Episode 7: The French Counterinsurgency School: Roger Trinquier and David Galula
Dr Élie Tenenbaum joins Beatrice and Paul to discuss two French strategists who focused strongly on the political and psychological warfare element of both insurgencies and counterinsurgency operations (COIN).
Roger Trinquier (1908–1986) and David Galula (1919–1967) had ample personal experience of insurgencies and COIN operations: both had served in French missions in China (Trinquier in the 1930s and Galula during the last phase of the Chinese Civil War).
They emphasised a comprehensive approach that would bring all tools to bear – ’an interlocking system of actions’ (Trinquier) from kinetic to propaganda, coupled with economic and social incentives targeted at the population. This ‘total’ and largely population-centric approach reflected the strong reverberations of the Algerian War in France, fought close to home with French conscripts over the future of the French settlers.
But as French attempts to reassert their colonial rule in Indochina and to keep Algeria were defeated bloodily and humiliatingly, COIN became a non-topic in France; Trinquier and Galula were all but forgotten in their country. Trinquier, in particular, became associated with the practice of ticking-bomb torture during the Algerian War, contrary to the laws of war. By contrast, the Pentagon took a great interest in their ideas as US involvement in the conflicts of Southeast Asia gathered speed. Today, their writing is thus linked with the Vietnam War, where in particular some of their psychological warfare prescriptions were applied.
Dr Élie Tenenbaum is the Director of the French Institute for International Relations’ (IFRI) Security Studies Centre. He is a graduate of Sciences Po and was a Visiting Fellow at Columbia University. His latest book, co-authored with Marc Hecker, is on jihadism and counterterrorism in the 21st century.
The views or statements expressed by guests are their own and their appearance on the podcast does not imply an endorsement of them or any entity they represent. Views and opinions expressed by RUSI employees are those of the employees and do not necessarily reflect the view of RUSI.
Roger Trinquier, La Guerre Moderne, La Table Ronde, 1961. In English, Modern Warfare: A French View of Counterinsurgency, trans. Daniel Lee, Praeger, 1964.
David Galula, Counterinsurgency Warfare: Theory and Practice, Praeger Security International, 1964.
Ann Marlow, David Galula: His Life and Intellectual Context, US Army War College Strategic Studies Institute, 2010.
Elie Tenenbaum, ‘Beyond national styles. Towards a connected history of Cold War counterinsurgency’, in Beatrice Heuser and Eitan Shamir eds., National Experiences with Insurgencies and Counterinsurgencies, Cambridge University Press, 2017.
Elie Tenenbaum, ‘French Exception or Western Variation? A Historical Look at the French Irregular Way of War’, Journal of Strategic Studies, August 2016, pp.1-23.
Military Strategy Magazine
Season Two of Talking Strategy is made possible with the support of Military Strategy Magazine.Military Strategy Magazine
Senior Associate Fellow
Director, Military Sciences