Small Wars Journal

Galula Relevant Anymore?

In response to our series of interviews by Octavian Manea (Kilcullen, Mansoor, Nagl, Ucko), Mark Safranski, at Zenpundit, addresses the relevancy of David Galula's "Maoist Model" of insurgency. His botom line: if Galula were alive today, Mark suspects he'd be more interested in constructing a new COIN model from empirical investigation than in honing his old one.
Categories: David Galula


Bill C:

From the link you provided:

<i>Africa Command is an administrative reorganization of long-existing U.S. military relationships with African nations and organizations</i>

As I said above, a bureaucratic reshuffle. Nothing new. I see nothing in this link to suggest that preemptive COIN or societal transformation is intended, nor is the force large enough to even attempt, let alone achieve, these goals.

Bill C. (not verified)

Sun, 11/21/2010 - 1:14pm


I recently visited our Africa Command web site and went to the Frequently Asked Questions secton:

After having had the chance to read this information, would it be wrong for me to suggest that it -- if not a lot, then at least a little -- mirrors the image of the preventive COIN model generally, and the AFRICOM example specifically, that I attempted to describe in my November 18th and 19th comments above?

<i>and instead focus on addressing the very fixable flaws in US foreign policy that contribute to the conditions of insurgency in the countries where AQ currently has sway; and also contribute to their ability to motivate individuals and organizations from the same to attack/oppose the US. </i>

I don't think there's a country in the world where "AQ currently has sway". There are countries where they have a foothold and a refuge, sometimes due to conditions of insurgency, sometimes due to conditions of anarchy. The degree to which US policy has contributed to those conditions is debatable and often much exaggerated: we haven't nearly the influence we are sometimes said to have, and it ain't all about us. A great deal happens in the world, often affecting us, that is not a consequence of our actions. That's not a reason to deny the consequences of our actions, but it's a good reason not to assume that everything that happens is a consequence of our actions. We're not the only cause out there.

I certainly agree that one "fixable flaw in US foreign policy" has contributed greatly to sustaining AQ: our long term military engagements in Muslim countries have provided AQ with precisely the position it needs to survive. AQ was born out of resistance to foreign military intrusion in Muslim lands, and it has never flourished in the absence of such intervention. AQ has been quite successful at rallying support for struggle against foreign intervention, and notably unsuccessful at drawing support for campaigns against indigenous government.

There are certainly lessons we can learn from past mistakes. In the 1990s the combination of an unnecessarily extended US military presence in Saudi Arabia and a worldwide oil glut that created significant dislocations in the Saudi economy created an inaccurate but widespread perception that the US was using control over Saudi Arabia to depress oil prices, a perception that AQ was able to exploit. We don't have to correct those conditions, though, because they no longer exist.

Bob's World

Sat, 11/20/2010 - 9:09am


True. AQ is a very limited business model. All the more reason for us to stop the foolishness of chasing the symptom personified in this fatally flawed organization; and instead focus on addressing the very fixable flaws in US foreign policy that contribute to the conditions of insurgency in the countries where AQ currently has sway; and also contribute to their ability to motivate individuals and organizations from the same to attack/oppose the US.

The US needs to be much more concerned about the Leadership and organization that will inevitably rise up to replace AQ once we defeat the latter. If the market demand remains, someone will step up to provide the supply. AQ is too violent to be effective in getting largely moderate Muslims to attain the largely reasonable evolutions of their respective governments. We must look past AQ to the conditions that the feed upon, and then focus more on adjusting changes in ourself that connect us negatively to those conditions, rather than running around trying to change everyone else to suit us.

As you point out, such interventions only serve to point the blame arrow ever more firmly in our direction.


I think the theory falls down a bit on the presumed but undemonstrated connection between international terrorism and the desire of any given populace or populaces for better governance or for freedom from largely fictional American influence. If groups like AQ had the support of any populace, anywhere, their efforts at driving insurgencies against governments they dislike would have been a lot more effective. AQ has only ever flourished when outside military intervention in Muslim countries has enabled them to play the "expel the infidel from the land of the faithful" card; their efforts to inspire insurgency against indigenous governments have generally been completely ineffective. Repression does not explain this: we all know that an insurgency with real popular support will only be exacerbated by repressive measures.

