The Leavenworth Way of War

History Discussion at CGSC

H107: The General Staff System

The German General Staff system does not discount “genius,” but is an attempt to institutionalize “very good” and by networking “very good” staff officers together get a collective level of performance close to genius but more reliable. It is a system that places a premium on education and intellectual development over command (while not discounting the importance of command experience). Early selection based on rigorous testing and specialized education and assignments are characteristics of this system which creates a cadre of “General Staff Officers” who fill all key positions and essentially run the military.

What are the advantages and disadvantages of a “classic” German General Staff system? How does the American system differ from the class German system?

October 10, 2018 - Posted by | Uncategorized


  1. Korean general staff system have been from the United States Military system, but now a little bit different. So, comparing Korean general staff system to German classic general staff system might be meaningful. I am going to draw advantage and disadvantage of German classic staff system from comparison to Korean General staff system. One of major advantages of it is that a rapid decision would be made when in real battles and operations. Today, every echelons of the Korean army, above company level, has general staff. And, although it is sometimes helpful for operations because many things to do exist during war, there are many cases that battle rhythm is delayed and decision-making is slow due to big staff. But, German classic general staff system has very simple organizations that have chain of command and chain of staff. Therefore, after planning, the decision-making and battle rhythm can be fast.
    However, there is a disadvantage about decision-making ironically. Since they have had two chains as mentioned above, commander might have to consider the planner who is the general staff, the planner might need to consider the commander, and the subordinates might confuse which person they are required to follow. We can recall the Soviet Union’s chain of command. Each echelon has had two commanders who are a real commander and a political(ideological) leader. We need to think about efficiency and effectiveness of both general staff system. Which one is more efficient and effective?

    Comment by kwon.moon | October 10, 2018

  2. The advantages of the “classic” German Staff system lie within the science of war. By focusing on institutionalizing genius, the German military can, with some accurate predictability, guarantee that its General Staff Officers will have the conceptual knowledge and competency to consistently make effective battle plans. Furthermore, by institutionalizing that knowledge, the German military can create an entire crop of qualified officers that are well versed in the business of running the military to best execute national interests. 9 out of 10 times they will likely make the right decision with regards to placement of forces and elements of combat power. They will likely put their forces in the most advantageous positions to win and out-maneuver their adversary. The major disadvantage is that at some point, war becomes an application of force and will. That application becomes more about the human endeavor to motivate, react, and boldly execute and less about the plan that was developed away from the physical interaction between adversaries The best plan will fail if not boldly executed. That ability to execute; that instinct to know when and where to mass forces; is not easily learned in the intellectual arena. The art of war is best practiced in its application. This is where the American system differs. While development and education are institutionalized, it is balanced against the experience of command at ever-increasing echelons. US combat-arms officer follow a distinct pattern of development. It starts with institutional knowledge prior to commissioning and prior to assuming a leadership position. Once that officer has experienced his or her first opportunity in command, he or she is returned for further institutional development. But now he or she has some experience to compare to the doctrine. He then returns to the force for some staff time and ultimately another opportunity to lead maneuver forces. This pattern continues throughout the career of the US Combat Arms officer. Some culminate their careers as excellent general staff officers and some as excellent commanders which combine to create a healthy balance of art and science in the planning and application of force.

    Comment by Kevin Ramirez | October 10, 2018

  3. As stated in the previous comments, there are many advantages and similarities to the “classic” German Staff system and our own. Both systems look for certain qualities among its ranks and deems them “worthy” to attend the schools through a selection process. The process to get selected to staff starts with school. In the U.S., selection for staff school starts from the time you enter your first operational unit and cumulates at a decision point in a career. Selection to a school such as CGSC differs between each service, but the criteria is relatively the same: only the best and brightest who have been highlighted as officers with staff potential. The “classic” German Staff system could be seen in this light as it was somewhat elitist, and also built a staff that had rigorous education. The desired outcome is the same as well. Both desire a well-rounded staff officer that is capable of thinking strategic and operating across the spectrum of war. The main difference is that while the “classic” German Staff system produced disciplined warriors that were experts in the science of war, our system also relies heavily on the art of war. Through experiences leading up to a school, our officers go through a multitude of events that shape and cultivate a future leader’s mind, which in turn, helps a U.S. staff officer apply experiences when creating doctrine or a strategic product.

    Comment by Chris Brooks | October 12, 2018

  4. The advantages of the German General Staff system is that is places the same level of emphasis and focus on grooming senior leaders to be excellent staff officers and commanders at the strategic level. In essence, a unit will get a highly trained commander and general staff officer to lead an organization from the top down. The disadvantages of this system is that if a leader is not identified early on in their career, they will miss out on this opportunity and fall through the cracks.

    The major difference in the American system is that we emphasize performance at every level of command over premium education and intellectual development. Another major difference is that we do not identify junior officers early on in their career and then groom them for generalship at an early stage. I think some form of combination between the two would be best suited to identify those leaders with the most potential to lead at the strategic level.

    Comment by Aaron S. Griffin | October 15, 2018

  5. The best way to get at this dilemma is to find those “genius” early and often. The classic German system shaped officers into General Staff officers, but I am not sure, everyone one of them were mean to be there. Experience in learning formation sometimes reveals a passion or lack thereof for something you are pursuing.

    I would propose a system that, when a young officer (or enlisted) displays potential, genius or attraction for military strategy/science, that those individuals would be vetted, encouraged, assigned to developmental positions and partnered with mentors of like mind for further confirmation. Through that timeline, that individual can have vail out moments after realizing the “general staff” route is not for them. Furthermore, the assignment process, mentorship could also be part of the confirmation to groom or to release from the track towards General Staff.

    The challenge is in setting up a fair and unbiased system where talent management is truly disinfected by motives, favors, and despotism.

    Comment by Carlos Ruiz | October 21, 2018

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