Authors of the German military doctrine. Field-Marshal Paul von Hindenburg (left) and General Erich Ludendorff (right) with emperor William II during the First World War.

The concept of the military doctrine appeared in the military literature relatively lately, in relation with rapid development of the military theory and terminology. Analysis of the examples taken from the most outstanding military theoreticians - representatives of different "schools", clearly shows that a substantial diversity in the views on its meaning, scope and function has always been present. Nobody ever managed to propose such a model, which would be accepted and adopted by everybody.

In the 19th and the beginning of the 20th centuries, the definition of the military doctrine had been rather narrow and fuzzy. For example, to Carl von Clausewitz it was "manual for action", and Ferdinand Foch defined it as "common manner of seeing, thinking and acting". Practically, it was a more or less precise collection of views on the goals and methods of conducting the war, established by the highest military authorities, in order to maintain a uniform approach to the standard problems during military operations.

According to so defined concept of the military doctrine, the basis of the Prussian military doctrine became the general Napoleonic principle of "marching to the roar of guns" (marcher au canon). This approach, substituting the actual doctrine, was the general principle of conducting military operations during the Austro-Prussian War (1866) and Franco-Prussian War (1870-1871). Furthermore, in France the same role played the idea of "offensive to the utmost" (l'offensive à l'outrance) formulated by the chief of the operations division of the General Staff, Colonel Louis de Grandmaison. It was fully reflected in the operations of the French forces in 1914 campaign.

In Russia the problem of military doctrine focused attention of the military circles after the lost war with Japan. Numerous treatises, published in military magazines, like for example Russkiy Invalid or Razvedchik, saw the source of the defeat in the lack of uniform views on the nature and methods of conducting military operations, common equally for high commands and active forces. So, there were postulates of necessity to define and systematize strategic issues, and attempts to define the very meaning of "doctrine". Although Russian authorities banned further discussion, having deemed it as too dangerous, the term "military doctrine" had been adopted in the Russian military lexicon.

The First World War (1914-1918) had exposed fundamental lack of fitness of the involved armed forces for modern warfare. The pre-war military concepts and plans collapsed already during the first months of the war, causing strategic stalemate and theoretical vacuum. As the war ended, military authorities had pointed at the lack of clearly defined, and theoretically well-founded, military doctrines as the source of such a state of matters. This conviction had impressed a cardinal influence on further strategic studies in most of the concerned countries. Those studies, conducted in general staffs and military schools, often were reflected in the publications in military magazines. As a result, the concept of the military doctrine had been enriched and expanded. Simultaneously occurred differences in its perception.

In the Soviet Union of 1920s this issue became a subject of very animated, sometimes acute, disputes. Some theoreticians, for example, denied its role in the new, communist society. The most symptomatic in this case is the opinion of Nikolay Vasilyev, who said nonetheless but we need no doctrine, no uniform views; all we need is the communist party. [Фрунзе М. В. (1921).] The opposite opinion called for scientifically based uniform military doctrine, which would be a product of a common effort of military professionals and communist ideologists. The most prominent representative of this case was Mikhail Frunze. He had made a keen synthesis of the classical military theories with the revolutionary practice he was a part of, and called upon the Soviet state to work out a general policy, and a military policy in particular, which would define the character and objectives of future armed conflicts, and goals of social development aimed to face those conflicts. Eventually, his definition of the military doctrine was adopted as compulsory in the USSR. It said that the uniform military doctrine is a teaching, adopted in the army of a given country; the methods for the troops' combat training; and their guidance according to established views on the character of the military tasks facing the state and the methods by which they are carried out, stemming from the class essence of the state, and determined by the level of development of the country's productive forces. [Фрунзе М. В. (1921).]

Therefore, the military doctrine had to secure realization of the goals defined by the politics by military means. A new, strongly emphasized, element there was attributing the source of the military doctrine to the class nature of the state and its economical capacities.

In Italy this question was picked up by Ettore Bastico. In his researches he issued from the very definition of "doctrine", which he had formulated as a summary of views regarding a certain question of science or art. Such views, elaborated Bastico, come out of a certain set of principles or experiences; contrary to the knowledge, such principles are regarded axioms, and unlike the knowledge, may be applied in different ways, depending of individuality of an artist or artistic teaching. Meanwhile, concludes Bastico, war is an art and a science, and therefore the military doctrine should pursue elaboration of recipes, not dogmas. The recipes are supposed to be road-signs everywhere, where occur circumstances similar to those, which inspired formulation of the aforementioned recipes. And they always must leave space for free initiative. Therefore, the military doctrine is not a vademecum, which in need can provide a recipe for sure victory, but a summary of all that the human mind can fathom, and a teaching how to use rules and derivative recipes in connection with the situation and the goal to be achieved. So, the military doctrine must permanently re-evaluate experiences of the past, study the present and make projections in the future.