Bill C

A Stuttgart-based force of 1300 is no more able to empower or preempt than it is able to compel... and the idea of "empowering" anyone do do our will seems a bit backwards, unless our wull is consistent with their desires.

I don't see any "across the board" or numerous" interventions going on, anywhere. I don't see anyone being asked or forced to part with or modify their religious beliefs or fundamental societal underpinnings. I don't see any evidence, anywhere, suggesting that this situation:

<i>"more powerful societies come to require weaker societies to change; this, so that these weaker societies might better provide for the needs, wants and desires of the more-powerful entities".</i>

actually exists, anywhere. There is no concern whatsoever about "weaker societies" providing for "the needs, wants and desires of the more-powerful entities". The "weaker societies" are really pretty irrelevant to the needs, wants, and desires of the powerful, and unless they become active problems - as in attacking others or sheltering those who do - nobody really cares what happens to them. Do you think anyone would give a hot round one about Afghanistan or Yemen if AQ wasn't sheltering there?

Bill C. (not verified)

Fri, 11/19/2010 - 4:59pm


Thus, rater than "compel" African's (et al) to comply with our wishes, might the term "empower" be considered a more accurate way of describing what preemptive COIN appears to be designed to do?

Likewise, could we say that the numerous interventions associated with the preemptive COIN model might be better understood as helping to "prevent" marginal states and societies from becoming major security problems?

Bill C. (not verified)

Fri, 11/19/2010 - 11:44am


"Do you really think that a force of 1300, based in Stuttgart, is going to compel Africans to comply with our wishes?"

No. But, of course, that is not what the preemptive COIN model (of which the force of 1300 "based" in Stuttgart is but a part) is designed to do.

Rather, these across-the-board interventions (some of which I have outlined above) would appear to be designed (also as I noted above) to allow that:

(1) Africans might better carry out our wishes and that

(2) Africans might better deal with any resistance to these initiatives that might be forthcoming.

"Resistance to change in marginal countries is not driven by populaces that are reluctant to part with their old way of life . . . "

If we were to properly include various religious beliefs -- and other fundamental societal underpinnings -- in our definition of "old ways," then could we still stand by this statement?

Bob's World

Fri, 11/19/2010 - 7:06am


If your point is that the Soviets stopped conducting UW and FID in a global chess game vice U.S. UW and FID following their demise, I agree. But that hardly put an end to the efforts of populaces around the globe in their quest for better governance; or the quest of those internal or other non-US/Soviet external actors (many with very self-serving intent) seeking power or influence in these troubled lands.

The U.S. was dragged by the media and moral pressure into three such areas that we would have preferred to ignore, much as the rest of the globe was, in Somalia, Rwanda and the Balkans. The Cold War balancing act was over, but the conditions of insurgency remained for exploitation without the stabilizing effect of the two superpowers to keep them from devolving into tactics of genocide.

Then AQ came onto the scene to fill this vacuum with their own brand of non-state UW to engage with populaces of many primarily Muslim countries that had "benefited" from years of Western governmental manipulation during the Cold War for the dual purposes of containing the Soviets and benefiting Western economic interests. Certainly the local national leaders profited more under the U.S. Model than under the British Model, but the effects on the populace were largely the same. Such manipulations were tolerated while the Soviet threat existed, but as in Europe, tolerance for overt U.S. presence and manipulations quickly waned as that threat receded in the rearview mirror.

One then saw these nationalist movements pick up momentum, on the fringes in places like Chechnya and Bosnia, but also with growing friction closer to the core in places such as Yemen and Saudi Arabia. There are popular forces in motion that the U.S. cannot and should not attempt to "contain." Rather we should step back, take a less threat-centric perspective on the dynamics at work, and reassess what U.S. policy and engagement toward this region should look like for the world that exists today. It's not 1954, or even 1974 anymore, and for people whose political processes have been largely held static by outside forces and the threat of greater evils (soviet control), there is finally opportunity for movement.

