Saturday, February 06, 2010

The Namibian Border War: An appraisal of the South African strategy (Part 2)

Related :
The Namibian Border War: An appraisal of the South African strategy (Part 1)

Taking a break from the never ending stories about crime and corruption in the New! Improved! South Africa! I had a look at some of the past political issues and found an interesting essay by Dr. Leopold Scholtz (Stellenbosch University) about the Namibian Border War. I'll be posting it in a series of 10 parts.

Did the South Africans, who developed a sophisticated strategy to counter-revolutionary guerrilla warfare and really were convinced that they had Swapo on the run, make mistakes they were not aware of? Did they disobey in practice the rules they supported in theory? It will be the purpose of this analysis to answer this question.


In order to do this, we will have to start with a short analysis of the accepted principles of revolutionary guerrilla warfare, as they developed during the 20th century.

It is a political struggle:
It is generally true of all wars that they are political in nature. The famous 19th-century Prussian military philosopher Carl von Clausewitz postulated the well-known dictum that war is a continuation of politics by other means. By this he meant that politics (or the political leaders) are the brains behind warfare, which essentially is the tool of a government in the pursuance of a political aim. War’s “grammar, indeed, may be its own, but not its logic,” he says. As a matter of fact, war without politics is “something pointless and devoid of sense”.

Obviously, the context of revolutionary war is somewhat different in the sense that it is not a struggle between two sovereign states, but between a government and a revolutionary movement which tries to overthrow it. However, this does not alter the basic truth of the Clausewitzian logic. This type of war, even more so than conventional war, is essentially political in nature.

However, the nature and intensity of the aim has a profound influence on the character of any specific war. “The smaller the penalty you demand from your opponent,” Clausewitz says, “the less you can expect him to try to deny it to you.” The opposite is also true, as “the more modest your own political aim, the less importance you attach to it and the less reluctantly you will abandon it if you must.”

These observations are important if we want to understand the revolutionary wars in Southern Africa. All the revolutionary movements in the region, from the MPLA in Angola, Frelimo in Mozambique, Zanu/Zapu in Rhodesia to the ANC in South Africa, wanted to overthrow the white-dominated minority governments in order to replace them with socialist states, representing the black majorities.

However, although Swapo too wanted a socialist state, it had no interest in completely destroying apartheid South Africa, and in contrast to the ANC never presented its aims in that way. Thus, the war in Namibia, objectively speaking, never became a question of survival for the South Africans, although a Swapo take-over there, in the minds of some South Africans, would indeed increase the pressure on their core base. Nevertheless, they could afford to lose the war there without being destroyed totally, which made it easier for them in the end to hand over power on favourable terms.

Mao’s ‘three phases’:
Another fundamental point to understand about revolutionary guerrilla warfare is the basic three-phase model originated by Mao Zedong in the 1930’s. Mao distinguished three phases in revolutionary guerrilla war. The first was when the guerrillas were still weak and the enemy strong; the second one of “strategic stalemate” and “mobile warfare”; and the third, during which conventional war takes place.

This should not be regarded as an iron law, as the third phase may not be necessary at all. For instance, external and/or internal pressure may cause the antirevolutionary forces to abandon the fight before the onset of the third stage, as happened with the French in Algeria and Vietnam, the Americans in Vietnam, the Soviets in Afghanistan, the Portugese in their African colonies, the South Africans in Namibia, and the Rhodesians in their own country.

‘Fish in the water’:
Without the support of the local population, no guerrilla force can ever hope for success. Mao stated that guerrilla warfare “must fail… if its political objectives do not coincide with the aspirations of the people and their sympathy, co-operation, and assistance cannot be gained… [b]ecause guerrilla warfare basically derives from the masses and is supported by them, it can neither exist nor flourish if it separates itself from their sympathies and co-operation.”

Mao also wrote: “Many people think it impossible for guerrillas to exist for long in the enemy’s rear. Such a belief reveals lack of comprehension of the relationship that should exist between the people and the troops.” Then came the famous slogan, illustrating the point beautifully: “The former may be likened to water; the latter to the fish who inhabit it. How may it be said that these two cannot
exist together? It is only undisciplined troops who make the people their enemies
and who, like the fish out of its native element cannot live.”

In his excellent study of the revolutionary wars against the Portuguese colonial regimes, “Kaas” van der Waals points out that “revolutionary war differs from conventional war because its centre of gravity is not to be found in the destruction of opposing armed forces and the occupation of territory, but rather in hijacking the socio-political system by obtaining control over the population.” In other words, not the armed forces of the enemy are the primary target of the revolutionaries; rather, the population is seen as the centre of gravity, the fundamental goal.

