Throughout much of recorded history, until Alfred Thayer Mahan emerged as a strategist of seapower, the study of strategic thought was all but synonymous with military strategy in the land dimension of warfare. Two names are familiar to even the most casual reader of military aﬀairs: Sun Tzu, the ﬁfth century BC Chinese general who lived during the ‘period of the warring states’ and wrote The Art of War; and Carl von Clausewitz, the Prussian general who served during the Napoleonic Wars and whose On War was published posthumously. Two others, somewhat less well known but whose ideas are usefully included in any volume on strategic thought, are: Baron Antoine Henri Jomini, a Swiss national who served as a general in both the French and Russian armies (including on Napoleon’s staﬀ), and whose Summary of the Art of War in many ways documented Napoleonic warfare; and Sir Basil Henry Liddell Hart, a captain in the British army during World War One who retired in the 1920s to a life of military writing, including a volume entitled Strategy: The Indirect Approach. Although elements of some of these works, notably Sun Tzu’s The Art of War, are
relevant to irregular warfare, and indeed to other walks of life, in general it can be said that the ideas of these theorists pertain primarily to conventional warfare. While deﬁnitions vary, conventional warfare can be understood as warfare between or among two or more roughly symmetrical organized groups (normally states) whose objective is the destruction of enemy forces, while irregular warfare features at least one non-state actor, a materially weaker and often diﬃcult-to-locate opponent who, in operating against the stronger one, seeks not the annihilation of enemy forces (which is not possible) but rather the control of the population. Means and methods will also diﬀer – the use of improvised explosive devices is one of the most prevalent contemporary ‘strategies of the weak’ – but the main distinction lies in the overall objective. Responding to irregular warfare is arguably more diﬃcult, and at a minimum more
complex, than to conventional warfare. Rather than developing principles in this area, for example, Jomini simply advised states to avoid involvement in civil or religious ‘wars of opinion’.1 But such advice was not particularly tenable in the decades after World War Two and is even less so in the post-Cold War and post-9/11 eras. Strategic thinking as it pertains to irregular warfare will be discussed in Chapter 5. Conventional warfare can also be contrasted with unconventional warfare involving WMDs – that is, nuclear, biological or chemical weapons. Strategic thinking with respect to nuclear weapons and other WMDs will be discussed in Chapter 4. This chapter examines strategic thought on conventional landpower. It begins by
brieﬂy highlighting the key ideas of Sun Tzu, Liddell Hart, Clausewitz and Jomini.
Their strategic thought, particularly that of Clausewitz but also the others, has been discussed and interpreted in innumerable places; the purpose here is only to outline the parameters of strategic thinking about conventional landpower up until the early postWorld War Two period. The chapter goes on to discuss some ideas that emerged in the latter part of the Cold War, notably that of AirLand Battle, before examining in greater detail strategic thought on conventional landpower in the post-Cold War era. The ﬁrst two post-Cold War decades were dominated by stabilization and counterinsurgency missions, for example in Bosnia, Afghanistan and Iraq (the 2003 Iraq War, along with the 1991 Gulf War in the dying days of the Cold War, being the only truly ‘conventional’ wars). Nonetheless, there has been some strategic thinking and important insights on the use of conventional landpower in the post-Cold War era.