Military Strategy Principles

Military Strategy Principles

Many military strategists have attempted to encapsulate a successful strategy in a set of strategy principles.

Sun Tzu defined 13 principles in his The Art of War while Napoleon listed 115 maxims. American Civil War General Nathan Bedford Forrest required only one: "get there firstest with the mostest". The fundamental concepts common to most lists of principles are:

  • The Objective
  • Offense
  • Cooperation
  • Concentration (Mass)
  • Economy
  • Manoeuvre
  • Surprise
  • Security
  • Simplicity

Which are reflected in the United States Army's United States Army Field Manual (FM-3) of Military Operations (sections 4-32 to 4-39) as:

  • Objective (Direct every military operation towards a clearly defined, decisive, and attainable objective)
  • Offensive (Seize, retain, and exploit the initiative)
  • Mass (Concentrate combat power at the decisive place and time)
  • Economy of Force (Allocate minimum essential combat power to secondary efforts)
  • Manoeuvre (Place the enemy in a disadvantageous position through the flexible application of combat power)
  • Unity of Command (For every objective, ensure unity of effort under one responsible commander
  • )
  • Security (Never permit the enemy to acquire an unexpected advantage)
  • Surprise (Strike the enemy at a time, at a place, or in a manner for which he is unprepared)
  • Simplicity (Prepare clear, uncomplicated plans and clear, concise orders to ensure thorough understanding)

Some strategists assert that adhering to the fundamental principles guarantees victory while others claim war is unpredictable and the general must be flexible in formulating a strategy.

Field Marshal Count Helmuth von Moltke expressed strategy as a system of "ad hoc expedients" by which a general must take action while under pressure.

These underlying strategy principles have survived relatively unscathed as the technology of warfare has developed.

Strategy (and tactics) must constantly evolve in response to technological advances.

A successful strategy from one era tends to remain in favour long after new developments in military weaponry and materiel have rendered it obsolete.

World War I, and to a great extent the American Civil War, saw Napoleonic tactics of "offense at all costs" pitted against the defensive power of the trench, machine gun and barbed wire. As a reaction to her WWI experience, France entered World War II with a purely defensive doctrine, epitomized by the "impregnable" Maginot Line, but only to be completely circumvented by the German blitzkrieg.


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