Military Theory is the study of the theories which define, inform, guide and explain war and warfare. Military Theory analyses both normative behavioral phenomena and explanatory causal aspects to better understand war and how it is fought.[1] It examines war and trends in warfare beyond simply describing events in military history.[2] While military theories may employ the scientific method, theory differs from Military Science. Theory aims to explain the causes for military victory and produce guidance on how war should be waged and won,[3] rather than developing universal, immutable laws which can bound the physical act of warfare or codifying empirical data, such as weapon effects, platform operating ranges, consumption rates and target information, to aid military planning.

Military Theory is multi-disciplinary drawing on social science and humanities academic fields through the disciplines of political science, strategic studies, military studies and history. It examines three key areas:

It is distinct from, and subordinate to, Military Philosophy, which studies questions such as the reasons to go to war, jus ad bellum, and just ways to fight wars, jus in bello. Two of the earliest military philosophers date from the 5th Century BC; Thucydides and Sun Tzu. Thucydides' History of the Peloponnesian War and Sun Tzu's Art of War [5] offer enduring thoughts on the causes of war and how warfare may be conducted. Likewise, while military theory can inform Military Doctrine or help explain Military History, it differs from them as it contemplates abstract concepts, themes, principles and ideas to formulate solutions to actual and potential problems concerning war and warfare.[6]

Use of Military Theory

Prussian military theorist Carl von Clausewitz wrote,

Carl von Clausewitz

'The primary purpose of any theory is to clarify concepts and ideas that have become, as it were, confused and entangled. Not until terms and concepts have been defined can one hope to make any progress in examining the questions clearly and simply and expect the reader to share one's views.'[7]

Military Theory informs the political, strategic, operational and tactical levels of war.[8] It does so by contributing to knowledge on the subjects of war and warfare. This aids in understanding why and when force is used and what forms the use of force may take. It also aids in identifying and explaining practical outcomes to help determine how force may be applied.[9] Military theories, especially since the 19th Century AD, attempt to encapsulate the complex cultural, political and economic relationships between societies and the conflicts they create.

Categories of Military Theory

Military Theories can be divided into several categories.[10] First, theories may be codified by their relevant level of War:

Second, they may be categorised by environment or domain, such as:

Third, a theory may be developed for a particular form of warfare, such as:

Military Theorists

Theories and conceptions of warfare have varied throughout human history. There have been many military theorists throughout history, such as Sun Tzu, Thucydides, Onasander, Frontinus, Aelian, Vegetius, Maurice, Leo VI, Machiavelli, Lloyd, Berenhorst, Bülow, de Saxe, Clausewitz, Jomini, Calwell, Mahan, Corbett, Douhet, Fuller, Liddell-Hart, Wylie, Brodie, Luttwak, Schelling, Howard, Freedman, Boyd, Lind, Creveld, Gat, Hammes, Hoffman, Kilcullen and Gray in Western military circles; each have helped lay the foundations for our contemporary understanding of policy, strategy, operational art, tactics, command and control, intelligence and logistics.

See also



  1. ^ Angstrom, Jan and, Widen, J.J. (2015). Contemporary Military Theory: The Dynamics of War. New York: Routledge. pp. 4–9. ISBN 9780203080726.((cite book)): CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  2. ^ Lider, Julian (1983). Military Theory: Concept, Structure, Problems (1st ed.). New York: Palgrave Macmillan. pp. 1–5. ISBN 9780312532406.
  3. ^ Angstrom and Wider. Contemporary Military Theory. pp. 8–9.
  4. ^ Lider, Julian (1980). "Introduction to Military Theory". Cooperation and Conflict. XV (3): 151–168. JSTOR 45083282 – via JSTOR.
  5. ^ For more on scholars valuation of The Art of War, see the Wikipedia article The Art of War
  6. ^ Angstrom and Wider. Contemporary Military Theory. pp. 4–6.
  7. ^ von Clausewitz, Carl (1976). tr. Michael Howard and Peter Paret (ed.). On War (Indexed ed.). Princeton: Princeton University Press. p. 132. ISBN 9780691018546.
  8. ^ Gray, Colin S. (2010). The Strategy Bridge-Theory for Practice. Oxford: Oxford University Press. pp. 14–5. ISBN 9780199579662.
  9. ^ Evans, Michael (2004). "The Continental School of Strategy: The Past, Present and Future of Land Power" (PDF). Australian Army Research Centre. pp. 17–9. Retrieved 9 August 2023.
  10. ^ Vego, Milan (2011). "On Military Theory". Joint Force Quarterly. 3 (62): 59–67. ProQuest 877014867 – via ProQuest.
  11. ^ Oliviero, Charles (2022). Strategia-A Primer on Theory and Strategy for Students of War (1st ed.). Toronto: Double Dagger. pp. 11–13. ISBN 9781990644245.
  12. ^ Yarger, Harry R. (2006). Strategic Theory for the 21st Century: The Little Book on Big Strategy. Leavenworth: US Army War College War College Press. pp. 8–9. ISBN 1584872330.
  13. ^ Evans, Michael. The Continental School of Strategy. pp. 10–11.