This interesting evaluation of the concept of the military doctrine in a way was enhanced by another well-known Italian military theoretician, Giulio Douhet. He stated among others that the military doctrine must conform to the military reality, which comes out of particular conditions, proper for the given nation. Being an avid enthusiast of progress, he warned against abandonment of further development of studies in the matters of the military doctrine. Without them, and without permanent adjustment, military doctrine would remain static, and irrelevant to the changes that animate the world.

From his elaboration one can drive the conclusion that contemporary Italian military theoreticians regarded military doctrine as a complex of general ideas, coming out of understanding general laws, but shaped in accordance with particular conditions, proper to a given nation. Their skillful utilization had to furnish a military success, which the doctrine had to serve. Simultaneously, however, one cannot help to notice a certain arbitrariness in the way the term "doctrine" is interpreted and applied in military matters. Douhet signalized that problem: There are doctrines of land war, sea war, air war. Those doctrines exist, develop and change; but a doctrine of war in general is completely or almost completely non-existent. This observation indicates that the term "doctrine" was used to represent the principles of deployment of individual forces and branches of service, which - as it seems - complicated the process of working out a uniform military doctrine.

This was done in France, and it came from Marshal Philippe Pétain. The objective of a doctrine is establishment of very general rules of deployment of the armed forces, and defining of the best organization of these forces; deployment and organization are defined with the victory in mind. (...) Doctrine must define as necessary methods of activities (...) and in particular the area (or areas), in which they will be applied. Colonel Pierre Vauthier had substantially developed and enriched this idea:

Doctrine has to establish the most general rules of deployment of the armed forces and their preparation. Individual branches of service, independent one from another, have to be firmly joint in one bloc, so the instrument, designated for achievement of the final goal - the victory, would itself represent a uniform whole. (...)

Objectives and composition of the forces are established for the beginning of the war; furthermore, it is necessary to secure ability to change original designs as the struggle continues. [Vauthier W. F. R. P. (1935).]

In the light of the presented opinions, the essence of the military doctrine is in establishing uniform views on the character of expected operations, organizational structure of the armed forces, and the mode of their deployment, with the specifics of the theatre of the military operations in mind.

In Germany General Erich Ludendorff, on the basis of the dynamically developing Nazi ideology, had constructed a peculiar apotheosis of war, and everything that is related to war. According to his theory - officially recognized, and therefore doctrinal - the nation's supreme goal was preparation for total war:

All theories of Clausewitz should be thrown overboard. Both warfare and politics are meant to serve the preservation of the people, but warfare is the highest expression of the national "will to live", and politics must, therefore, be subservient to the conduct of war. (...) In a word, the military Commander-in-Chief must lay down his instructions for the political leaders, and the latter must follow and fulfill them in the service of war. [Ludendorff E. (1936).]

In such a war the main role was that of the armed forces, whose strength depended on physical, moral and economical powers of the nation, and which served the purpose of annihilation of the enemy in decisive battles. [Ludendorff E. (1936).] Consequently, the war, according to such a doctrinal concept, would become a goal of itself, instead of the instrument of achieving political goals of states and nations.

In Poland the discussion on the military doctrine was under way throughout the 1920s, and it was initiated by Gen. Julian Stachiewicz, who expressed the view that the state needs a "uniform doctrine". He defined "doctrine" as acceptation of certain basic theses in a given sphere of knowledge. [Stachiewicz J. (1923).] That definition was developed in professional sense by Gen. Edward Śmigły-Rydz:

Doctrine (...) is typically bound to certain forms of waging a battle or war. Most often it is the synthesis of military deeds of a leader, synthesis not necessarily formulated by himself, or the result of a collective experience, gained during the war. (... )

Establishment of the results of wartime and peacetime experiences is (...) a net force of certain factors and conditions, which find their expression in compulsory regulations, instructions, and principles of training. It is a necessity of a kind to put training on real, regular ground, simplify massive work, and enable mutual co-operation and understanding. [Rydz-Śmigły E. (1924).]

This question was further enhanced by Gen. Stefan Rowecki, who wrote that the doctrine was a definition of certain principles, according to which the army has to be trained in peacetime, and commanded in wartime. Those principles are derived from invariable laws of war, and therefore they are sort of development of the art of war, which takes into consideration geographical conditions, as well as the materiel and technical equipment of a given state. In no way are those principles (...) prescriptions for a sure victory, but they rather have to help commanders (...) solve particular tasks, the wartime reality will put before them. He concluded that uniform doctrine on all the levels of the chain of command guarantees uniform method of researching individual theses, as well as uniform perception of a number of phenomena and uniform way of concluding, which eventually leads to mutual understanding of commanders of all levels. [Rowecki S. (1927).]

