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Lieutenant-Colonel David Galula: Can you be a prophet in your own country?

military-Earth thinking notebook
History & strategy
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Who would know David Galula if General Petraeus hadn't made him the vade me cum of all the American officers going to Iraq and Afghanistan? His main work, Counterinsurgency, Theory and Practice, was first published in 1963, but its first publication in France by Economica was only 45 years later and it is a translation from English! General Petraeus writes in his preface to the French edition: "It is an honor for us to participate in this way in therecognition by the French military community of one of its own.

More significant is the quite exceptional esteem in which he holds the author. Paraphrasing Bernard Brodie onClausewitz's "On theWar", he wrote: "In the same way,Galula's work can besaid to be both the greatest and the only great book ever written on unconventional warfare" and a few lines further on: "Itwill one day be considered the most important French military writings of the last century. This isalready the case in the United States".

In the face of so much praise and mystery, one wonders who this little-known genius is and what can be learned from his tea.orie and praxis at a time when the French army is once again facing the challenge of asymmetry and counter-insurgency?

From his biography, which Philippe de Montenon tried to reconstruct in the presentation of the French edition, we know little.

However, one has the impression of an outstanding officer with an original career marked by numerous experiences of insurrectional warfare.

Born in Sfax in Tunisia in 1919, he entered Saint-Cyr in 1939 and was mobilized in 1940 with his promotion. After the armistice, he went back to school in Aix-en-Provence until he was struck off the staff in 1941 for being Jewish. He then returned to North Africa where, in July 1943, he was reintegrated into the army by General Giraud and took part in the end of the Second World War. It was then that his career was distinguished because several assignments brought him into contact with guerrillas or counter-insurgency actions, several times in China and Asia where he learned from Malaysian, Indonesian and Filipino experiences, but also in Greece at the time of the conflict against the communists. From observation, he went on to practice in Algeria where he commanded a company from the summer of 1956.

This career and his way of serving were noticed, with his leaders praising his liveliness and his spirit of initiative,which was "worthwhile notto berestrained" but which did not please everyone.

His service in Algeria prompted the French army to send him to the United States in 59-60 and it was on this occasion that he made the contacts, particularly with the Rand Corporation, that would lead him to take up the pen. It was precisely because the army refused him the secondment he sought in 1962 to become a visiting fellow at Harvard, that he asked to be laid off.

It was during this stay in the United States that he published his only two books in English. The first is an account of his Algerian experience. Published in 1962, it is entitled "Pacification inAlgeria, 1956-1958". It has not yet been translated into French. The second, published in 1963, is a theoretical work, the famous "Counterinsurgency Warfare,Theory and Practice".

He died in France in 1968.

David Galula's motivations for writing were partly personal and political. He is clearly one of the officers who disapproved of the turn taken by France's Algerian policy, convinced that victory - including political victory - was within reach. There is therefore some justification for this. The political aspect is also important, he is truly anti-communist and wants to help fight against its spread.

It is therefore likely that the proposal of the Rand Corporation, a right-wing think tank, to come to expose and publish its theories in America seduced him at a time when his career aspirations would undoubtedly have been thwarted. For the Rand, it was undoubtedly a question of being a forerunner, because if the United States had been able to lend a certain amount of support to Mao, where the independentists were against their colonial tutelage, they would have been in the development of communist maquis against allied regimes both in South America (Cuba in 1962) and in Asia (Vietnam).

These circumstantial considerations - but one could write as much of a Clausewitz - did not stop the American reader and should not stop the American reader either.French readers in their desire to discover a military thought that is profoundly innovative, modern and more complex than it seems. Above all, they must not blur Galula's theoretical ambition and his desire to be at the level of principles.

David Galula voluntarily places himself in the line of thinkers, who from the very beginning have wanted to define the laws of war. If he does not believe it is possible to have a martingale, "Nochess playerhas ever found an opening that guarantees victory, and no one has ever found a martingale thatguarantees victory".he believes it is possible and necessary to draw lessons from experiencethat can be established as laws and principles. He writes about this: "Such analyses have led, in the extreme, to the idea that no lessons can be drawn from past wars, it being understood that the conduct of war is never a matter of intuition and circumstances. On thecontrary, they have led to the elaboration of so-called inescapable doctrines erected as an article of faith".

The objective of his theoretical approach is therefore to identify the originality of counter-insurgency warfare and to establish its laws. There lies its contribution and the reason for reading it today.

He thus demonstrates 7 crucial elements that change the frames of thought:

  • The originality of counter-insurgency warfare compared to conventional warfare;
  • The difference between counter-insurgency maneuvering and insurgency maneuvering;
  • The centrality of the population and what it implies;
  • The role of civil and political power, placing military authority in a secondary position;
  • The military conditions for victory;
  • The reading grid of insurgency;
  • The ideal modus operandi.

The first contribution, i.e. the difference with classical warfare, may seem obvious, but it needs to be understood in depth.

