What Putin Really Wants in Ukraine
Russia Seeks to Stop NATO’s Expansion, Not to Annex More Territory
If you wish for peace, understand war-particularly the guerrilla and subversive forms of war." Thus runs an old maxim, as rephrased by Liddell Hart. It seems to me, as an outside observer and commentator (although I was involved in Viet Nam for nearly four years), that understanding the war has been the crux of the American problem and that the two great obstacles to understanding it have been the military and the liberals. Both have failed to understand what Mao Tse-tung calls "the time, place and character" of the war. Moreover, the domestic clash between the two within the United States has led to a polarization of extreme views, as between the doves and the hawks, for withdrawal or further escalation. Both these courses are, in my view, losers, as is the enclave theory, which is no more than an agonizing withdrawal-like Aden. The only difference between the two is that, by withdrawing, you merely lose, but by further escalation, you lose stinking. When I put this view to a leading member of the Administration, he said: "You mean, like barbarians?" It would be just that, and, when the conflict ended, the question would indeed be, in Senator Dirksen's words, "Where will you stand and with whom will you sit?" But the real question is: If these are losing options, is there a winning one?
Before considering this, I must first say that I do not question either the legal or moral right or the good intentions of the United States in being in Viet Nam. Indeed, I consider that the outcome of the war will be of vital consequence to the future of the world (admittedly more so now that so much has been laid on the line than would have been the case a few years ago), and that it may well prove to be as decisive as any war in this century. I am not suggesting that defeat, quite apart from the disastrous effect that it would have on the domestic politics and foreign relations of the United States, would lead automatically to falling dominoes, but that there would be a rapid seepage not confined to Southeast Asia alone. The Chinese strategic concept of revolutionary wars, of using the "countryside of the world" to encircle the "cities" (North America and Europe), would be several steps nearer fulfillment. Viet Nam needs to be considered therefore in the context of grand strategy and one of the aims in this regard must be to give hope and encouragement to all peoples of those "countryside" areas, not just by winning but also by the manner of the victory. This means that the U.S. response, military and civil, should be tailored to fit the object of grand strategy. It is no good winning in such a way that the whole position of the United States in the world is thereby weakened and discredited. In the long run that too would be defeat.
There are a number of basic points about the nature of Peoples' Revolutionary War that need to be clearly understood. The first is the superb organization of the Viet Cong within the country. The most important element is the underground organization within the population (commonly referred to as the "infrastructure"), designed to provide a popular and logistic base for the guerrilla forces. This underground organization has taken years to build up using the cell system, or "bead-stringing," to spread both throughout the country and within all classes of society. From the point of view of control it is necessary only that the underground organization should be able to obtain from the people the essential needs of war-money, supplies, recruits and intelligence. Except in so far as it has to tax and to propagate its cause it does not need to govern in the accepted sense of the term. Without a functioning underground organization no guerrilla forces could be raised or maintained. They would be no more than loosely knit bands of brigands existing from day to day. As this underground organization has expanded within the country, penetrating into the major towns and even into the Government, so automatically have the strength and capability of the guerrilla forces expanded. If it could be reduced, or its control over the population loosened, then equally the strength and the effectiveness of the guerrilla forces would decline. This has operated in Viet Nam, as it did in Malaya, irrespective of direct outside support.
Direct outside support, over and above propaganda and political encouragement, has been almost an essential factor in successful revolutionary war. To understand the nature of this support it is necessary to define the three forms which it may take-infiltration, raids and invasion. Invasion, in the sense that the invading forces commit aggression in a conventional form and depend on their own logistic supply line, can be ruled out. It is both too overt, thereby running the risk of worldwide political condemnation (as in Korea), and too vulnerable to the application of conventional power. On the other hand, infiltration of men, weapons and supplies can be maintained as a covert operation and, however public it may become, can either be disowned, as it was up to 1965, or justified, as after 1965. It is almost immune to conventional power but is limited by the amount which the local revolutionaries can absorb at any given time, because the infiltrator, once he has entered the country, is dependent on their logistic base for his continued existence. Infiltration can therefore only accelerate the momentum of an insurgency and will always be subsidiary to it. Raids, in the sense that the raiding units are mainly dependent on what they carry into the country and have to leave when this is expended, are designed to contain and keep occupied the maximum government forces in unpopulated areas of little importance to the main issue.
