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A take on Guerilla warfare - admired by Lenin and adopted by Mao

This is a discussion on A take on Guerilla warfare - admired by Lenin and adopted by Mao within the Military Strategy and Tactics forum, part of the Global Defense & Military category; So with "modern guerilla war" you mean a very narrow part of the spectrum of warfare. If you study the ...


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Old April 27th, 2009   #16
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So with "modern guerilla war" you mean a very narrow part of the spectrum of warfare. If you study the chapter without prejudice you will see that Clausewitz could imagine a successfull "modern guerilla war" if the specific situation were favorable.

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Originally Posted by Carl von Clausewitz

In order that this result should be produced by a national war alone, we must suppose either a surface-extent of the dominions invaded, exceeding that of any country in Europe, except Russia, or suppose a disproportion between the strength of the invading army and the extent of the country, such as never occurs in reality.

Therefore, to avoid following a phantom, we must imagine a people-war always in combination, with a war carried on by a regular army, and both carried on according to a plan embracing the operations of the whole.
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Originally Posted by Carl von Clausewitz

The conditions under which alone the people's war can become effective are the following—

1. That the war is carried on in the heart of the country.

2. That it cannot be decided by a single catastrophe.

3. That the theatre of war embraces a considerable extent of country.

4. That the national character is favourable to the measure.

5. That the country is of a broken and difficult nature, either from being mountainous, or by reason of woods and marshes, or from the peculiar mode of cultivation in use.

Whether the population is dense or otherwise, is of little consequence, as there is less likelihood of a want of men than of anything else. Whether the inhabitants are rich or poor is also a point by no means decisive, at least it should not be; but it must be admitted that a poor population accustomed to hard work and privations usually shows itself more vigorous and better suited for war.
As many examples before and recently Iraq and Afghanistan have shown the " disproportion between the strength of the invading army and the extent of the country, such as never occurs in reality" do occur rather often when democratic countries in which the loss of human life for a questionable cause want to fight a COIN war in some faraway region.

Under the circumstances mentioned above the strategical and tactical concept exposed by Clausewitz makes perfect sense. Against such an superior enemy as NATO the Taliban will usually act

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Originally Posted by Carl von Clausewitz

... like a kind of nebulous vapoury essence, (which) never condenses into a solid body; otherwise the enemy sends an adequate force against this core, crushes it, and makes a great many prisoners; their courage sinks; every one thinks the main question is decided, any further effort useless, and the arms fall from the hands of the people.

Still, however, on the other hand, it is necessary that this mist should collect at some points into denser masses, and form threatening clouds from which now and again a formidable flash of lightning may burst forth.
If NATO should one day be forced to leave or to stay in greatly reduced form before the insurgency has been dissolved we will likely see them to walk the path outlined by Clausewitz, elaborated by Mao and also used by them in the late nineties. The "modern guerilla war" will become more "conventional", first in some regions, than, if they are successfull the "conventional" component will become ever more important. The "unconventional" compenent will still be, increased in some regins, decreased in others. And in the end they might once again slowly transform themselves into a state.
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Old April 27th, 2009   #17
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So with "modern guerilla war" you mean a very narrow part of the spectrum of warfare.
Yes. I don't really see a political as well as operational room for the "old" style revolutional wars any longer, at least not if it involves a 1st world nation.

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Therefore, to avoid following a phantom, we must imagine a people-war always in combination, with a war carried on by a regular army
As I read this fragment, I understand that Clausewitz exactly prerequisite that the people-war is in combination with a regular army. The irregular people-force fights in conjunction and in assistence of a regular army in the defense of the realm against a regular invader. I simply don't see neither Mao's concept of revolutionary war or Tallibani insurgency against NATO in this. That not saying that clausewitz's theories cannot be extended to said situation, though we should always be weary not to read too much into a given source.

