Principles of war are rules and guidelines that represent truths in the practice of war and military operations.

The earliest known principles of war were documented by Sun Tzu, circa 500 BCE, as well as Chanakya in his Arthashastra circa 350BCE. Machiavelli published his "General Rules" in 1521 which were themselves modeled on Vegetius' Regulae bellorum generales (Epit. 3.26.1–33). Henri, Duke of Rohan established his "Guides" for war in 1644. Marquis de Silva presented his "Principles" for war in 1778. Henry Lloyd proffered his version of "Rules" for war in 1781 as well as his "Axioms" for war in 1781. Then in 1805, Antoine-Henri Jomini published his "Maxims" for war version 1, "Didactic Resume" and "Maxims" for war version 2. Carl von Clausewitz wrote his version in 1812 building on the work of earlier writers.

There are no universally agreed-upon principles of war. The principles of warfare are tied into military doctrine of the various military services. Doctrine, in turn, suggests but does not dictate strategy and tactics.

Historical principles


Arthaśāstra is an ancient Indian Sanskrit treatise on statecraft and military strategy among other things.


The Book of Deuteronomy prescribes how the Israelite army was to fight, including dealing with plunder, enslavement of the enemy women and children and forbidding the destruction of fruit-bearing trees.

Sun Tzu

Sun Tzu's The Art of War, written approximately in 400 B.C., listed five basic factors for a commander to consider:

However, Sun Tzu implied individual initiative as a principle of warfare, stating "According as circumstances are favorable, one should modify one's plans."

Napoléon Bonaparte

Since the first appearance in English of the military maxims of Napoleon in 1831, all English translations have relied upon the extremely incomplete French edition of General Burnod published in 1827.[citation needed] This has contributed to the erroneous belief that Napoléon Bonaparte had pioneered the "Principles of War". Napoléon was a keen follower of famous military generals of the past, who influenced his thoughts greatly. Albeit, "The armies of today are based on the organization created by Napoleon [sic] for his Grand Army and it has been used ever since." (Weider, par. 12).[1] Since the mid-19th century, due to the influence of the Prussian Army, they have become a guide for many military organizations to focus the thinking of military commanders and political leaders toward concepts and methods of successful prosecution of wars and smaller military operations. Although originally concerned with strategy, grand strategy and tactics, due to the changing nature of warfare and military technology, since the interwar period, the principles are largely applied to the strategic decision-making, and in some cases, to operational mobility of forces.

Carl von Clausewitz

The principles of war identified by Carl von Clausewitz in his essay Principles of War,[2] and later enlarged in his book, On War have been influential in military thinking in the North Atlantic region.

The initial essay dealt with the tactics of combat, and suggested the following general principles:

Based on the above, Clausewitz went on to suggest principles for tactics, the scale of combat that dominated European warfare at the time:

Clausewitz also included in the essay general principles of strategy by saying that Warfare has three main objects:

Strategic Defense

Strategic Offense


Antoine Henri Jomini in his book, Precis de l'Art de Guerre, published in 1838, also developed theories of warfare based on the concepts and methods used during the Napoleonic Wars.

Ardant du Picq

Colonel Ardant du Picq, a French infantry officer who was killed in the Franco-Prussian War, prepared drafts based on his observations of military history which became the book Battle Studies. In it two of Du Picq's observations stand out:

20th century theory

Applied to specific forms of warfare, such as naval warfare, Julian Corbett argued that maritime strategy should play a significant role in the principles of war.[4] Admiral William S. Sims, who commanded the U.S. Navy's contribution to the British Grand Fleet in World War I, wrote of the U.S. Naval War College:

The college aims to supply principles, not rules, and by training, develop the habit of applying these principles logically, correctly, and rapidly to each situation that may arise.

This habit can be acquired only through considerable practice, hence the numerous problems in strategy and tactics.[5]

National principles of war

Variations exist and differences are minor and semantic or reflect a cultural persuasion for a particular approach. A closer examination of the values and culture of origin reveals its war priorities.


