Small Wars Journal

The Loss of Strategic Legitimacy

Sat, 01/02/2010 - 6:38am
The Loss of Strategic Legitimacy

by Lieutenant Colonel Robert Weimann

Download the full article: The Loss of Strategic Legitimacy

"War leads to war crimes, and the only sure way to avoid that seems to be to avoid war. Good example, discipline and control (good leadership) can only reduce the problem."

- - Comment on Small Wars Journal discussion board thread titled "The Kill Company" dated 15 July 2009 concerning The New Yorker Article, "The Kill Company" by Kaffi Khatchadourian, July 6 2009

Looking at the latest edition of the DOD Joint Operations Manual (Joint Operations JP 3.0), you noticed, under the "Summary of Changes Section", the addition of three new Principles of Joint Operations (Principle of War). There, in the change section, it states that the publication:

"Establishes 12 "principles of joint operations" by adding three "other principles" — restraint, perseverance, and legitimacy — to the traditional nine "principles of war"

The Department of Defense use to have only nine "principles of war' that included Mass, Objective, Offensive, Security, Economy of Force, Maneuver, Unity of Command, Surprise and Simplicity. These principles were burned into the minds of entry level lieutenants with the permanency of a branding iron during their initial officer training using the acronym "MOOSE MUSS". Ahhh yes, good old MOOSE MUSS; because of it most officers will never forget those nine strategic principles of war. The change also raises a question; why, after more than forty years of military institutionalization, did the Department of Defense changed the "Principles of War" with three additions.

Because the original nine principles are based on Clausewitz's work "On War", they represented a young officer's initial introduction to military strategy. Of course, strategy is the realm of generals and junior officers need to know only the basics. Back then, most officers fully agreed to that unwritten rule because they recognized that the basic operation and function of an M-60 machine gun would be much more valuable working at that "eyeball-to-eyeball" level of war. Junior officers and NCOs trusted that the generals had their backs on that strategy thing.

Download the full article: The Loss of Strategic Legitimacy

Lieutenant Colonel Robert Weimann's career spans 24 years as an US Marine Infantry Officer including participating in Desert Shield and Storm with the 2nd Marine Division. He retired in 1996, and lives with his family to Raleigh, NC where he works as an information technology program and project manager. He is also a contributing editor of the Defend Our Marines Web site (

About the Author(s)



Sun, 01/03/2010 - 9:07pm

Thanks gentlemen for the comments they are appreciated. Principles of War from Clausewitz or Jomini or Mahan, dont see it as a big issue. In fact, my opinion is it depends on who you ask the question... if you want to debate that issue take the Jomini/Mahan side and find any Army Officer, they will be glad to take the Clausewitz side. I was just recalling what my instructor told me way back at TBS.
For Matt: You are correct, the paper is a bit of a rant but you tend to do that when you feel an important issue is being missed.
I will take exception to the next statement "the author's take on the facts of the Haditha incident is simply wrong". Oh? Matt, I am all ears; please tell me where my facts are wrong. In addition, please tell be about this photographic "evidence" because the prosecutors apparently missed it in 5 individual cases that never went to court martial. The sixth case was found not guilty of all charges. The Battalion commander case was dropped because of undue command influence and the last case is pending a USMC lawsuit against CBS in an attempt to collect evidence they dont have. My impression is instead of doing your research, you are falling prey to what Bing West talk about:
"Haditha, in my judgment, is a metaphor for how the press unconsciously, being in opposition to a war, will take an incident, and simply by reiterating it and reiterating it and reiterating it, build it into something that it wasn't."--Bing West, USMC (Ret.), author, No True Glory
In other words, you are being politically correct instead of analytic.
Your last statement completely losses me: Toleration and apologetics for the criminals (once they have been determined to be such by the processes prescribed in law) need not be.
Which criminals and what laws? Criminals in accordance with the Rules of Law? Or criminals in accordance with the Laws of War? I get the feeling your confusing the two ... like our senior military leadership.
Matt, I would love to discuss it with you further but you need to do a much better job on your facts. Here is a good place to start:…
Thanks, Bob Weimann

Matt Jones (not verified)

Sun, 01/03/2010 - 7:55am

This is more of a rant than a serious article, though clearly the subject is of profound importance.

I will not delve into details given the likely sensitivities of some readers on the subject, but the author's take on the facts of the Haditha incident is simply wrong -- there was far more involved that a reporter's unsupported allegation. In particular, extremely disturbing photographic evidence was available from an early stage.

As always, obvious falsehood on one point has to lead to doubts about the rest of the piece.

The issue of legitimacy is certainly a central one in military operations these days, as what we used to know as war has become a much more directly political exercise than it was under the old paradigm of interstate conflict. I'd suggest that the question of whether it should be a principle of war or not is largely academic -- achieving and maintaining it and denying it to one's enemy is the central requirement of modern war. It's not done by strategic communications or psyops trickery but principally by action, for good or ill. Crimes are inevitable in war, as the opening quotation suggests. Toleration and apologetics for the criminals (once they have been determined to be such by the processes prescribed in law) need not be.

