Small Wars Journal

Krulak Revisited: The Three-Block War, Strategic Corporals, and the Future Battlefield

Krulak Revisited: The Three-Block War, Strategic Corporals, and the Future Battlefield by Franklin Annis – Modern War Institute

In the 1990s, Commandant of the US Marine Corps Gen. Charles C. Krulak advanced the idea of what he called a “three-block war” to explain battlefield realities in an era of failed and failing nation-states. Not only was the Marine Corps operating in complex environments and executing a range of missions—including humanitarian aid and peacekeeping, alongside mid-intensity conflict—it was also operating in an atmosphere of pervasive media coverage. With the rise of the internet and cheap video equipment, the actions—or mis-actions—of Marines could spread quickly around the world. Krulak perceived the need to invest heavily in the human dimension of warfare. This was done to ensure that even the lowest-level Marine leaders were fully developed and prepared to operate effectively to contribute to the achievement of strategic objectives in this environment of ever-increasing scrutiny.

Many readers will be familiar with Krulak’s three-block war and his notion of the “strategic corporal.” Certainly military leaders at all levels who have been involved in America’s post-9/11 wars in Iraq and Afghanistan will have encountered these ideas. And yet, the nuances of Krulak’s thinking have largely been abandoned outside the Marine Corps, if they were ever truly appreciated.

To understand why requires the three-block war to be revisited, more than twenty years after Krulak originally explained the framework. In doing so, the tendency for “block inflation” becomes apparent, as does the rise of the “toxic” strategic corporal myth. By recognizing how Krulak’s ideas have been distorted, we can begin to chart the ways in which the strategic-corporal developmental philosophy is still relevant on the modern battlefield as a means of addressing war’s increasing complexity…

Read on.