Military Strategy Magazine - Volume 8, Issue 1

Volume 8, Issue 1, Summer 2022 44 why the utility of these principles lies in their confrontation. Confronting principles and the essence of strategy If strategy shall be considered as a science, then it can only be “a science of accident” according to theAristotelian sense of the term.[xiv] It means strategy is entirely dependent on the context and the project it serves. As a theory of action, strategy combines every available idea to arrive at concrete conclusions. Consequently, it is the creative confrontation of ideas that allows the strategist to devise innovative ways to reach his goals. This is why French general V. Desportes calls strategy “the art of synthesis”.[xv] Principles of war are useful ways to frame general concepts, ideas and features regarding the nature and conduct of war. But because strategy is all about contexts, it does not stand any universal truth. This is why the strategist cannot make use of a single set of principles of war, since they will never accurately account for the particular context of the war he will have to lead. He must confront various sets of principles; understand the tensions between them and what kind of conclusions they lead to. There is no systemic way to do it, and these confrontations will yield different conclusions for every individual. Indeed, “our knowledge and understanding of warfare is a science, but the conduct of war itself is largely an art.”[xvi] Confronting principles leads to innovative thought. Principles are thus mostly pretexts for discussion and creative thinking. Since strategy is an art where one must constantly come up with new ideas and solutions to new problems, principles of war constitute a very efficient intellectual tool in times of peace to think about these problems. But the strategist does also make use of theoretical principles whilst conducting war. Chess, as a strategy game whose nature as a science or an art was long debated, is a perfect example of this. Our knowledge and understanding of the game of chess can be considered as a science but playing a good game of chess is definitely an art. Chess principles are numerous, and they evolve over time as we understand the game better, for instance thanks to AIs such as AlphaZero.[xvii] Throughout the course of a game, these theoretical principles come in and out of use. But it is not the player who has picked the best set of principles before entering the game who wins, but rather the one who is able to confront them through the course of the game and follow the ones most adapted to the situation on the board. Indeed, there are times when two good general principles, such as keeping a healthy pawn structure or developing pieces on active squares, come into conflict and the player must choose between them. By confronting them according to the unique necessities of the situation, he can make the right choice. In the conduct of war, the same thing happens. For instance, Fuller’s principles are interesting, but because resources are always limited it is never possible to maximize all of them: you have to make trade-offs. It is only by confronting the principles according to the situation on the ground that the strategist might be able to make the best decisions. All the value of the principles of war comes from this confrontation. The form to leave the form: Internalization & Intuition This essay so far has focused on the necessity of confronting principles in order to make use of them in actual action. But it must also take into account that in the conduct of a war, the time available to make a decision is extremely limited, and this process of confronting principles has to be quick. Principles, for this reason, were quickly ruled out as an efficient tactical device for US military personnel, and the top brass moved instead toward processes and systems of system analysis in order to teach decision-making to its military commanders. The example of the OODA loop, developed by US Air Force colonel John Boyd, is a good instance of these methods. [xviii] It aims to unify the contextual character of warfare and the need to act quickly with the theoretical tools the strategist is provided with and its own singularity. The OODA loop consists of a phase of observation (context), orientation (theory + singularity), decision and action. In this loop, we can posit that principles of war are still part of the elements in the ‘orientation phase’ that will lead the strategist to a synthetic assessment of the situation so that he can make a decision. They are being internalized into a large number of components that together constitute the strategist’s intuition. It is this internalization process that ultimately matters in order to assess the utility of principles of war. Indeed, as long as those remain distant theoretical concepts, they will never be truly taken into account in the orientation process. In ‘The Art of Learning’, chess master and martial art champion Josh Waitzkin suggests that a central aspect of high-level performance success is to be able to internalize complex knowledge and principles deeply enough so that one can access it without thinking about it.[xix] It then becomes part of one’s intuition and can thus be used effectively and efficiently in any context. He calls this process of internalization into intuition ‘to learn What is the Utility of the Principles of War? Baptiste Alloui-Cros