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If NATO should one day be forced to leave or to stay in greatly reduced form before the insurgency has been dissolved we will likely see them to walk the path outlined by Clausewitz, elaborated by Mao
Yes, that's what will surely happen after Nato has left/been defeated. Though the interesting question is "How was it defeated". More to the point; how did an insurgent force defeat an, in every way, superior invader by placing bombs, mines and IEDs and never inflict a single critical defeat on the invader? How can you bring a strategical collapse without inflicting a single "conventional" tactical defeat or significant loss on the invader or for that matter reduce the invaders cababilities to wage war?

I don't see that neither Clausewitz or Mao entertained this - very real possibility, both talks of a "final" regular confrotation after, so to speak, preparations have been made, but maybe I am wrong?
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Old April 27th, 2009   #18
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"How was it defeated". More to the point; how did an insurgent force defeat an, in every way, superior invader by placing bombs, mines and IEDs and never inflict a single critical defeat on the invader? How can you bring a strategical collapse without inflicting a single "conventional" tactical defeat or significant loss on the invader or for that matter reduce the invaders cababilities to wage war?
I think the answer is very simple. The war has no longer the necessary political support in the stronger and is seen not worth the effort. The weaker has preserved his forces and had the moral strengh to keep going. In a relative limited war a most likely end.

But I think our debate has reached a state when it is futile to continue. I tried to to explain it and pointed to the sources which I think state some things very clearly. So it seems to me that I did my part, but who knows. Anyway I will not try any longer, but I certainly don't hold any grief
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Old April 27th, 2009   #19
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That's OK Firn, For my part I remain unconvinced of the project of the above reasons, which I hoped you could clarify.
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Old April 27th, 2009   #20
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No problem. Given that you are danish you should be able to give good old Carl a look in German

At least most danish people I know speak a good german.
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Old April 27th, 2009   #21
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I am not sure my german skills would make reading such an old geezer a pleasant experience... Anyway there exists a fine translation by Colonel Niels Berg into danish.

I give you that you have choosen an interesting, and often overlooked subject at Clausewitz, which has it's applications to f.ex. Mao's concept of war, which - and that might be a personal oppinion - I would categorise as a "Revolutionary war" (Mao uses that term, or something to that effect, himself) while I think that styling it as an "guerilla war" (perhaps except the first phaze) is to me a product of "revolutionary romantismn" which goes even more for the socalled russian revolution, which in the part that Lenin plays the lead role in, is more a coup d'etat followed by a crotesquely brutal civil war of the variant "subversive".

Vis a vis modern guerilla war and clausewitz I would personally stress the, uniquely clausewitz, viewpoint that war is a social process dominated by arbitary events (friction) and as such not a rational process even more difficult to decern by a rational methology. And I think that exactly the social dimension of Clausewitz concept of war does provide a tool to understand the fundamentally irrationel in several of the conflicts that marres this world (f.ex. the palestinian conflict, and in 20 years when we are probably still fighting in Afgh. also that conflict). It is also the social process that ultimately can lead to the failure of the supreamely strong against the weak, while most know the "war is the continuation of politics with other means" stressing the interdependence, Clausewitz, to my understanding, also makes clear that a war cannot be understood outside it's social context and it's couppled and part of the overall social process of the given socities.

Last edited by Palnatoke; April 27th, 2009 at 04:52 PM.
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Old April 30th, 2009   #22
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Mao was certainly an utopian with a brutally pragmatic touch - a combination which led to the suffering and death of countless people. I guess that his fascination with the "Revolutionary war" had to do with the simple fact that such an approach has worked for a very small band of intellectuals. His mental drive would have led others most likely to the gallows or torture chambers but under the favorable circumstances, great personal capabilites and due to great luck he was able to pull it off just as Lenin did.

I agree broadly with you on the second part.

