Small Wars Journal

A Conversation with Dr. Douglas Porch

Tue, 12/14/2010 - 7:23pm
A Conversation with Dr. Douglas Porch:

Relooking French Encounters in Irregular Warfare in the 19th Century

by Michael Few

Download the Full Article: A Conversation with Dr. Douglas Porch

To complement the recent interviews conducted by Octavian Manea, we reached out to the defense analysts experts at the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, CA. In the first interview of this series, Dr. John Arquilla described how he felt that French Encounters with Irregular Warfare in the 19th Century can inform COIN in our time. This rebuttal comes from Dr. Douglas Porch, a historian in the National Security Affairs (NSA) department. This department specializes in the study of international relations, security policy, and regional studies. NSA is unique because it brings together outstanding faculty, students from the Army, Air Force, Navy, Marines, National Guard and various civilian agencies, and scores of international officers from dozens of countries for the sole purpose of preparing tomorrow's military and civilian leaders for emerging security challenges. Notable alumni from the NSA department include LTG William H. Caldwell.

In a July 2010 Military Review article "Let's Take the French Experience in Algeria Out of U.S. Counterinsurgency Doctrine," Geoff Demarest, Director of Research at the Foreign Military Studies Office at Fort Leavenworth, laments that the authors of FM 3-24 were inspired in part by French COIN practices as transmitted by Algerian War veteran David Galula. Not only were French efforts in Algeria unsuccessful, he notes; they also were anchored in terror tactics that brought discredit on French soldiers and their nation.

Not so fast, says John Arquilla, Professor at the Naval Postgraduate School, who argues that the French pioneered three tactical concepts he believes central to the success of contemporary COIN: Information Operations (IO), "swarm tactics," and "the need to understand how networks fight -- and how to build networks of one's own." First, according to Arquilla, General Louis-Gabriel Suchet's occupation of Aragon and Catalonia of which he was in charge during the Peninsula War of 1808-1813 succeeded in winning over the population with the devolution of authority, infrastructure improvements, and the Napoleonic promise of modernization, administrative efficiency and social progress. Second, General Thomas-Robert Bugeaud's 1843 "swarm" of Algerian resistance leader Abd el-Kader's camp, caused the latter to surrender "not too long after," which even, in turn, heralded "over a century of generally peaceful conditions and prosperity" in Algeria. Finally, Colonel Joseph Simon Gallieni's successful campaign against "Vietnamese criminal/insurgent networks" in northern Tonkin in the 1890s illustrates a successful network-centric COIN tactics.

Download the Full Article: A Conversation with Dr. Douglas Porch

Douglas Porch earned a Ph.D. from Corpus Christi College, Cambridge University. Now a Professor of National Security Affairs at the Naval Postgraduate School, his books include The French Secret Services. From the Dreyfus Affair to Desert Storm (1995); The French Foreign Legion. A Complete History of the Legendary Fighting Force (1991); The Conquest of the Sahara; The Conquest of Morocco; The March to the Marne. The French Army 1871-1914; The Portuguese Armed Forces and the Revolution, and Army and Revolution. France 1815-1844; Wars of Empire (2000); The Path to Victory. The Mediterranean Theater in World War II (2004). He is currently working on COIN in Colombia.

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