In the build-up of an underground organization and in its expansion during the revolutionary war period, the techniques of subversion and terror provide the instruments of control. Subversion is designed indirectly to sap the will of the country and directly to penetrate the whole structure of its society and government. Terror is designed both to cow the population, or more euphemistically to "mobilize the masses," but also to eliminate key individuals around whom the population in any area might rally. It is normally selective but can also be brutally indiscriminate, as we have seen recently.
It is not surprising that those who do not understand these techniques tend to exaggerate the cause and "motivation" of the insurgent and to adopt and promote them in terms which are comprehensible in the West but almost irrelevant at the scene of action. Quite obviously, the insurgent will label his cause with respectable motives from nationalism to land reform, to neither of which, in Viet Nam, the Viet Cong have the best claim (communism is anti-national and collectivization is not land reform). Labels can be conveniently changed as the situation develops and the current one is straight "anti-imperialism," i.e. to get the Americans out, which rather begs the question as to why the Americans are there in the first place. Far more important in Peoples' Revolutionary War than the ostensible causes are the natural "contradictions" within the threatened society. These have been exploited to the full and in Viet Nam there is no shortage of them, as between rich and poor, landed and landless, Catholic and Buddhist, Cochin-Chinese and Tonkinese, youth and elders, factions and secret societies, government and revolution.1 If anything brings South Viet Nam down it will be these contradictions rather than any cause sponsored by the communists.
There is little new in the military tactics and strategy of guerrilla forces on the ground. Their method will always be to strike where the Government is weak and, as their base within the country expands, to nibble steadily away at the foundations of Government support. But the higher strategy of Peoples' Revolutionary War is conceived in the context of time, space and cost. Time (or perhaps patience) is the key to this strategy. Its value is greatly enhanced if there is a large measure of impatience on the other side. While the revolutionary forces are forged, the Government forces are infected with a growing sense of futility and frustration. Time also allows for the exploitation of opportunity, for advancing when possible or for taking "one step backward" when trends are unfavorable. It is part of the doctrine that victory is inevitable, even if it takes half a century.
Time, however, can be gained only if there is the space for which to trade it. The concept of space is more easily understood by saying that, if an insurgency is confined to one group of people and one area of a country (compare Mau Mau), it presents a very limited threat and can easily be overcome by any reasonably competent government. It has been the aim of the Viet Cong, therefore, to ensure that the insurgency has been spread right throughout the length and breadth of Viet Nam and into every element of its society so that the Government is threatened in every quarter. Moreover, if the war is expanded outside the country, so will the problems increase to the advantage of the Viet Cong. If the Viet Cong are to hold space, not in the sense of holding ground in positional warfare but of maintaining the threat over a wide and spreading area, then space in turn must be paid for by manpower. In all other respects the cost of a Peoples' Revolutionary War is comparatively low, but the cost in manpower at this point becomes high. In addition to the Viet Cong, the North Vietnamese can call on the 250,000 young men who reach 17 years of age each year. They can be spent as the United States spends dollars. If the women and the old are not enough to keep the North going, there is always the unlimited reserve of Chinese labor "volunteers" (not troops), but there is no sign that this point has been reached. I would estimate that Hanoi can afford to lose roughly 100,000 a year and not feel it politically or economically. This explains the battles of the last eighteen months. Manpower is being spent, not to win battles-that would be a bonus-but to hold space and to keep U.S. forces unproductively occupied.
These costs, in communist terms, are not comparable with the costs being imposed on South Viet Nam and the United States. On the South Vietnamese side the cost in casualties and material damage, while high and tragic, is likely in the long term to have less effect (given two years of peace, law and order, the country would recover very quickly) than the damage which is being done to a young country by the loss of development time, the breakdown of government and the whole demoralization of society by the side effects of war-inflation, corruption, draft dodging, prostitution and so on. Similarly, on the American side, the greater damage is being done by the dissent within American society and the strain now being imposed on America's relations with her friends and allies.
The net effect of this cost situation is that the North Vietnamese and Viet Cong, at a cost which is indefinitely acceptable to themselves, are imposing on the South Vietnamese and Americans a cost which is not indefinitely acceptable to them. In its way this is a Dien Bien Phu except that it does not require a victory in battle at one particular place. If this cost advantage can be maintained by the North Vietnamese and Viet Cong, and to a large extent the initiative in this respect remains with them, they have several channels to victory, all of which are interrelated. If American or Vietnamese resolution fails, if the Americans fail to adopt the correct counter-strategy, or if the South Vietnamese fail to build, with American help, a stable and viable state and government, then in the end Hanoi must win.