Similarly reasoned Gen. Franciszek Arciszewski-Rola, who defined the doctrine as the way of application of invariable principles of the art of war in changing conditions, (...) organically bound with the tactics - the science of deployment and co-operation of the services. Doctrine finds its expression in regulations, which guarantee uniform way of perception of problems on all levels of command. Yet, its is not the doctrine that decides about the victory. It only creates a tool with certain properties, whose utilisation depends on the hand that operates the tool. (...) Perceiving the doctrine as a recipe for victory is the best way to defeat. The best doctrine will remain useless, if it is not invigorated by a creative imagination. (...) Then routine replaces doctrine, and craft replaces art. [Rola-Arciszewski F. (1928).]

At the end of 1930s, Gen. Tadeusz Zakrzewski tried to expand the concept of the military doctrine, based on earlier studies, and to a bigger degree than before identify factors that determine its development. We are used to think of the military doctrine as of a certain concept of waging war, battles and fights, he wrote. Every military doctrine predetermines both strategy and tactics, and rests on comprehensive and ever invariable principles of fight, with particular attention to those circumstances, in which the war is going to be fought. [Zakrzewski T. (1937).]

However, so defined military doctrine bore certain dangers. The chief one being quick evolution of the combat means, which conditioned the permanent process of changing strategy and tactics. Zakrzewski had doubts about the necessity of searching and formulating of a military doctrine as a binding, uniform system of waging wars and battles. Critics of military doctrines claimed that they constituted negation of the art of war, which does not recognize any rules, but is an expression of a talented and skillful utilization of the available means a a proper time in a proper space. Therefore, according to them, war cannot be squeezed into any template, because identical situations never occur during the war, and the same means are seldom are available.

Although those arguments were not without a merit, they were not sufficient to deny necessity to have a definite military doctrine. It is difficult to imagine a supreme commander, who would be able to find such a concept of waging a war that would not require having the army prepared to fight battles and campaigns in a certain way, dependent on economical, political, and geographical factors, which decide about the victory. Its value is not in multiplying commonly accepted tactical ideas and teaching "ready-made" solutions, but in shaping minds for quick and precise analysis of situation and driving logical conclusions, which ultimately would eliminate templates, and open way for thoughts and characters.

In this spirit the issue of the military doctrine was examined by Col. Stefan Mossor. Military doctrine of any army, he wrote, is a uniform, among its commanders, way of understanding and application of operational and tactical principles. (...) A military doctrine takes its source in goals and conditions of the war, foreseen and unequivocally established by the supreme commander. He, and only he knows the goal of the war, expected proportions of the forces, and terrain conditions of the battlefield; he creates the strategical plan based on these criteria; from this plan come out certain requirements, which make certain rules and military principles of utmost importance in doctrinal issues; others are outshadowed, although they must not be neglected. [Mossor S. (1938).]

Also Marshal Józef Piłsudski spoke about military doctrine, although on rare occasions. Based on few preserved sources, one may conclude that he understood it as the method of military works, focused on preparation of the state defence, which in general used to coincide with others' views.

Yet, not everyone used the term "military doctrine" to describe the state's defence preparations. General Władysław Sikorski, for example, used the term "national defence system". Others would identify military doctrine with military strategy. However, it was immaterial for the essence of the issue.

In general, to the Polish military theoreticians, a military doctrine meant a concept of preparing armed forces for a war, and methods of its waging. Influenced by the geopolitical location of the country, experiences of the past wars, and first of all economy and capabilities of manufacturing modern means of combat, had the decisive influence on the organization of the army, and selection of optimal combat methods.

General concepts of the military doctrine, formulated by the Supreme Commander and his staff, as far as the goals and conditions of the expected war are concerned, were supposed to provide co-operation of the commanders of all levels and all the branches of service as a result of mutual understanding. During the war, however, the role of the military doctrine was not in mechanical an schematic application of its basic concepts - which would turn it into a fossilized dogma - but in inspiration for creative action, coming out of the given military situation.

For short, military doctrine is therefore a set of logically connected general guidelines enabling centralized co-ordination of the war effort. Strategic, operational and tactical concepts are formulated, military plans are elaborated, and forces are trained and equipped according to those guidelines. As an element of real world, it evolves and changes. The determining factor of that evolution and changes is not merely developments in the international relations, and with them - the political situation of a given state (or alliance of states), but first of all the progress in the field of development of weapons, conditioned by the country's economical development, and consequently the perspective of deployment of those weapons.

The military doctrine alone does not guarantee the victory in a war. Victory always depends on objective laws of war, among which dominates the law of dependency of the course and outcome of the war on the proportions in potentials of the adversaries, or, in other words, the law of the absolute superiority.

It means that in any armed conflict won, wins and will win that adversary, who can create better political conditions and possesses greater military potential to wage the war.

Therefore, the role of the military doctrine - which is a kind of derivative of intellectual capacities of a nation (and especially its military leadership), and what is achievable in given circumstances - is to utilize these elements of the national and international reality, which are characterized by most of the positive features, furnishing victory.