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The Death Squad in El Salvador -Dobransky-COIN

Escuadrones de la muerte en El Salvador
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  Steve Dobransky is an Adjunct Professor at Lake Erie College. He is completing his Ph.D. at Kent State University and is ABD. He has an M.A. from Ohio University and a B.A. from Cleveland State University. He majors in International Relations and Justice Studies. Contact: Foreign Policy Journal, October 28, 2014 The Death Squad Dilemma: Counterinsurgency Policy and the Salvadoran Model B Y S TEVE D OBRANSKY   Abstract  This paper analyzes and evaluates the use of death squads in counterinsurgencies. It, particularly, examines the Salvadoran counterinsurgency (COIN) model and its potential applicability to current and future wars. The Salvadoran model involved widespread use of death squads and other paramilitary units both officially and unofficially sanctioned. Despite being hailed as a success by many in the COIN community, the Salvadoran model was not applied in the  Afghan and Iraq Wars. This paper attempts to explain the key factors in determining whether or not the Salvadoran model tends to be more applicable in an unconventional war and, if so, whether it can be done successfully. This paper compares El Salvador with other countries that have been engaged in counterinsurgencies and, then,  1 Foreign Policy Journal determines what enables some governments to apply full-scale the Salvadoran model and others not to. This paper concludes with the results and then makes recommendations on how the international community can deal much better with the future threats of death squads, including the establishment of an international organization and force to deter and stop if necessary death squad activities.   Introduction Death squads have been a common occurrence in many wars throughout history. In both interstate wars and internal conflicts, government and non-government forces have used violence against unarmed populations. Despite the millions of people killed through these paramilitary actions, scholars have only recently attempted to conceptualize and theorize on the use of death squads. Many research projects have been done on individual cases (Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, et al.), but little has been done in the aggregate. Most attempts at understanding death squads and other atrocities have come after the fact. Relatively little has been done to tie together the many cases and then develop an overall conception of death squads and how best to deal with them.  Without an established understanding and regular discussion of death squads, there are little institutional or scholarly frameworks to promote the deterrence or prevention of death squads, let alone a quick and strong reaction against them. The less death squads are talked about, the less prepared people are to deal with the matter in the future and before it is too late. Given the current international system and trends, the security situation suggests that there may be a greater inclination towards the use of death squads and other paramilitary groups in the coming years and decades. The U.S. is declining and there are many weak and propped up governments that may resort to death squads in order to maintain the status quo and protect their vulnerable economic and energy resources. Thus, it behooves us to talk much more about death squads and how to deal  Death Squad Dilemma | Dobransky 2  with them before they occur and, as a last resort, immediately after they begin. Millions of lives may depend on it.  This paper examines the death squad issue from a scholarly and real-world perspective. It analyzes a number of cases, especially El Salvador. It builds upon recent scholarly research. It applies the findings to develop a more comprehensive framework for better understanding the issue. And, it calls boldly for the international community to establish the necessary mechanisms and forces to ensure an around-the-clock and around-the-world surveillance of death squad activities and the sufficient capabilities to resolve any threats and violations quickly and effectively, regardless of any other country’s veto power or opposition.  It concludes with a number of recommendations on future research and objectives. Death Squads and Scholarly Research  The subject of death squads is a very sensitive and often disturbing topic.  With today’s technology, the written word on death squads is accompanied often by the most gruesome images of murdered and dismembered bodies, ranging from babies to adults. The consequences of irresolution are obvious. There have been a number of scholarly works in the past decade that have made significant progress in terms of explaining the potential reasons for using death squads (Campbell and Brenner 2000; Downes 2008; Mazzei 2009; et al.).A number of scholars have used historical and qualitative approaches (Pirnie and O’Connell 2008; Austin and Rosenau 2009;  et al.), while a few others have used quantitative methods (Downes 2008, most notably).The research, however, has broken down into two general groups, with one focusing on the human rights side of the death squads issue and the other analyzing the military counterinsurgency side. Few scholars have tied the two areas together. Moreover, little has been done to incorporate the recent issue of global energy security with death squads and other paramilitary activities, despite the reports coming out of Nigeria and  3 Foreign Policy Journal elsewhere about villages being wiped out to clear the way for oil companies to move in. Death squads have been used successfully at a tactical and strategic level for centuries and this success has encouraged many more uses to this very day. Even in failure deaths squads are often not considered obsolete since the extreme measures are seen as making every effort to win and only in the end is it recognized that the cause is lost. Failure is attributed usually to political and socio-economic factors and not to death squads and other extreme means (Jones 2009; Rosenau and Long 2009; Marston and Malkasian 2008; et al.).Therein lies the problem and the challenge for scholars and others. How should people, countries, and the international community address this enduring issue, let alone resolve it? How do people deter death squads, as well as quickly stop their use? What institutions, powers, and personnel are needed to address sufficiently this issue? Scholars are only now making active forays into this all too long avoided area. Death squads are defined as any paramilitary force, government or non-government, that kills unarmed civilians during a state of conflict, usually avoiding direct identification and accountability (Campbell and Brenner 2000: 1-4).Death squads often go by other names (state terrorism, paramilitary operations, ethnic cleansing, war crimes, gang-related murders, etc.) since it is considered a politically loaded term and many governments prefer not to be associated with it. Semantics aside, death squads have been a common and very destructive force throughout history. Millions of people have been killed by death squads, many of them in the past one hundred years.  World wars, small wars, civil wars, ethnic conflicts, terrorism, etc. have all provided the context and opportunities for mass murdering unarmed populations. Death squads have been used by many governments, elites, and other groups, regardless of size, power, and  wealth. Regime type and democracy have not stopped various governments from being associated directly or indirectly with death
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