Tag Archives: theory

Land Power: A Personal Theory of Power

This essay is part of the Personal Theories of Power series, which asked a group of national security professionals to provide their theory of power and its application. We hope this launches a long and insightful debate that may one day shape policy.

Every war, and every belligerent in every war, manifests a distinctive pattern of strategic behaviour among an expanding list of geographical environments. It is true that modern strategy and war registers trends towards ever greater complexity, ever greater ‘jointness’ to offset and exploit that complexity, and in the maturing potency of new modes of combat…It is no less true, however, that land, even ground, warfare has yet to be demoted to an adjunct, auxiliary, or administrative, role vis-à-vis superficially more modern modes and foci of fighting.[i]

In a discussion over the modes of power that are employed to achieve political purpose, the above quote would likely halt all communication before it even started. Some would even immediately engage their cognitive biases and fill their slings with the tried-and-true military service-focused and parochial rhetorical ammunition. The current narratives from the various services can certainly be seen to support such an assertion.

However, while the above quote captures repeated insistence on the importance of land power, the author also indicates that while land power is vital, it is not sufficient, for “In practice, thus far, no single geographical domain suffices as provider of all strategic effect that belligerent states need.”[ii]

So, when a political decision requires a definitive, more enduring answer, land power will likely be the main element of national power employed — there’s a reason the key theorist of war and land power focused on destroying an adversary’s armed forces, occupying his country, and breaking that nation’s will as his three main objectives in war.[iii] Such use of large amounts of men and women in campaigns of physical control are not the only use for land power, however. While it is the only element of national power that can compel through physical dominance (or as some have described in recent posts by quoting Wylie, through a sequential strategy),[iv] land power can also accomplish tasks through three other approaches to the use of force — assurance, deterrence and coercion — to create strategic effect.

Grant and Lee at Appomattox | Tom Lovell

Beyond Physical Control
To Gray, “strategic effect is the [cumulative and sequential] impact of strategic performance on the course of events.”[v] It is the expression of how well a force translates tactical action into political gain; or said another way, how well the effects of military action maintain alliances and/or force an adversary (or adversaries) to change their behavior to match our desires. Given the fact that land power will likely be the element of national power least used to create strategic effect in today’s environment given its high political cost at home and abroad, how does an Army, as the principle manifestation of land power, provide options to assure, deter, and coerce?[vi]

Deterrence and assurance require both credibility and capability. Credibility is created through the perception that force will be used to achieve stated interests. However, without an acknowledged force required to achieve said interests, i.e. the capability, then the threat of its use to deter undesired behavior or assure anxious allies is empty. In the end, an adversary cannot be deterred or an ally assured unless they believe the offending party can be compelled to appropriately change their behavior. While other elements of national power are important to either deterrence or assurance, both require credible and capable land power, the only element of national power that can compel behavior through physical control. The size, capability, proficiency, and posturing of land forces is what provides a credible deterrent and assures allies. As has been shown in recent events in Eastern Europe, the lack of a credible and capable force for deterrence can lead to political adventurism by adversarial entities and a failure to assure allies in a region.

Members of the U.S. Army 173rd Airborne Brigade and a Polish paratrooper unit attend a welcome ceremony | Sean Gallup/Getty Images
Members of the U.S. Army 173rd Airborne Brigade and a Polish paratrooper unit attend a welcome ceremony | Sean Gallup/Getty Images

Coercion is used to impel adversary behavior by shaping choices, either by punishment or denial; both utilize physical and psychological factors. Coercion by punishment is accomplished by damaging or destroying adversary capabilities required to achieve their interests, such as destroying naval assets that are being used in a blockade. Coercion by denial is using force to prevent the adversary from accessing the resources or territory required to accomplish their goals. Land power largely utilizes coercion by denial, such as placing American troops in a threatened country to significantly raise the costs of any action by an adversary. This also provides a degree of assurance for that partner nation. A recent example is the deployment of U.S. troops to Poland, Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia.

The use of these three approaches to force — deterrence, assurance, and coercion — can be seen as largely an attempt to control the choices of an adversary through the threat of force or limited use of violence. In Wylie-speak, since he is in vogue throughout these blog posts, the threat of force or limited use of violence by land forces in this manner reduces the adversary’s choices through a sequential strategy, ideally creating “implications of certainty of the end” through “its persistent exercise…typically steadily reduce the number of viable options open to the enemy.”[vii]

Land Force Considerations Outside of Physical Control
Using land forces to deter, assure and coerce in today’s strategic environment will require three core elements:

1) The use of smaller, tailorable elements of the Army to accomplish strategic objectives. From a Special Forces detachment supporting a partner nation through foreign internal defense to a battalion task force taking part in a multinational exercise to strengthen NATO, Army forces must be prepared to train, equip, deploy, employ and sustain smaller packages of forces around the world. However, these elements must also be able to tap into larger regionally-focused/based forces to provide flexible options and scale up to conduct operations that provide denial by punishment, or compellence when necessary. The ability to disaggregate for cumulative operations must be matched with the ability to re-aggregate into larger formations — up to Division- and Corps-level — to conduct the combined arms operations required in ground combat across the range of military operations.[viii]

A launch of the Patriot air and missile defense system | Dan Plumpton.
A launch of the Patriot air and missile defense system | Dan Plumpton.

