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Western Way of War

The term ‘British Way of Warfare’ emerged from a speech given by Sir Basil Liddell Hart at RUSI in 1931, and later immortalised in the RUSI Journal in 1932.  Liddell Hart was discussing British grand strategy after the First World War, specifically the level to which Britain should materially and politically invest in the European continent (as opposed to prioritising maritime interests in the rest of the world). 

Liddell Hart, and those who critiqued his paper, used the terms ‘war’ and ‘warfare’ as interchangeable.  Carl von Clausewitz differentiated them: war as the grand strategic choices of policy, and warfare the practise of armed coercion and violence used to implement political strategy.  Whilst academically pure, the reality is an overlap between these two spheres.  While scholars pose important, grand strategic questions, those engaged in the profession of arms need to understand the Western approach to warfare (How we fight, and how adversaries respond) as a critical military question.

In dealing with How we fight, it is acknowledged that by the 19th century there were several historical schools of military theory: Prussian, French, British, Russian, Italian and Japanese to name but a few.  These had been identified as peculiar to those states, imbued with some of the core cultural phenomena of their own indigenous people, and the deliberate changes made to their military practices and institutions on the basis of their own discrete experiences in conflict, campaigns, personalities, and warfare as lived.  Arguably, these merged into a single school by 1990: An American led doctrine and concept of fighting emerged from the Cold War that was centred on a belief that technological superiority could overcome the mass of the Warsaw Pact forces.  Much of the previous lessons and individual schools of military theory all but disappeared.

That US school of warfare has been applied against all aggressors in roughly similar manners: counter-terrorism, counter insurgency, high intensity conflict, civil wars, conventional deterrence, partnering and unlimited warfare.  The core question the activities of this project examine is whether this single Western Way of Warfare is fit for task?

Air Power in an Age of Great Power Competition

Peter Roberts talks to Dr Peter Layton from Australia on compromised air platform design, how you might conduct operations against a China-style adversary, and why the F35 was the perfect platform for the wars of the last two decades.

A Politicians View on the Utility of Hard Power

Tobias Ellwood (Chair UK Parliament's Defence Committee) talked to Peter Roberts about how political views on the military have changed (risk averse, reactive, lacklustre), the 'Special relationship', pandemic response, Trump, and moving from an operational design focused on punishment to one that denies. Russia, China, Iran, terrorism, and cyber threats, and why global institutions are obsolete. Plus, the lack of military leadership in the UK.

The Death of Military Superiority

The Israeli model of warfare: what can the West learn? Wilf Owen and Peter Roberts discuss why Western Power have sleep walked into a way of fighting suitable for "The Second XI", but just won't work against peer adversaries, and what needs to happen to change that. Covering the realities of live training and combat experience, logistics, threat driven force-development, Operation Tethered Goat, and the death of superiority.

Air Marshal Philip Osborn

Military relationships (industrial and international), partnerships, martial habits, and why interoperability with the US alone won't solve the problem with the lack of a Western War of Warfare. Peter Roberts and Philip Osborn go at it.

Professor Frank Hoffman

A wide ranging discussion in which Peter Roberts talks to Frank Hoffman about decisive battles, concepts of victory, strategic culture, divergence, societal risks, militaries as ubiquitous political tools, the 7th industrial revolution (augmentation), an offence/defence division of labour, and a glimpse at Hoffman's new 4 faces of future warfare.

Admiral Sir Philip Jones

Peter Roberts and Admiral Sir Philip Jones talk about why it is people that represent the competitive edge in the Western Way of Warfare - and have done for centuries, and how technology is supporting but not necessarily dominant.

Baron Richards of Herstmonceaux

Peter Roberts and David Richards discuss the ten commandments of the manoeuvrist approach to warfare, thinking of weapons as servants not principles, the enduring nature of challenge, and the British Way of Warfare as ‘The absence of mass’.

Sir Graeme Lamb

Peter Roberts and Graeme Lamb talk about the Western Way of Warfare from the Elizabethan Era to today’s Great Power Competition. Failing to adapt, superiority, advantage, and moving from ‘Force on Force’ to ‘Force on Will’.

Professor Nina Kollars

Peter Roberts and Nina Kollars talk futurology, exceptionalism, decisive engagements, pathology, winnable fights, and vapourware, all in the pursuit of a more pragmatic view on the Western Way of Warfare.

What is the Western Way of Warfare?

What is the Western Way of War? Is there one? How did it come about? Is it war or warfare (and what is the difference)? In this trailer to the new podcast from RUSI, we tackle these issues and others, mapping the origins of the term, to why the current discussions are perhaps misguided and immature.