The curious influence of French counterinsurgency

I enjoyed a fascinating new paper by Terrence Peterson that examines the – to me, puzzling – influence of French counterinsurgency writing/doctrine. I find it puzzling because despite the failures of French COIN in Indochina and Algeria, future practitioners and theorists would nevertheless reach for their Trinquier and Galula for insight. Read Peterson’s work (and his 2015 War on the Rocks take as well):

Networking the Counterrevolution: The École Supérieure de Guerre, Transnational Military Collaboration, and Cold War Counterinsurgency, 1955–1975

Over the past several decades, scholars have devoted considerable attention to tracing the influence of French counterinsurgency practices developed in Indochina and Algeria on other militaries during the Cold War. This article builds on that literature to offer an explanation for why French counterrevolutionary knowledge circulated so broadly, and to connect the French military more concretely to an emerging literature on anticommunist internationalism. At the center of French efforts, this article argues, stood the Army’s École Supérieure de Guerre (ESG) in Paris, which trained growing numbers of high-ranking foreign officers after 1945. The ESG taught counterrevolutionary warfare directly, but as this article argues, it also helped constitute an audience abroad for such ideas by cultivating affective bonds, strategic preferences, and personal connections over the longer term. In tracing the partnerships cultivated through the ESG in this period, this article also illustrates the broader entanglements between counterinsurgency, international military cooperation, and professionalization at midcentury. For military partners seeking to professionalize their own forces, the attractiveness of French doctrines lay as much in the easily accessible set of materials, training, and expertise the French military offered as in their capacity to combat subversion. By tracing the transnational networks of exchange knit together by military academies in this period, this article concludes, scholars can better historicize the rise of counterinsurgency as a key paradigm of cold warfare.

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