strategy and tactics

Also found in: Dictionary, Thesaurus, Medical.

strategy and tactics,

in warfare, related terms referring, respectively, to large-scale and small-scale planning to achieve military success. Strategy may be defined as the general scheme of the conduct of a war, tactics as the planning of means to achieve strategic objectives. Not all theorists of war make this a primary distinction. In the Chinese and Japanese traditions processes and paradoxes are emphasized more than categories (see Sun TzuSun Tzu
, fl. c.500–320. B.C., name used by the unknown Chinese authors of the sophisticated treatise on philosophy, logistics, espionage, and strategy and tactics known as The Art of War. It includes many commentaries by later Chinese philosophers.
..... Click the link for more information.
). Karl von ClausewitzClausewitz, Karl von
, 1780–1831, Prussian general and military strategist. Clausewitz was an original thinker most influenced by the Napoleonic wars in which he fought.
..... Click the link for more information.
, the Prussian military theorist, who was influenced by Niccolo MachiavelliMachiavelli, Niccolò
, 1469–1527, Italian author and statesman, one of the outstanding figures of the Renaissance, b. Florence. Life

A member of the impoverished branch of a distinguished family, he entered (1498) the political service of the
..... Click the link for more information.
, described strategy as the planning of a whole campaign and tactics as the planning of a single battle. In Clausewitz's theory all military strategy is part of the larger political pattern, and all the nation's resources are to be subordinated to the task of attaining the political objective of the war; to this concerted effort he gave the name "grand strategy." Antoine H. JominiJomini, Antoine Henri
, 1779–1869, Swiss general and military writer. He organized (1799) the militia of the Helvetic Republic and after 1804 served as staff officer in the French army. In Aug.
..... Click the link for more information.
, an influential Swiss military theorist and general, regarded strategy as the art of moving forces to the field of battle and tactics as the conduct of forces in battle. Another school views strategy as a means of bringing the enemy to battle and tactics as the means of defeating him in battle. Some theorists focus on clear sets of general principles; some wrote books on principles, formations and maneuvers; and still others dwell on the importance of spirit or other intangibles.


Through the Middle Ages

The towering figure in early military science was Alexander the GreatAlexander the Great
or Alexander III,
356–323 B.C., king of Macedon, conqueror of much of Asia. Youth and Kingship

The son of Philip II of Macedon and Olympias, he had Aristotle as his tutor and was given a classical education.
..... Click the link for more information.
, who destroyed the Persian Empire built by Cyrus the Great. He recognized the importance of maintaining reserves, pursuing the enemy, building up supplies (stockpiling), and making use of elaborate scouting (intelligence). In the 4th cent. B.C. VegetiusVegetius
(Flavius Vegetius Renatus) , fl. c.385–400, Roman writer. He is the author of Epitoma rei militaris [a summary of military matters], which is an important source of information about the Roman military system.
..... Click the link for more information.
 wrote a summary of military matters which is an important source of information on the Roman military. In the Punic Wars (between Rome and Carthage), HannibalHannibal
, b. 247 B.C., d. 183 or 182 B.C. Carthaginian general, an implacable and formidable enemy of Rome. Although knowledge of him is based primarily on the reports of his enemies, Hannibal appears to have been both just and merciful. He is renowned for his tactical genius.
..... Click the link for more information.
 emerged as the outstanding field commander. His famous victory at Cannae (216 B.C.) over the Roman armies is still studied as an example of battlefield tactics. The study of military theory captured the imagination of several Byzantine emperors, who hoped to restore the glory of the Roman Empire. They studied the operations of the Roman legions and reduced the studies to what may be called the foundations of military science. Strategicon (c.578), compiled by Emperor Maurice, and Tactics (c.900), issued by Emperor Leo VI (Leo the Wise), are exhaustive treatises on the subject.

In Western Europe during the Middle Ages military science did not advance as quickly as its practice did, although siegecraft (see siegesiege,
assault against a city or fortress with the purpose of capturing it. The history of siegecraft parallels the development of fortification and, later, artillery. In early times battering rams and bores were employed to break down the walls and gates of a fortified place
..... Click the link for more information.
) was much studied. Although early military theorists thought the Crusaders completely ignorant of military principles, recent studies have shown that medieval warfare was not devoid of strategy and tactics. John ZizkaZizka, John
, Czech Jan Žižka , d. 1424, Bohemian military leader and head of the Hussite forces during the anti-Hussite crusades of Holy Roman Emperor Sigismund.
..... Click the link for more information.
, the leader of the Czech Hussites, in the early 15th cent. was particularly innovative. He adopted the wagon-fort as a unit of tactics, made artillery a maneuverable arm, and was the first commander to employ cavalry, infantry, and artillery in efficient tactical combination. He also espoused the principle that mobility is a better protection than armor.

