-1973," Working Paper No. 34 (Online July 7, 2011; originally published 2002), p. 14.

Note the conversation between Chin and Mao took place in January, 1967, after the Sino-Soviet split had become permanent and after the beginning of the Chinese Cultural Revolution and China’s turn toward regional revolution again.  It is my understanding that the Malaysian insurgency escalated again in 1967-1968.

I would argue that if China (and the USSR in 1954-1955) had the power to refuse to arm the MCP and get it to stand down the insurgency, and then to encourage successfully its resumption at a higher level a decade, as seems to be the case, it represented more than just "influence."   That can be debated.  But historians and especially IR specialists need to read more widely and cast a wider empirical net if they are to establish a data base of useful cases.  For better or worse, the Malayan case has been paradigmatic in the COIN literature for well over a half century. As the late William T.R. Fox used to tell his students, good history will not necessarily lead to good theory, but bad (or incomplete) history will necessarily lead to bad theory.

To the extent this is an accurate portrayal of events, would any of the analysts in this thread like to comment on the role of external support in the Malayan case specifically and the external variable affects the various theories of COIN being discussed generally?

Doug Macdonald
Colgate University, Emeritus