There are great insights into this kind of social dynamic in both Mao and Galula, and both of those guys and their writings are as relevant today as the day they were first published. It is incumbent upon the reader to apply them to the world we live in today.


I think there are major differences between the colonial COIN ventures and our Cold War COIN ventures. Colonial powers wanted control for economic reasons: colonies were supposed to be profitable (though not all actually were). Our Cold War efforts owed more to proxy battles and geopolitical competition, in many of our most prolonged and expensive ventures (e.g. Vietnam) there was no economic interest at all. The key difference, of course, is that economic exploitation requires two parties, the exploiter and the exploitee, while proxy war requires at least two great powers and their proxies. With the demise of the Soviet Union proxy war became largely obsolete. That's why, for example, our engagements in Latin America have dropped off so dramatically, with all manner of positive results for that region.

If US Cold War COIN had been primarily colonial/exploitive, we'd expect to see a dramatic increase in such engagements after the Cold War, with continued incentive and decreased resistance. In fact these engagements decreased markedly after the Cold War.

I'd repeat that there's a fundamental difference between our COIN status in Iraq and Afghanistan and previous engagements. This is not reaction to a perceived threat by insurgents against an allied government, but an integral and inevitable part of a regime change process that we initiated.

Re this:
As to "proving" causation; there is far more proof captured in the recorded history of insurgency that coincides with my proposal than there is that it is caused by any ideology.

I wasn't referring to "the history of insurgency", but to the specific case of today's international terrorism.

David Ucko

Thu, 11/18/2010 - 7:27pm

Gian: Since Carl Prine has already brought up Thomas Rid, I feel less abashed about plugging my co-blogger's excellent article on Galula (to be found in the most recent issue of JSS), where he makes the case that:
1) "Galulas military writings were hardly innovative" and,
2) that "they rest on more than a century of well-documented French experience with irregular warfare and counterinsurgency in North Africa and elsewhere".
It is partly on this basis, and on Galula's own experience as an officer - in Asia as well as in Africa, that I say his horizons stretched further than what Mao did in China.

Bill C:

Africom comes to mind as compelling evidence that your hypothesis is imaginary. Do you really think that a force of 1300, based in Stuttgart, is going to compel Africans to comply with our wishes? It's not a commitment, far from it: that's obvious from the force and the location. It's a bureaucratic reshuffle.

Resistance to change in marginal countries is not driven by populaces that are reluctant to part with their old way of life. Most of these populaces, for very good reasons, would dump their old way of life in a heartbeat if they could. They want change. Resistance is driven by individuals and groups who find the old way profitable, or whose power depends on sustenance of old ways. "Old ways", of course, not referring to long-gone pastoral tribalism but to the infinitely corrupt big man politics of the post-independence era. Do you really think African populaces are attached to their dictators and their henchmen?

There is no US commitment to transform marginal societies that have not become major security problems. None. No evidence of any such commitment exists. There's no need for it, the costs are utterly out of proportion to the benefits, and there's no desire for it. It's imaginary.

Bill C. (not verified)

Thu, 11/18/2010 - 12:54pm

Third to last paragraph:

Probably should have said "minimal or limited FID" here.

Bill C. (not verified)

Thu, 11/18/2010 - 12:43pm

Could we consider a fourth COIN model as more close to what is going on today?

In this new fourth COIN model, which we could call preemptive COIN, we, up front, concentrate on -- in strategic countries and regions -- getting the local governments of various nations to become both strong enough and capable enough (via various interventions, to include: military assistance, policing assistance, technical assistance, material assistance, funding assistance, governing-model assistance and ideological assistance, etc.) so that these local governments might (1) better carry out our wishes and (2) better deal with, themselves, any resistance to our initiatives that might be forthcoming.

(AFRICOM, for example, comes to mind here.)

Thus, this model accepts that terrorism and insurgency will continue to be part and parcel to everyone's lives today and going forward; in that it, likewise, accepts that many will not wish to see their old way of life replaced with a way of life that is more accommodating to the requirements of foreign societies.