Professional Armies and Napoleon

Gustavus Aldolphus (Gustavus IIGustavus II
(Gustavus Adolphus), 1594–1632, king of Sweden (1611–32), son and successor of Charles IX. Military Achievements

Gustavus's excellent education, personal endowments, and early experience in affairs of state prepared him for his crucial role
..... Click the link for more information.
), king of Sweden, and Maurice of NassauMaurice of Nassau
, 1567–1625, prince of Orange (1618–25); son of William the Silent by Anne of Saxony. He became stadtholder of Holland and Zeeland after the assassination (1584) of his father.
..... Click the link for more information.
 are credited with advancing the professionalization of armies at the end of the 16th cent. By the 17th cent. these professional armies were very costly to establish and maintain, and military strategists employed a cautious approach involving minimal risk of casualties. Even so aggressive a commander as Frederick IIFrederick II
or Frederick the Great,
1712–86, king of Prussia (1740–86), son and successor of Frederick William I. Early Life

Frederick's coarse and tyrannical father despised the prince, who showed a taste for French art and literature and no
..... Click the link for more information.
 (Frederick the Great) was inhibited by fear of a bloody defeat; nevertheless, his wars left Prussia exhausted.

It was Napoleon INapoleon I
, 1769–1821, emperor of the French, b. Ajaccio, Corsica, known as "the Little Corporal." Early Life

The son of Carlo and Letizia Bonaparte (or Buonaparte; see under Bonaparte, family), young Napoleon was sent (1779) to French military schools at
..... Click the link for more information.
 who, despite his mistakes, revolutionized the strategy and tactics of his time. Aided by a mass army, he made great use of the powerful shock attack, carefully planned in advance. He also introduced the loose formation, divisional organization, and the use of mobile, long-range artillery. Clausewitz's On War (1832) was an outgrowth of his studies of Napoleonic campaigns; it demonstrated the importance of destroying the enemy on the battlefield and downplayed the importance of the geometrical organization of troops in the field. Jomini's classic Précis de l'art de la guerre (1836), also influenced by a study of Napoleon's campaigns, had a different emphasis. Jomini stressed occupation of enemy territory through carefully planned geometric maneuvers while tactically he emphasized the importance of attacking. His work was influential and was part of the strategy during the U.S. Civil War. The main line of strategic theory, however, followed Clausewitz and culminated in the work of the Prussian-German school of H. K. von MoltkeMoltke, Helmuth Karl Bernhard, Graf von,
1800–1891, Prussian field marshal. Following his graduation from the Royal Military Academy of Denmark, he entered the Danish service, but resigned his commission in 1822 to join the Prussian army.
..... Click the link for more information.
 and Alfred von Schlieffen.

Modern Strategy and Tactics

Total War and Mechanized War

The first modern total war, fought with mass armies and modern firearms, was the U.S. Civil War. It demonstrated the importance of industrial mobilization; modern communications (especially railroads and the telegraph), and the deadly effect of new small armssmall arms,
firearms designed primarily to be carried and fired by one person and, generally, held in the hands, as distinguished from heavy arms, or artillery. Early Small Arms

The first small arms came into general use at the end of the 14th cent.
..... Click the link for more information.
, such as the rifled musket, on mass formations of attacking infantryinfantry,
body of soldiers who fight in an army on foot and are equipped with hand-carried weapons, in contradistinction originally to cavalry and other branches of an army.
..... Click the link for more information.
. Beginning as a contest between armies, it grew into a conflict between two societies; before its termination almost the entire resources of both North and South were engaged.

