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NEWPORT, R.I. (Jan. 14, 2013) Professor Andrew Dew, Strategy and Policy department, discusses "Strategies of Terror Wars" as part of an examination of the French-Algerian War. (Photo by Lt. Cmdr. Anthony Ohl)
NEWPORT, R.I. (Jan. 14, 2013) Professor Andrea Dew, Strategy and Policy department, discusses "Strategies of Terror Wars" as part of an examination of the French-Algerian War. (Photo by Lt. Cmdr. Anthony Ohl)

From Strategy and Policy department
Jan. 15, 2013

NEWPORT, R.I. -- U.S. Naval War College faculty and students in the Strategy and War course this week examine the French-Algerian War (1954-62).  The case will no doubt resonate with students who are expected to draw comparisons with more recent conflicts.

The French-Algerian War involved an insurgency in which the Algerian FLN (or National Liberation Front) never expected to win on the battlefield against the vastly superior forces of France.  Instead, the FLN hoped to employ small-scale attacks, often against unarmed supporters of the French colonial government, in order win propaganda victories and international support.  

This case highlights the moral and ethical dilemmas faced by commanders in fighting a determined adversary that employs terrorism. While French forces were able to achieve notable tactical and operational successes in this war, the harsh methods employed to gain intelligence alienated the people of Algeria.

The case also calls attention to the challenge that limited wars present to normal civil-military relations.  The French Army, having already lost Vietnam, developed a new approach to counterinsurgency known as “revolutionary warfare.” Officers trained in the new approach, which emphasized ideological commitment to the cause of French Algeria, helped bring about the collapse of the Fourth Republic and brought De Gaulle to power in 1958.  Die-hards who later disagreed with De Gaulle’s policy of “self-determination” for Algeria even attempted a coup in 1961.  It failed.    

Paradoxically, the French-Algerian War ended with the FLN virtually defeated within Algeria.  Yet outside of Algeria, the FLN scored notable diplomatic and propaganda victories.  De Gaulle understood that for France to remain consequential in world affairs, it would have to abandon French Algeria and join more directly in the defense of the Atlantic Community.  As a result of the war, Algeria gained its independence and France took a step closer toward European integration.

The war also bore another fruit:  the experience of the French Army in Algeria (and earlier in Indo-China) led French Colonel David Galula to write "Counterinsurgency Warfare: Theory and Practice" (1964).  This slender volume, written by a soldier for soldiers, directly influenced current U.S. doctrine, Field Manual 3-24.    

Professor George Satterfield began the case with a lecture that provides an overview of the war. Professors Andrea Dew and Colin Jackson analyzed in greater depth the strategic effects of terror and French counterinsurgency operations, respectively.  Professor Heidi Lane wrapped up the lectures with consideration of the challenges of war termination and the legacy of the FLN insurgency to Algeria.

In conjunction with this week’s focus on the French-Algerian War, the Strategy and Policy department screened “The Battle of Algiers.”

In the tradition of the Strategy and Policy department’s “teaching of grand strategy,” moderators lead students through seminar discussions of how policy and strategy choices made by the political and military leaders of France and the FLN ultimately led to Algerian independence.