Conventional wars are tests of nations. It is manpower versus manpower. Logistics versus logistics. Lethality versus lethality. Mobility versus mobility. And the nation with the most advantages across the spectrum usually wins. Typically, the one better at all of the combined elements of modern warfighting claims victory.
Insurgencies are different. They are fought across many spectra unrelated to those that compose the fighting of conventional wars. They are contests between competing ideologies. They are contests of uneven resources and continually evolving strategies and tactics. And they are fought across time. They are fought with information.
Typically insurgencies are birthed from moral ideologies. It is not hard to see the morality in an uprising against perpetual colonialism. It is not hard to imagine an insurgency against oppression or forced imposition of religion. In fact, it is easy to support a cause rightly rooted in moral virtue. Insurgencies born of high moral standing will have strength and longevity. And they will be hard to defeat.
Insurgencies born on immoral premises will be only slightly less difficult to defeat because support is not gained through a moral belief, but through intimidation and random violence against the innocent. Over time, the immorality of indiscriminate or ruthless tactics will provide a tactical gap for exploitation. So defeat of immoral insurgencies, while still difficult, is more likely because the base of support will not be as well grounded.
Modern insurgent tacticians have garnered much from the patient nationalist insurgencies of Southeast Asia. They recognize that to win with inferior numbers, it takes a combination of time and high-yield tactics. The Vietnamese patiently waited out the French, the Japanese, the French again, and the Americans to fulfill Ho Chi Minh’s vision of nationalistic communism.
The “Troubles” in Northern Ireland resulted in neither victory nor defeat, as time proved the ultimate winner. It was the erosion of both sides’ will across the long spectrum of time that brought peace to Northern Ireland. Fierce, indiscriminate tactics eroded the morality of the both of the competing ideologies, and time brought a weariness among the population that would not sustain the efforts of either side.