The lessons of the U.S. Civil War were little noticed in Europe, where strategy and tactics continued to be thought of in terms of mid-19th-century practice. European theorists also ignored the extensive and effective use of machine guns, artilleryartillery,
originally meant any large weaponry (including such ancient engines of war as catapults and battering rams) or war material, but later applied only to heavy firearms as opposed to small arms.
..... Click the link for more information.
, and rifles in the colonial wars of the 19th cent. As a result, the bloody stalemate of World War I came as a surprise to most generals. It was characterized by trench warfare and by bloody frontal attacks, which were usually stopped at great cost to the attackers by massed small arms and artillery fire. In an effort to break the stalemate, both sides turned to new technical devices, such as the tanktank, military,
armored vehicle having caterpillar traction and armed with machine guns, cannon, rockets, or flame throwers. The tank, together with the airplane, opened up modern warfare, which had been immobilized and stalemated by the use of rifled guns (see mechanized
..... Click the link for more information.
, the airplaneairplane,
or aircraft,
heavier-than-air vehicle, mechanically driven and fitted with fixed wings that support it in flight through the dynamic action of the air.
..... Click the link for more information.
, the submarinesubmarine,
naval craft capable of operating for an extended period of time underwater. Submarines are almost always warships, although a few are used for scientific, business, or other purposes (see also submersible).
..... Click the link for more information.
, and poison gaspoison gas,
any of various gases sometimes used in warfare or riot control because of their poisonous or corrosive nature. These gases may be roughly grouped according to the portal of entry into the body and their physiological effects.
..... Click the link for more information.
. The importance of the tank was stressed in theories of mechanized warfaremechanized warfare,
employment of modern mobile attack and defense tactics that depend upon machines, more particularly upon vehicles powered by gasoline and diesel engines.
..... Click the link for more information.
 formulated in the 1920s and 30s in the writings of B. H. Liddell HartLiddell Hart, Sir Basil Henry
, 1895–1970, English author and military strategist, b. Paris. His education at Cambridge was interrupted by World War I, in which he served (1914–18) and was twice wounded.
..... Click the link for more information.
, Charles de Gaullede Gaulle, Charles
, 1890–1970, French general and statesman, first president (1959–69) of the Fifth Republic. The World Wars

During World War I de Gaulle served with distinction until his capture in 1916. In The Army of the Future (1934, tr.
..... Click the link for more information.
, and J. F. C. FullerFuller, John Frederick Charles,
1878–1966, British soldier. In World War I, he recognized the importance of mechanized warfare and, as general staff officer of the tank corps, planned the stunning tank attack at Cambrai in 1917 (see tank, military).
..... Click the link for more information.
; they proved prophetic when the Nazi blitzkrieg marked World War II as a war of mobility, characterized by vast movements of mechanized armies.

Airpower, Nuclear Weapons, and Beyond

The introduction of aircraft in World War I gave rise to theories of airpower that have dominated strategic and tactical thinking ever since. The basis of airpower was set down by such men as Giulio DouhetDouhet, Giulio
, 1869–1930, Italian military officer and early advocate of airpower. He was an early supporter of strategic bombing and the military superiority of air forces.
..... Click the link for more information.
, H. M. TrenchardTrenchard, Hugh Montague Trenchard, 1st Viscount,
1873–1956, British air marshal. He entered the army in 1893 and served in the South African War. During World War I he commanded the Royal Flying Corps.
..... Click the link for more information.
, and William MitchellMitchell, William
(Billy Mitchell), 1879–1936, American army officer and pilot, b. Nice, France. He enlisted (1898) in the U.S. army in the Spanish-American War and received a commission in the regular army in 1901, serving with the signal corps.
..... Click the link for more information.
, who believed that future wars would be won by air forcesair forces,
those portions of a nation's military organization employing heavier-than-air aircraft for reconnaissance, support of ground troops, aerial combat, and bombing of enemy lines of communication and targets of industrial and military importance.
..... Click the link for more information.
. Their theory of strategic bombing called for aerial attacks on the enemy's population and industrial centers to destroy the enemy's will and ability to continue fighting. In World War II that strategy was carried out in massive form by British and U.S. air forces in attacks on Germany and Japan. It was found, however, that aerial bombardment did not cut off industrial production and, in fact, strengthened the enemy's will to continue. In order to win the war the Allies had to conduct a number of campaigns with ground forces and, in the case of Germany, occupy the enemy's homeland.

