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Posen, The Sources of Military Doctrine

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Barry R. Posen, The Sources of Military Doctrine (Cornell University Press: Ithaca, NY, 1984)

Author. (1952 - )
MIT professor of political science, director of security studies program
Cold War
Explaining how doctrine takes shape under bureaucratic, technological, geographic, and “power political” (domestic and international) influences
Balance of power
explains most doctrinal change
civilians are key.


- Book examines the explanatory power of organizational and balance of power theories to explain changes in military doctrine

- uses case studies of England, France, Germany & USA during interwar period

- Conclusion is that balance of power does a better job; that change normally comes about when a military maverick teams with a civilian leader to drive change externally onto the organization

- Also states that technology is less a factor on doctrine than is geography

- civilians will become more engaged when balance of power/security is threatened

- - civilians will audit the military to see how it can face threat and take action from that data point.

Central Proposition
233 – civilian intervention in military affairs is a key determinant of integration and innovation. Balance of power theory can help explain the causes of such intervention.

Other Major Propositions.
13 – A grand strategy must identify likely threats to the state’s security and it must devise political, economic, military, and other remedies for those threats. Priorities must be established among both threats and remedies. …
“military doctrine” = What means shall be employed? and How shall they be employed?
24 – In the most general terms, the ultimate purpose of a military doctrine is the continued survival of the state that holds it.
39 – The analysis does not show that organizational factors are unimportant, but rather that they are more often than not overridden by constraints and incentives that lie at the level of the international political system.
47 – organizations innovate: when they fail, when they are pressured from without, or because they wish to expand
58/9 – read these pages
78/9 – read these pages
80 – military doctrine should, according to organization theory, show a tendency to be offensive, disintegrated, and stagnant. … Balance of power theory predicts somewhat different outcomes, depending on the state’s situation. .. technology and geography are rarely determinative in their own right. … In times of relative international calm we should expect a high degree of organizational determinism. In times of threat we should see greater accommodation of doctrine to the international system—integration should be more pronounced, innovation more likely.

7 – Within grand strategy, military doctrine sets priorities among various military forces and prescribes how those forces should be structured and employed to achieve the ends in view.
8 – Organization theory and balance of power theory frequently predict very different outcomes … when the predictions conflict, we can examine the real outcomes to see which theory predicts more reliably. … perturbing variables (such as domestic politics) unaccounted for by either theory makes this test less than perfect. … balance of power theory is the more powerful.

Chapter 1 – The Importance of Military Doctrine
15/6 – By their offensive, defensive, or deterrent character, doctrines affect the probability and intensity of arms races and of wars. … A military doctrine may harm the security interests of the state if it is not integrated with the political objectives of the state’s grand strategy [or] if it fails to respond to changes in political circumstances, adversary capabilities, or available military technology.
16 – Offensive doctrines increase the probability and intensity of arms races and wars.
16 – So long as technology, geography, and economy make it possible for states to aggress against one another, and so long as there is no international authority to protect those satisfied with the status quo and to punish those who violate it, states will be strongly encouraged to takes steps to protect themselves from one another. (Allison Model I, Waltz “structural realism”, Jervis anarchic system)
17 – The security dilemma arises “not because of misperception or imagined hostility, but because of the anarchic context of international relations.” … “self-help” is the fundamental prerequisite for security.
19 – If all states adopted defensive or deterrent doctrines, the result should be a downward trend in military spending. (Wasn’t MAD a deterrent doctrine? That did not result in less spending)
21 – When states hold offensive doctrines, and know that their adversaries do as well, there is good reason for them to fear that a decision will be reached early in a war. … This encourages large peacetime military inventories.
25 – A successful grand strategy for a status quo state will so knit together ends and means that aggressors will be dissuaded from attack. Ideally, the military means chosen by states seeking to change that status quo will appear so effective that those states threatened would rather accommodate than fight. … the grand strategy of a state should account for its effects on other states. … In peace or war, the fundamental question of political-military integration is whether the statesman has at hand the military instruments required to achieve those political goals deemed essential to the security of the state. It is also fair to ask whether the political goals in view fall within the state’s military means, and whether the military means selected unnecessarily inhibit the discretion of political authorities.
30 – given the large number of possible changes in a state’s environment and technological changes in military hardware, absence of innovation should always attract the strategist’s attention. Close inspection may show that no innovation is required, but this should never be assumed. … Changing doctrines takes time; it disorients a military organization. A war during such a period of transition can be very dangerous.
31 – Initial battles of a war are fought with the equipment on hand. Decisions made long before the war will determine some operational possibilities during the war.
33 – A grand strategy is a chain of political and military ends and means. Military doctrine is a key component of grand strategy.

