While David Galula and Roger Trinquier are often cast as having two distinctly different approaches to counterinsurgency, the differences between their approaches are overemphasized. Although their practice may have been very different in style, with Trinquier striking a hard tone and Galula a softer one, their basic views of insurgency and methods for countering it are remarkably similar.
In considering its theory and nature, both authors view insurgency as a new type of warfare brought on by changes resulting from World War II. This new war is political in nature and is fought to achieve support of the population. The insurgent initiates this type of war, and traditional methods are inadequate for countering it. Differences between the two authors are relatively minor and generally relate to the origin of changes in the postwar era and the theoretical order of events. If there is another major difference, it is in the depth of their discussions about the nature of insurgencies. Galula goes into great detail, while Trinquier is quick to move on to the conduct of counterinsurgency.
It is in the conduct of counterinsurgency that we find some significant differences. Here Trinquier presents his infamous ideas on torture, which Galula does not advocate. We also see differences in the importance of civilian leadership. However, Galula and Trinquier have far more in common than not. They both suggest a methodical approach to winning the support of the population through police-type operations that are supported by the military. Large unit sweeps and fixed cordons are to be avoided, supporting arms used sparingly, and large intelligence networks created.
As the similarities and differences in their views are discussed further, it is useful to recall that both Galula and Trinquier are products of the mid-20th century French armed forces. It is not surprising that through their relatively common experiences and training they would develop relatively similar views of insurgency and counterinsurgency.
Theory and Nature
For soldiers born into the pre-World War II French Empire, the wars for independence that erupted after August 1945 would indeed have seemed a new kind of war. While both Galula and Trinquier acknowledge that antecedents exist, especially in Asia, they saw examples of this new kind of war in the Maoist revolutionary wars in Indochina and Algeria. Rather than the destruction of a nation or its warmaking capability, the purpose of these new wars was, according to Trinquier, “the overthrow of the established authority in a country and its replacement by another regime.”1 Galula takes a near identical view, finding the insurgent’s goal as “aiming to seize power—or at splitting off from the existing country.”2 This being the case, the entire framework for understanding and fighting this new type of war is political, as best put by Galula:
. . . and so intricate is the interplay between the political and the military actions that they cannot be tidily separated; on the contrary, every military move has to be weighed with regard to its political effects, and vice versa.3
As these wars are intended to achieve a change in political leadership, both theorists view the population as both the battleground and the objective of the conflict. Throughout Modern Warfare, Trinquier calls for gaining political support from a normally disinterested population. Galula has the same perspective, recognizing that political power requires either the acquiescence or the ambivalence of the population.4 Most importantly, victory requires winning popular support. From Trinquier: “We know that the sine qua non of victory in modern warfare is the unconditional support of a population.”5
The two do take slightly different views of the prospects for war in the 20th century. While both view insurgency as the most likely type of war, Trinquier thinks traditional warfare is dead. Galula thinks modern and revolutionary warfare exist at the same time, though he describes revolutionary warfare as new.6 Further, Galula theorizes that revolutionary wars are a result of the weakness of colonial powers following World War II, while Trinquier, on the other hand, indicates they are a result of the interplay between technology and war.7 The advent of the nuclear weapon makes a traditional war improbable.8 However, if both agree that insurgency represents a new form of war, they also agree the nature of war remains unchanged, and Clausewitzian principles of war still apply.9
Another noticeable difference between the two theorists is the amount of time each spends exploring the nature of war. Galula’s Counterinsurgency Warfare includes 63 pages covering insurgent doctrine, the nature of insurgencies, their causes, inherent challenges to the counterinsurgent, the impact of geography, and outside support.10 While Trinquier does discuss these points, Modern Warfare is more direct and focuses on developing methods for countering the insurgent. This focus is likely related to his view that insurgency is not another form of warfare—it is in fact modern warfare.
There are some starker differences between Galula and Trinquier in their discussions of the practice of counterinsurgency. However, the similarities are again more common than the differences. Views on propaganda, the police, census taking, intelligence collection, and types of operations to avoid are remarkably similar. Views of counterinsurgent leadership, treatment of prisoners, and initiating contact with the population vary, but not as significantly as some suggest.
