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Military strategy

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Military strategy is a policy implemented by military organizations to pursue desired strategic goals. Derived from the Greek strategos, strategy when it appeared in use during the 18th century, was seen in its narrow sense as the “art of the general”, ‘the art of arrangement’ of troops.Military strategy deals with the planning and conduct of campaigns, the movement and disposition of forces, and the deception of the enemy. The father of modern strategic study, Carl von Clausewitz, defined military strategy as “the employment of battles to gain the end of war.” Liddell Hart’s definition put less emphasis on battles, defining strategy as “the art of distributing and applying military means to fulfil the ends of policy” Hence, both gave the pre-eminence to political aims over military goals, ensuring civilian control of the military.

Military strategy is the plan and execution of the contest between very large groups of armed adversaries. It involves each opponent’s diplomatic, informational, military, and economic resources wielded against the other’s resources to gain supremacy or reduce the opponent’s will to fight. It is a principal tool to secure national interests. A contemporary military strategy is developed via military science. It is a subdiscipline of warfare and of foreign policy. In comparison, grand strategy is that strategy of the largest of organizations which are currently the nation state, confederation, or international alliances. It is larger in perspective than military tactics which is the disposition and maneuver of units on a particular sea or battlefield.

Military strategy in the 19th century was still viewed as one of a trivium of “arts” or “sciences” that govern the conduct of warfare; the others being tactics, the execution of plans and manœuvering of forces in battle, and logistics, the maintenance of an army. The view had prevailed since the Roman times, and the borderline between strategy and tactics at this time was blurred, and sometimes categorization of a decision is a matter of almost personal opinion. Carnot, during the French Revolutionary Wars thought it simply involved concentration of troops.

Strategy and tactics are closely related and exist on the same continuum. Both deal with distance, time and force but strategy is large scale, can endure through years, and is societal while tactics are small scale and involve the disposition of fewer elements enduring hours to weeks. Originally strategy was understood to govern the prelude to a battle while tactics controlled its execution. However, in the world wars of the 20th century, the distinction between maneuver and battle, strategy and tactics, expanded with the capacity of technology and transit. Tactics that were once the province of a company of cavalry would be applied to a panzer army. It is often said that the art of strategies defines the goals to achieve in a military campaign, while tactics defines the methods to achieve these goals. Strategic goals could be “We want to conquer area X”, or “We want to stop country Y’s expansion in world trade in commodity Z”; while tactical decisions range from a general statement, e.g. “We’re going to do this by a naval invasion of the North of country X”, “We’re going to blockade the ports of country Y”, to a more specific “C Platoon will attack while D platoon provides fire cover”.

In its purest form, strategy dealt solely with military issues. In earlier societies, a king or political leader was often the same person as the military leader. If he was not, the distance of communication between the political and the military leader was small. But as the need of a professional army grew, the bounds between the politicians and the military came to be recognized. In many cases, it was decided that there was a need for a separation. As French statesman Georges Clemenceau said, “war is too important a business to be left to soldiers.” This gave rise to the concept of the grand strategy which encompasses the management of the resources of an entire nation in the conduct of warfare. In the environment of the grand strategy, the military component is largely reduced to operational strategy — the planning and control of large military units such as corps and divisions. As the size and number of the armies grew and the technology to communicate and control improved, the difference between “military strategy” and “grand strategy” shrank.

Fundamental to grand strategy is the diplomacy through which a nation might forge alliances or pressure another nation into compliance, thereby achieving victory without resorting to combat. Another element of grand strategy is the management of the post-war peace. As Clausewitz stated, a successful military strategy may be a means to an end, but it is not an end in itself. There are numerous examples in history where victory on the battlefield has not translated into long term peace, security or tranquility.

Many military strategists have attempted to encapsulate a successful strategy in a set of principles. Sun Tzu defined 13 principles in his The Art of War while Napoleon listed 115 maxims. American Civil War General Nathan Bedford Forrest had only one: “to git thar furst with the most men” or “to get there first with the most men”. The concepts given as essential in the United States Army’s United States Army Field Manual (FM-3-0) of Military Operations (sections 4-32 to 4-39) are:

  • 1. Objective (Direct every military operation towards a clearly defined, decisive, and attainable objective)
    2. Offensive (Seize, retain, and exploit the initiative)
    3. Mass (Concentrate combat power at the decisive place and time)
    4. Economy of Force (Allocate minimum essential combat power to secondary efforts)
    5. Maneuver (Place the enemy in a disadvantageous position through the flexible application of combat power)
    6. Unity of Command (For every objective, ensure unity of effort under one responsible commander)
    7. Security (Never permit the enemy to acquire an unexpected advantage)
    8. Surprise (Strike the enemy at a time, at a place, or in a manner for which he is unprepared)
    9. 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 principles of strategy 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 favor long after new developments in military weaponry and matériel 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 World War I 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

Sources: Wikipedia Modified by Fanterazzi

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