The introduction and development of nuclear weaponsnuclear weapons,
weapons of mass destruction powered by atomic, rather than chemical, processes. Nuclear weapons produce large explosions and hazardous radioactive byproducts by means of either nuclear fission or nuclear fusion.
..... Click the link for more information.
 and the guided missileguided missile,
self-propelled, unmanned space or air vehicle carrying an explosive warhead. Its path can be adjusted during flight, either by automatic self-contained controls or remote human control. Guided missiles are powered either by rocket engines or by jet propulsion.
..... Click the link for more information.
 have not changed the basic strategic theory of airpower, but these new weapons have revolutionized airpower itself. The replacement of high-explosive bombs by nuclear bombs and the change from propeller-driven manned aircraft to rocket-powered guided missiles meant that a force armed with these weapons could destroy almost any target on the planet. From the dropping of the first atomic bombatomic bomb
or A-bomb,
weapon deriving its explosive force from the release of nuclear energy through the fission (splitting) of heavy atomic nuclei. The first atomic bomb was produced at the Los Alamos, N.Mex., laboratory and successfully tested on July 16, 1945.
..... Click the link for more information.
 a new school of military theory, nuclear strategynuclear strategy,
a policy for the use of nuclear weapons. The first atomic bombs were used in the context of the Allies' World War II policy of strategic bombing. Early in the cold war, U.S.
..... Click the link for more information.
, developed (see Bernard BrodieBrodie, Bernard,
1910–78, American military strategist, b. Chicago. Brodie edited The Absolute Weapon (1946), the first book on nuclear strategy, and was a strategic theorist at the Rand Corporation (1951–66).
..... Click the link for more information.
 and Herman KahnKahn, Herman
, 1922–83, American military strategist. b. Bayonne, N.J. After graduate work in physics at the California Institute of Technology, he joined the Rand Corporation. Unlike scholars such as Bernard Brodie, he believed that nuclear war could be won.
..... Click the link for more information.
). In the 1950s, the United States evolved the theory of "massive retaliation," to be used against the USSR as a response to acts of aggression.

In the early 1960s the threat of nuclear war did not prevent many successful nationalist revolutions and Communist people's wars as advocated by Mao ZedongMao Zedong
or Mao Tse-tung
, 1893–1976, founder of the People's Republic of China. Mao was one of the most prominent Communist theoreticians and his ideas on revolutionary struggle and guerrilla warfare have been extremely influential, especially among Third
..... Click the link for more information.
, Ernesto "Che" GuevaraGuevara, Che
(Ernesto Guevara) , 1928–67, Cuban revolutionary and political leader, b. Argentina. Trained as a physician at the Univ. of Buenos Aires, he took part (1952) in riots against the dictator Juan Perón in Argentina, joined agitators in Bolivia, and worked
..... Click the link for more information.
, and Vo Nguyen GiapGiap, Vo Nguyen
, 1911–2013, Vietnamese military leader and government official whose strategies helped drive the forces of Japan, France, and the United States from Vietnam.
..... Click the link for more information.
 (see also guerrilla warfareguerrilla warfare
[Span.,=little war], fighting by groups of irregular troops (guerrillas) within areas occupied by the enemy. When guerrillas obey the laws of conventional warfare they are entitled, if captured, to be treated as ordinary prisoners of war; however, they are
..... Click the link for more information.
). The result was a greater stress on conventional weapons and on increased tactical and strategic flexibility, as well as an interest in the long history and practice of counterinsurgency. That military strategy has become national strategy, involving complex assessments of technological resources, politics, and national priorities, was made clear in the Vietnam WarVietnam War,
conflict in Southeast Asia, primarily fought in South Vietnam between government forces aided by the United States and guerrilla forces aided by North Vietnam. The war began soon after the Geneva Conference provisionally divided (1954) Vietnam at 17° N lat.
..... Click the link for more information.
 and Afghanistan WarAfghanistan War,
1978–92, conflict between anti-Communist Muslim Afghan guerrillas (mujahidin) and Afghan government and Soviet forces. The conflict had its origins in the 1978 coup that overthrew Afghan president Sardar Muhammad Daud Khan, who had come to power by ousting
..... Click the link for more information.
 where superior strategies and tactics allowed small nations to defeat great powers armed with the latest weaponry.

