Military Strategy Matrix

Since I’ve promised it a couple of times already in various comments, here is the matrix I made several years ago to illustrate to my students the variety of methods which military forces might use to achieve their strategic objectives. My first exposure to the idea of different “types” of war came in my first Ohio State course with Joe Guilmartin, where he talked about wars of annihilation, attrition, economic attrition, and guerrilla warfare (I think those were the categories he mentioned). I found this intriguing, and have since kept track of various military strategies I’ve encountered over the years. Since I insist on making everything much more complicated than it probably should be, here is the more detailed chart I created.

Military Strategy Matrix

I don’t know of standard terms for these concepts, so the column headings aren’t particularly descriptive. I also didn’t really know how else to categorize the Annihilation-Attrition divide, so I’m not particularly satisfied with that division (in part because I’m not sure most belligerents would intentionally choose an attritional strategy in the first place).

I tried to organize each column by starting at the top with the most clearly military target and then gradually shade into civilian targets as you go down the column. I also tried to start with the most tangible target at the top and then shade into less tangible aspects such as morale, food, etc. There’s a fair amount of repetition in some cells in the last two columns, which might indicate that there’s a more efficient way to organize the matrix.

Of course any belligerent is free to choose one or more of these strategies, and they might vary across the course of a war as well.

Feel free to comment on the chart – any questions, mistakes, etc. I’m working on variations on this chart, including a more straightforward listing of the different military strategies. In the Comments section of other posts we’ve been discussing how this relates to the means vs. goals, the reality of a war vs. what the belligerents might want, etc.

Note: This image follows the copyright limitations described on the Citing this Blog page. Feel free to use it for non-commercial non-published uses, but be sure to cite its origin.

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10 responses to “Military Strategy Matrix”

  1. Wienand Drenth says :

    Your chart looks like one of those from game theory. Ideally each field might have additional parameters related to costs, chance of succes, impact, influence on public opinion, position amongst other potentates/souvereigns, and the like. So the strategists can sit down and do some math.

    Is the chart equally valid (or relevant) for any period in military history? I can imagine that aspects like public opinion and infrastructure were probably less important in the 1700s, or much harder to target effectively.

    • jostwald says :

      I’m not sure, but I think I may have just been insulted with that game theory comment! 😉

      Almost every one of those strategies was used by early moderns, although not necessarily effectively. Exemplary violence was common with sieges (slaughter a resistant garrison in order to scare others into submitting more quickly). The British insisted on an economic embargo of France during the Spanish Succession, even forcing their Dutch allies to participate (at least for awhile) – close blockades were difficult in the age of sail. Propaganda, both pro-Louis XIV and anti-Louis XIV poured from Europe’s presses (the Huguenots smuggling French-language publications back into France) – not to mention all the Protestant/Catholic broadsheets during the Reformation. For assassination, we could look at the various plots against Elizabeth, the Gunpowder Plot, the 1696 plot against William III, and even the 1708 poison plot against Eugene of Savoy. The Spanish even debated breaking the Dutch dikes and flooding the polders with salt water as a form of economic warfare – Philip II nixed it though. Not to mention the constant piracy and privateering that occurred during the wars.
      Of course these are not the sexy strategies of armies and fleets (battle and siege and military operations more generally), and they often involve non-state actors (at least as intermediaries). They may not have ended the wars by themselves, but we can’t understand early modern war without them. I’d suggest a lot of them apply to the middle ages as well.

    • Gene Hughson says :

      Regarding the vintage of targeting public opinion as a strategy: when did a pope first place a ruler under an interdict?

      • jostwald says :

        Don’t know off hand. Obviously the investiture controversy c. 1075 comes to mind. And of course Louis XIV was privately excommunicated during the right of regale dispute.

  2. Gene Hughson says :

    Dr. Ostwald,

    I ran across this, which provides an interesting companion to your matrix. It also goes into the semantics issue around the column headings that you touched on.

  3. Campmaster says :

    That matrix got me thinking… a lot, and I sadly reached the conclusion (again), that I need more data.

    In particular, I realized I how little I understand logistics in EME. Sure, Geoffrey Parker’s work on the ‘Spanish Road’ did much to enlighten me on how armies could be supplied and maintained within territory that was controlled by, or at least secure for, a particular belligerent. Though, of course, there still much that I’m still curious about on this point. However, I realized I’m still very much in the dark as to how an army that invaded enemy territory sustained itself, especially when it conducted prolonged campaigns of maneuver. Many questions sprung to my mind. Was the baggage the sole source of food, ammo, and general supplies for an army on the move? How long was a EM baggage train expected to last? Or did troops use currency to buy supplies from towns captured? To what extent did the replenishing of supplies figure into the calculation of taking an enemy town? How often could such an army operating away from friendly territory expect to receive reinforcements and supplies? How well could captured towns in enemy territory serve as staging points for the flow of supplies and troops to an invading army when these were surrounded by hostile territory? Then there are also the cases of organized contributions levied on captured towns to maintain garrisons, and the less organized case of ravaging enemy lands and cities, or threatening to(the famous brandschatzung) for livinghood. To what extent did these methods of maintaining an army meshed with each other in the confused patchwork of a military campaign? How accurate was intelligence and how fast did information travel from one base to another? And, more important to our question about strategy, how did commanders, officers, and politicians perceive these things when making decision?

    These questions came to my head as I tried to figure out the nature of maneuver warfare in particular. Some campaigns of maneuver(especially after the start of the 19th century, e.g. Fall Gelb) bypass enemy fortifications, thus making communications and supply harder, not to mention making retreat problematic; other maneuver campaigns advance cautiously, slowly, and in progressive manner (especially in the period 1500-1648, e.g. the Danubian campaign of Charles), without leaving their lines of comm/supply overstretched. Comparison with other periods other than EME; such as the World Wars and 19C wars should also be enlightening,and I believe we should also consider EME as a whole, both in time and space, when answering such questions: notice the excessive attention given to the logistics of TYW and how it is often used to make generalizations about the period before Louis XIV, despite the fact that the conditions in Low Countries, another highly active theater, and those of the Italian Wars, were different. Therefore the questions clearly apply to every single army and every single state of EME during the whole duration of the period. Of course, the work is simplified by the fact that in the theaters themselves the conditions of the participants often came to resemble each other somewhat because of geography, despite differences in organization.

    I definetely look forward more discussion on this topic on March, but for now, Prof. Ostwald, do you think you can point me to any works extensive in data on the logistics (particularly offensive logistics) of this period? If you can point me to specialized works on different periods of the 1500-1800 era, the better.

  4. jpscience says :

    Hi, I found your military strategy matrix really useful. I’d be grateful if I could use it (with appropriate referencing of course) in lectures. I will follow the advice on your ‘Citing the blog’ section. Have you published this in a peer reviewed journal? Best wishes, @jpscience

    • jostwald says :

      Glad to hear it’s useful – using it for lectures would be fine. Thanks for the request.

      I haven’t published it, though it will be part of a chapter I’ve been working on on late Stuart strategic culture (for my battle book). I want to trace how the various manuals discuss these strategic options and then how they get discussed during the Spanish Succession.

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