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Paul Brooker. Modern Stateless Warfare. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2010, E-book $85.00, pp. vii + 256. ISBN: 9780230274761

Reviewed by Aleksandr Pikalov, University of St. Andrews

The phenomenon of insurgent warfare has plagued nearly every state in the world, from Colombia to the Philippines. Despite the plethora of books dedicated to the study of insurgency, Paul Brooker’s ‘Modern Stateless Warfare’ brings together a new outlook on the emergence and persistence of insurgencies across the globe. Brooker’s main thesis is that insurgent warfare and non-democratic governance have both simultaneously evolved to new forms due to technological progress and political change as well as in reaction to one another. He attempts to explain his thesis by dividing his book into two parts.

The first part, Insurgent Stateless Warfare, traces the modernisation of insurgent warfare and non-democratic rule in three distinct phases. Brooker argues that the first phase of modernisation, the nationalist phase, arose due to Napoleon’s authoritarian rule over Europe, which incited a nationalistic revolt in Spain the first ever of its kind. The second phase, labelled the ‘maoist’ phase, was a response to the rise of totalitarian states during the 1920s-30s, which saw increased politicisation and militarisation of insurgent warfare to include the use of full-fledged regular armies in semi-state warfare. The third and current phase has seen the camouflaging of dictatorships as multiparty democracies and a greater reliance on technology to consolidate their control. This in turn has forced insurgents to use more clandestine approaches to pressure and harass their enemies. Brooker analyses the respective strategies embodied by each phase of insurgent warfare as well the semblances that terrorism and criminal enterprises have with modern insurgent bands.

The second part is dedicated to what Brooker calls the “Calculus of Insurgency.” Based on Finer’s “Calculus of Usurpation,” Brooker’s version is used to predict and explain the emergence and persistence of insurgencies past and present. The calculus is a combination of the motives, means, and opportunities available to insurgent groups. In addition this also includes factors that may preclude the insurgencies’ materialisation such as moral inhibitions, political feasibility, and societal support. After going at length to describe in detail each aspect of the calculus, Brooker offers a final conclusion to the status of insurgent warfare in the future. Though he argues that insurgencies will continue to exist into the foreseeable future he also argues that, “it is always easier to predict the future path of technological developments than the future path of political developments” (Brooker, 2010, pp. 206). With this Brooker suggests that the fourth phase in the modernisation of stateless warfare will include the use of apocalyptic technology such as biological and nuclear weapons. Brooker notes that, “a group like Al Qaeda would have more difficulty acquiring a nuclear weapon than genetically altered biological weapons” (Brooker, 2010, pp. 208). Brooker concludes that any fourth phase threat, real or premature, would provoke a government response of enacting, what he calls ‘Orwellian measures’ in an attempt to neutralise the danger and consolidate its rule. 

This book is a well-written and thoroughly researched work that skilfully illustrates the ever-changing nature of modern stateless warfare. This work stands out in comparison to the vast literature on the subject by its unique correlation between the evolution of non-democratic means of governance and the adaptation of violent opposition to those means. In contrast to many other books written on this subject this book is written in a simple and direct language, which makes it an approachable read for both students and scholars.

The book’s shortcoming is that Brooker’s conclusion on the future of stateless warfare is rather short for a work of its length. Though the conclusion connected his central thesis of stateless warfare and non-democratic governance modernising in response to changes in the political and technological sphere, it could have benefitted from a more detailed analysis. He briefly mentions the use of highly destructive weapons in revolutionary or secessionist insurgencies, yet ignores the illogic of their use established by the debate between Waltz and Sagan. Though he also briefly mentions the path that democracies may take he offers no solutions or insight into the counter measures that they may deploy against fourth phase insurgent warfare. Despite the brief conclusion the book overall was a enjoyable and informative read and I would recommend it to anyone interested in the field of terrorism studies.