Indeed, from this first element it is in fact in opposition to "Modern Warfare" byColonel Trinquier, on the question of alignment with the violence of the enemy. In view of the aberrations that such a conception may have led to, Galula's approach is from the outset more modern and more ethical, which is not the least of his interests. What is more, he opposes Clausewitz - we find this parallel - by showing that counter-insurgency warfare is anything but a rise to extremes. Thus, 45 years apart, he opposes in the strongest possible way René Girard's reading of Clausewitz[1] and of1] and Huntington, who believes he sees in the events of recent years the irresistible rise of mimetic violence.

In classical warfare, the same four laws apply to both adversaries - victory belongs to the stronger, the more determined, the one who conquers and retains the initiative and can benefit from the effect of surprise. From this follows the same three principles: concentration of effort, economy of forces, and freedom of action and security of force.

On the contrary, in the counter-insurgency war one of the protagonists, the "insurgent", escapes from it and denies to the one who fights him, whom Galula calls "loyalist", the possibility of placing himself on thisground. This war therefore obeys its own laws, its own principles.

Some people thought they could find them by reading the guerrilla manuals.

But according to Galula, the solution is not to be found there, and this is his second contribution. It is not understanding the conflict to deny the inevitable asymmetry. He writes: "How andagainst whom, for example, could he [the loyalist] use the tactics of his enemy? He is the only one to offer targets for guerrilla operations. He cannot become a guerrilla without the effective support of the people, which only a political organization rooted in the masses can guarantee. If this were the case, the insurgent would not have it and therefore could not exist. This does not mean that there is no room in counterinsurgency combat for small commando type operations, but rather that these cannot be the main form of counterinsurgency combat". Likewise, it is counterproductive for the counterproductive loyalist to employ clandestine forces.

This is because the very dynamic of insurgency is the transformation of an immaterial resource - the cause - into material resources - the armed forces, the territory. As a result, at least until the insurgent has reached a certain level of power, the loyalist cannot shake off his characteristic - classical superiority - and its corollaries - the rigidity and disparity of cost and effort. Nor can he systematically use this conventional advantage against the insurgent, who will prefer to abandon any point of fixation.

If the insurgency cannot be countered by conventional tactics's because such a modus operandi fails to achieve the real objective, which is the ascendancy over the population. This is the major effect of both the insurgent and the loyalist, Galula puts it this way: "If the insurgent[or the loyalist] can disassociate the population from the loyalist [or the insurgent], physically control it and gain its active support, he will win the war."

This observation has very important consequences that must be understood and deciphered. Thus, the success of an ambush and more generally "the attrition of the enemyis a side effect of guerrilla warfare but does not represent its essential goal" if it does not lead to a change in the balance of power with regard to control over the population.

Since the support of the population is as vital for both sides, it is the only way for the loyalists to force the insurgents not to refuse the fight. Indeed, faced with the loyalist's desire to regain control of a given area, the very principle of the insurgent's action is to rely on his weakness and flexibility to dodge every time he is not in a position of strength while keeping his settlement underground. Galula has this formula: "Conventional operations generally have no more effect than a fly swatter. The loyalist who cannot adopt a similar tactic risks moreover to exhaust himself in diversionary operations which, effective in a conventional war (battle of the Somme during the battle of Verdun), are useless or even counter-productive in a counter-insurgency war such as the Atlantean offensive during the battle of Dien Bien Phu.

However, "If theinsurgent is fluid, the population is not". "Byconcentrating his efforts in the population, the loyalist compensates for his own rigidity and ensures the full use of his means". Thus, "when the Loyalist puts pressure not directly on the insurgent but on the population, which is the real source of power of his opponent, the latter cannot really refuse the fight because he would then run to his doom".

These first three elements explain Galula's fourth major conclusion on the relationship between civilian and military authority.

For him, counter-insurgency warfare is marked by the permanent preponderance of politics during the course of the war, whereas in a traditional conflict, once war has been declared, operations often take over.

This preponderance has both operational and institutional dimensions.

In operational terms, politics plays an essential role because the military only accounts for about 20% of all missions to be accomplished from the outbreak of hostilities to final victory. Indeed, since the population is the focus of attention, it is necessary to keep the threshold of violence as low as possible in order to interfere as little as possible with normal life and the reconstruction of a state of peace. He even writes: "Politics initself becomes an operational function. The interactions between the political and the military become so strong that they can no longer be clearly separated".

Hence the temptation, which Galula sees as a mistake, to make the military do all the work because they have control over the terrain and, moreover, to give them authority over the entire process. On the contrary, the civilian power must retain primacy over the military at all levels, even the lowest, and ensure coordination with the civilian administration. This includes, but is not limited to, the police and the judiciary; it is all dimensions of the administrative apparatus that are involved and that will allow a normal political process to be re-established.

The fifth contribution of his theory is to enumerate, probably for the first time, the conditions for a victory in the military part of the conflict.

They are now relatively well known, but they take on greater force in the overall coherence of his thinking. Four are particularly noteworthy in the current context.