Chapter 2 – Explaining Military Doctrine
36 – Is spite of real differences of substance, the behaviors of a great diversity of states in a wide range of historical circumstances seem to exhibit important underlying similarities. (history repeats)
37 – Both balance of power theory and organization theory assume that actors do what they can with their own power and what they must with reference to the power of others. (Melian dialogue)
38 – In explaining international outcomes, balance of power theorists have stressed the influence of the system; organization theorists the state and its constituents parts.
42 – Organization theorists explain things by reference to three important causal forces: purpose, people, and environment.
43 – Purpose demands coordination, planning, and supervision. … rationality criteria, of cause and effect, cost and benefit … aimed at reducing uncertainty … i.e. bureaucracy. … People are a great source of uncertainty. … Power, authority, prestige, deference, good fellowship, and so on all condition the behavior or people in organizations. … the environment spawns the organization … is often an obstacle to the … pursuit of purpose.
60 – Due to the absence of a sovereign, violence is a constant a omnipresent possibility among states. In violent disputes two factors determine outcomes: capability and will.
61 – States do not go to war for its own sake. Mindful of the costs and risks of war, they attempt through diplomacy to achieve a mutual understanding of one another’s power and will—an agreement on who cares more and who has more. … States balance in two general ways: coalition formation and internal mobilization.
65 – in multipolar systems, the weaker a status quo major power is relative to an expansionist state, the greater is the tendency for that power to devote energy to seeking allies

Chapter 7 – Conclusions
223 – According to organization theory, non-soldiers should have difficulty evaluating the state’s military needs and should become dependent on professional military organizations for such advice. Organization theory also predicts that these organizations will deliberately try to escape civilian control in the pursuit of their own interests.
224 – military organizations will seldom innovate autonomously, particularly in matters of doctrine. This should be true because organizations abhor uncertainty … it should also be true because military organizations are very hierarchical, restricting the flow of ideas from the lower levels to the higher levels. (obviously before AF Portal was created)
225 – An organization will change as a result of defeat, but it will attempt repairs rather than major innovations.
226 – Because each service is concerned for its autonomy, a group of services is not likely to produce an agreed multi-service strategy or doctrine that does anything more than combine their independent service doctrines. … only civilian intervention can shake loose these inter-service treaties and jealousies to produce an integrated grand strategy.
228 – Aggressors find many opportunities in a multipolar system which tend not to emerge in bipolar systems. … Collective goods problems among status quo powers not only create opportunities for expansion but tend to dislocate the opposition to expansion. … Mulitpolar systems should thus produce lengthy, wide, and destructive wars.
229 – The desire to wage “preventive” war gives rise to offensive doctrines. … states facing multiple enemies will often opt for offensive doctrines in the hope of achieving piecemeal defeat of an adversary coalition. … Geography, technology, and the overall balance of forces will affect whether or not a state can actually hope to defeat one adversary and then successfully shift forces to cope with another.
230 – politically isolated states will prefer offensive doctrines as aids to diplomacy
233 – Buck-passing was a primary motivation of both countries (Britain and France). Lest this be taken as an argument for technological determinism, it is to be remembered that France by planning to enter Belgium violated the Great War’s technological lessons, and Britain defied widely perceived technological “realities” of air warfare to build an air defense system.
234 – the doctrine offered by the Royal Air Force could not support British grand strategy. The civilians were prime movers in the development of a defensive military innovation in the face of an offensively inclined and inertial service. … This case is thus a clear test of both organization theory and notions of technological determinism. They fail. Balance of power theory, on the other hand, goes a long way to explain the peculiarities of British military doctrine and the air defense innovation.
236 – the influence of technology is seldom direct, and is usually filtered through organizational biases and statesmen’s perceptions of the international political system.
237 – A “new” technology was deployed in the armies and air forces of Europe in the 1930s, we see a diversity of responses and doctrines. … limited experience with a new technology can provide support for any doctrinal conclusion that soldiers or civilians wish to draw—for either organizational or grand strategic reasons.
238 – The French were interested not merely in defending themselves from conquest, but in keeping the collateral effects of battle as far from French territory as possible and roping in Belgian, Dutch, and (most of all) British allies to serve the French cause. These purposes were best served by leaving the border unfortified, thus inducing the Germans to invade through Belgium.
239 – statesmen and soldiers do take geography into account in making their military decisions. At the same time, however, they are often willing to understate or overstate its impact to suit organizational interests, policy preferences, or constraints and incentives presented by the distribution of power in the international system.
240 – when threats become sufficiently grave, soldiers themselves begin to reconsider organizationally self-serving doctrinal preferences, if those preferences do not adequately respond to the state’s immediate security problem.
240 – Reality is always more complicated than we would like it to be, and seldom conforms perfectly to the predictions of any theory.
241 – Civilians must carefully audit the doctrines of their military organizations to ensure that they stress the appropriate type of military operations, reconcile political ends with military means, and change with political circumstances and technological developments. … The creation of international pariahs should be avoided. Such states are thrown back upon their own military resources, with unpredictable consequences.
244 – Statesmen, locked in conflict with powerful international adversaries, burdened with security dependencies, deprived of politically meaningful allies, unsure of their own military expertise, and simply inclined to try to limit damage to their states should war come, are vulnerable to the soldier’s arguments for offensive doctrine.