In these circumstances, there is not one valid reason why Hanoi should accept the offer of negotiations. In any case negotiations are not regarded by Hanoi as a means of achieving a settlement or peace. They are part of the play and are designed solely to secure an advantage or to gain a respite-in their own words: "Fighting while negotiating is aimed at opening another front."2 If Hanoi were to see that the channels to victory were being closed and were convinced that American and South Vietnamese resolution would not fail, while at the same time the South Vietnamese Government's capacity and performance were improving to such an extent that the base of the Viet Cong's support within the country was being steadily reduced, then they might negotiate not for peace but to secure the withdrawal of American forces (for which Hanoi would trade her own and the regular units of the Viet Cong) and to retain in existence the powerful Viet Cong underground organization within South Viet Nam, as a means of continuing the struggle through subversion and terror in the hope that these would achieve victory through an eventual collapse within the faction- ridden South. No offer to negotiate (other than generous surrender terms for individuals) was made by the Government in Malaya. It was the Malayan Communist Party, when it saw it was losing, which offered to negotiate on almost precisely these terms-that, in return for the surrender of all arms, the party should be recognized as a legal political party. It was a big juicy red apple but Tunku Abdul Rahman was shrewd enough to realize that it was poisoned. He refused and was committed to a mopping-up period of another five years, to Malaya's great advantage.
The first outstanding feature, therefore, of People's Revolutionary War, as developed by Mao Tse-tung and refined by the North Vietnamese in the two Indochina wars, is its immunity to the direct application of mechanical and conventional power. This was not so evident in Mao Tse-tung's wars against the Japanese and Chiang Kai-shek but was very marked against the French in the first Indochina war. Even so the lesson has not been learnt although the message has come booming through during the last three years in Viet Nam. The second is that a Peoples' Revolutionary War is a fight to the finish through a long, arduous, protracted struggle. There is really only one issue in Viet Nam: either the North is going to get the South or it is not. That decision will be reached, not on the battlefields of the Annamite Chain, but in the minds of the South Vietnamese people. In this respect the battles just beginning in Saigon and the cities as these lines are written are the real battles designed to promote a "general uprising." It is the Khesanhs which are the diversion.
If that is the nature of the war which the United States is fighting, then it follows that Americans need to be very clear on four main points: a precise constructive aim, a consistent and effective counter-strategy, firm civilian control and, last but not least, the maintenance of the highest moral standard.
I have asked many Americans what the American aim is in Viet Nam and have never yet received the same reply. The replies have varied from containing China, preventing aggression and defeating the Viet Cong to giving the people of South Viet Nam a free choice. An aim must be positive and constructive, not negative and destructive, and represent the final object of the war-in other words, what you want to end up with. I would, therefore, put it something like this: "To establish a South Viet Nam which is free, united, independent, politically stable and economically expanding." That would mean that South Viet Nam must be capable in the end of standing on its own feet with the minimum of outside support-no more than any underdeveloped country is entitled to expect from its friends. It will be seen that, if this aim is achieved, then every negative aim that anyone has ever thought of will in fact be achieved within it. The aim should dictate policy and strategy, and any action which is not consistent with the aim can then be recognized for what it is-a contribution to defeat. It was the achievement of this aim as a whole, little understood though it was at the time, which secured victory in Malaya, not, as so many people have assumed, just the fostering of democracy and the granting of independence. The latter were the consequences of the achievement of the aim. They even represented a risk, not because the Malayans were unprepared for them, but because they meant giving political power to the Malays. They had little appeal for the Chinese, who were at the root of the insurgency problem, and, if promoted prematurely, might have given the Malayan Communist Party, itself almost entirely Chinese, a chance of becoming the political champion of the Chinese against the Malays, which could have been fatal.
Excluding for the moment the employment of American combat forces, it is not easy to point to any one facet of American military policy within South Viet Nam that has been consistent with the aim. The build-up of a large conventional military force, the proliferation of paramilitary forces, the indiscriminate issue of arms and the conscription of all able young Vietnamese into the forces could not have been better designed to create both instability and a lack of unity. Similarly on the political side, the encouragement of regional factions, multiple parties, premature elections and social revolution (which has promoted chaos rather than reform) has contributed further to a state of affairs which makes the aim that much harder to achieve.