Both Galula and Trinquier recognize the importance of propaganda to the insurgent. They also share the view that propaganda is not terribly useful for the counterinsurgent.11 Making government war aims known to the public, however, is important to winning the population.12
Trinquier and Galula have a common view of the police nature of counterinsurgency. From the beginning, Trinquier advocates for census and organization of the entire population by the police, thereby allowing the population to be quickly employed in its own defense.13 If the police are incapable of conducting basic organization, census taking, and intelligence operations, then the army may step in. Only local people and local police will have the detailed understanding of the population that is a prerequisite to identifying insurgents who operate among the people.
The two French theorists are largely in agreement about those traditional tactics that are unlikely to work in the conduct of a counterinsurgency. Mass sweeps, guerrilla techniques used against the guerrilla, terrain-focused outposts, commando patrols, and isolated ambushes are all generally discouraged. Normally, only saturation of targeted areas, allowing the police to catalog the population and root out the insurgency, will work.14
Of course there are differences to the approaches. Galula advocates clearing an area of the insurgent group and then establishing contact with the population. Trinquier focuses on gaining contact with the population immediately in order to find and destroy the insurgent. Their views of leadership for the counterinsurgent force also vary. While Trinquier implies the military may lead a counterinsurgency, Galula specifies that the leadership of this essentially political struggle must be civilian when possible:
The inescapable conclusion is that the over-all responsibility should stay with the civilian power at every possible level. If there is a shortage of trusted officials, nothing prevents filling the gap with military personnel serving in a civilian capacity.15
In the treatment of captured insurgents, specifically terrorists, lies the most well-known difference between Galula’s and Trinquier’s approaches. Trinquier despises the terrorist. Through interrogation, “he must face the suffering, and perhaps the death, he has heretofore managed to avoid. The terrorist must accept this as a condition inherent in his trade and in the methods of warfare.”16 Through the cleansing of torture, the terrorist earns his place as a soldier and should only then be treated as one. Galula leads toward leniency, believing it will show the righteousness of the government’s actions, especially as there is no guarantee that innocent people will avoid arrest.17
Despite this opposing view of torture, both Galula and Trinquier are careful to highlight the need to prevent killing innocent bystanders. Trinquier is particularly clear in declaring his disdain for use of artillery and aviation in the indiscriminate bombing of villages.18 Forces must be disciplined enough to operate among the people.19
As both Galula and Trinquier are products of the mid-20th century French armed forces, it is not surprising that they take similar views of insurgency and counterinsurgency. Despite some differences in their proscriptions for countering insurgencies, the two approaches are similar enough that together, Counterinsurgency Warfare and Modern Warfare provide a complete and formidable framework for conducting a counterinsurgency.
The two French theorists take a common view of the most fundamental aspects of both the theory and nature of insurgency in the mid-20th century. War is fought for political control, among the population, with the victory going to the party that wins the support of the people. To defeat an insurgency, modern states with armies skilled at fighting traditional war must adapt these armies to support the police in what is essentially a police operation for political control of the population.
1. Trinquier, Roger, Modern Warfare: A French View of Counterinsurgency, Praeger Security International, Westport, CT, 2006, p. 5.
2. Galula, David, Counterinsurgency Warfare: Theory and Practice, Praeger Security International, New York, 1964, p. 3.
3. Ibid., p. 7.
4. Ibid., p. 6.
5. Trinquier, p. 6.
6. Galula, pp. xi–xii.
7. Ibid., p. 24.
8. Trinquier, pp. 88–89.
9. Galula beats Trinquier to the Clausewitz quote. See Galula, p. 3, and Trinquier, p. 19.
10. Galula, pp. 1–63.
11. Galula, p. 11; also Trinquier, p. 41.
12. Trinquier, p. 41.
13. Ibid., p. 30.
14. Galula, p. 54; also Trinquier, pp. 47–49.
15. Galula, p. 66.
16. Trinquier, pp. 18–19.
17. Galula, pp. 91–92.
18. Trinquier, p. 20.
19. Ibid., pp. 40–41.