Political work:
This symbiosis between the revolutionaries and the people which Mao emphasised, does, of course, not fall from heaven. It entails hard, slogging propaganda and political work, day by day, week by week, month by month, to establish the revolutionary movement among the people, to win their trust and support. This applies especially to the first of Mao’s three phases, when the revolutionaries are still weak.

For any revolutionary war, the foundations thus laid are of supreme importance. The legendary Vietnamese General Vo Nguyen Giap later wrote of this stage “that political activities were more important than military activities, and fighting less important than propaganda”.

Revolutionary bases:
One of the most important conditions for a succesful revolutionary guerrilla war is the establishment of liberated base areas. According to Mao Zedong, these are necessary for several reasons. Firstly, for rest and recuperation after arduous guerrilla operations in the enemy’s rear, but there is also a political motive: “[W]e must form mass organisations, we must organise the workers, peasants, youth, women, children, merchants and professional people – according to the degree of their political consciousness and fighting enthusiasm – into the various mass organisations…”10 In other words, Mao’s base areas became the places where an alternative state, with an alternative government, administration and ideology was set up.

This is not to say that the people’s active support may be taken for granted. If propaganda and political mobilisation is not enough, terrorism has often been used as a tool to ensure at least the people’s passive acceptance of the revolutionaries’ presence and political agenda.

Brian Crozier distinguishes between two types of terrorism, disruptive and coercive. The first is aimed at the enemy; the second at the local population on whose aid the revolutionaries are dependent.11 For example, notwithstanding Mao’s dictum about the fish and the water, he was not averse to using drastic methods to get the people in line. As was the case with Lenin, Mao explicitly endorsed the use of terror as indispensable to the communist cause. At first, it was only to be used against “class enemies”, but this rapidly degenerated into a weapon against fellow Party members in Mao’s power struggle against his rivals.

Spread the war as wide as possible:
One of the most obvious military principles is concentration of force. You have to concentrate your forces so that you have a mailed fist at the point you wish to attack. Or, conversely, you have to concentrate at the point the enemy is attacking.

In guerrilla warfare, the exact opposite applies. You have to disperse your force as widely as possible, while concentrating only locally when you wish to attack an isolated enemy position or unit, and dispersing immediately when the fight is over. By dispersing your own forces, you force the anti-guerrilla powers to do the same. The government or occupying force must, for political reasons, be seen to occupy the whole country physically and be able to provide security everywhere. The problem is that they don’t know where your next blow will fall, even if it amounts to nothing more than a pin-prick. With hundreds of pin-pricks that never end, chances are that you may force the enemy to over-extend himself.

Arguably the most profound modern French strategic thinker, General AndrĂ© Beaufre, put the matter very concisely: “For guerrilla warfare it is a question of menacing the adversary over the largest possible area... Doing so, it obliges regular forces to disperse their means over an area exceeding their capability, while the guerrillas remain capable of acting wherever they choose.”

Dispersal of effort:
The principle of forcing the enemy to disperse his forces does not only apply to the physical level. It is also true of the political and psychological terrain. To see revolutionary warfare only or even primarily as a military process is to miss the point completely. The wise revolutionary will attack and isolate its enemy on every front possible, be it the economy, labour relations, the church, international politics, culture, the media, etc. Even negotiations will be viewed as part of the war. Making use of every possible network is central to the revolutionary strategy.

“To reach these networks, the 4GW [4th Generation Warfare] operational planner must seek various pathways for various messages,” opines Thomas X. Hammes. “Traditional diplomatic channels, both official and unofficial, are still important but no longer the only pathway for communication and influence. Other networks rival the prominence of the official ones. The media are rapidly becoming a primary avenue.” This means that the government or regime will have to fight on every front simultaneously, whereby its collective effort is dispersed as much as its armed forces.

To be continued.....

1 Opinion(s):

Snowy Smith said...

I have posed this question to many White people and most do NOT know who the ENEMY is.

The ENEMY is the party or group of people who PAID for the Guns, Ammunition, supplied Communist Troops, planned, supported, and orchestrated the Overthrow of the White Government in South Africa.
The ENEMY is the party or group of people who PAID for, planned, supported, and orchestrated the Overthrow of every White Government in AFRICA.
The ENEMY is the party or group of people who PAID for, planned, supported, and orchestrated the Overthrow of every White Government world wide.
Orchestrated the down fall of the White Man World Wide.
Globalisation, New World Order process
Look behind the PUPPETS and you will find the ENEMY.
“By Deception We Will Make WAR”, Is their motto.