Thus, this looks more like the 19th Century to me.

With a robust, powerful and better alligned-with-us-and-our-initiatives local government in place, then, the theory goes, we may only need to do FID to help achieve our goals.

But I am not sure that history bears this theory out.

All this seems to relate to the wrenching effects of when more powerful societies come to require weaker societies to change; this, so that these weaker societies might better provide for the needs, wants and desires of the more-powerful entities.

Bob's World

Thu, 11/18/2010 - 7:52am

I suspect most of these fine nuances are lost on a populace that perceives that its government answers more to some foreign power than it does to them.

I also suspect that history will bear out that US Cold War influences over developing nations, and its controls, while different in form and packaging, were little different in purpose and effect, than the European Colonial efforts that preceded them. Certainly we packaged them in a way to soothe our white man's guilt, but wrap a pretty ribbon around a box of manure, and it's still a box of manure.

The US model is actually far less efficient, for in the pretense of allowing nations to be "self-determined" (within the guidlines we set for them) we lacked the firm control that others had been able to exert. For example, the Brits would have never allowed Diem to be such a problem for them as we allowed him to be for us in Viet Nam. Nor would they have allowed Karzai to be the problem he is currently. This isn't a game best played half way. My point is that it is a game that in the modern globalized world that should not be played at all. There are better, less intrusive and abusive ways to address economic and security interests in developing nations.

As to "proving" causation; there is far more proof captured in the recorded history of insurgency that coincides with my proposal than there is that it is caused by any ideology. Certainly it was not Protestant Christian ideology that transformed Europe, but rather an informed (thank you Mr. Guttenberg for your printing press) and oppressed populace that employed that powerful ideology to achieve liberty from the Holy Roman Empire. Certainly it was not Communist ideology that transformed Asia, but rather an informed (thank you Mr. Marconi for your radio) and oppressed populace that employed powerful ideology to achieve liberty from Western Colonial Empires. Similarly today, it is not Islamist ideology that is transfroming the Middle East and North Africa, but rather an informed (thank you Al Gore [kidding] for your internet) and an oppressed populace that employed powerful ideology to achieve liberty from Cold War controls imposed upon them largely by the U.S. and its "I'm not an Empire" Empire.

There is little new under the sun in terms of human nature. It is just the tools and the players that change.


Wed, 11/17/2010 - 10:00pm

The old COIN/new COIN distinction can be useful, but might be more useful in three parts. Colonial COIN was all about maintaining physical control of occupied foreign territory, for economic and geopolitical advantage. After the dissolution of empires came what might be called Cold War COIN. Here our priority was less on any given territory than on the perceived struggle against communism and the Soviet Union. We invariably presented our COIN interventions not as support for a government, but as opposition to the spread of communism and Soviet influence, and often managed to convince ourselves that this was the case. This of course put our perceptions at odds with those of the citizens of the nations in question, who saw the issue less in global terms than in terms of their desire to rid themselves of governments they believed - often with good reason - to be unacceptable. This variance in perception and purpose created major problems for us and put us in some very uncomfortable positions.

Post Cold War COIN is a quite different thing. One might argue that from a US perspective there is no such thing. There isn't an insurgency on the planet today that requires US intervention in anything more than a limited FID role. We don't need to "do COIN".

Iraq and Afgansistan are, of course, the exceptions... but is this insurgency, and COIN, as we know it? We didn't intervene in these countries to support governments threatened by insurgency, we intervened to remove and replace governments we disliked. While this ultimately placed us in the position of supporting "governments" threatened by insurgency, we cannot pretend that this situation is anything but an extension and natural consequence of our policy of regime change. Our COIN efforts today are not a response to an insurgency threatening us or an ally, they are an attempt to resolve situations that we initiated. Insurgency and COIN that emerge as an integral phase of the regime change process is a fundamentally different thing from colonial or Cold War insurgency, and must be viewed as such. Certainly there are common elements, but there are important differences as well.