2) A better balance of combat and enabling capabilities. While the application of land power is largely seen through the action of combat elements, so called “tail” elements are as important, if not more so, to military forces. Even Clausewitz, who purposefully excluded logistics discussions in his magnum opus due to his focus on the fighting itself and its use as a political instrument, recognized that “The provisioning of troops, no matter how it is done…always presents such difficulty that it must have a decisive influence on the choice of operations.”[ix] The U.S. Army post-WWII has largely diminished the importance of its enabling capabilities — everything from transportation to engineers to missile defense to logistics — in favor of the “tooth” resident in its combat formations, even to the point of contracting out significant portions of the enabling functions; this in spite of the frequent acknowledgement of the importance of logistics in war.[x] The Army must create a better balance between combat units to those that project, set, protect, and sustain a theater.

3) Assigning dedicated Army forces to geographic combatant commands and posturing those forces forward. Supporting the two elements above, land forces should be more permanently provided to those that use them in theatre. The value of Army forces is not that they can be made expeditionary, but that they can provide quick and enduring force when properly postured in theater. These elements can be used to conduct any and all of the three uses of force, in addition to be present when compellence, or a sequential strategy, is required.

In discussions of military power today there is much elaboration upon of the loss of “overmatch capability”. This term is largely meant in terms of the decreasing technological gap between the U.S. and its likely adversaries, from non-state actors with anti-acess/area-denial capabilities to near-peer states with air and sea platforms that look suspiciously like our own technology still in production. Another aspect of overmatch is how presciently forces are postured and organized to prevent conflict through the assurance of allies or the deterrence or coercion of adversaries — or to be used to compel an enemy, if necessary. A decrease in overmatch from this aspect creates risk that our military will not be able to achieve the missions the U.S. requires of it. While we must mitigate risk across all domains, risk to the land domain is the most deadly. For, “Military success in land warfare can have a decisiveness unmatchable by success in the other geographies. If a state loses on land, it loses the war.”[xi]

Nathan K. Finney is a U.S. Army officer and a member of the Infinity Journal’s Editorial Advisory Board.  He has written on issues that involve strategy, building partner capacity, security sector reform, security force assistance, stability operations, and the integration of civilian and military agencies.  He holds a Masters in Public Administration from both Harvard University and the University of Kansas, as well as a B.A. in Anthropology from the University of Arizona.

[i] Colin S Gray, Modern Strategy (New York: Oxford University Press, 1999), 165.

[ii] Colin S Gray, War, Peace, and International Relations (London: Routledge, 2007), 316.

[iii] Carl von Clausewitz, ed. and trans. Michael Howard and Peter Paret, On War (New York: Alfrec A. Knopf, 1993), 102.

[iv] For example, see Rich Ganske’s use of Wylie as quoted by Lukas Milevski: “[A] sequential strategy would utilize the ability of force to take and protect” found in Milevski, “Revisiting J.C. Wylie’s Dichotomy of Strategy,” 229.

[v] Gray, Modern Strategy, 19. The “cumulative and sequential” was added to the definition in Gray, Strategy Bridge, 18.

[vi] Elements of this strategic environment are not unique, of course, nor are its impact on the use of land power. For example, Clausewitz acknowledged the facts of limited war in his 10 July 1827 note and Corbett recognized land power was often ill-suited for limited warfare because of its inherent threat to the territorial imperative in his Some Principles of Maritime Strategy.

[vii] Lukas Milevski, “Revisiting J.C. Wylie’s Dichotomy of Strategy: The Effects of Sequential and Cumulative Patterns of Operations,” Journal of Strategic Studies, 35:2, 2012, 233.

[viii] David E. Johnson, Hard Fighting, RAND, 2011, 173, http://www.rand.org/content/dam/rand/pubs/monographs/2011/RAND_MG1085.pdf, accessed 20 May 2014.

[ix] Carl von Clausewitz, ed. and trans. Hans W. Gatzke, The Principles of War (Mechanicsburg: Stackpole, 1942), http://www.clausewitz.com/readings/Principles/, accessed on 24 May 2014.

[x] For example, see Martin van Creveld’s Supplying War, John Lynn’s Feeding Mars and Benjamin Bacon’s Sinews of War.

[xi] Gray, War, Peace, and International Relations, 313.

Joint Action: A Personal Theory

This essay is part of the Personal Theories of Power series here at CIMSEC and The Bridge, which asked a group of national security professionals to provide their theory of power and its application. We hope this launches a long and insightful debate that may one day shape policy.

Despite the historical success of joint action, many professional warriors and strategists continually debate which military function is most decisive in the termination of war. Even today, some question whether it is indeed worth the effort to work through the complications of combining competing strategies into effective joint action. My personal theory of joint action proposes an artful blend of both sequential and cumulative strategies to conduct unified operations that most effectively achieve our national objectives. Strategic effect is reduced when either cumulative or sequential strategies are parochially subordinated to the other, since there is no single, decisive function, service, or role in war.