  • The first is the size of the troops and their ratio in relation to the population and the insurgents, which he estimates at between 1:10 and 1:20. Their insufficiency is, moreover, according to him, the fundamental cause of the French failure in Indochina. The search for this ratio often leads to conscription.
  • The second is the fact that "Arevolutionary war is above all an infantry war". Modern armies have to give up most of their organisation and organic material to gain in flexibility and proximity. Only those materials that are useful for the rapid concentration of forces against guerrilla warfare, such as transport helicopters, should be retained.
  • The third is the minimisation of the use of force and the control of violence, which requires a trained troop. It also means keeping the use of force to a minimum and, if necessary, punishing it publicly and immediately. In addition, force must provide for the immediate reparation of any damage.
  • Finally, in this type of operation, the military cannot be politically neutral. He must be personally involved for the success and against the cause used by the insurgency. He must therefore adhere not to the circumstantial political aspects of power, but to the principles underlying loyalist institutions.

Deciphering the different types of insurgency and how they work

...Galula provides a framework for reading and identifying its stage of development. This point is not only theoretical, it is directly operational, because it is important for the loyalist to act as quickly as possible with success. Moreover, if the insurgency reaches the stage of declared violence, it will have to engage the armed force wisely and with the necessary magnitude.

Galula notes that too often governments fail to appreciate the events they are facing and fail to mobilize the legal, financial and military means to counter the insurgency at its weakest point.

He distinguishes between two models of insurgency: the "communist orthodox" model,which aims not only at taking power but also at transforming society, and a second, "nationalist bourgeois" model, which has only the overthrow ofthe loyalist government as its goal. To give just one example, it is striking to note in a 1963 book this analysis of what would be the first stage of its second model, called "blind terrorism": "Thepurpose of this stage is to gain publicity for the movement and its cause and, by focusing public attention, to attract potential supporters". These low-manpowered attacks must be "as spectacularas possible, in concentrated, coordinated and synchronized waves". As before, attrition of the enemy is only a secondary objective.

Finally, Galula proposes an ideal modus operandi... 8 steps, to reduce guerrilla warfare. It is very strongly inspired by French practice in Algeria but takes on an additional dimension because of its coherence with the theoretical contributions mentioned above.

Thus, in the first stage of the process aimed at regaining a foothold in a given sector and destroying armed guerrilla warfare, it is easy to understand why the re-establishment of the guerrilla movement is so important.The real objective at this stage is to regain the possibility of exercising influence over the population, with the destruction of the guerrillas necessarily resulting in the end. This therefore implies a specific modus operandi, namely a two-way search, external-internal and internal-external, aimed at destroying but also destroying the guerrillas.It also means expelling the guerrillas, who either refuse to fight if they think they can come back afterwards, or accept it conscious of the loyalist's will over the population.

The chronology he advocates is also gaining strength. In this regard, it is interesting to note that local elections are only in the 5th stage and the organization of a national party in the 7th stage, which implies that the counterinsurgency is at an advanced stage in many other regions. This would certainly call for caution in the light of the rather reverse Western practice in recent operations such as in Iraq and Afghanistan where elections have been held.This would certainly call for caution with regard to the rather reverse Western practice in recent operations such as in Iraq and Afghanistan, where elections were organised quickly and presented as the culmination of a process even though the work of pacification was not really nearing completion.

In the end, the question arises as to the relevance of Galula's theory in today's commitments and the scope of his work.

If we want to focus only on circumstantial elements, Galula appears to be a precursor and, by the depth of his reflection, an indispensable theorist. He makes us perceive the "Copernican revolution" necessary for victory against a guerrilla war, that is to say, the change in the centre of gravity of military operations in relation to the classic conflict.

To reproach him for not taking into account post-9/11 Islamist terrorism is an anachronism and probably an injustice. Indeed, the two guerrilla models that he distinguishes are not without common points in common with this terrorism and perhaps he would have introduced a third intermediate model if he had been able to do so.

A more important shortcoming is perhaps the lack of consideration of the specificities of counter-insurgency warfare in urban areas, but here again the scope of the study should not be exaggerated as it is more operative than theoretical.

Discovering and already rereading and working on Lieutenant-Colonel Galula's thinking therefore seems timely. It is to be hoped that his recently acquired fame will make it possible to make available his archives, preparatory works, articles or courses that he did not fail to write in the United States or in France. In this way he will be able to complete and clarify a thought whose contribution is considerable, if only because of the influence it exerts on the Americans and its increasing diffusion to all their allies.

If he was not a prophet in his own country, David Galula certainly deserves to join the circle of the "pèfounding fathers" of "French pacification" alongside more illustriousnames such as Marshals Gallieni and Lyautey.

1] Achever Clausewitz, Carnets Nord, Paris, 2007, 363 p.

Title : Lieutenant-Colonel David Galula: Can you be a prophet in your own country?
Author (s) : le Capitaine Matthieu MEISSONNIER