17 JUNE 1972, Page 12


Michael Howard on Law and order—and urban guerrillas

It is now generally accepted that war since 1945 has increasingly been a matter of vertical rather than of lateral conflict, of struggle within states rather than between them, with the loyalty of people rather than the conquest of territory as its objective. It is far too easy to attribute this development to the intimidating effect of nuclear weapons and the consequent search by expansionist states for more subtle means of conquest. It was basically this mistaken view which led the United States to its tragic errors in Vietnam. Rather it is the result of a process of social and economic change taking place throughout the world too rapidly for existing institutions to adjust themselves to it — a process due far more to the impact of ' capitalism' than to that of communism.' The conflicts which result, whether rooted in comparative deprivation, in rising expectations, in erosion of traditional moral and religious norms or in a combination of all of them, cannot be studied simply as military problems, as an arm or extension of traditional strategic thinking. To resolve them successfully requires a special kind of understanding and expertise; indeed, rather a special kind of man.

If it is clear that the phenomenon of insurgency, guerrilla war and low-level violence is not simply a manifestation of 'communist aggression' (in the so-called 'Cold War' operations conducted by the British Army since 1945 very few of their adversaries have been communists), it should also be clear by now that it is also not simply part of the decolonisation process. Unless we are to use the term 'American Imperialism' with the genial recklessness of Professor Chomsky and his colleagues, the course of events in, say, Latin America and Ulster has shown that conflicts of this kind can flourish indigenously even in the absence of alien rule. And the alien quality of the rule is in the eye of the beholder. The British came to appear alien in India. The Pakistanis came to appear equally alien in Bengal. The Bengalis now appear alien to the Biharis; and, no doubt, so on. Alienation is subjective. It springs from far deeper causes than race, religion or social class. But once it has set in, and men start seeing as enemies the communities with whom they have peacefully lived and the authorities whom they have placidly obeyed for generations, then one is in for a kind of trouble to which military operations can provide only a small part of the answer.

But that part, though small, may be indispensable. Milita activity is the , forces management of violence, and armed exercise that monopoly of violence1"ent any effective and legitimate govera. 111 to needs to possess. Those who wisbp to destroy incumbent governments lie.v."„ce develop more effective means of VI°1e0Pse than those of the armed forces of th in l governments, either to destroy the heir battle or at least to demonstrate tilers. inability to protect their stIPPI.°Ire JO' 'I-001 Alternatively the insurgents must, jitsu fighters, use the enemY'.5 ritol strength to destroy him by provairIg4 to to use his force in such a NOY forfeit that voluntary support on "f in the last resort, the authoritY °rt of government rests. All this is the ..„9, to revolutionary warfare — and, O "th. that, of counter-revolutionary wer'son involves manipulation of minds ratherytics, of guns, and an understanding of .1Vbie of economics and social structures wib of greater value than a knoWledg,` logistics. But guns and logistics maY.,.111forl last resort still be needed to make a — or to stop it working. For a quarter of a century revolUtl"tile warfare was largely confined t° ,,t1005 countryside, and to the emerging 1.1`:s os of the Third World. Its course 0199 described by Mao and carried out -,atiefi,; the escalation from guerrilla har.s: to full-scale war, the creati'rriltiallY alternative hierarchies which gran° lye; usurped the authority of the inc-dideu power. It was a process which tle°/.4„0-0 organisation, patience, and dediee"wilt/ the point of fanaticism. "Itosen on! engaged in it on both sides w°' arteu another's grudging but whole'll,,e Or respect. Those who practised it ed repressed it — successfully had ea rdsgaY' right to rule their countries the harteur$,,. It was no game for enthusiastic aills I Very different were the activities succeeded these, the buccaneellera otiu ciated with the names of Che Guev,litpc. tila° Regis Debray. These impatient inte"-r. efi ldd of the 1960s, the spoilt and gill100%5 young men of the professional 'pre it acting out fantasies or seeking %de! their manhood at the expense of r ttol ui whose true problems and aspiratIonsto did not begin to understand, werfion astonishing extent the reincaros-00_,1" those nineteenth-century romarltiCSeral, visually they so strongly re,.5,of t Theirs basically was the philosoP P ;r4tseh, the doctrine of Blanqui and the :n.ch conspirators which Marx had ivelY rejected a hundred years before. 1:).l for him the patient study of the w!nee of society, the careful work of ballisation which might take decades to aer fruit — an certainly not for them II) laborious business of equipping oneself tbruleNo one would need to rule, they i;.sitlered in the brave new world which 't heroic self-sacrifice would usher in. re„f°r all the lugubrious historical .,:euents which might warn them, they lY did not want to know. ieo ,ere was not much to learn from these 1e after they had been rounded up or 5trved to death in the jungle, except how Ns to do it. But that in itself is never a ss„()I1 to be disdained. One important 4'11 they did teach, however, was that dis More likely to get quick results, or 't,"ed results of any kind, by working in s rather than in the countryside. Cities orivcitlinerable, anonymous and a focus for red Publicity. All contain masses of 14„ Y°1-log people anxious for kicks or toPetate for jobs; and those in the Third !iciltid are packed with hundreds of livesarlds on the margin of existence who le drifted miserably from the nothing of ;hoet'untry to the nothing of the town and e constitute a problem entirely beyond 1,e P°wer of any government to solve. ;._ l '" the wealthiest and most placid of i'ol:led societies urban problems were lel„rilling, in the late 1960s, to cause lio'st intolerable strains. A little more kit„t' and might not the whole organ\ 41 collapse into hopeless — or hopeful qarchy? So We Id _ enter the third, contemporary, it "lost sinister stage of revolutionary that of the urban guerrilla: and Mr 'qd 4 Moss has produced a most useful .441;eadable book telling us all about w He has only too much raw material 41e,c'.rk on: mainly of course from Latin 'td lea, but with Algeria, Cyprus, Quebec )1ey ulster all contributing their lessons. iii4re ones with which we are dismally eir. The object of such campaigns is tiAt:i destructive: the erosion of popular ,, 6.ence in the government. A tillned campaign of political violence writes] has a corroding effect on e,-°eietY. The Government eventually er" ander attack for failing to keep trt,a,; in the streets; parliament is ' 01),.qlY by-passed as a mere 'talking Sit' force displaces reasoned debate and tkilallootation takes the place of conNerh And, one might add, if the et''Itent does act strongly to keep h 'n the streets, and as a result people kirt and killed, such a howl goes up Qreti,14e, BBC, Fleet Street, and places „Nr 1.,`"ey sing that the insurgents rub 'tkile'.4,,ods gleefully and chalk up the l•ett.attair as a considerable victory and to their careful planning. klItii,s' then, does one deal with this, kst -"g that one is the kind of fascist IlIct,„%vilo believes that the orderly ll th'' e of society ought to be preserved law is all the right reason we wit, Moss does not underrate the .rbco. tiit;' Guerrilta Warfare Robert Moss (Initi tlii„ for Strategic Studies/Chatto and 4 25p) difficulties or smooth over the defeats: Cyprus, for instance when Grivas used terrorism to make the country ungovernable, and, though he refers to it only in passing, Ireland in the terrible years 19161921. As for Ulster, it is still too early to judge. But these were communities where alienation anyhow lay very near the surface. Elsewhere the urban guerrilla has not done so well. Even in Latin America honours are above even. Authoritarian regimes, such as the Turks, do not give them a long run for their money, and in genuinely open societies they rapidly alienate their potential supporters. The Black Panthers and the Weathermen did a magnificent job in restoring consensus in the United States. Even the spectacular international activities of the urban guerrillas — the hijackings, the kidnappings — have proved no more than a marginal and counter-productive nuisance. In the towns no less than in the country the lesson of Guevara's defeat seems equally valid: if there is not a genuinely revolutionary situation, a few acts of terrorism will not create one.