For Clausewitz war was intrinsicly politkal, full of the interactions of rational and emotional actors and groups. The Napoleonic war and the constant scheming, the frantic diplomatic manuevers inside and between the states, the importance of the mood of peoples and leaders, the play of chance in some many instances made him come to an important conclusion. Leaving out politics, chance and emotions by all various agents would make for a "pure scientific" view, but would be mockery of the real wars.

This approach allows him also to explain the manyfold limiting factors influences the war, which are counteracting the intrinsic reinforcing ones.

An example:
The dictatorship and will of Napoleon led to an escalation of warfare because he was the undisputed commander&chief in the state and on the battlefield and could rely on the revolutionary fevor of the French population.
In some way the spirits that he summoned came back to haunt him as large parts of Spain, Russia and later Germany were engulfed by the same zeal. Napoleon was seen by the rest of Europe as a danger which had to be utterly defeated and made harmless. There could be no compromise on that issue.

The weak public support of the ISAF mission in Afghanistan, especially in Europe is quite understandable. Many simply ask what the point of this long, bloody and expensive war is. It is not a key issue for them and they wonder if things would not be the same for them with the Talibans back in power. Ironically that weak support and the delicate mission results in a usually careful ROE and gentle hands by ISAF. This high standards are necessary but make for ideal targets by the Afghan government in search of votes and an NGOs. Far more brutal and cruel wars and factions in the past and the present have received far less criticism. In this context the noble ideals and standards of the West are a great weakness. A weakness, which one the other side helps to prevents or contains aggressive wars by the same nations.

So much in a nutshell.

BTW: This is my last day for some time here, so I will only respond today
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Old April 30th, 2009   #23
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In this context the noble ideals and standards of the West are a great weakness
Yeah, if ony we could bring back good old Stalin.... See, that was a man who knew how to get things done and trouble makers out of the way, infact far out of the way - if not beneth it..

Though there is also the old heros: Paul Aussaresses and Roger Trinquier.

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Since the end of World War II, a new form of warfare has been born. Called at times either subversive warfare or revolutionary warfare, it differs fundamentally from the wars of the past in that victory is not expected from the clash of two armies on a field of battle. This confrontation, which in times past saw the annihilation of an enemy army in one or more battles, no longer occurs.

Warfare is now an interlocking system of actions-political, economic, psychological, military-that aims at the overthrow of the established authority in a country and its replacement by another regime. To achieve this end, the aggressor tries to exploit the internal tensions of the country attacked-ideological, social, religious, economic -any conflict liable to have a profound influence on the population to be conquered. Moreover, in view of the present-day interdependence of nations, any residual grievance within a population, no matter how localized and lacking in scope, will surely be brought by determined adversaries into the framework of the great world conflict. From a localized conflict of secondary origin and importance, they will always attempt sooner or later to bring about a generalized conflict.

On so vast a field of action, traditional armed forces no longer enjoy their accustomed decisive role. Victory no longer depends on one battle over a given terrain. Military operations, as combat actions carried out against opposing armed forces, are of only limited importance and are never the total conflict.

This is doubtless the reason why the army, traditionally attracted by the purely military aspect of a conflict, has never seriously approached the study of a problem it considers an inferior element in the art of war.

A modern army is first of all one that is capable of winning the conflict in which its country is engaged. And we are certainly at war, because we run the risk of being finally defeated on the ground (as at Dien Bien Phu in May, 1954) and because, in case of such a defeat, we shall have to cede vast territories to our opponents.

The struggle we have been carrying on for fifteen years, in Indochina as well as in Algeria, is truly a war. But what we are involved in is modern warfare.

If we want to win, it is in this light that we must consider it from now on.

Studies have been made in many countries of what is called subversive warfare. But they rarely go beyond the stage of guerrilla warfare, which comes closest to the traditional form.

Mindful of the Allied victory in World War II, and perhaps because it is more appealing to study successful combat methods than to dwell upon the reasons for a defeat, only the offensive use of the guerrilla has been considered. But the study of effective countermeasures has been neglected. Some authors have stressed the inadequacy of the means employed against the guerrilla; others have simply counseled reacting against the guerrilla-confronting him with the counterguerrilla to beat him at his own game.