Landing Craft Utility 1633, departs the Whidbey Island-class amphibious dock landing ship USS Ashland (LSD 48) with vehicles assigned to the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit (31st MEU) after a stern gate marriage. Ashland is part of the Bonhomme Richard Amphibious Ready Group and is conducting joint force amphibious operations in the U.S. 7th Fleet area of responsibility. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist Seaman Raymond D. Diaz)


The Goldwater–Nichols Department of Defense Reorganization Act of 1986 drastically changed how the US military operates. Most importantly, it required the military services to interact jointly by force of law. This legal requirement for joint operations is necessary; but is by itself insufficient to build a compelling basis for joint collaboration, integration, and interdependence. While there has been much ink spilt over the normative force of Goldwater-Nichols, few have explored the theoretical basis for joint interdependence since Sir Julian Corbett.[1] This essay attempts to expand Corbett’s theoretical foundation that gives the law its conceptual footing.

What is Jointness?

Joint action, or jointness, is the creation of complementary strategic effect across all domains towards a shared political objective. Achieving a degree of physical or psychological control over an adversary creates strategic effect and requires an appreciation for the unique specializations and inherent difficulties of each domain-focused force. This appreciation acknowledges that institutional professionalism is hardly omnicompetent or transitory between varied forms of military power.[2]

Categorization of Joint Action

Rear Admiral J.C. Wylie, U.S. Navy (Retired) (Photo Courtesy U.S. Naval Institute)


In Military Strategy, J.C. Wylie[3] postulated that the “common factor” to all power struggles “is the concept of control, some form or degree or extent of control exercised by one social entity over another.”[4] Wylie’s work offers a novel lens for viewing fighting, the solitary means of war.[5] This combat-centric view turns our attention to questioning the best strategy for combat operations.

Often, the territorial imperative quickly comes to the forefront. If land matters most, as some have correctly suggested,[6] then our discussion of the best strategy comes to an abrupt conclusion if we assume that land is all that matters. If only land matters, then achieving the desired effect via the continental theory of war promulgated by some strategists answers our question. As Corbett suggested:

Since men live upon the land and not upon the sea, great issues between nations at war have always been decided—except in the rarest cases—either by what your army can do against your enemy’s territory and national life, or else by the fear of what the fleet makes it possible for your army to do.[7]

Is this settled theory or should we concern ourselves with the nagging implications of Corbett’s fear of the possible? How should we properly understand the latter part of Corbett’s statement regarding the former’s pious and possibly sole finality? Wylie offers us insight when he suggests, “there are actually two very different categories of strategies that may be used in war.”[8] He categorized these strategies as sequential and cumulative:

Normally we consider a war as a series of discrete steps or action, with each one of this series of actions growing naturally out of, and dependent on, the one that preceded it. The total pattern of all the discrete or separate actions makes up, serially, the entire sequence of the war. If at any stage of the war one of these actions had happened differently, then the remainder of the sequence would have had a different pattern. The sequence would have been interrupted and altered. But there is another way to prosecute a war…. The other is cumulative, the less perceptible minute accumulation of little items piling on top of the other until at some unknown point the mass of accumulated actions may be large enough to be critical. They are not incompatible strategies, they are not mutually exclusive. Quite the opposite. In practice they are usually interdependent in their strategic result.[9]

“[A] sequential strategy would utilize the ability of force to take and protect,” Lukas Milevski suggests, “whereas a cumulative strategy would utilize the innate capacity of force to inflict damage.”[10] Sequential strategies strive for finality in achieving strategic effect, while cumulative strategies effectively deny such finality.

U.S. Army paratroopers from the 82nd Airborne Division descend to the ground after jumping out of a C-17 Globemaster III aircraft over drop zone Sicily during Joint Operations Access Exercise at Ft. Bragg, N.C. (Photo by A1c James Richardson, USAF)


Both strategies are best understood as complementary sides of the same coin, rather than inherently hierarchical or opposing inferior viewpoints. Sequential strategy promotes inherently offensive assertions of control, while cumulative strategy is an inherently defensive aspect of control that saps the strength of an adversary’s assertions for control.[11] These categorizations are not exhaustive, but they are useful in explaining how merging sequential and cumulative strategies jointly enhance strategic effect.

So, what aspects of joint action are typical of sequential and cumulative strategies? Conventional land power is a sequential strategy because of its unique ability to control political territory. Only conventional land power can assert control by seizing political territory, and only conventional land power can achieve control by protecting that valued territory. Alternatively, forms of power promoting cumulative strategies are sea power, air power, space power, and cyber power. Guerrilla warfare is also a cumulative strategy. All cumulative strategies, however, lack direct control upon the territorial imperative.[12]

Explanation of Joint Action via Sequential and Cumulative Strategies

A U.S. soldier shares grapes with Afghan boys in the southern province of Kandahar. (Photo by Tony Karumba)


It would seem inherent in Wylie’s suggestion that the “ultimate determinant” of control “in war is the man on the scene with a gun.”[13] However valid this point might be, as suggested above with the coin analogy, it illuminates only one part of the whole. War is a “duel on a larger scale” between opponents with varied capabilities and strategies at their disposal. There is room on both sides for misconceptions about the nature of the aforementioned coin.

