The Masters of Strategy and Tactics

Sun Tzu

For generations, warfare theorists have developed new military doctrines due to changing strategy, tactics, and operations triggered by new technologies.

Many warfare theorists consider several factors when they assess a country’s military doctrine and philosophy. They understand that a nation’s military doctrine is more than strategy, operations, tactics, and planning. They realize that a country’s military philosophy must be consistent with its threat environment and its relevant normative environment.

Military doctrine must parallel the countries’ absolute and relative levels of military technology, its national geography, its force structure, its perceived capabilities and intentions of actual and potential adversaries, its perceived capabilities and intentions of self, and its actual war plans. Today, the most influential warfare theorists are Sun Tzu, Carl von Clausewitz, Baron Antione Jomini, Basel Henry Liddell, Sir Halford John Mackinder, Alfred Thayer Mahan, Julian Stafford Corbett, John Frederick Charles Fuller, and Stephen D. Biddle.

Sun Tzu

Sun Tzu was a Chinese general, who lived around 500 BCE. He is credited for writing the Art of War, which is one of seven Chinese military classics. His main points focused on knowing the enemy, knowing yourself, and minimizing vulnerabilities.

He argued that finding non-violent ways of winning battles and campaigns is the height of generalship. He emphasized that intelligence is critical for achieving successful offensive and defensive military operations. Sun Tzu was very influential to Napoleon, Clausewitz, Jomini, Mao Tse-dung, Vo Nguyen Giap, Douglas MacArthur, and others.

Carl von Clausewitz

Carl von Clausewitz (1780 -1831) became famous after the publication of his book, On War in 1832. He was a Prussian staff general; he developed an unfinished military theory that was highly influential; he tightly links war with politics and actors will and he emphasized the dialectic where he views war as contest between two living forces.

He argues that military genius is only a form of leadership, not intelligence; he analyzes the uncertainty normal: fog of war and friction. He developed the concept of the remarkable trinity involving the army, the state, and the people. He defines the culminating point and he argues that the center of gravity is not just military in nature.

Baron Antoine-Henri Jomini

Baron Antoine-Hernri Jomini (1779-1869) became famous following the publication of his book, the Art of War in 1838. He was a Swiss national where he fought for France and Russia. He was a rival of Clausewitz. He argued that warfare was a science.

His arguments were influential in the US Army and after 1854 his ideas were translated into English. He emphasized tactical combat operations. His influence is still strong, but is slowly declining.

Basil Henry Liddel Hart

Basil Henry Liddell Hart (1895-1970) served as a British Army officer when he was gassed in 1916 before he retired as a captain in 1927. He was a prolific book and newspaper writer and he derive his military principles from experiences that he considered universal.

He is best known for his war theory arguing for the indirect approach by never attacking the enemy directly and upsetting the enemy’s equilibrium. He was described as arrogant and self-serving, but widely influential.

Sir Halford John Mackinder

Sir Halford John Mackinder (1861-1947) was an English geographer when he developed his geography-based strategy theory; he emphasized the heartland theory in 1904 where he argues that whoever controls the world island (Eurasia and Africa) controls the world. He influenced Nazi German theorists.

Alfred Thayer Mahan

Alfred Thayer Mahan (1840-1917) wrote “The Influence of Sea Power Upon History” in 1890. He was a US naval admiral and president of the Naval War College. He argued that naval power should control sea lanes and commerce in order to control the world.

He argued for the development and modernization of armored battleships and decisive fleet battle. He influenced the US in the Spanish American War (1898), Japan at Tsushima (1905) and in the Second World War, and the UK and Germany before the First World War.

Julian Stafford Corbett

Julian Stafford Corbett (1852-1922) wrote “Some Principles of Maritime Strategy” in 1911. He was a British naval historian, influenced by Clausewitz; he focused on the art of naval warfare, maneuver, and sea control. However, he angered Royal Navy officers by de-emphasizing decisive battle concepts.

John Frederick Charles Fuller

John Fredericks Charles Fuller (1876-1966) was a UK Army major general. He was an early supporter of armored warfare in tank-only formations. He influenced Gen. Heinz Guderian in developing the famous German “Blitzkrieg” tactical combat doctrine. He was fascist, sympathetic to Hitler in late 1930s. He alienated many in the UK.

Stephen D. Biddle

Stephen D. Biddle became famous among military analysts after writing his book on “Military Power: Explaining Victory And Defeat In Modern Battle” In 2004. He currently writes for the Council of Foreign Relations; he advises USG on Iraq and Afghanistan; he developed the theory of “modern system”, which is related to the combined arms teams and maneuver systems beginning during the First World War. His explanation of modern system demonstrates how victory can be achieved in land warfare; his theoretical work focuses on battle and not strategic warfare.

Assessment: Warfare Theory

Analysis of various warfare theories demonstrate that material and technological superiority never wins wars alone; military power is always contingent and it depends on actor interaction with the enemy; both history and emerging theory pose strong challenges to realistic and idealistic military concepts of military power and its capabilities.


  1. On War; Carl von Clausewitz; 1832.
  2. Sun Tzu The Art of War; Samuel B. Griffith; 1971.
  3. U.S. Military History; John C. McManus, PhD; 2008.
  4. How to Make war; James F. Dunnigan; 1992.
  5. The Encyclopedia of Military Biography; Trevor N. Dupuy and others; 1992