Tactical and Technical

The Evolution of Doctrine in the British Military

By The Cove May 15, 2019


This contemporary history study by Markus Mader analyses Britain’s 'doctrinal evolution' from 1989 to 2002 in the light of strategic, technological and social changes. It examines the emerging, specifically British post-Cold War military-strategic thinking, and explains why doctrine, both single-service and joint, gained unprecedented relevance as an instrument of transformation in an increasingly complex environment.

The author states that doctrine is more than the formal publication of military concepts. It stands for an institutional culture of conceptual thinking on the nature of conflict and the best conduct of warfare. It is the military’s instrument for analysing past experience, guiding current operations and exploring future challenges. Britain’s pre-1989 Armed Forces did not appreciate the central idea behind doctrine. Traditionally, British officers and soldiers did not care about intellectual debate and felt deep reluctance towards any formal writings. At best, doctrine existed as tactical instruction manuals. However, they were considered to be ‘something for the classroom but irrelevant in the field.’

Operational experience was handed down informally, often by word of mouth, through generations of officers and soldiers. It remained compartmentalised within the military’s various groupings. In the absence of formal statements on the overall role of the British Armed Forces, a common starting point for the study of war and conflict did not exist. In such an organisational culture, innovation was left to coincidence, largely steered by what was already known or physically available. The author goes on to say that in the years that followed, doctrine underwent a process of institutionalisation. By the turn of the century, the relevance of doctrine as the ‘central idea’ was accepted throughout Britain’s defence establishment, and her Armed Forces had established an advanced mechanism of doctrine development that was to ensure the best possible course of innovation.

Read the study and send us your thoughts on doctrine:

  • Do you think Australian military doctrine is delivering what it needs to?
  • Do you think our doctrine is current, relevant and easy to understand?
  • How do you think we could improve our doctrine to make it more widely accessible and understood by a larger audience?



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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