Nikolai Medem

Medem, Nikolai Vasil’evich


Born 1796; died Feb. 24 (Mar. 8), 1870. Baron; Russian military theorist; general in the artillery (1864).

Medem joined the army in 1813 and participated in the foreign campaigns of 1813-14. He became a professor at the military academy in 1833. He became chairman of the Main Military Scientific Committee in 1864. Medem was the first in Russia to write original theoretical works on strategy and tactics (Tactics, parts 1-2, 1837-38, and Survey of the Best-Known Rules and Systems of Strategy, 1836; each book was awarded the Demidov Prize). In these works he presented a generally correct characterization of the views of the greatest military theorists of the past on strategy and established links between war, politics, strategy, and tactics. Medem concluded that theory cannot set forth any immutable rules for conducting wars; instead, he argued, it has the more limited task of clarifying the characteristics of various factors (“elements of strategy”) and the way they influence military operations; furthermore, he thought that theory must rest on the data from the experience of military history.

Medem was the founder of a progressive school of military theory that rejected the “eternal and unconditional principles” of the art of war and emphasized the variability and conditional nature of the ways of conducting military operations. His work had a beneficial effect on the development of military science. Nevertheless, Medem underestimated the role of theory and exaggerated the importance of subjective factors.