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Small Wars Journal Interview
by Judah Grunstein
General Vincent Desportes is the commander of the French Army's Force Employment Doctrine Center and author of The Likely War (La Guerre Probable, Economica, 49 rue Héricart, 75015 Paris. Also see Judah Grunstein's SWJ review of The Likely War.
Small Wars Journal: You said in your book that before any intervention, the strategic objectives (which are political) must be identified. Given the complexity (multilateral, inter-ministerial) of this kind of operation, which organism would be responsible for that kind of reflection and to identify the objectives?
Gen. Desportes: For one thing, in a lot of ways I'm defining a type of model for an ideal to attain. Now what we know is that in reality, it's something that's extremely difficult to do. And we notice that first we send the force to do something, and often the "end state" is defined after we've sent the force. The flagrant example is Afghanistan: first we sent the force, and afterwards we defined an "end state." So the schema that we should know the end state perfectly before we construct through retroaction the coordination of lines of operation is an ideal schema. So what I'm defining is an ideal schema. What's certain is that in fact governments respond most often in reaction, and in rapid reaction, and so the objectives are often contructed once we've launched the operation. So we're pretty far from the ideal theoretic schema that I proposed.
Now, in France, it's probable (and the Livre Blanc says it) that we're missing a structure of coordination and analysis that can do this sort of thing. When I wrote my book, obviously, the center for crisis coordination (which is foreseen by the Livre Blanc and which is supposed to be part of the Quai d'Orsay) didn't exist. Now, I don't know if that center is functioning, but it's probably that sort of center that reunites the interminsterial expertise that, from the outset of the crisis, allows the formulation of the diplomatic, economic, military and other analyses that allow us to define an "end state" before launching the operation.
General Vincent Desportes
The Likely War
by Judah Grunstein, Small Wars Journal
Articulated by Army Field Manual 3-24 and incarnated by Gen. David Petraeus' implementation of the Baghdad Surge, the U.S. Army's freshly minted counterinsurgency tactics are a direct response to the needs of the moment in both Iraq and Afghanistan. With their increasing ascendancy in American military doctrine still the subject of debate, a recent book by General Vincent Desportes, commander of the French Army's Force Employment Doctrine Center, provides a strategic context for the discussion that is all the more interesting for the author's unique perspective as a French strategic thinker well-versed in American strategic culture. Gen. Desportes served for two years at the U.S. Army War College as part of an officer exchange program, as well as for two years as Army Liaison Officer at Fort Monroe in Virginia. That was followed by three years as the military attache at the French Embassy in Washington. His analysis of the evolutions in contemporary warfare and the tactical and strategic adaptations on the part of Western militaries that they necessitate is not yet translated into English. So we've prepared the following extended synopsis, as well as an accompanying interview Gen. Desportes generously accorded us, to make it available to the American COIN community.
In The Likely War (La Guerre Probable, Economica, 49 rue Héricart, 75015 Paris), Desportes argues that the wars for which Western militaries need to prepare will not be symmetric or disymmetric conflicts between state actors. Among the factors making such wars improbable, he lists regional integration, which renders conflict less profitable and more costly, as well as globalization, which he astutely describes as the "inheritor" of Cold War deterrence. What's more, he argues that even conventional war is unlikely to be symmetric, as military logic recommends attacking the weak links (ie. networks and satellites) of an adversary's technical advantages, rather than confronting its strengths head on. (He doesn't mention it, but Chinese military doctrine comes to mind.) More significantly, though, Desportes points to recent campaigns in Afghanistan, Iraq and Lebanon to argue that far from being a lesser order of warfare, asymmetric (or irregular) war is nothing other than the inevitable application of war's eternal law: that of bypassing the enemy's strength. "The use of the term asymmetric. . ." he writes, "reflects the refusal to imagine that an adversary worthy of the name might want to fight according to a logic other than our own." (pp. 45-46).