This is to wish to resolve a problem quickly without having duly weighed it.

The subtlest aspects of modern warfare, such as the manipulation of populations, have been the subject of recent studies. But only some of the methods employed by an enemy to consolidate his hold over conquered populations in peacetime have been investigated, in particular the working of psychological action on the masses.

But the rallying of opposition and the study of effective means of protection have been neglected. More exactly, when the enemy's methods and their application have been recognized, propaganda and pressures have always been powerful enough to influence a poorly informed public and to lead it systematically to refuse to study or use the same methods.

We know that the sine qua non of victory in modern warfare is the unconditional support of a population. According to Mao Tse-tung, it is as essential to the combatant as water to the fish. Such support may be spontaneous, although that is quite rare and probably a temporary condition. If it doesn't exist, it must be secured by every possible means, the most effective of which is terrorism.

In modern warfare, we are not actually grappling with an army organized along traditional lines, but with a few armed elements acting clandestinely within a population manipulated by a special organization.

Our army in Algeria is in excess of 300,000 men supplied with the most modern equipment; its adversary numbers some 30,000, in general poorly equipped with only light weapons.

If we were to have an opportunity to meet this enemy on the traditional field of battle, a dream vainly pursued for years by many military commanders, victory would be assured in a matter of hours.

The war has lasted more than six years, however, and victory is still uncertain. The problem is more complex.

In seeking a solution, it is essential to realize that in modern warfare we are not up against just a few armed bands spread across a given territory, but rather against an armed clandestine organization whose essential role is to impose its will upon the population. Victory will be obtained only through the complete destruction of that organization. This is the master concept that must guide us in our study of modern warfare.
chap 2 Modern Warfare. Trinquier
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Old May 1st, 2009   #24
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As the article you posted is very interesting I will be still there this day.

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Yeah, if ony we could bring back good old Stalin.... See, that was a man who knew how to get things done and trouble makers out of the way, infact far out of the way - if not beneth it..
As I said it the liberal democracy is a great weakness in such military operations in seemingly unnecessary wars - but it is also a great strenght. It tends to oppose - in the modern context - the attack unless as an part of the strategic defence. In this case the identification of the people with the state and the moral advantage at home and abroad usually greatly helps the war effort.
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Old May 1st, 2009   #25
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Trinquier argues something like this:

The object of the modern war is not territory or positions etc. Instead the object is the populance. To win the populance [it follows that modern war does not include the old style of war of two armies that clashes on a battlefield - something that trinquiet sees as a thing of the past ].

What the revolutionary does, is that he wins the population by terror. The terror is the key weapon of war by the revolutionary. The terror displays the impotence of the "forces of Order" (state, police, army etc) in protecting the individual, who then defacto flip side to be protected by the terrorists, that terrorise him(!), at first hand it seems illogical, but when you think about it... that's the unbrave reality of the world, easely seen, today in our rich peacefull cities, in suburbs where you have gang or mafia activity running out of hand.

In the crisis (when you are caught off feet) You, respond to this terrorismn by brutallity. Your aim is to meticulously "destroy" the enemy, (which is a or many clandestine organisation(s)) , not being nice or win a popularity contest, because the people is in a double sense swayed by fear; The revolutionaries engage in terror first aimed at civil authorities, then the people,
If the state/army cannot provide security, it's a failure and the civilians can only seek protection by the enemy. It is not about who the populance like, it's not about their hearts, it's about rounding up and destroying the enemy organisation from root to top and do it in prober time - before the enemy has won the populance and then the war.
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Old May 1st, 2009   #26
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I have to read it more carefully before I will be able to formulate an adequate response.
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Old May 1st, 2009   #27
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La Guerre Moderne

MODERN WARFARE: A French View of Counterinsurgency


It's a short read.
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Old May 1st, 2009   #28
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I read it. As I said before, interesting.

