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The Continental School Of Strategy: The Past, Present And Future Of Land Power

Brigadier Michael Mahy, Director General Military Strategy.
1 June 2004
Dr Michael Evans

This monograph analyses modern land power through examining the continental school of strategy that emerged in early 19th-century Europe at the end of the Napoleonic Wars. The continental school of strategy is important because it has provided the essential knowledge for the theory and practice of land power over the past two centuries. Many of the continental school's principles continue to remain fundamental to an understanding of the use of ground forces in the early 21st century.

The argument advanced by this study is that land power operates in two dimensions: the intrinsic dimension of military theory and the extrinsic dimension of geopolitical thought. Only by analysing both of these areas, and the dialectic between them, through the prism of the continental school of military thought, can there be a comprehensive understanding of the evolution of land warfare. The monograph examines the intrinsic dimension of land power by presenting an overview of continental military theory from the age of Napoleon to the end of the Cold War.

The study argues that the intrinsic dimension of the continental school is important because it has led to the development of an autonomous body of professional knowledge on the art of land warfare, and it is this body of knowledge that has defined the operations of modern armies. Widely accepted concepts such as the levels of war (tactics, operations and strategy) and the operational art are products of continental European military theory. Surveying the extrinsic dimension of the continental school of land power, the monograph argues that this dimension involves using an army not as an autonomous element of war but as a component of geopolitics. In the extrinsic dimension of the continental school of strategy, land power becomes an aid to statecraft.

The monograph then examines contemporary challenges to the intrinsic and extrinsic dimensions of land power. These challenges emanate from the information technology revolution and the rise of the battlespace, globalisation and the emergence of an ‘end of geography' school in military strategy. It is argued that many of the ideas drawn from the continental school of land strategy will remain relevant in the 21st century because knowledge of ground warfare and the practice of geopolitics will continue to define the contours of armed conflict.

The study attempts to demonstrate these realities by two means of analysis. First, the role of land power as an essential part of joint warfare is assessed. Second, the place of land power in the rise of effects-based operations is examined. The monograph contends that joint warfare and an effects-based approach to strategy are vehicles that can be used by armies to reinforce the vital role of ground forces in 21st-century conflict. The study concludes by reaffirming the territorial imperative in warfare and by upholding the vital role of the professional soldier across the spectrum of conflict in peace, crisis and war

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Last updated
21 December 2017
Army: Courage. Initiative. Respect. Teamwork.
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