Small Wars Journal

Interview with Dr. David Ucko

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Interview with Dr. David Ucko

by Octavian Manea

Download the full article: Interview with Dr. David Ucko

"The conceptual and institutional advances within the US military since Iraq are the product of a whole COIN community."

What was the role of David Galula in shaping the mind of the US Army or the Army Concept? Could we see him as an intellectual founding father? And what specific beliefs do you have in mind when you assess his role in shaping the organizational culture of the US military?

As certain individuals and groups within the US military again became interested in counterinsurgency, this time as a result of the persistent violence in 'post-war' Iraq, one of the more immediate reference points for how to understand this type of political violence were the scholars and theorists who had marked the US military's previous 'counterinsurgency eras', during the 1960s primarily, but also during the 1980s. In the former camp, the thinkers of the 1960s, David Galula stands as an intellectual forefather to much that was finally included in the US Army and Marine Corps' FM 3-24 counterinsurgency field manual; indeed I believe his book is one of the three works cited in the manual's acknowledgements. I think it is fair to say far fewer people have read than heard of Galula, and it would be an interesting study to go through his writings more carefully and see to what degree they apply to our understanding of counterinsurgency today. Nonetheless, even at a cursory level, Galula has been extremely helpful in conceptualizing some of the typical conundrums, dilemmas and complexities of these types of campaigns: the civilian capability gaps in theater; the political nature of counterinsurgency; the importance of popular support, etc. These were issues that US soldiers and Marines were confronting in Iraq and struggling to find answers to; Galula's seminal texts were in that context helpful.

In terms of influencing US counterinsurgency doctrine, perhaps one of Galula's main contributions is the emphasis on the political nature of these types of campaigns, and - importantly - his concomitant warning that although the fight is primarily more political than military, the military will be the most represented agency, resulting in a capability gap. Galula's answer to this conundrum is explicitly not to restrict military forces to military duties, a notion picked up on in US doctrine, which also asks the US military to go far beyond its traditional remit where and when necessary. In a sense, this line of thinking is one of the greatest distinctions between the Army's first interim COIN manual in 2004 and the final version in 2006: in doctrine (if not necessarily in other areas, such as force structure), Galula's view of military forces filling civilian capability gaps had been accepted. Of course, it should be added that all of this is much easier said than done, and perhaps some of the implications of involving military forces in civilian tasks (agriculture, sewage, project management) have not been thoroughly thought through - do the armed forces have the requires skills, the training, and how much civilian capability can one realistically expect them to fill? Also, the danger with following Galula on this point is that by doing what's necessary in the field, the armed forces may also be deterring the development of the very civilian capabilities they reluctantly usurp.

Download the full article: Interview with Dr. David Ucko

Interview with Dr. David Ucko conducted by Octavian Manea (Editor of FP Romania, the Romanian edition of Foreign Policy).

About the Author(s)

Octavian Manea was a Fulbright Junior Scholar at Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs (Syracuse University) where he received an MA in International Relations and a Certificate of Advanced  Studies in Security Studies.


gian gentile

Tue, 12/27/2011 - 9:52pm

I never thought much of David Galula's book since it always seemed to me more the work of an opportunist selling Coin snakeoil to an American Army in the early 60s which was hungry for "lessons" from Algeria as it looked toward Vietnam, yet without the taint of Trinquier abd torture and all the rest. Galula provided that. Yet the book, each time i re-read it each year as i teach it in a history seminar at west point, seems more and more superficial, and programmatic to the extreme. It is very sad that the US Army basically rewrote Galula's book into FM 3-24. Indeed General McChrystal has stated publicly, and often, that Galula's book sat on his bedside when he was in command in Afghanistan.

And in the interview with Dr David Ucko, the Counterinsurgency expert, he himself praises Galula and acknowledges the influence of Galula on American Coin with this quote:

"David Galula stands as an intellectual forefather to much that was finally included in the US Army and Marine Corps' FM 3-24 counterinsurgency field manual..."

Yet here is the thing, maybe irony is a better word, in a new book just published by French researcher Gregor Mathias, and based on Mathias's research in the French Army operational record when Galula commanded his infantry company (and the experience of which he drew on to write his book), Galula's methods did not work. Yup, that is right folks, Galula's methods basically failed to achieve the things that Galula said had worked in his book.

So we have an American Coin doctrine that was based largely on the work of Galula, and that doctrine was purportedly the cipher to success in Surge-Iraq, and that perceived template of success was used as the basis to do 3-24/Galula in Afghanistan; and all of it is based on a method that failed by the man who said that it worked.

One of the most powerful things that history does is teach its students about irony; and this sad episode with American coin and its “forefather” David Galula, drips, drips with irony.