Notes from Gloves:

Posen, The Sources of Military Doctrine / military doctrine decides what means to employ and how to employ them – prioritization and structure 13 / mil ops are offensive to disarm, defensive to deny, or deterrent to punish 14 / realist 16 / “true deterrent doctrines, when backed up by an appropriate force posture, should limit the possibilities of misperception and overreaction” 24 / “neither innovation nor stagnation (stability) should be valued a priori” 29 / ch1 summary: “A grand strategy is a chain of political and military ends and means. Military doctrine is a key component of grand strategy. Military doctrines are important because they affect the quality of life in the international political system and the security of the states that hold them. Military doctrines may stress different military operations – offensive, defensive, or deterrent. Military doctrines may or may not be integrated with the political objectives of a grand strategy. They may be innovative or stagnant.” 33 / offensive doctrines reduce uncertainty 47 and increase organizational size and wealth 49 / innovation in military doctrine is rare due to institutionalization and uncertainty 54-5 / innovation happens when prompted by failure or civilian intervention 57 / “Organizational theory suggests a tendency toward offensive, stagnant military doctrines, poorly integrated with the political elements of a state’s grand strategy. Balance of power theory predicts greater heterogeneity in military doctrine, dependent on reasonable appraisals by each state of its political, technological, economic, and geographical problems and possibilities in the international political system.” 59 / in multipolar systems, relative power is hard to calculate 63 / civilians will intervene if they are bent on conquest, if they fear conquest, if the state is isolated, or upon defeat or Pyrrhic victory 74-8 / ch2 summary: “Organization theory and balance of power theory … are structural theories…. In the broadest sense military doctrine should, according to organization theory, show a tendency to be offensive, disintegrated, and stagnant. This is suggested both by the character of military organizations and by their functional separation from the political decision-makers of the state. Balance of power theory predicts somewhat different outcomes, depending on the state’s situation. In general, anything that makes the civilian leaders of a state more fearful should encourage political-military integration and operational innovation. Civilian preferences for offense, defense, or deterrence will be influenced by the international environment. Finally, if the two theories … have any validity at all, we should find that technology and geography are rarely determinative in their own right, although they should often have an important effect on doctrine…. In times of relative international calm we should expect a high degree of organizational determinism. In times of threat we should see greater accommodation of doctrine to the international system – integration should be more pronounced, innovation more likely. Among states, doctrines should show more heterogeneity. However, even under such circumstances all will not necessarily be well. Multipolar structures, although they exert an important influence on doctrine, may so confuse decision-makers as to allow organizational determinants to come to the fore once again.” 79-80 / ch3 summary: “Germany won the Battle of France and lost the Battle of Britain. She won the battle for which she had prepared and lost the one for which she had not. Her military doctrine had long envisioned major land campaigns on the European continent. Operations beyond its shores had been given little thought. For the most part German military doctrine was offensive, innovative, and integrated with Germany’s political strategy. Had that doctrine been held by a state with more limited aims, the Battle of Britain might never have been fought. However, German grand strategy contained the seeds of its own disintegration because its ends were infinitely expansive and they expanded at a rapid rate. No military doctrine, much less a force posture, could keep up with such a policy. In a way, Germany was a victim of its own too rapid successes. These made new enemies for Germany more quickly than her military organization could adapt to them. In a world of limited means and widely distributed power, it may be that such a hidden brake would operate on any open-endedly imperial policy. No doctrine can keep up. French military doctrine was defensive, stagnant, and not fully integrated with the state’s political strategy. Both operationally and politically, it looked backward to World War I. Stationary, defensive, attrition warfare, waged in the company of a powerful coalition, was both the French fear and the French aim. The main goal was to get others to share the costs of French defense. Until such cooperation could be assured, French military doctrine would aim to limit possible damage to France and to the French Army. This strategy was clear to France’s potential allies, all of whom reciprocated by passing the burden of their own defense back to France. None would risk German animosity for the sake of French goals. For this reason, interwar military cooperation was weak. Belgium, Holland, Britain, and France, the 1940 coalition, had few military discussions in the late 1930s. Yet, French doctrine called for limiting the damage to France, keeping the war away from her frontiers. This demanded a move into Belgium, a move that could only be a nightmare for the uncoordinated, defensively oriented, mutually suspicious Allied armies. Nevertheless, Gamelin plunged forward, chasing the chimera of a stabilized front, far from the French border, manned and paid for – at least in part – by France’s allies. British doctrine was somewhat similar. It was defensive, yet it was more innovative. It was