Zealots will always promise “decisive” war termination via either type of strategy, omitting the obligatory importance of jointness. Slogans such as “Victory through air power,”[14] and “[land power] when specific outcomes matter,”[15] illustrate two such examples. Sometimes these are suggested as result of unwitting reductionism, but can also be the polemic tools of ideology or cynical competition for resources. The greatest barrier to joint action is parochial thinking that does not fully appreciate other strategic viewpoints, more precisely, a blend of sequential and cumulative strategies.

Relationship of Jointness to the Interaction of Sequential and Cumulative Strategies

While finality is possible with sequential strategies, hostility is always at play. War rarely allows for a single decisive blow, nor is the ultimate outcome of a war usually to be regarded as final. Additionally, lest we commit ourselves wholly to the lure of “decisive” strategies, one can never overlook the political constraints dictated by context in asserting control.[16] Clearly, there is more to consider than a simplified perspective of “decisiveness.”

Milevski illuminates the interplay between cumulative and sequential strategies further:

Cumulative strategy is underappreciated, in part because it cannot be ‘of itself reliably decisive’…. Its effect is limited and only works over time, anathema to those strategists whose aim is short, decisive wars. Cumulative strategy can on its own only achieve a denial of control the result of which is to obscure the choices that really are available and the consequences they may have…. Bereft of the ability to take, it cannot force a conclusion upon [an adversary] unwilling to accept it, as may be ultimately possible with sequential strategy…. To those not trained to think in terms of control, denial of control as an operational method seems inexplicable as it does not fall into more popular categories of operations such as direct and indirect or attritional or maneuver. Bereft of an intellectual framework, however implicit, practitioners facing a cumulative strategy have no way of understanding the character of the threat they face. This lack of comprehension affects not only the strategy chosen to counter it, but also practitioners’ grasp of who is more strongly affecting whom.[17]

The interaction of cumulative and sequential strategies is complex. As a result, it is useful to consider this interaction during the ongoing debate over war termination, counterinsurgency operations, and even resourcing of our future military capabilities. In each of these areas, success will be secured by balanced use of cumulative and sequential strategies in a joint and thoughtful manner.

Anticipation within a Positive View of Joint Action

The Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS Barry (DDG 52) launches a Tomahawk missile in support of Operation Odyssey Dawn on March 19, 2011. (Via Wikimedia Commons)


Wylie’s theory of control viewed through the dichotomy of sequential and cumulative strategies is not meant to be prescriptive nor mathematical. After all, the interplay between friendly and adversarial combinations must be tested in real war.[18] Actual context requires the subjective blend of these strategies into unified action. By understanding the core of control as having two equally important strategies, sequential and cumulative, one grasps the fundamental basis of jointness as a principle in achieving a desired strategic effect.

“One can sense a very real possibility that this concept of sequential and cumulative strategies operating in coordination,” Wylie suggests, “may help us form more valid judgments of the interrelationship between ground and air, ground and sea, and sea and air forces.” Since he wrote these words, technology has irrevocably changed the modes of warfare making this interrelationship more complicated. Nevertheless, Wylie grasped the most important element of the debate when he suggested that control was best achieved via an interoperable application of both cumulative and sequential strategies.[19] It is for this reason that strategists should willfully acknowledge and be driven by a holistic understanding of the necessity for jointness, rather than by force of law. My personal theory suggests that this approach to joint action will increase success in translating tactical action into strategic effects that promote our national interests.

[1] This essay is greatly indebted to the works of Clausewitz, Corbett, Colin Gray, Lukas Milevski, and especially J.C. Wylie as the means for developing a basis of joint action. The latter’s work in Military Strategy is especially useful in parsing out how cumulative and sequential strategies drive how we think about war. Also, the author would like to thank Jeremy Renken, Scott Shipman, and Nick Prime for exchanges that further illuminated Wylie’s theory of control to me.

[2] Colin S Gray, Modern Strategy (New York: Oxford University Press, 1999), 209–211.

[3] If Sir Julian Corbett is the first joint theorist, then J.C. Wylie’s insistence upon integrated sequential and cumulative strategies as a prerequisite for political advantage within a military context demands that he be held as a close second.

[4] J. C. Wylie, Military Strategy: A General Theory of Power Control (New Brunswick, N.J.,: Rutgers University Press, 1967), 110.

[5] Carl von Clausewitz, Michael Howard, and Peter Paret, On War (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1989), 95, 97.

[6] Gray, Modern Strategy, 212–216; Wylie, Military Strategy, 85; Clausewitz, Howard, and Paret, On War, 377; Lukas Milevski, “Revisiting J.C. Wylie’s Dichotomy of Strategy: The Effects of Sequential and Cumulative Patterns of Operations,” Journal of Strategic Studies 35, no. 2 (January 18, 2012): 234.

[7] Julian Stafford Corbett, Some Principles of Maritime Strategy (Annapolis, Md.: Naval Institute Press, 1988), 16.

[8] Wylie, Military Strategy, 26.

[9] Ibid., 23–24, 26.

[10] Milevski, “Revisiting J.C. Wylie’s Dichotomy of Strategy,” 229.

[11] Ibid., 234, 235.

[12] Ibid., 232–234.

