Military maladaptation: counterinsurgency and the politics of failure

Kristen A. Harkness, Michael Hunzeker

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

13 Citations (Scopus)


Tactical learning is critical to battlefield success, especially in a counterinsurgency. This article tests the existing model of military adaption against a ‘most-likely’ case: the British Army’s counterinsurgency in the Southern Cameroons (1960–61). Despite meeting all preconditions thought to enable adaptation – decentralization, leadership turnover, supportive leadership, poor organizational memory, feedback loops, and a clear threat – the British still failed to adapt. Archival evidence suggests politicians subverted bottom-up adaptation, because winning came at too high a price in terms of Britain’s broader strategic imperatives. Our finding identifies an important gap in the extant adaptation literature: it ignores politics.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)777-800
JournalJournal of Strategic Studies
Issue number6
Early online date3 Jan 2015
Publication statusPublished - 19 Sept 2015


  • Military adaptation
  • Wartime learning
  • Organizational change
  • Counterinsurgency
  • Tactics
  • British Army
  • Post-colonial Africa
  • Clausewitz


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