Factors of success

Qualitative superiority

The conquered peoples, wherever they were, knew little or nothing at all about their invaders. Whence did they draw their superiority? Even societies that had known Europeans before the industrial revolution were surprised by the continent’s leap. In 1683, the Ottomans had besieged Vienna and superiority was theirs. But at the beginning of the nineteenth century, Europeans, whether the Habsburg or the Russian troops, had become qualitatively superior to them. The German army, even before the Battle of Sedan, became the model for the Ottoman army, which included an instructor called Helmut von Moltke. The Europeans’ lead was not just explained by technique or fire power. The Ottoman officers sent to the German war schools were getting only and strictly military training, but nothing of the ideas that prepared Europe’s rise in the nineteenth century.

A divided adversary

The societies confronting the European forces were divided. India was a major example. England, who had overpowered it through Bengal, was progressing in leaps and bounds, taking advantage of the existing divisions. These societies were either declining, as were those in China in the mid-nineteenth century, or had been reined in, as in Muhammad Ali’s Egypt, or were simply backward from the material point of view. The conquering momentum, on the contrary, was encouraging the European nations, who were sure of themselves, competitive, and predatory.

Opposite them, their adversaries, save for a very few exceptions, had neither external support, nor sanctuary.1 And these were two major conditions for guerrilla warfare to endure.


  1. For a while, Morocco supported Abdelkader El Djezairi, who was leading a struggle against the French in Algeria.