The lack of a clear precise aim has in turn made the achievement of a consistent and effective counter-strategy to Peoples' Revolutionary War equally difficult. This strategy is best defined as the deployment and application of the means, both military and civil, to achieve the aim. All the experience of war and history, including past counterinsurgencies, teaches that the strategic approach must be indirect rather than direct. There has been a tendency to divide the war up into three parts-the military, i.e. the battles; pacification; and nation-building. The direct strategic approach to this has been to defeat the enemy's main-force units, then subsequently to turn to pacification, which will be followed by nation- building. The effect has been to focus the main attack along the line of the enemy's toughest resistance. When this has failed, the effort has been doubled. The net result has been that no decision is in sight, while the chances of successful pacification and nation-building have become more remote. This was what I meant some years ago by the sometimes quoted remark: "The trouble with you Americans is that whenever you double the effort you somehow manage to square the error."
Because little or no progress has been made in pacification or nation- building, the amount of aid required to keep South Viet Nam from sinking has been enormous. The aid itself has swamped the boat and the Viet Cong have got their sufficient share of the cargo, thus bolstering still further their resistance. Indeed, it is probably true that they get as much benefit, if not more, from American ships entering Saigon as they do from other ships entering Hanoi. The insurgency has become truly symbiotic. The direct strategic approach has also naturally led to a situation where the options are becoming narrowed to either withdrawal or further escalation. These options have produced some queer arguments: for example, that it would be better to cut American losses at 15,000 killed (for naught) rather than run the risk of 50,000 being killed (to achieve the aim). There is no concern here for the fate of the South Vietnamese, who, encouraged by the American commitment, have stuck their necks out against the Viet Cong. Are they to be allowed to go to the wall? Nor does this argument concern itself with the effects which deserting the South Vietnamese would have on other neighboring countries, and some further afield, where more Americans may have to be sacrificed, or with the effect of the subsequent post mortem within the United States. On the side of escalation it has led to the argument that if you want to kill the flies you must get at the muck heap. Unfortunately the manner proposed to get at the muck heap would merely spread it all over Asia and, with it, the flies.
The major reason for adopting the direct strategic approach has undoubtedly been the outside support of Hanoi for the Viet Cong insurgency, mainly by infiltration and raids. There is a very interesting parallel here in the Indonesian confrontation with Malaysia. Indonesian infiltration failed, in spite of more favorable borders and a more vulnerable coastline than in Viet Nam, because there was no insurgency within Malaysia at that time to receive and support the infiltrator. This reduced the Indonesian effort to raids, of which there were over one thousand, including one in which regular army parachutists were dropped by night from C-130s into central Malaya. What should the response have been? The direct approach would have dictated that the Indonesian airfields should have been taken out, in which case there is no doubt that there would have been a major war in that area, involving probably the United States and others, and that Sukarno and the communists would still be in full control of Indonesia. Instead the decision was that, since the British and Malaysians could handle the enemy action, it would be reckless to escalate and provoke further action that might get out of hand. By maintaining the emphasis on security within Malaysia and on the performance of the Government, the outside threat was thwarted, thus allowing full play for the tensions and contradictions within Indonesia to defeat its own policy.
The answer in Viet Nam, in my view, is a complete switch of strategy to the indirect approach, with the emphasis on nation-building concurrent with limited pacification, and a mere containment of the military threat. It should be recognized that, even though an offensive action against the enemy's main force units may be tactically aggressive, it is strategically defensive, for the strategic offensive lies in the nation-building and the pacification. This strategic offensive requires an intensely practical approach in its initial stages to the rebuilding of the whole Vietnamese government machine: the selection and training of qualified administrators and technicians at all levels; the consolidation and clarification of the law (which is chaotic); the promulgation of terms of service and simplified government procedures; the reestablishment of the civil courts, the revival of the ministries and of the administrative structure from the ministries right down to the villages, so that requirements come up and action goes down; and the restoration of law and order, which requires absolute priority-above all else-for a professionally qualified police force (a task which alone will take ten years, not six months). Not until you get performance-and that is the key word-can you hope to have any semblance of democracy in Viet Nam. Democracy is not elections and voting; it is the liberty of the individual and his protection by law, not just against the Viet Cong but against all the local factional secret society cliques, so that he can make a free choice. Only when some of this rebuilding begins to have a discernible effect (and past impatience has delayed its start for several years) will pacification start to make sense, because no areas will be pacified until they are well administered and the individual is protected. The key to the strategy of pacification in its turn is to take the line of least resistance where there is also, geographically, a greater number of alternative objectives. This means starting in the less difficult areas, from which an advance can then be made in more than one possible direction. This rules out the coastal enclaves at the start and requires that the major initial effort should be in the middle of the Mekong Delta where the line of advance can be flexible, but, at the same time, will threaten bases vital to the Viet Cong.
