S2E7: The French Counterinsurgency School: Roger Trinquier and David Galula with Dr Elie Tenenbaum


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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.

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