This allegation:

<i>Today such suppression of popular will results in what we broadly call " International Terrorism."</i>

I would have to say remains largely speculative; it's worthy of consideration but certainly has not been confirmed. Today's international terrorism is in no way purely a response to externally imposed conditions, nor does it represent any "popular will". There are many other factors involved, and many of them involve proactive, rather than reactive, efforts on the part of our antagonists.

Bob's World

Wed, 11/17/2010 - 3:17pm

I think the key difference that needs to be understood and applied to the studies of insurgencies past and present is the nature of the mission of the intervening power.

Old COIN, as derived from the British Colonial experience and applied to our own colonial experiences and captured in the Small Wars Manual was all about keeping an illegitimate government in power against the will of the insurgent populace in order to serve the greater needs of the intervening power and its economic / security interests in the region. Such "COIN" was one rooted in suppressing popular will in favor of the will of the intervening power.

Today such suppression of popular will results in what we broadly call " International Terrorism." No longer is it a valid model to engage to keep our puppets in power to represent our interests. Such efforts put the intervening power on the target list of an empowered populace that can now bring weapons of mass destruction back to your very doorstep. This is why "hanging chad" ideas, such as making the preservation of the current government the standard of success are outdated. Today such intervention must be about facilitating a stability that serves those still important interests in a way that does not suppress or co-opt the will of the people.

I think Galula would grasp this immediately.

I dont think "relevance" is what we should be looking for in history. History shows us relationships, complexities, how humans (leader, insurgents, counterinsurgents, soldiers, etc.) dealt with them and what were the cause/effect chains that occurred. To read Galulas "Counterinsurgency Warfare," looking for a ready-made solution to a current problem is obviously wrong. It isnt "relevant."

However to study how Galula experienced what he did, and learned what he did, then attempted to distill his understanding into a useful guide, provides a better grasp of the potential problems in similar situations. It provides indication son how some situations seem to support some solutions over others, and why they did (with the obvious implication that other solutions wouldnt work because of certain factors, etc.). Studied in enough depth, the successful and failed theorists and practitioners of the past are all "relevant" in providing such insight that can assist us in future problems. However, in no way can their solutions be assumed to work as our solutions.

Bill C. (not verified)

Wed, 11/17/2010 - 12:53pm

Would it be correct and important to point out that:

a. The period of history that Galula writes about (during the Cold War); wherein: the calculation -- and most often the actuality -- of rival great power intervention (military, technical, material, funds, ideology, etc. [as in the case of Algeria?]) had to be and consistently was factored into the equations by all sides,

b. That, at present, we live in a distinctly different world; one identified more by great power peace and cooperation. And that, accordingly,

c. The contributions of Galula, may be (much) less relevant today?

Thus: Should we seek our guidance more from periods of history -- and from the practioners who operated therein -- which have more in common with our present day circumstances?

JMA (not verified)

Tue, 11/16/2010 - 9:42am

Why the attempt to narrow the field of study? If anything students of war should widen their area of study and absolutely resist the temptation of hooking onto one particular view. Earlier we saw an attempt to to write off lessons from Algeria because the French used torture (so there, I guess, goes every war). Open minds must function like sponges there can be not limit to what can be studied.


Tue, 11/16/2010 - 9:30am

What Galula said wasn't particularly innovative. It had been said better by those who spoke his native tongue, a point often repeated by Stéphane Taillat, David Betz, Thomas Rid and, well, everyone else who reads French.

America's fixation on Galula -- who died too soon -- and not his British contemporary Kitson, the Huk veterans Napolean Valeriano and Charles Bohannan or his very clever and pensive countryman Jean Pouget is lamentable.

Come to think of it, how exactly did Galula trump the sagacity of fellow Algeria hands Pouget, Antoine Argoud or Jean-Claude Racinet?

He didn't. He merely had the willingness to travel to the US when counter-revolutionary beadles at RAND needed some help and regurgitated for them more than a century of compiled best practices perhaps better limned by Gallieni and Lyautey.

Because so many (frankly bogus) careers are built atop Galula's "genius," however, we must suffer his hagiographies and extol the virtues of umpiring endemic civil wars, lest Mao's most unlikely Arab Afghans join him on a Long March to wherever.