But even if there is not a revolutionary situation (and this is something of which one can be sure only in retrospect) the terrorists are a dangerous nuisance who must be dealt with. Who by? The police? Obviously, if possible. But the fact that they are using violence on a major scale may mean that it is no longer possible. The police are a force which operates within the social consensus, drawing its strength from it. The police maintain order. But if order has been shattered, the consensus broken down, who then?

The Army, unfortunately; that is, in Anglo-Saxon countries where there exists no force of carabinieri or gendarmerie to operate in this disagreeable twilight zone. It is something which the British Army has done rather a lot, overseas: duties in aid of the civil power, from riot control to sophisticated counter-insurgency operations, in a dozen trouble spots east of Suez, from Aden to Singapore. They have acquired as much expertise in this kind of thing as any force in the world, though they have been far too lazy — or perhaps far too sensible —to try to write it down. They have also" been understandably reluctant to admit that this was really what they were for, though they have had precious little else to do for the past twenty-five years. Now they are doing it nearer home in Northern Ireland. Will they have to do it elsewhere within the United Kingdom as well? Should they? Brigadier Frank Kitson frankly confronts this intensely disagreeable question in his book, Low Intensity Operations t and decides regretfully that on the whole they should, and that they should have appropriate training and organisation to do so. The hearty regimental line that "a fit man with a rifle" can go anywhere and do anything simply does not, he points out, work. Subversion and insurgency are the threats which armies will have to meet everywhere in the closing quarter of the twentieth century, and Britain is no more likely to be immune than anywhere else. Even the great Russian ' threat ' which fLow Intensity Operations Frank Kitson (Faller £3) determines the Army's equipment and doctrine is likely to be preceded by subversion — indeed, is being so already — and accompanied by insurgency. A radical change in the emphasis of military training is required if soldiers are to do this job properly.

Brigadier Kitson's book is reflective, sagacious, moderate and highly profes sional. There is nothing in it to alarm the most sensitive liberal — unless he shies at such sentiments as "the fact that subversion may be used to fight oppres sion, or even that it may be the only means open for doing so, does not alter the fact that soldiers should know how to suppress it if necessary." Nevertheless the author begs some profound questions.

Does the path really lead so straight from Cyprus and Kenya through the Bogside to Liverpool and London? Where does the task of the police end and that of the Army begin? Ought the Army to have gone into Ulster at all, and would it have had to do so if there had been an adequate police force? Is there no difference in kind between the role the Army has so effectively carried out overseas, and its task within the society where it is recruited and to which its loyalties lie?

The short answer is that when all else fails the Army has to be called in. But that is an argument, not so much for enlarging the role of the Army, as for ensuring that all else does not fail; for expanding, if need be, the role and competence of the police.

So long as the police are handling a situation, it remains within the category of a civil disturbance. The moment the Army comes in, however humane, however welltrained, a major escalation has occurred, a polarisation not far short of civil war — which is of course precisely what the insurgents seek. The appearance of military uniforms on the street is in itself a horrifying confession of failure.

This is not to argue that the Army should not know how to behave if matters do come to the last resort and it is called in, and Frank Kitson's book certainly deserves the widest study by civilians and military alike. But the fact that he has felt it necessary to write it, and that the Chief of the General Staff has been prepared to sponsor it, conveys its own warning. For every one such study by a serving officer, we need about five from the police.