El Salvador’s civil war claimed 75,000 lives, lasted 12 years, and devastated the country in ways felt to this day. Even so, U.S. counterinsurgency scholars often point to El Salvador as a success story and source of lessons for wars to come. Through military and economic aid, and the deployment of 55 advisers to assist with the counterinsurgency effort, the United States helped the San Salvador regime survive the onslaught of the Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front (FMLN) in the early 1980s, undergo a process of democratization, reform, and military professionalization, and navigate eventual peace talks, leading to a resolution of the conflict in 1992. To many, the fact that FMLN’s armed revolution failed, that the peace held, and that the regime survived, and better yet democratized, without the United States ever engaging directly in combat, provides a tantalizing illustration of what Washington could achieve, again with limited effort, in other insurgency-threatened parts of the world.
Tag: El Salvador
Transitions from rivalry to alliance within bilateral relationships have received considerable attention from historians of U.S. foreign relations. Or, more accurately, some alliances have received considerable attention; it remains unusual for works on inter-American relations to be cast principally as examinations of alliance politics. There are at least two interrelated reasons. First, the vast majority of the literature on the foreign relations of Latin American states analyzes cases where significant asymmetries of power exist. To be sure, vast differentials in political, economic, and military power can be found within alliances. But the alliance framework is more often applied to cases of countries where the imbalance is not dramatic. Second, in the English language literature in particular, relations between Latin American countries have been understudied. The overwhelming majority of the scholarship analyzes the role of great powers such as the United States or Great Britain. Consequently, the factors that have led regional adversaries to become allies have received less attention. U.S.-Latin American relations or Anglo-Latin American relations could, of course, be studied through the prism of rivalries and alliances, but the frameworks of empire and other varieties of hegemony have been more commonly utilized.
Understanding the nature of insurgencies has long been an important objective for political scientists, historians, and policymakers. In Networks of Rebellion, Paul Staniland argues that scholars have paid insufficient attention to the different organizational structures of insurgent groups. In his view, understanding organizational structure is crucial because “states and their foes spend far more time and resources on organization building and institutional survival than on formulating intricate strategies of violence…Like logistics, organization consumes the attention of professional war-fighters” (220). What explains the different organizational structures of insurgent organizations? Staniland argues that a crucial determinant of the structure of insurgent groups during wartime is the nature of prewar political life. While organizational structures can and do change during wartime, he argues that the prewar ties between elites and local communities “determine the strength of central and local organizational control when rebel leaders mobilize that based for rebellion” (9).