If you want to understand how 21st century revolutions actually form, morph, grow and win, I would suggest today's heady gaggle of theorists actually do something novel, which is to go and live with some guerrillas, much as Lawrence did.

Beyond young Andrew Exum, I don't know any contemporaries who have done so. That's our loss.

gian p gentile (not verified)

Mon, 11/15/2010 - 10:11pm

Mark is right about Galula. Moreover, the man was an opportunist at heart, and a very smart if not brilliant one at that.

His model was Mao, David,at least as a general framework for the understanding of insurgencies, why do you think it was not?

Moreover, why the defense of him? sheesh, how would it sound if I were calling for the complete relevance, at the operational and strategic levels, of Enrst Junger and "Storm of Steel"? In a sense we have elevated the tactics and operational method proposed by David Galula, based on his experience as an infantry company commander in an area about 10k by 10k in the mountains of North Algeria with about 10,000 local inhabitants and a handful of insurgents, to the level of high relevance. In short, Galula was a tactician of coin, hence the comparison to Junger as a tactician of offensive maneuver in WWI trench warfare.

I fear your argument for his "relevance" is really a call to maintain his text as the cipher for coin.

To be sure as historical text, Galula has relevance. But that relevance has gone too far to the point where our understanding of Coin today is premised on the idea that Galula had it right and if we could just mimick his actions in Tizzi Ozou well then maybe finally the big dumb army would enter into the gets it crowd.

Besides, and back to the comparison to Junger, remember that the French lost in Algeria. But the consumption with the tactics of coin causes folks to overlook this essential fact. It is not that Galula should not be read because he should, but the danger is to place faith in the notion that better tactics at coin can rescue failed strategy and policy. What saved the French in Algeria was not the better tactics of David Galula, but the better policy of de Gaulle when he decided to leave.

Now there is a lesson for today.


Bill C. (not verified)

Mon, 11/15/2010 - 6:57pm

Correction, last paragraph:

"Thus, not so much about a person ..."

Bill C. (not verified)

Mon, 11/15/2010 - 4:59pm

I have suggested the possibility of two distinctly different periods of history and of two distinctly different insurgency/counter-insurgency models that might develop therein; these being:

a. An "Apples" period of history: One in which there is significant great power rivalry and significant direct -- and/or proxy -- great power conflict (20th Century: WWI, WWII, Cold War). Certain "Apples" insurgencies occur during these periods of history with certain distinct features (insurgency can expect and does receive rival great power assistance; opposing great power knows this going in).

b. And an "Oranges" period of history; one characterized more by great power cooperation or turning of the "blind eye" (19th Century after Napoleonic Wars; the present day). Certain "Oranges" insurgencies occur during these periods in history with somewhat different features (insurgency cannot expect and does not receive rival great power help; intervening great power knows this up front).

If this assessment and characterization has any merit at all, then could it help in answering such questions as whether various authors, practioners and concepts re: insurgency/counter-insurgency, etc. -- and various related ideas, stratagies and tactics concerned therewith -- are more or less significant and germain to our present-day circumstances, goals and challenges?

Thus, not such much about a person -- and/or their ideas -- but more a consideration of the context (Apples or Oranges period of history; Apples or Oranges insurgency/counter-insurgency) wherein the author (1) gains his insights and (2) makes his determinations about how, where and when to proceed.

slapout9 (not verified)

Mon, 11/15/2010 - 4:28pm

Yes, Galula had 2 models. The second called the shortcut or specifically "The Bourgeois-Nationalist Pattern-A Shortcut" I would tattoo that on my forehead because you are seeing it now(Mexico)and going to see more of it in the future IMO.

David Ucko

Mon, 11/15/2010 - 2:33pm

But this assumes Galula's main preoccupation was 'the Maoist model of insurgency' and that his horizons did not go further than that. As anyone who has read Galula will testify, that simply isn't the case. Before we dismiss him as irrelevant, let's first remind ourselves of what he said...