well integrated with the political aspects of British grand strategy. Like France, Britain sought to transfer the costs of her defense to her allies. Geographically, she was better set up for this. Britain was hard to conquer, except by sea, and the Royal Navy had that bet covered. When emerging technology cast doubt upon the channel’s eternal military value, British politicians responded by giving increased support to Fighter Command. What they temporarily forgot, because it was convenient to do so, was that a successful German occupation of the channel coast, even if only of the mouth of the Scheldt, would provide an amphibious and aerial springboard against Britain. Defending the channel coast would demand a major ground force commitment and potentially high casualties such as those Britain had suffered in World War I. Until 1939, the British hoped that the French would pay these costs. With the channel and British airspace defended, Britain’s bets were covered. She hoped to commit just enough ground forces to the continent to get the French to fight. Who could imagine a change in land warfare so decisive as to allow the conquest of France? Hence, in May 1940, Britain fought a land battle that her grand strategy had for years sought to avoid. The peculiar British euphoria after Dunkirk may be explained by the fact that the British Expeditionary Force had both preserved British honor and avoided the disaster of the trenches as the same time. Besides these gains, a military defeat was a smallish matter. In the summer of 1940, on the other hand, the British found themselves fighting the battle that they had both feared and planned for during the preceding six years. The casualties of that summer were puny compared to the astounding losses of World War I. British fighters successfully bought the time for the next phase of the long-planned British war effort. For just as the French had counted on transferring a portion of their defense costs to the British, the British had counted on transferring some of their defense costs to anybody and everybody. With the time bought by Fighter Command, a new ally or two might be found. In this sense, British grand strategy was perhaps the most successful of the 1930s.”102-4 / French army accepted of a defensive doctrine because it reduced uncertainty 118 / desire to pass costs of French defense to potential allies led to stagnation and production of a military unprepared for contingency plans made by the French gov’t (like fighting to a standstill in Belgium) 130 / stagnation of mil doctrine also rested on an overlearning of the lessons of WWI 132 / France seems to have followed balance of power theory, not organization theory 135 / French focus on building coalition hurt doctrinal innovation 138 / carnage of WWI and fear of strat bombing drove Britain to appease 144-5 / Britain was a classic balance of power “balancer” 148 / “the magnitude of British interests, the extent of the threat to those interests, and the insufficiency of British capabilities drove Britain to a rudimentary deterrence strategy” 154 / “service parochialism was a major cause of the disintegration of British military doctrine from her grand strategy” 159 / RAF was the biggest offender 160 / Brits counted on using France as a continental shield 164 / Britain appeared to favor balance of power theory, with organizational theory explaining in a subsidiary role 176 / “British military doctrine was defensive, stagnant, and relatively disintegrated from the political aspects of British grand strategy for much of the interwar period. From 1934 on, however, it became more integrated and innovative. Throughout the period the doctrine had a very strong dissuasive component, stronger than that of French military doctrine.” 176 / while geography weakened the Empire, it strengthened Britain via the moat 177 / without civil control, the mil org couldn’t integrate mil doctrine with state grand strat; and civil control was absent until the crisis hove into view 177-8 / German military doctrine was offensive, innovative, and integrated with political strategy 179 / the German army fought the battle for which they prepared, while Britain and France had to fight the battle they had worked to avoid 181 / German strategic military thought was offensive in every sense, influenced by political and geographical realities 183 and organizational pressures 184 / Blitzkrieg was a civil innovation by Hitler 208 / Luftwaffe had political clout (in Goering) that precluded a drive for independence 214 / German army behavior evinces organizational theory 215 / “Organization theory is a quite powerful predictor of the behavioral tendencies of military organizations. Yet, even without civilian guidance, balance of power considerations can overcome organizational biases when threats are sufficiently great.” 216 / the German example advocates balance of power theory over organizational theory, and systemic factors like politics and geography had sgfnt influence 219 / “the influence of tech is seldom direct, and is usually filtered through organizational biases and statesmen’s perception of the international political system” 236 / geographical influences are more direct 237 / tech is a weak explainer, geography is stronger, organizational theory is stronger yet, and balance of power is strongest 240-1 / alliances are good 241-3 / echoing Tucci, “watch the Red menace” 243-4

seminar notes / balance of power words past organizational limits to allow civilians to intervene when military doesn’t offer an option that’s satisfactory / Posen compares military organizations versus state actors – a level of analysis discontinuity / it benefits us to know more about politics than politicians know about military / outside actors have greater influence than inside actors, sometimes / historian’s perspective addresses the experience factor Posen neglects

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