The Leavenworth Way of War

History Discussion at CGSC

H108: On Strategy

General Helmut Von Molke, Chief of the German General Staff, 1914

“I answered His Majesty that this was impossible. The deployment of an army a million strong was not a thing to be improvised, it was the product of a whole year’s hard work and once planned could not be changed. If His Majesty were to insist on directing the whole army to the east, he would not have an army prepared for the attack but a barren heap of armed men disorganized and without supplies.”

The Kaiser: “Your uncle would have given me a different answer.”


Given the below definitions from our current doctrine, and the conversation described above, what did Von Molke not understand about strategy? Also, do you think there is a danger of U.S. national and miltiary leadership making a similar mistake? Why or why not?



strategy — A prudent idea or set of ideas for employing the instruments of national power in a synchronized and integrated fashion to achieve theater, national, and/or multinational objectives. (JP 3-0)

National Security Strategy — A document approved by the President of the United States for developing, applying, and coordinating the instruments of national power to achieve objectives that contribute to national security. Also called NSS. See also National Military Strategy; strategy; theater strategy. (JP 3-0)

national defense strategy — A document approved by the Secretary of Defense for applying the Armed Forces of the United States in coordination with Department of Defense agencies and other instruments of national power to achieve national security strategy objectives. Also called NDS. (JP 3-0)

National Military Strategy — A document approved by the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff for distributing and applying military power to attain national security strategy and national defense strategy objectives. Also called NMS. See also National Security Strategy; strategy; theater strategy. (JP 3-0)

theater strategy — An overarching construct outlining a combatant commander’s vision for integrating and synchronizing military activities and operations with the other instruments of national power in order to achieve national strategic objectives. See also
National Military Strategy; National Security Strategy; strategy. (JP 3-0)


strategy – (DOD) The art and science of developing and employing instruments of national power in a synchronized and integrated fashion to achieve theater, national and/or multinational objectives. See FM 3-0. (FM 1-02).

military strategy – (DOD) The art and science of employing the armed forces of a nation to secure the objectives of national policy by the application of force or the threat of force. See also strategy. See FM 3-0. (FM 1-02).

October 10, 2018 - Posted by | Uncategorized


  1. Moltke does not understand that strategy is to use various means of national power to achieve national interests, and military power of the army is one of the elements of national power. Today, national power is divided into diplomacy, information, military power, and economic power. In other words, there are other means that can be used to secure national interests in addition to military power. Moltke, who proposed a preemptive attack on France as a mean to deter the crisis of Russian region in Europe, where many countries’ interests were involved before the First World War, did not understand the other elements of national power.
    Meanwhile, I think that the risk of making similar mistakes is not so great as the recent US leadership is differentiated. Because they already know that they can secure the their interests by using other elements of power in doctrine. In addition, after the war in Iraq and Afghanistan in the past, America’s national interests have been secured. Considering the enthusiasm of the people at that time and the atmosphere of world public opinion, the option of war seems not to be bad in terms of consequential result. However, the reliance on excessive military power might need to be prudent as it can create a mistake similar to Moltke.

    Comment by kwon.moon | October 23, 2018

  2. Von Molke did not understand how to use the instruments of power in order to achieve national interests and objectives. As Clausewitz describes war or the use of the military instrument of power as politics by other means. He did not understand the behind maximizing all available resources associated with diplomacy, information, and economics before taking military action as a last resort.

    I do not think that U.S. national and military leadership are in danger of making the same mistake. I think our current leadership make every effort and exhaust all other options before attempting a military solution. We must continue to pursue non-military action at all costs and only take military action as a last resort, the least amount of action necessary to accomplish the mission.

    Comment by Aaron S. Griffin | October 29, 2018

  3. Moltke and the German General Staff were married to their plan; focused more on how to achieve their plan than achieving their ends and objectives by other means than military force. Their blind faith to their plan blinded them to the realities of war at their time and caused them to ignore other instruments of national power to achieve their end. Germany’s end at first was to prevent Russia from attacking Austria-Hungary but if Russia were to attack Austria-Hungary, then Germany would have to come to Austria’s defense. If that happened, then France would get involved, and if France got involved Germany thought it could not sustain fighting a two-front war. It was decided by Scheifflan that if this grand dilemma occurred Germany would have to first knock France out of the picture. In the planning process, Germany did not consider the unexpected and uncertainties of war, and Clausewitz said that military plans that do not consider the unexpected are doomed for disaster. The unexpected Germany ignored and the Staff was blinded to were the Belgiums and the timeline associated to the plan. So, the end became, knock France out of the picture, first, then turn to Russia. The way Germany was to knock France out of the picture was to march military forces through Belgium, defeat them in 6 days, then into France, and to seize Paris. The means to prevent French intervention and to knock them out of the picture was the German Army. Scheifflan, Moltke, and the Germany Staff did not consider other means to isolate, suppress, or defeat France. It was all about the plan. And, once set in motion the German moral supremacy blinded them to the probability of a Belgium resistance and that it may take longer to defeat France with the German Army than the couple of weeks the Germans gave themselves. Therefore, the German Staff did not understand strategy because the German Staff and Leaders were tied to a plan. The U.S. national strategic guidance considers all instruments of national power, to include diplomacy. Sun Zi said that it is better to win wars without fighting and Napoleon said that diplomacy is inseparable from war. Within the range of military operations and on the conflict continuum, the U.S. considers and uses diplomacy when it can and economic sanctions prior to using military force to carry out the U.S. political will.

    Comment by Dustin Murphy | November 29, 2018

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