Outer space has also become a crucial strategic issue. President Ronald Reagan's Strategic Defense InitiativeStrategic Defense Initiative
(SDI), former U.S. government program responsible for research and development of a space-based system to defend the nation from attack by strategic ballistic missiles (see guided missile).
..... Click the link for more information.
 raised the possibility of the use of space-based weapons and satellites to combat an nuclear attack involving ballistic missiles, as the popular term for the program—"Star Wars"—made clear. Space is also important strategically for intelligence gathering using reconnaissance satellitesreconnaissance satellite,
artificial satellite launched by a country to provide intelligence information on the military activities of foreign countries. There are four major types. Early-warning satellites detect enemy missile launchings.
..... Click the link for more information.
 and for coordination of military forces using the Global Positioning System (see navigation satellitenavigation satellite,
artificial satellite designed expressly to aid the navigation of sea and air traffic. Early navigation satellites, from the Transit series launched in 1960 to the U.S. navy's Navigation Satellite System, relied on the Doppler shift.
..... Click the link for more information.
), as was done successfully during the Persian Gulf WarPersian Gulf Wars,
two conflicts involving Iraq and U.S.-led coalitions in the late 20th and early 21st cent.

The First Persian Gulf War, also known as the Gulf War, Jan.–Feb.
..... Click the link for more information.

Naval Strategy and Tactics

Naval strategy and tactics have been shaped by the forms and capabilities of naval warships (see navynavy,
originally, all ships of a nation, whether for war or commerce; the term navy now designates only such vessels as are built and maintained specifically for war. There have been three major developments in naval vessels. From ancient times to the late 16th cent.
..... Click the link for more information.
). Geography is also an important factor in shaping naval thinking. In the Mediterranean, and for islands such as Britain, strong navies were crucial. For the many empires of the Middle East, the Central Asian steppes, or India, naval power was less important or superfluous. Not until Alfred T. MahanMahan, Alfred Thayer
, 1840–1914, U.S. naval officer and historian, b. West Point, N.Y. A Union naval officer in the Civil War, he later lectured on naval history and strategy at the Naval War College, Newport, R.I., of which he was president (1886–89, 1892–93).
..... Click the link for more information.
 wrote The Influence of Sea Power upon History in the last decade of the 19th cent. was the central theme of naval strategy formulated in universal terms, although the British had been practicing it for hundreds of years. The main strategy of sea power was defined as "command of the sea," i.e., the ability to deny use of the sea as a means of transportation to an enemy while simultaneously protecting one's own merchant shipping, and the ability to use the sea to project power ashore while denying that capability to the enemy. Despite the introduction of new weapons such as steam warships, armored ships, heavy ordnance, submarines, and aircraft, "command of the sea" remained a fundamental objective of naval strategy. Another important naval strategy is "overseas presence," i.e., the visible display of seapower as a deterrent to intervention by opposing powers in key areas of international tension.

The development of airpower has led to a host of changes, including the emergence of aircraft carriers and naval air fleets and the development of submarine-based retaliatory missile forces. The employment of land-based and carrier-based aircraft during World War II showed that command of the seas rested in great part on control of the air above it. The submarine, introduced in World War I, greatly changed naval strategy and led to the development of many new weapons and tactics. In both world wars the submarine was employed mainly as a commerce destroyer and, as such, could not by itself gain command of the sea. However, the use of long-range guided missiles on nuclear-powered submarines in the 1960s transformed the submarine into a major weapon of strategic bombardment. Nuclear-powered submarines carrying guided missiles are almost invulnerable to attack.


See T. H. Wintringham, The Story of Weapons and Tactics (1943); A. H. Burne, Strategy as Exemplified in the Second World War (1946); E. J. Kingston-McCloughry, War in Three Dimensions (1950); J. Keegan, The Masks of Command (1987); E. N. Luttwak, Strategy (1987); V. D. Hanson, ed., Makers of Ancient Strategy from the Persian Wars to the Fall of Rome (2010).

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia™ Copyright © 2013, Columbia University Press. Licensed from Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.
References in periodicals archive ?
He also extensively cites the court rules and case decisions that form the legal authority for the strategy and tactics he proposes, as well as discusses the motions and other legal pleadings that may be necessary to execute that strategy.
He wrote a systematic guide for military strategy and tactics around 510 B.C.
In addition, some SWAT and negotiation teams routinely train as a unit, which further fosters positive relationships because all of the differing elements have a chance to display and practice their unique skills during training with the assurance that the situation will dictate the strategy and tactics of the team, rather than parochial preset positions.
Full browser ?