Meanwhile the major military task, apart from supporting pacification, is to prevent the enemy's main-force units from interfering with this strategic offensive. They do not have to be destroyed, though obviously "prevent" means that they must be kept stirred up and occupied. Their eventual destruction will come in two ways. First, as their popular base within the country declines, so will their strength and capacity correspondingly decline, leading to a steady deëscalation of the conflict and, secondly, as the advance of pacification threatens their vital areas, so will they have to come out and fight for them on ground not of their own choosing.
It is not easy for a nation which has been brought up to regard Gettysburg as more decisive than Vicksburg to understand the strategy of the indirect approach. It means cutting at the roots of the Viet Cong's strength among the people of the Mekong Delta (marching through Georgia-but not quite like Sherman) rather than a head-on approach against the main-force units (Gettysburg). A corollary to this is that the more the enemy's military threat, and with it the war, can be confined in area, the easier it will be to contain. It is highly doubtful whether driving the enemy's main-force units back to and across the frontiers has produced a worthwhile result-at least in the southern section of the Annamite Chain-in relation to cost and time. It may be harder and more expensive to contain their threat there than it would have been in places like Zones C and D, where their supply problem would have been greater and their communications more vulnerable. Moreover, the American forces containing the threat around those areas could have given limited assistance to pacification at the same time. To try now and push them further beyond the frontier "in hot pursuit" would quite definitely be a disadvantage, because the space over which they can maintain a threat will be that much greater.
If the strategy is to be switched to an indirect approach, then, in a war of this nature, it requires as much if not more of a civilian than a military effort because it embraces every field of government. Civilian control is imperative, though this does not mean that it cannot be exercised by a general in a civilian post. This is possibly, as in the case of General Templer in Malaya, the best arrangement, because a general can compel military compliance with the strategy and aim. There is no need for me to emphasize the importance of control in other ways to ensure a coördinated and integrated effort between all departments, agencies and headquarters, both Vietnamese and American. The lack of this control has been the most prominent feature of Saigon for years and has been sufficiently exposed in numerous publications.3 The military predominance in Saigon has, of course, led to the tail wagging the dog and everyone else has been required to conform. The concept of the military as auxiliary to the civil power has yet to be learnt. Lack of control has also tended to divide the war into compartments. It is a commonplace to talk about three separate wars when there is only one war. This war is like a chess game and the chances of winning it are not going to be improved if the military decide to change the rules and go off playing poker instead.
If the aim, strategy and control are the foundations of a successful campaign, the final structure must have an attractive look about it. The war is not being fought on enemy territory but on friendly territory. In addition to performance, therefore, behavior and style are also important because they help to make the final aim credible. Ordinary people must believe in American good intentions. When these cannot immediately be fulfilled, the manner in which the means are applied to achieve the end becomes of paramount importance. This covers not only military power but also, of course, all civilian aid. As only one example, which emphasizes the need for civilian control, it staggers belief that American helicopters were under instruction, and for all I know still are, to fire on any village which fires on them in the course of their flight (I am not here referring to an opposed landing but to a few passing shots). This return fire reinforces every word the Viet Cong say, with the result that American intentions cease to be credible. It is this sort of thoughtless direct response reaction, where lives are not even at stake, which is helping to prolong, if not lose, the war. The decision becomes harder when lives are at stake and it is a very tough commander, as required in this type of war, who is prepared to risk increased casualties to achieve the right effect rather than hold down casualties to get a statistical result but the wrong effect. The emotional argument, that anything which saves the life of one American boy is permissible, will in the long run waste the deaths of many more. The rule of law and the maintenance of the highest standards are prerequisites to the creation of the right image, which is vital both in South Viet Nam and in relation to the grand strategy.
Peoples' Revolutionary Wars are by their nature destined to be long, arduous, protracted struggles; but I have no doubt at all that if the means are correctly deployed and applied they can be won. That it will now take much longer is not something for which the South Vietnamese and their history can be entirely blamed. The question which still has to be answered is whether the United States can do it before it is too late. That is not for me to say. All I can add is what I said five years ago: "If we plan for a long haul, we may get quick results. But if we go for quick results, we may at best get a long haul." 1 Sec Dennis J. Duncanson, "Government and Revolution in Vietnam." London: Oxford University Press, 1968. 2 Captured document, quoted in Duncanson, op. cit., p. 374. 3 See Roger Hilaman, "To Move a Nation." New York: Doubleday, 1967.