Wednesday, June 16, 2010

From the Pages - The Clausewitz Delusion

In his new book The Clausewitz Delusion: How the American Army Screwed Up the Wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, Stephen L. Melton, a retired army officer and professor at the Command and General Staff College, reveals the failings of the U.S. Army in its adoption of a postmodern “Full Spectrum Operations" doctrine, which codifies Clauswitzian thinking. Within his analysis, Melton contends that offensive wars--those which have largely dominated the past century--generally become wars of attrition by choice of the defender. The attacker may desire a cheap and quick victory, but the defender will resist the attacker as long as he is demographically able to continue fighting. Though the attacker may seek a relatively easy regime change, the defender, protecting his accustomed form of governance, will decide when to finally accede to the occupier’s imposed governance. 

In the following excerpt, Melton cites the example of The Algerian War of Independence as an example of how very few "offensive wars" are ever “permanently” won.

The Algerian War of Independence (1954–1962)

The Algerian war is a particularly interesting study for several reasons. First of all, it culminated a 130-year defense of Algerian sovereignty against French aggression that cycled intermittently through all the defensive strategies: conventional resistance, guerilla war, terrorism, civil disobedience, and passivity. Second, it shows the impermanence of an illiberal occupation based largely on force of arms. Finally, it demonstrates the depth of resistance of which Arab populations are capable.

France first invaded Algeria in 1830 as part of its colonial expansion. This first Algerian war lasted until 1847 and proved so costly to France that France formed the French Foreign Legion in 1831 as a way of deflecting the casualties away from the French citizenry. The restive Algerian Arabs were never completely subdued. Major pacification campaigns lasted through the 1850s, and there were major revolts against French rule in 1873 and 1881. French garrisons were numerous and busy. All told, the French army and the French Foreign Legion suffered perhaps a hundred thousand deaths, mainly from disease, in Algeria during the nineteenth century. Total Arab losses are unknown.

By 1865 there had developed a fiction in France that Algeria was a part of metropolitan France, just another French province like Normandy. However, the indigenous Algerians, mainly Arabs, were second-class citizens in this new French land. The European immigrants, the pied-noirs, were the favored population for whom the Algerian colony was founded, and they disproportionately, if not exclusively, enjoyed the benefits of French rule.

As in Vietnam, World War II disrupted French colonial authority in Algeria, and the Algerians, many of whom had fought with the Allies against the Germans, hoped for a greater voice in the postwar era. Victory in Europe celebrations in Algeria on May 8, 1945, turned into the Setif Massacre, in which many of the jubilant Arabs grouped into mobs demanding self-rule and attacking the pied-noirs, killing about a hundred. The pied-noirs, the police, and the French military, in turn, retaliated by killing thousands, perhaps tens of thousands, of Arabs. Such was the pattern in Algeria. Nine million Algerian Arabs could not be controlled by 1 million pied-noirs

In 1954 the disaffection in the Arab community turned into a prolonged and escalating terrorist campaign and guerilla war aimed at the pied-noirs specifically and French rule in general. By 1959 the French military deployed almost 400,000 troops in Algeria, augmented by 26,000 gendarmes, perhaps 150,000 local Arab harki auxiliaries, and unofficial pied-noir militias. On the other side, the uniformed Algerian National Liberation Army (ALN) numbered perhaps 40,000 at any given time, most of whom were in Tunisia or Morocco training and organizing to infiltrate back into the country. Much of this force fought the French army in numerous battles and engagements in the border areas. The insurgency in the interior was mainly the work of the 30,000 regional troops and the 60,000-strong local militias that fought with or beside the ALN.

Over time, the French adopted harsh and successful counterguerilla and counterterrorist strategies, employing widespread torture of captives, reprisals against insurgent areas, and concentration and resettlement policies that displaced almost two million Algerians. The war reached its zenith in 1958, when the French were killing or capturing on average 3,500 ALN fighters per month. Typical French losses were a tenth or so of that figure.

By 1960 guerilla and terrorist attacks were in fact diminishing in the major Algerian population centers, if not in the countryside. But on the other hand, the war had seriously divided France, where the electorate simply no longer wished to commit its draftee sons to such a bloody, distasteful, and never-ending enterprise merely to preserve pied-noir privilege. Worse, the conflict had divided the French army, elements of which had become so wedded to the Algerian cause that they mutinied and developed secret armies of their own. The war descended into Frenchmen fighting other Frenchmen. In the end France sacrificed pied-noir interests to reach peace among themselves as much as with the Arabs.

When Algeria was granted independence in 1962, almost all of the pied-noirs and many of their harki supporters immediately fled the country. In terms of casualties, about 300,000 Arab Algerians, 141,000 of whom were ALN, died in the war. It must be remembered that this 3 percent death rate was felt mainly by that fraction of the Algerian population that actively supported the war for independence and was not evenly distributed across the general population. In insurgent areas, death and resettlement rates were extremely high. French and Foreign Legion deaths were about 25,000.

The French war in Algeria is a case study in how even the most ardent counterinsurgent and counterterrorist strategies can be insufficient for resolving an insurgency in the absence of an agreed political formula for a new status quo. Except for the always problematic issue of the degree of coercion, indeed torture, that the counterterrorist French intelligence forces used to extract information from confirmed terrorists, the French army prosecuted the war in what was then considered, and still is, textbook fashion. Indeed, students at the U.S. Army Command and General Staff College today study the French approach for its lessons in counterinsurgency warfare. The French army deployed more than sufficient numbers of troops, raised numerous local auxiliaries for security and population control, effectively sealed the frontiers against ALN infiltration, conducted aggressive counterguerilla patrolling and raids against ALN militia in the interior, and effectively broke the National Liberation Front’s (FLN) interior cellular terrorist and political structure, most notably in the celebrated Battle of Algiers.

Still this was insufficient in the long run. The French approach, in essence, was all stick and no carrot for the Arab majority in Algeria. For the overwhelming masses of Algerians, continued French rule meant only continued second-class status and pied-noir privilege, a formula no longer acceptable to a people inspired by post-World War II anticolonial success and renewed Arab nationalism. France had nothing to offer the Arabs but fear of French security forces, a policy certain to undermine the legitimacy of French colonial rule in both Algeria and metropolitan France.

The Clausewitz Delusion is available at bookstores and online retailers everywhere.

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