[13] Wylie, Military Strategy, 85.

[14] H.C. Potter et al., Victory Through Air Power (Burbank, CA: Walt Disney Pictures, 1943), accessed May 23, 2014.

[15] Huba Wass De Czege, The Hard Truth about “Easy Fighting” Theories: The Army Is Needed Most When Specific Outcomes Matter, Essay, The Landpower Essay Series (Association of the United States Army, April 2013), accessed January 14, 2014.

[16] Clausewitz, Howard, and Paret, On War, 75–89, 577, 593–594.

[17] Milevski, “Revisiting J.C. Wylie’s Dichotomy of Strategy,” 235–236.

[18] Wylie, Military Strategy, 29.

[19] Ibid., 27–29, 33–35.

Defense Industrial Base: A Personal Theory of Power

This essay is the third in the Personal Theories of Power series, a joint Bridge-CIMSEC project which asked a group of national security professionals to provide their theory of power and its application. We hope this launches a long and insightful debate that may one day shape policy.

Defense industrial base [hereafter “industrial base” or “defense industry”] issues are almost always discussed in a contextual vacuum — as if their history begins with World War II factories or with President Eisenhower’s 1961 warning of a growing industrial complex. But manufacturing materiel is as ancient as war itself. This essay attempts to first set a historical narrative for the defense industry and then to propose a theory of its power.

Marching through history

In 1528, Charles V of Spain hired a Genoese firm to supply and operate a fleet of galleys to help control the Italian coast. Due to their increased size and sophistication, the price of galleys grew. By 1570, this led his son Philip II to experiment with having court administrators operate seventy percent of Spain’s fleet. They failed to recruit experienced oarsmen or to provision equipment efficiently. The price of operating galleys doubled without any vessel improvements before the policy was reversed to private enterprise.[i]

In 1603, Charles’s grandson, Philip III paid 6.3 million ducats to Gonzalo Vaz Countinho, a private merchant, for 40 ships and 6,392 men. This eight year contract supplied Spain with its entire Atlantic fleet. Twenty-five years later, Philip IV contracted a Liège company to build cast-iron cannon and shot. By 1640, 1,171 canons and 250,000 shot were built. Until the end of the eighteenth century Spain was self-sufficient in iron guns.[ii]

Contracting was not limited to the House of Habsburg. Governments have always relied on industry to provide materiel. It is not surprising then that in Michael Howard’s classic War in European History private enterprise plays a prominent role. Knights, mercenaries, merchants, and technologists shaped the history of Europe and thus its wars.[iii]

An industry is born

For centuries supply caravans traveled with armies and small, decentralized, enterprises such as blacksmiths were ubiquitous. To profit, merchants repurposed equipment on commercial markets. Other proprietors assumed financial loss for military titles or, when victorious, profited from the spoils of war.[iv]

The Thirty Years’ War (1618-1648) changed the scale of conflict and the materiel required to conduct it. At last there were “large-scale profits to be made” from the “business of war”.[v] In Genoa, Hamburg, and Amsterdam centers comprised of weapons manufacturers emerged alongside merchants that specialized in capital, financing, and market access. A multinational arms industry was born that “cut across not just national, but confessional, and indeed military boundaries.”[vi]

Berlin based Splitgerber & Daum was one firm born from this system. Formed in 1712, its two proprietors began as commissioned agents. They raised capital to supply munitions first to local arsenals in Saxony and eventually the Prussian army itself. Their growth can be attributed to an early observation: that success in their business “could be achieved only within the framework of a strictly organized mercantilist economy.”[vii] Patriotism became a marketing tool.

By 1722, Splitgerber & Daum was manufacturing “gun barrels, swords, daggers, and bayonets” at Spandau and assembling guns at Potsdam.[viii] By mid-century it was a conglomerate. Frederick the Great, unlike his grandfather the “mercenary king,” was not an admirer of contractors. But after the Seven Years’ War ended in 1763 he guaranteed the company a “regular flow of government orders” as long as it remained loyal to Prussian interests.[ix] He understood that in order to “raise Prussia to the status of great power required the services of merchants, manufacturers, and bankers.”[x]

Pouvoirs régaliens

Twenty-six years later, the French Revolution would change Europe. Until then, states were the property of absolute sovereigns; after they became “instruments of powerful forces dedicated to such abstract concepts as Liberty, Nationality, or Revolution.”[xi] As the nature of the State changed, so did its wars. French armies were now comprised of conscripts. In 1794, France attempted a planned economy. It reasoned that if people could be conscripted so could resources. The experiment failed due to inefficiency; manufacturing reverted back to private enterprise before the year’s end.

Battle of Waterloo by William Sadler

Industry would flourish during the Napoleonic Wars. From 1783 to 1815 two thirds of Britain’s naval tonnage was produced by private shipyards. And the Royal Navy began to experiment with managing industry. It sacrificed deals with large lower-cost providers to bolster small contractors that it considered to be more flexible. In the nineteenth century, the birth of nations launched state industries: private, but British shipyards; private, but German steelmakers.

