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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 podcast series we tackle these issues and others, mapping the origins of the term, to why the current discussions are perhaps misguided and immature.

Ratheon UK

This podcast series is kindly sponsored and enabled by Raytheon UK, a subsidiary of Raytheon technology, a British company that creates jobs in England, Wales and Scotland, contributing over 700 million pounds to the UK economy.

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 of this project examines whether this single Western Way of Warfare is fit for task.

Podcast Episodes

Episode 26: People as the Decisive Advantage

Some capabilities are fundamental to military activities, but strategic capabilities tend to be valuable, rare, and inimitable. That means they tend to be human, not technical.

HR guru Professor William Scott-Jackson talks to Peter Roberts about the research and science behind this, and what it means for military recruiting, training leaders, the problems with future employment models, and the centrality of culture/ethos.

This episode might change some of the assumptions you have about military leadership, and training leaders!

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Episode 25: HYPErsonics?

Great powers are pressing ahead with hypersonic weapons, yet in adoption and adaptation there seems to be a missing foundational understanding of what the arrival of Mach 10 precision munitions means for warfare. In trying to get behind the hyperbole of hypersonics, Peter Roberts talked to Bryan Rosselli about speed, accuracy, range, manoeuvrability, and defense.

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Episode 24: When did everything become securitised?

Alice Billon-Galland explains to Peter Roberts what a forward-looking reflective exercise is (for NATO), and what this issues are between NATO and the EU.

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Episode 23: Utility vs Utilisation

Given the discussion of 'sunset' capabilities and the growing feeling in Brussels that the UK has a credibility problem inside NATO, Peter talks to Mungo Melvin (military historian and former soldier), about the dangers of thin-slicing history to draw conclusions about military capability requirements for the future.

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Episode 22: Rules, Norms, and Structures

Peter Roberts is joined by Heather Conley from CSIS to talk INF, START, Open Skies, Coalitions of the Committed and the diversification of dependencies. The episode poses the question as to whether US (and European) structures are fit to fight, covering Russia's destabilising activities, and Chinese ambitions in the Arctic, plus the D10 as as a more resilient framework for the future

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Episode 21: Western Way of War: Bad Procurement: A Peculiarly Western Issue?

Peter Roberts talks to John Louth, Defence Acquisition guru, about the military-industrial relationship, balance sheets, not winging it, the conspiracy of optimism, the cost of technology, speed/pace/acceleration in procurement, and the futility of importing alternative models.

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Episode 20: Outwitted, Outgunned, and Outflanked

The West has been losing wars for too long and needs to change, suggests James Heappey MP, UK Minister for the Armed Forces. Peter Roberts talks to the former soldier-turned politician about people, the future operating environment, the UK's Integrating Operating Concept, the enduring fog of war, and what needs to change.

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Episode 19: Wars Change Religion

The West (a contested concept in itself) has been misunderstanding the relationship between wars and religion for too long, contends Ziya Meral. Framed this way makes for a different interpretation of conflicts settings from BokoHaram, ISIS, and the Taliban to the Eastern Med. The conversation follows a journey from the mil/academic relationship to contemporary Western Values.

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Episode 18: Don't Invade Parthia

Leaning on the Romans, the abnormal view of warfare, and defence in depth, Peter Roberts talks to Michael Clarke about how to recognise great commander, and why the British military don't have time to cultivate them (when other states do so much better at creating an ecosystem that brings them to the fore).

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Episode 17: Political Risk, the Media and the Military

Lucy Fisher (Defence Editor of The Times) joins Peter Roberts to talk about the 2013 Syria vote in UK Parliament, the revered status of Western militaries, and ignoring social media.

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Episode 16: Society and the Western Way of Peace

Does a successful and respected professional military force make a conversation with society at large over security and insurmountable conversation? Do government narratives over military threats alienate audiences? Elisabeth Braw and Peter Roberts talk about preppers, supply chains, a Western concept of peace, and the lack of imagination in politics.

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Episode 15: CBRN and the Western Way of Warfare

Peter Roberts talks to chem/bio warfare guru Dan Kaszeta about the journey from weevils to sarin, political biological poisonings since 2000BCE, food security as a catalyst for chemical weapon research, and a reappraisal of President Nixon.

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Episode 14: Combined Arms, Military Culture, and the Failures of Leadership

Peter Roberts talks to US scholar-practitioner Dr Pete Mansoor (author of 'Baghdad at Sunrise', 'Surge', and 'The Culture of Military Organisations') about the Western Way of Warfare from the Peloponnesian war to Iraq: competition, economics, technology, logistics, and escalatory concepts.

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Episode 13: Taoism and Clausewitz

Chilean general John Griffiths talks to Peter Roberts about how success can be forged into a coherent strategy in such powers, accelerated by Great Power competition in the Indo-Pacific.

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Episode 12: Does the Battle Decide the Political End State?

Peter Roberts talks to Francois Villiaumey, formerly Deputy Director of Ecole de Guerre in Paris, about the Western Way of War from Charlemagne to Eisenhower, the fallacy of linear doctrines and why the law of the victor is a clearer end-state to achieve militarily.

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Episode 11: Air Power Beyond Tactical Effects

After 'shock and awe', and the linear approach airforce planning, Stuart Atha talks to Peter Roberts about synchronisation, harmonisation, strategic integration, using hard power to burst A2AD bubbles, and air power as a political tool

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Episode 10: The Realities and Future of Swarming and Drones

Peter Roberts talks drones, human control, and mowing the lawn with Dr Ulrike Franke. A great intro to the future of drone warfare, surveillance, aerial technology, remote warfare, and the offence/defence balance of air power in the future.

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Episode 9: 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.

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Episode 8: 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.

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Episode 7: The Death of Military Superiority

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.

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Episode 6: Air Marshal Philip Osborn

Peter Roberts and Philip Osborn discuss 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.

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Episode 5: 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.

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Episode 4: 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.

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Episode 3: Baron Richards of Herstmonceux

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'.

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Episode 2: 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'.

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Episode 1: 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.

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Podcast Trailer: 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.

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Show produced by: Tom Ascott

The Western Way of War Podcast Series is part of the Profession of Arms programme run by the Military Sciences Research Group

You can subscribe to this podcast on Spotify and iTunes Podcasts


Professor Peter Roberts
Director Military Sciences, RUSI
Peppi Vaananen
Project Officer, Military Sciences