One of the most often reported but under-studied phenomenon in post-conflict states is that of revenge violence. While such violence is widely acknowledged to occur after wars, it is often dismissed as epiphenomenal to the central problem of restoring order and good governance in the state. This paper seeks to refocus attention on this phenomenon and challenge the way that it is normally portrayed as a normal, almost incidental consequence of armed conflict. It develops an ideal-type distinction between revenge violence and its strategic mirror, reprisal violence. While revenge violence is premised on a judgement of individual responsibility for a prior act of harm, reprisal violence is driven by an assumption of collective guilt. This paper argues that these two types of violent activity—one expressive and the other strategic—are often intermixed in post-conflict states. Moreover, the interplay between them provides political cover for those who would employ violence to achieve strategic or political goals, while lowering the risks involved when doing so by attributing it to revenge for wartime atrocities. In effect, the fact that revenge and reprisal violence are mirror images of one another can serve to explain and subtly justify the use of organised violence against disadvantaged groups in post-conflict states. This paper examines the validity of this heuristic distinction through a within-case analysis of violence in Kosovo from 1999 to 2001 and identifies the policy consequences of this distinction.
One of the underlying assumptions of the contemporary debate over Afghanistan is that counterterrorism objectives can be achieved through counterinsurgency methods. The recent decision by President Barack Obama to deploy 30,000 extra troops to Afghanistan is premised on the idea that to disrupt Al Qaeda and prevent it from forming training camps in Afghanistan it will be necessary to first reverse the momentum of the Taleban insurgency. This approach—which places the US and UK on the offensive to disrupt terrorist plots before they arrive on their shores—assumes that the threats from Al Qaeda and the Taleban are intertwined and thus the strategy of response must seamlessly comprise elements of counterterrorism and counterinsurgency. In fact, counterterrorism and counterinsurgency are very different—often contradictory—models of warfare, each with its own associated assumptions regarding the role of force, the importance of winning support among the local population, and the necessity of building strong and representative government. Rather than being mutually reinforcing, they may impose tradeoffs on each other, as counterterrorism activities may blunt the effectiveness of counterinsurgency approaches and vice versa. The last four years in Afghanistan provide evidence that when employed in the same theatre counterterrorism and counterinsurgency strategies can offset one another. To be in a position to begin the withdrawal of US troops before July 2011, the Obama administration will need to find a way to manage the tradeoffs between its counterterrorism and counterinsurgency strategies in Afghanistan.