Small Wars Journal has published another edition of the excellent COIN interview series conducted by Octavian Manea. Here he interviews A.A. Cohen, author of Galula: The Life and Writings of the French Officer who Defined the Art of Counterinsurgency
OM: Which were the role of Mao and the exposure to Chinese civil war in Galula’s story? It seems to be his decisive formative lab experience like Russia was for George Kennan.
AAC: Unquestionably, of all the influences exerted on Galula’s treatise, Mao and the Chinese Civil were the greatest. Galula had a strong intellectual admiration for Maoist revolutionaries, despite being very opposed to what they stood for. Before the Chinese Civil War, Galula had no interest in insurgency or counterinsurgency. He had not fought as a Partisan during WW2; he had no experience or interest in these fields until he was exposed to China as of late 1945, in the thick of its civil war. There, his analytical penchant led him to see himself as the decipherer of Mao, intent on getting to the bottom of what the revolutionaries were fundamentally about. Galula cut through the egalitarian propaganda and all that surrounding the People’s revolution. Above all, he wanted to understand why these guys were gaining momentum as they were despite the unfavorable odds. When he figured it out, he reverse-engineered their methods to arrive at a counter-process to revolution and insurgency. His embrace of Chinese dialectics, and with these, the notion of unity of opposites or yin and yang, was helpful in achieving this.
Is counterinsurgency to Galula more of a strategy or more of a technique and a methodology?
What Galula offers, first and foremost, is a doctrine – not a strategy. His doctrine is underpinned by an important theory about people and what motivates them to take up arms, or to side with those who do. The theory goes that in times of danger (war), the majority of people will be motivated primarily by a fundamental need for security. Galula is adamant about this. But he also recognizes that there will be a minority of people – the instigators at the core of a movement – that will be ideologically, or even fanatically motivated. These are the true believers. He makes no qualms about prescribing that this is the group that the counterinsurgent or counterterrorist will need to find and neutralize, while protecting the rest of the population that aspires to a normal, if not better life. If you buy into this theory, Galula’s doctrine offers a multi-step framework for operations; in other words, a method to counterinsurgency. His famous eight steps are there to provide some logical linearity to what is otherwise a very nonlinear form of warfare. Within that framework, you have the flexibility to formulate your strategy and to conduct your operations to achieve your objectives.
Read the rest here.
I agree that Galula was not offering a strategy. Even more strongly, I think Cohen is correct about the historical importance of China’s long period of disorder, from the overthrow of the Q’ing dynasty to Mao ZeDong’s declaration of the People’s Republic, for Galula. However, not just for him but for anyone interested in questions of war and statecraft where insurgency, warlordism, state failure, state-building, foreign intervention, balance-of-power politics, ideological mass-movements, 4GW, revolution and total war coexisted and co-evolved.
The best comparison in our lifetime to China in this period would have been Lebanon in the 1980’s, except that China’s polycentric conflict was even more complex and on an epic scale.