The UK uses 10 principles of war, as taught to all officers of the Royal Navy, British Army, and Royal Air Force:

The British Army's principles of war were first published after the First World War and based on the work of the British general and military theorist, J. F. C. Fuller. The definition of each principle has been refined over the following decades and adopted throughout the British armed forces. The tenth principle, added later, was originally called Administration. The first principle has always been stated as pre-eminent and the second is usually considered more important than the remainder, which are not listed in any order of importance.

The 2011 edition of British Defence Doctrine (BDD)[6] states and explains the principles with the following preface: "Principles of War guide commanders and their staffs in the planning and conduct of warfare. They are enduring, but not immutable, absolute or prescriptive, and provide an appropriate foundation for all military activity. The relative importance of each may vary according to context; their application requires judgement, common sense and intelligent interpretation. Commanders also need to take into account the legitimacy of their actions, based on the legal, moral, political, diplomatic and ethical propriety of the conduct of military forces, once committed."

The ten principles as listed and defined in the 2011 edition, unchanged from the 2008 edition, of BDD (which also provides explanation) are:

These principles of war are commonly used by the armed forces of Commonwealth countries such as Australia.

Soviet Union and Russia

Soviet adoption of the principles of war is considered a part of military art, and is therefore a system of knowledge that is

the theory and practice of preparing and conducting military operations on the land, at sea, and in the air.[7]

As such it includes the following principles[8]

The Soviet principles of military science, from Soviet AirLand Battle Tactics ISBN 0-89141-160-7. Similar principles continue to be followed in CIS countries.

Thus it can be seen that in Military art, the Soviet and Western systems are similar, but place their emphasis in wildly differing places. Western systems allow more control and decision-making at lower levels of command, and with this empowerment comes a consistent emphasis. Offensive, mass, and maneuver principles for the western commander all place a sense of personal responsibility and authority to ensure these principles are followed by appropriate action. In contrast the Soviet system stresses preparedness, initiative, and obedience. This places more responsibility at the better prepared and informed centers of command, and provide more overall control of the battle.

United States

(Refer to US Army Field Manual FM 3–0)

The United States Armed Forces use the following nine principles of war:

Officers in the U.S. Military sometimes use the acronyms "MOSS MOUSE", "MOOSE MUSS", "MOUSE MOSS", "MOM USE SOS", and "SUMO MOSES" to remember the first letters of these nine principles.

MOSSMOUSE Equivalent Nine Principles
Mass Concentration & Distribution
Objective Direction
Simplicity Not applicable. Simplicity was never listed as a principle by Fuller in his final draft.
Security Security
Maneuver Mobility
Offensive Offensive Action (Disorganisation of Force)
Unity of Command Determination & Endurance
Surprise Surprise (Demoralisation of Force)
Economy of Force Not applicable. Economy of Force was seen by Fuller as the goal of the Nine Principles, rather than a Principle in itself.

According to a United States Government document from 2010, the rule governing targeting in a non-international armed conflict is the international humanitarian law which is commonly known as the laws of war.[9] The United States government stated in an undated Department of Justice White paper entitled "Lawfulness of a Lethal Operation Directed Against a U.S. Citizen who is a Senior Operational Leader of Al Qa’ida or An Associated Force" that the four fundamental law-of-war principles governing the use of force are necessity, distinction, proportionality and humanity i.e. the avoidance of unnecessary suffering.[10][11]

There is a debate within the American military establishment to adopt flexibility as the tenth principle of war. Frost[12] argues that the concept of flexibility should be integrated with America's warfighting doctrine. Americans[who?] soundly retort that flexibility is a given that pervades all aspects of each principle.

Many,[who?] however, hold that the principle of simplicity implicitly includes flexibility. One of the oldest dicta states that the simple plan is the flexible plan.

In 2007, Armed Forces Journal published a proposal by LCDR Chris van Avery, USN, 12 New Principles of War,[13] to completely overhaul and expand the U.S. principles of war from nine to thirteen. The article was subsequently forwarded to the Joint Chiefs of Staff by Air Force Chief of Staff General Moseley and an effort to overhaul current U.S. doctrine was initiated using Van Avery's framework.

In 2011, three new "principles of joint operations" were added to the cited nine principles of war. These principles are:

Together, these 12 concepts form the Principles of Joint Operations.[14]


The Canadian Armed Forces principles of war/military science are defined by the Royal Military College of Canada or Canadian Forces College website to focus on principles of command, principles of war, operational art and campaign planning, and scientific principles.