Overall what I see the two three major driving forces which let to the newest forms of guerrilla warfare as seen in Iraq. The list does not imply a ranking.



a) Technology (intertwined with Education):

Two hundred years ago a semi-organized milita and numbering 15000 men (skirmishers, sharpshooters, militia) could still stand up in favorable conditions in an open and large battle against well-trained and led line infantry numbering 15000 supported by artillery See the battle of the Battle of Bergisel.

The Uprising of Warsaw then showed well the futility to stand up against well-equipped forces in a prolonged defence even under partly favorable circumstances (urban combat, popular support). The suffering of the frienly population was immense.


Technology has reinforced greatly the initial trends of guerilla warfare outlined by Clausewitz. The quick and rapid attacks of concentrated forces which usually are dispersed are ever more characteristic, the prolonged defence ever more futile. The awesome firepower and precision of modern forces with their combined and networked arms makes a steadfast defence for Guerilla forces senseless. The IED and portable ATM, mortars and automatic weapons on the other hand make a violent and sudden assault and ambush more attractive.

Technology has however made the shift in the phases of the popular War and the combination of guerilla war with large formations more difficult . Mao could smoothly transition from light dispersed guerilla fighters to large light regular forces with simple, towed artillery against a badly trained foe consisting mostly of light infantry with artillery support and low morale. However how can the insurgents in Iraq ever hope to create and operate sophisticated aircrafts and AFV capable to stand up to the USA in open battles?

This also increases the incentive to directly address, use, attack or terrorize the populations. It is far less dangerous to rough up civilians than a military force like NATO.



b) International support for revolutionary uprisings


The successful revolutions of the past have shown that a initially weaker faction can overthrow or outlast even very powerful states. The relative new element here is that this factions can access an international network which provides according to its capabilities political support, training, manpower, weapons, and money. Combined with relative attractive political aims, nowadays often flavored with religion this result in a novel strategic depth. Togheter with the often strong will power of the extremists this helps to recruit locals locally an abroad.



c) Liberal democracy and ideals, Human rights

This form of goverment restrains the political goals, will and means of one side. Less ambition to conquer and suppress, less brutality and less will to hold to goals even at high costs in an seemingly useless and futile war. While brutality in warfare is also counterproductive, history has sadly shown that sufficient power combined with boundless brutality does often work. A colonial power in the late 19th century could use far more brutality with far less interference from home to put down insurgents.

Nowadays the methods of COIN must be aligned to the image of the helping hand, because it is done - or at least said so - for the good of the (foreign) people. In this context every slap, even if unintentional, of the helping hand will be condemned harshly at home and abroad.



Perhaps later I will add more.
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Old May 1st, 2009   #29
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This also increases the incentive to directly address, use, attack or terrorize the populations. It is far less dangerous to rough up civilians than a military force like NATO.
I think the key insight our frenchman wants to show us is that the insurgent force doesn't "resort" to terror against the civilian population, because it can't fight the regular army in proper battle, like armies should do battle.
No, the insurgent force attacks the population because terror is it's principle weapon of war. It is the terror that destabilises the forces of order and compell the civilians to more or less directly to surport the insurgent force. The insurgents do not have to meet the forces of order in battle, they can just await the political collapse as chaos engulfs order.
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Old May 26th, 2009   #30
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No, the insurgent force attacks the population because terror is it's principle weapon of war. It is the terror that destabilises the forces of order and compell the civilians to more or less directly to surport the insurgent force. The insurgents do not have to meet the forces of order in battle, they can just await the political collapse as chaos engulfs order.
Isn't terror (or violence as puts it Clausewitz) the element of war per se?

Provocatively said, isn't the relative recent "Western" "Humanitarian" "Hearts-and-Minds" way of fighting a war is significant "disgression" from the usual central theme in war?
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