Krupp would embody this development. Founded in 1811 in Essen (by then Prussia), it would first develop steel. By 1851 it became the primary provider of Prussian arms and, after German unification, the country’s preeminent defense firm. By 1902, Krupp managed the shipyards in Kiel, produced Nassau-class dreadnought armor, and employed 40,000 people.[xii]

Defense Industrial Base Power

Defense industries evolved from distributed providers, to unaligned enterprises, and finally to state-managed industries. They became consortiums of private or government-owned entities that translate the natural, economic, and human capital resources of a state into materiel.[xiii]

Krupp’s steel plant in Essen as captured during The Great War

World War II stretched this logic to its absolute; all state resources were translated into the machinery of war. In 1940 the US only built 2,900 bombers and fighters; by 1944 it built 74,000 on the back of industry. From 1941 until the war’s end 2,711 Liberty ships were built; welded together from 250,000 parts, which were manufactured all over the country. And from 1942 to 1946, 49,324 Sherman tanks were built by 11 separate companies such as Ford and American Locomotive — built by the “arsenal of democracy.”[xiv]

After the war, all countries began to balance national security objectives with resources via defense industrial base policies. A country’s industrial base capability could be measured as a combination of its scope (how many different cross-domain technologies it could develop), scale (at what quantity), and quality (battlefield performance).

The path to independence

National resources limit capability. Less capable countries are more dependent on allies than more capable ones (see Figure 1). As countries develop an industrial base their level of dependence decreases, but never goes away. This can be best understood through industry itself. Prime contractors rely on their supply chains. But a widget supplier is more dependent on its customer, than its customer is on it.

Figure 1: Interdependence in the International System

Reflects a manufacturing view of the defense industrial base. Information technology capabilities (i.e., data PED or cyber) have made industrial base capabilities more accessible to smaller countries with less national resources. How this impacts the curve or a nation’s independence is worth further exploration.


Industry developed a science for managing the inherent risk of dependence — supply chain management. However, corporate practices do not translate to international politics. Country A may find new allies; Country B may seek to act on its own. And all countries shift along the curve depending on their level of investment.

For example, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates have invested into defense since the first Gulf War. They are now capable of “manufacturing and modernizing military vehicles, communication systems, aerial drones, and more.”[xv] Through offset agreements and foreign partnerships they have acquired “advanced defense industrial knowledge and technology” and are expected to rely on their “own manpower and arms production capabilities to address national security needs” by 2030.[xvi]

To borrow from Henry John Temple — Britain’s Prime Minister from 1859 to 1865 — in the international system, states have temporary friends, but permanent interests.[xvii] Over time, it is thus in the interest of each country to increase its independence by investing into defense capabilities (see Figure 2).

Figure 2: Ability to Achieve Political Objectives Over Time

Without such investment, Country Z capabilities erode. Country Y may attempt to sustain its capabilities, but as other countries develop new technologies, sustainment also leads to capability erosion. Only countries that invest into industrial bases over time are able to achieve political objectives independently.

One more supper

The United States has never shown, over a sustained period of time, “a coherent long-term strategy for maintaining a healthy domestic defense industry.”[xviii] American defense budgets are cyclical; they have contracted after every war. Every time, the Pentagon intervened with reactionary strategies to manage industry. And each time, as one former Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense noted, the Pentagon got it wrong.[xix]

This was most evident in 1993 when the Pentagon held a dinner, known as the “Last Supper,” with top defense executives. It told them that after the Cold War, America no longer needed nor could it afford the same volume of materiel. But it left it up to industry to decide its overcapacity problem. Industry began to consolidate, based on rational business sense, but not a national strategy.

The 1990s were focused on consolidation, commercialization, and dual-use technology. Today, as budgets are again tightened, new strategies such as increased competition and international expansion have emerged. This may help save some companies, but how will it impact our ability to act independently over time?

In 2003, after decades of following a similar industrial base approach, the UK realized that it no longer had the design expertise to complete development of its Astute-class nuclear submarine.[xx] And in 2010 the UK’s Strategic Defence and Security Review, by listing the capabilities it will have, spelled out what it can no longer accomplish independently. Although the UK received American support for its submarine, what would happen if it did not?

As the US argues over budgets or program cuts, a theory of defense industrial base power could help set priorities. Commercial diversification or international expansion are tactics by which defense firms gain new revenues to save themselves in a downturn. We need a national defense industrial base strategy to maintain our capability for independent action.

[i] Parrott, David. The Business of War: Military Enterprise and Military Revolution in Early Modern Europe. New York: Cambridge University Press. 2012.

[ii] Ibid.

[iii] Howard, Michael. War in European History. New York: Oxford University Press. 1976.

[iv] Parker, Geoffrey. The Military Revolution: Military Innovation and the Rise of the West, 1500-1800 (2nd Edition). Cambridge. Cambridge University Press. 1996.

[v] Parrot, The Business of War.

[vi] Howard, War in European History.

[vii] Henderson, W.O. Studies in the Economic Policy of Frederick the Great. Oxon: Routledge. 1963.

[viii] Ibid.

[ix] Clark, Christopher. Iron Kingdom: The Rise and Downfall of Prussia, 1600-1947. Cambridge. Harvard University Press. 2006.

[x] Henderson, Studies in the Economic Policy.

[xi] Howard, War in European History.