Ken White (not verified)

Sat, 01/02/2010 - 10:40am

Seems to me that the original article is confusing Policy with Strategy.

There is no question that legitimacy is an extremely important Policy question. It is, however, not a 'principle of war.'

While actions of personnel and units in war should desirably be legitimate in every sense the simple fact is that war breeds situations that will impede achievement of that goal at the tactical and possibly even the operational level.

The Author's point that failure to consider several factors by policy makers and senior leaders did a disservice to the Nation and the Troops is correct in my view but I strongly question the inclusion of the three additions as 'principles of war' by the Joint doctrine writers.

While legitimacy is an imperative at the strategic level, I suggest that the other two additions can at times be mutually contradictory, that they are not always appropriate -- and that the current practice of adapting doctrine to the immediate as opposed to the proven is perhaps unwise.

Thus I agree with Robert C. Jones:<blockquote>"Second, I always felt the origianal nine were great tools for use as a sanity check on tactical COAs; though not so much help for strategy. I would offer that the 3 added "principles" are more with an eye to stratgic problem sets and not so much tactic; making a bit of a doctrinal fruit salad of this."</blockquote>Exactly.

I concur with his assertion that the Principles owe more to Jomini and Mahan (Dennis, not Alfred) and to our doomed attempts to cast warfare as a science instead of recognizing that it is an art. I also agree with his military advice -- though I might suggest that his <b><i>political</i></b> advice while possibly sound may not be seen as appropriate in the eyes of many and thus weakens his military message... ;)

Not too quibble with the paper and to add to Bob Jones comments: the principles of war are based on Jomini's writings and not Clausewitz. Jomini wanted to be the Isaac Newton of Warfare and set forth the priniciples of war that would provide rationale understanding in a similar fashion to Newton's Law. Clausewtiz recognized the danger in rigid adherence to principles. His purpose for writing On War was one, to understand the true nature of war and two, to help military leaders to develop coup d' oiel or the "inward eye" or military genius. He said something along the paraphrased lines of the genius rises above all rules and laughs at them.

Major Riptdie

Sat, 01/02/2010 - 9:44am

Here is the big problem with legitimacy; it is a subjective judgement. It is the domain of the population, not the military or government.

We tend to confuse legitimacy with justification, but these two terms are not interchangeable. A justifiable action is not necessarily a legitimate one. Justification is largely a legal issue, whereas legitimacy is a moral issue.

The new definition of legitimacy as a Principle of War uses the terms legality, morality, and rightness - legality is clearly incorrect.

This dynamic was at play during the run up to Iraq. The administrations push to war was an exercise in building justification, culminating in Colin Powell's briefing and the UN.

Justification does not equal legitimacy. Of the two, legitimacy is the most important. But as long as we think of it as a justification/legal principle, we are doomed to fail.

Bob's World

Sat, 01/02/2010 - 7:41am

I will read this when I get a moment, but just the intro here is enough to initiate a couple of initial thoughts.

First, I was always under the impression that the principles of war in US doctrine were derived from the work of Jomini by Alfred Thayer Mahan; not from Clausewitz. I seem to recall some "chicken/egg" debate as to which of these Napoleonic theorists plegarized the other...

Second, I always felt the origianal nine were great tools for use as a sanity check on tactical COAs; though not so much help for strategy. I would offer that the 3 added "principles" are more with an eye to stratgic problem sets and not so much tactic; making a bit of a doctrinal fruit salad of this.

As to Legitimacy, it is certainly, in my opinion, the number one decisive criteria for any COIN Campaign. Any COIN campaign in support of a government that lacks legitimacy in the eyes of its populace is likely doomed to fail.

While the military forces forcus on helping to shape conditions that allow the governemnt to regain its effectiveness and support from the populace, the policy types should be laser focused on this issue of legitimacy. In Afghanistan, while the current government certainly lacks legitimacy in the eyes of the popualce we have a great gift just waiting to be unwrapped if we dare: The Loya Jirga.

The Karzai government and Western Leaders may well fear the Loya Jirga, because it is a process that cannot be contolled, nor is it constrained by even the Afghan constition or the power of the President. But it is this very freedom from manipulation that grants this forum and its results legitimacy in the eyes of the Afghan populace. And in that country, that is the only perception that matters.

Write your Senators and Congressmen and demand that they support our troops in the coming surge by shifting their focus from arguing about COIN tactics, or their opinions on terrorism or radical islam; and placing it instead on a loud hue and cry for the Karzai government to hold a Loya Jirga. This is democracy and self-determination Afghan-style.

We won't control the results, and many won't like them, and that is exactly why it has a chance to work.