Small Wars Journal

Interview with Dr. John Arquilla

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Interview with Dr. John Arquilla:

How can French Encounters with Irregular Warfare in the 19th Century Inform COIN in our time?

by Michael Few

Download the Full Article: Interview with Dr. John Arquilla

To complement the recent interviews conducted by Octavian Manea, we asked the faculty of the Department of Defense Analysis (DA) at the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, CA to weigh in on the on-going conversation over the need and/or utility of rethinking modern counterinsurgency theory. This department provides mid-career, postgraduate instruction to the Special Operations Community. The Department of Defense Analysis is an interdisciplinary association of faculty, representing a wide range of academic and operational specialties. The Special Operations curriculum provides a focused course of instruction in irregular warfare, sub-state conflict, terrorism and counterterrorism, information operations, and other "high leverage" operations in U.S. defense and foreign policy. This interview with Dr. John Arquilla begins our series with the department.

How can French Encounters with Irregular Warfare in the 19th Century Inform COIN in our time?

Three of the most important concepts in counterinsurgency today have to do with the use of information operations, the role of swarm tactics in battle, and the need to understand how networks fight -- and how to build networks of one's own. There is precious little discussion of any of these points in our own and others' doctrinal manuals and theoretical works on counterinsurgency. So, to build some theory and provide a basis for action, some data mining of earlier history is called for.

Download the Full Article: Interview with Dr. John Arquilla

Dr. John Arquilla has been teaching in the special operations program at the Naval Postgraduate School since 1993. The themes covered in his comments above -- and many other ideas -- are developed further in his forthcoming book, Insurgents, Raiders, and Bandits (due spring 2011). Additionally, John has authored Networks and Netwars: The Future of Terror, Crime, and Militancy and co-authored The Three Circles of War: Understanding the Dynamics of Conflict in Iraq. For more on the threat of modern swarming techniques and tactics, see his recent opinion piece, US Not Prepared for Mumbai-like Terror Attacks, in the San Francisco Chronicle.

About the Author(s)

Michael Few is a retired military officer who served multiple combat tours to Iraq including the Thunder Runs and The Surge, and he currently serves as the editor of Small Wars Journal.  He is a graduate of the United States Military Academy and studied small wars at the Defense Analysis Department at the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, CA


Christopher Griffin (not verified)

Wed, 12/01/2010 - 4:37am

While it is useful to discuss French tactics of the 19th century to understand today's conflict s, the picture given of French colonial warfare in this interview is flawed.

What Dr. Arquilla describes as "swarming" was in fact concentric attacks by heavy columns, the preferred French tactic in colonial war from the Napoleonic Wars to the end of World War I. It had very little to do with swarming. Even Bugeaud's raids were done in flying columns, organized around tactics developed by the Napoleonic armies in Europe. The heavy column was already outdated by the end of the 19th century (as pointed out by Douglas Porch in his essay on the issue in Makers of Modern Strategy), but continued to be used by Gallieni and Lyautey.

I presented a paper at the British International Studies Association last year on colonial tactics, which can be found online at BISA's website at:…

I think both that the current understanding of French colonial warfare is flawed and inadequate, and that it does not always provide useful lessons for current wars.

A.E. (not verified)

Tue, 11/30/2010 - 4:26pm

Great interview.

If you interview Porch, one great topic might be his recent paper on Colombian military intelligence and counterinsurgency he published in Small Wars and Insurgencies. Discussion of modern COIN efforts outside the usual British, French, and American case studies is far and few between in the public eye.

MikeF (not verified)

Tue, 11/30/2010 - 4:10pm

Col Gentile,

And Roger. We're going to start with DA, then branch out to NSA and OR.

BTW, great work over at the Council on Foreign Relations.


gian p gentile (not verified)

Tue, 11/30/2010 - 3:52pm


Great that you are conducting these interviews.

I wonder if it might be possible for you to interview Professor Douglas Porch, a historian, also of the NPS, and get his views on French imperial warfare. I speculate that it might be a tad different from Dr Arquilla's.