The French Army recognizes three principles to be applied to operation of land forces at the tactical level:[15]

According to French doctrine, new principles should be observed, primarily to protect the principle of "Freedom of Action":


The principles of war according to Israeli doctrine are:[16]

People's Republic of China

The military principles of war of the People's Liberation Army were loosely based on those of the Soviet Union until the 1980s when a significant shift begun to be seen in a more regionally-aware, and geographically-specific strategic, operational and tactical thinking in all services. The PLA is currently influenced by three doctrinal schools which both conflict and complement each other: the People's war, the Regional war, and the Revolution in military affairs that led to substantial increase in the defence spending and rate of technological modernisation of the forces.

In recent years, 'Local war under high-tech conditions' has been promoted.

Other uses

These principles can be applied to non-military uses when Unity of command is separated into coordination and reality, Economy of Force is redefined as use of resources, Mass is separated into renewable and non-renewable resources, and relationships are separated from unity of command.

In 1913 Harrington Emerson proposed 12 principles of efficiency,[17] the first three of which could be related to principles of war: Clearly defined ideals – Objective, Common sense – Simplicity, Competent counsel – Unity of Command.

Some of the twelve non-military principles of efficiency were formulated by Henry Ford at the turn of the 20th century,[18] and are suggested to be[citation needed]: objective, coordination, action, reality, knowledge, locations (space and time),things, obtaining, using, protecting, and losing. Nine, ten, or twelve principles all provide a framework for efficient development of any objective.

Principles of War was also a book published in 1969 for the Japan Self-Defense Forces.[19] It outlines the basic military principles and strategies by which the Japanese army was to operate. The book was used for most military exams in Japan. The book backs up all military principles with historical examples.

See also

Notes and citations

  1. ^ Napoleon and the Jews, The International Napolionic Society. Florida State University, 1998. Web. 15 March 2010
  2. ^ Carl Von Clausewitz, Principles of War, Tr. Hans W. Gatzke.
  3. ^ Du Picq, Ardant. Battle Studies. Translated from the 8th Edition by Col. John N. Greely, Field Artillery, U.S. Army, and Major Robert C. Cotton, General Staff. Available on Project Gutenberg.
  4. ^ p.15, Corbett
  5. ^ Sims, William S. (Rear Admiral, U.S. Navy). "The United States Naval War College." Proceedings of the United States Naval Institute 45:9 [September 1919]. 1485-1493
  6. ^ Joint Doctrine Publication 0-01 (JDP 0-01) (4th Edition) dated November 2011
  7. ^ p.7, Glantz
  8. ^ Glantz, pp.7–8
  9. ^ Acting Attorney General David J. Barron (U.S. States Department of Justice - Office of the Assistant Attorney General) (16 July 2010). "Memorandum for the Attorney General – Re: Applicability of Federal Crime Laws and the Constitution to the Contemplated Lethal Operations Against Shaykh Anwar al-Aulaqi". p. 17. Retrieved 17 August 2014.
  10. ^ "Undated memo entitled "Lawfulness of a Lethal Operation Directed Against a U.S. Citizen who is a Senior Operational Leader of Al Qa'ida or An Associated Force" by the U.S. Department of Justice" (PDF). NBC News. p. 8. Archived from the original (PDF) on 26 August 2014. Retrieved 15 August 2014.
  11. ^ Isikoff, Michael (4 February 2013). "Justice Department memo reveals legal case for drone strikes on Americans". NBC News. Retrieved 15 August 2014.
  12. ^ p.iii, Frost
  13. ^ [1], van Avery
  14. ^ Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff (11 August 2011). Joint Publication 3-0, Joint Operations (PDF). Washington, DC: US Government Printing Office. pp. A–1 – A–4. Archived from the original (PDF) on 3 March 2016. Retrieved 28 December 2015.
  15. ^ "FT-02 ENG". Archived from the original on 2017-05-22.
  16. ^ "אתר חיל-האוויר".
  17. ^ p.3, Emerson
  18. ^ pp.122-123, Storper, Scott
  19. ^ "Principles of War: A Translation from the Japanese". Archived from the original on March 8, 2005. Retrieved May 31, 2005., West