Are the Levels of War Just a Set of Labels?

By The Cove May 15, 2019


Are the levels of war just a set of labels?  A question that many military professionals have asked themselves at some point during their careers when studying the levels of war as part of the all-corps continuum.  This article by Martin Dunn, a former Chief Research Officer at the Land Warfare Studies Centre, poses the thought that seeking to associate Clausewitz with three levels of war is curious.

The author confirms that while Australian doctrine includes three levels of war, Clausewitz discusses only two in his writings.  Even though in doctrine and other sources, Clausewitz is often referred to as having come up with the three levels, it is in fact other theorists which have produced these constructs.  Clausewitz himself followed the view that tactics was what happened on the battlefield, and strategy was everything that led to and from it.

The article via Clausewitz.com suggests that it took some time for an operational level of war to appear in western doctrine. It first appeared in the US Army with the 1982 edition of FM 100-5 Operations; and then showed up in Australian doctrine soon after. Martin Dunn makes two key observations:

  1. Not all circumstances give rise to all three levels of war.
  2. Just as changing technology gave rise to the appearance of three levels of war, so further developments can render these old classifications inappropriate.

Read the article and share your thoughts on whether you think the levels of war are still relevant concepts in the modern day environment.



The Cove

The home of the Australian Profession of Arms.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the position of the Australian Army, the Department of Defence or the Australian Government.

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