[xii] James, Harold. Krupp: A History of the Legendary German Firm. Princeton: Princeton University Press. 2012.

[xiii] Peck, Merton J. and Frederic Scherer M. The Weapons Acquisition Process: An Economic Analysis. Boston. Harvard University. 1962.

[xiv] Gansler, Jacques S. Democracy’s Arsenal: Creating a Twenty-First-Century Defense Industry. Cambridge. The MIT Press. 2011.

[xv] Saab, Bilal Y. “Arms and Influence in the Gulf: Riyadh and Abu Dhabi Get to Work.” Foreign Affairs, accessed May 5, 2014.

[xvi] Ibid.

[xvii] Gartzke, Erik and Alex Weisiger. “Permanent Friends? Dynamic Difference and the Democratic Peace.” International Studies Quarterly (2012): 1-15

[xviii] Harrison, Todd and Barry Watts D. “Sustaining Critical Sectors of the U.S. Defense Industrial Base.” Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments. 2011.

[xix] Marshall C. Tyrone Jr. “Pentagon Revamps Approach to Industrial Base, Official Says.” American Forces Press Service. February, 20 2013, accessed May 16, 2013.

[xx] Harrison, Sustaining Critical Sectors.

Theory Properly Constructed

This essay is the start to the Personal Theories of Power series, a joint BridgeCIMSEC project which asked a group of national security professionals to provide their theory of power and its application. We hope this launches a long and insightful debate that may one day shape policy.

When professionals hear the word theory, their eyes tend to glaze over. Most believe theory is purely academic. While understandable, this is only one view of theory. For those of us that will be sharing our personal theories of military power, theory frames our worldview. It changes how we approach problems. Theory shapes how we project power. Over the next couple of days, this will become blatantly apparent as you read how a broad range of national security professionals share their personal theories here on The Bridge. We are presenting our personal theories as a starting point for a wider and deeper national security and strategy discussion.

Theory is crucial to what we do, but it must be consciously acknowledged and tested. In his book The Tacit Dimension, Michael Polanyi suggests “we can know more than we can tell.” This is a useful description of our theoretical beliefs as knowledge; where knowledge, in what is irrevocably lost through unrefined English, is best understood via differentiation in the German tongue as Wissen and Können.[i]

The former, Wissen, is knowledge of awareness; here our particular gestalt is the sum of our biases and blind spots. The latter, Können, is knowledge of discernment; here we typically tend to make order of things within our perception and sub-conscious. These coupled concepts build a bridge between the creative powers of the mind and a value judgment for ordering of the operations of perception. For both these reasons, there is value in the expression of our personal theories. They expose buried subceptions, but are also practical extensions in reproductive and productive reasoning.[ii] Bringing these to the fore is the purpose of The Bridge’s efforts to gather the personal theories that follow this article: for narrow self-reflection, for wider public consideration, for discussion, for questioning, for debate, for recursion, and ultimately for improved practical application. So as a prompt for our writers and readers alike, it is useful to consider the proper construction of theory at the outset of this endeavor.

The Five Functions of Theory and their Impact on Practice

“Strategy and strategies, theory and practice, must be seen as one,” the eminent strategist and theorist Colin Gray suggests, and “[theory] should be able to help educate the realm of practice by assisting people to think strategically.”[iii] There is a unifying nature of theory, in that it informs and educates professionals towards making sense of their circumstances. Towards that end, the archetypical theory has five functions: it defines, categorizes, explains, connects, and ideally, anticipates.[iv]

Theory should provide users a description of what is being done and illuminate the purpose of what is being done.

First, theory defines the field of study. In a sense, it provides via classification a clean break with what its users are considering and what they are not. Inherent in this classification are two additional considerations: definitions ideally should provide users a description of what is being done and illuminate the purpose of what is being done. [v]

Blind Monks Examining an Elephant by Itcho Hanabusa (Wikimedia Commons)


Second, theory must categorize its field of study into constituent parts, thus providing some form of typology, for example, differentiating between strategy and tactics, or limited and total war. Ideally, perhaps even scientifically, this typology requires the theorist to establish criteria of exhaustiveness and mutual exclusiveness. This is logical, even purely logical, if impossible. The curb of practicality must provide limits of such logic to the user of theory in favor of pragmatic reasoning. This pragmatic reasoning is what provides grammar to a particular theory. Thus, hopefully familiar to the reader: theory’s logic is not its own—so as to provide consistency with its purpose—but its grammar in what it does is its own. This nature drives theory towards a healthy respect for empiricism rather than just glib idealism. This also means the categorization of a theory is likely never final; it will remain eternally relevant for contemplation because of either new explanations or new grouping, or some combination of both.[vi]

“Explanation is the soul of theory.”

