Jan. 1, 2016
The Fourth Level of War
Civilization began because the beginning of civilization is a military advantage.”1 This observation by Walter Bagehot is not far off the mark. Warfare certainly matured along with civilization as a violent expression of political will and intent. We currently view the art of warfare in three levels—tactical, operational, and strategic—but it was not always so. In the beginning, there were strategy and tactics. Strategy outlined how and to what purpose war might be used to achieve political objectives. Tactics directed how the violence was actually applied on the battlefield. For most of military history, tactical art was able to achieve strategic objectives as tribes, forces, and armies marshaled on the battlefield to destroy the enemy’s ability to resist their master’s political will. Although much debated, operational art was born at the end of the 19th century when the size of armies, made possible by the development of the nation-state, rendered tactics unable to bring about political results. Civilization has moved on. From a doctrinal, theoretical, and practical point of view, it is now time to consider a fourth level of war—the theater-strategic level of war.