By Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster, U.S. Army
Anticipating the demands of future armed conflict requires an understanding of continuities in the nature of war as well as an appreciation for changes in the character for armed conflict. —The U.S. Army Operating Concept
Expert knowledge is a pillar of our military profession, and the ability to think clearly about war is fundamental to developing expert knowledge across a career of service. Junior leaders must understand war to explain to their Soldiers how their unit’s actions contribute to the accomplishment of campaign objectives. Senior officers draw on their understanding of war to provide the best military advice to civilian leaders. Every Army leader uses his or her vision of future conflict as a basis for how he or she trains soldiers and units. Every commander understands, visualizes, describes, directs, leads and assesses operations based, in part, on his or her understanding of continuities in the nature of war and of changes in the character of warfare.
A failure to understand war through a consideration of continuity and change risks what nineteenth century Prussian philosopher Carl von Clausewitz warned against: regarding war as “something autonomous” rather than “an instrument of policy,” misunderstanding “the kind of war on which we are embarking,” and trying to turn war into “something that is alien to its nature.”
In recent years, many of the difficulties encountered in strategic decision making, operational planning, training and force development stemmed from neglect of continuities in the nature of war. The best way to guard against the tendency to try to turn war into something alien to its nature is to understand four key continuities in the nature of war and how the U.S. experience in Afghanistan and Iraq validated their importance.