The Alchemist by Pietro Longhi (Wikimedia Commons)


Third, theory provides an explanation of occurrences, and this is theory’s most important function. Harold Winton goes so far as to suggest, “explanation is the soul of theory.” Here within theory is the convergence of both deductive and inductive examination of an object of study. Where the former is focused upon a theory’s empirical testability, the latter is more intuitive and requires creativity to recognize a paradigm shift. While this is the most important aspect of theory, it is also the most transitory. This distinction from the transitory property of categorization results from a recursive flow of analysis and synthesis via observation, hypothesis, and testing.[vii]

Carl von Clausewitz

Fourth, theory relates and connects together concepts. This part of theory progresses the conception of an object from an existential basis (inherent in the previous functions) to a form of relational construct. Without such a progression towards the latter, theory suffers from a pensiveness that precludes practical application. This relational aspect of theory applies order to things and, in other cases, also describes correlation, or even causation, and it can even be a probabilistic supposition. A familiar example of the relational concept in theory is the elegant Clausewitzian connection between violence and politics.[viii]

Hand with Reflecting Sphere by M.C. Escher (Wikimedia Commons)


Finally, theory anticipates the future. Theory is more than naïve empiricism, which if followed would suggest that our practical application would only be the sum of our accumulated observations. Karl Popper disputes the idea of this aggregation of observations by reminding us that, “[we] do not ‘have’ an observation, but we ‘make’ an observation.” Observation, then, is always preceded by something more theoretical that presupposes expectations for an object under consideration. Thus convinced that empiricism alone is insufficient, to what extent or limit would the prudent theorists extend their judgment from propositions, hypotheses, principles or axioms, to even laws? The complexity of this issue is discussed elsewhere, but it is sufficient to say a theorist must not abandon empiricism either. For, if they do, it is rather axiomatic that theorists will find their theories are merely visions, which I.B. Holley describes as “ideas not systematically prepared for authentication,” or illusions as “ideas that could not survive systematic preparation for authentication,” or at worst as myths where “ideas… exempt themselves from any systematic authentication.” Here it might be forgivable, falling short of being useful theorists to at least being compelling visionaries, but only the most maligned and rare theorist is caught in illusion- or myth-building.[ix]

“Questions are our best friends for the invention and refinement of strong useful theory, and they are the lethal enemies of poor theory.”


Now that we’ve properly wrestled with the Wissen and Können aspects of theory construction, it’s now time to set it out for review and challenge. “Questions are our best friends for the invention and refinement of strong useful theory, and they are the lethal enemies of poor theory,” Colin Gray reminds us. Now its time to put that idea to the test, ever mindful of the Master’s aim for theory:

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 question clearly and simply and expect the reader to share one’s views.[x]

We hope you enjoy the next few days as our authors explain, likely through their own intellectual struggles, their personal and particular theories, and we challenge you to respond with your questions, counter assertions, and your own personal theories.

[i] Michael Polanyi, The Tacit Dimension, Reissue edition. (Chicago ; London: University Of Chicago Press, 2009), 4–8.

[ii] Ibid., 6–8.

[iii] Colin S. Gray, The Strategy Bridge: Theory for Practice (Oxford ; New York, NY: Oxford University Press, USA, 2011), 15.

[iv] Harold R. Winton, “On the Nature of Military Theory,” in Toward a Theory of Spacepower: Selected Essays (National Defense University Press, 2011), 20–21, accessed April 26, 2014; Harold R. Winton, “A Black Hole in the Wild Blue Yonder: The Need for a Comprehensive Theory of Airpower,” Air Power History (Winter 1992): 3.

[v] Winton, “On the Nature of Military Theory,” 20–21; Winton, “A Black Hole in the Wild Blue Yonder: The Need for a Comprehensive Theory of Airpower,” 3; Antulio Joseph Echevarria, Clausewitz and Contemporary War (Oxford [England]; New York: Oxford University Press, 2007), 38–40.

[vi] Winton, “On the Nature of Military Theory,” 20; Echevarria, Clausewitz and Contemporary War, 38; Paul Davidson Reynolds, A Primer in Theory Construction (New York; London: Allyn and Bacon, 1971), 4–5; W. Brian Arthur, The Nature of Technology: What It Is and How It Evolves, Reprint edition. (New York; London: Free Press, 2011), 2, 21.

[vii] Winton, “On the Nature of Military Theory,” 20–21; Reynolds, A Primer in Theory Construction, 21–23, 26, 42–43; Frans PB Osinga, Science, Strategy and War: The Strategic Theory of John Boyd (Routledge, 2006), 57–64; “The Conceptual Spiral”, August 1992, 22–24, 31, 37–38, accessed May 7, 2014.

[viii] Reynolds, A Primer in Theory Construction, 67–75, 81–82; Carl von Clausewitz, Michael Howard, and Peter Paret, On War (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1989), 87, 605–610; Winton, “On the Nature of Military Theory,” 21.

[ix] Karl R. Popper, “The Bucket and Searchlight: Two Theories of Knowledge,” in Objective Knowledge: An Evolutionary Approach, Revised edition. (Oxford Eng. : New York: Oxford University Press, USA, 1972), 341–342, 344; Reynolds, A Primer in Theory Construction, 76–81; I.B. Holley, Jr., “Reflections on the Search for Airpower Theory,” in The Paths Of Heaven: The Evolution Of Airpower Theory, ed. Phillip S. Meilinger (Maxwell AFB, AL: Air University Press, 1997), 580, accessed February 6, 2014.

[x] Gray, The Strategy Bridge, 17; Clausewitz, Howard, and Paret, On War, 132.