You are here

What is the Western Way of War? Is there one? How did it come about? Is it war or warfare (and what is the difference)? In this podcast series we tackle these issues and others, mapping the origins of the term, and why the current discussions are perhaps misguided and immature.

Ratheon UK

This podcast series is kindly sponsored and enabled by Raytheon UK, a subsidiary of Raytheon technology, a British company that creates jobs in England, Wales and Scotland, contributing over 700 million pounds to the UK economy.


The term 'British Way of Warfare' emerged from a speech given by Sir Basil Liddell Hart at RUSI in 1931, and later immortalised in the RUSI Journal in 1932. Liddell Hart was discussing British grand strategy after the First World War, specifically the level to which Britain should materially and politically invest in the European continent (as opposed to prioritising maritime interests in the rest of the world).

Liddell Hart, and those who critiqued his paper, used the terms 'war' and 'warfare' as interchangeable. Carl von Clausewitz differentiated them: war as the grand strategic choices of policy, and warfare the practise of armed coercion and violence used to implement political strategy. Whilst academically pure, the reality is an overlap between these two spheres. While scholars pose important, grand strategic questions, those engaged in the profession of arms need to understand the Western approach to warfare (How we fight, and how adversaries respond) as a critical military question.

In dealing with how we fight, it is acknowledged that by the 19th century there were several historical schools of military theory: Prussian, French, British, Russian, Italian and Japanese to name but a few. These had been identified as peculiar to those states, imbued with some of the core cultural phenomena of their own indigenous people, and the deliberate changes made to their military practices and institutions on the basis of their own discrete experiences in conflict, campaigns, personalities, and warfare as lived. Arguably, these merged into a single school by 1990: An American led doctrine and concept of fighting emerged from the Cold War that was centred on a belief that technological superiority could overcome the mass of the Warsaw Pact forces. Much of the previous lessons and individual schools of military theory all but disappeared.

That US school of warfare has been applied against all aggressors in roughly similar manners: counter-terrorism, counter insurgency, high intensity conflict, civil wars, conventional deterrence, partnering and unlimited warfare. The core question of this project examines whether this single Western Way of Warfare is fit for task.


Podcast Episodes

Season Two

Episode 40: Fighting for the soul of Western militaries

Manoeuvre warfare, the manoeuvrist approach, and manoeuverism as military concepts have been revered by Western militaries for half a century, while their lesser-known brethren concepts such as positional and attrition warfare have long been forgotten. Peter Roberts and Amos Fox, a US military theorist, reflect on contemporary conflict against these paradigms and draw some interesting and unexpected conclusions.

Go to episode


Episode 39: Rose Roth, language and youth

Peter Roberts talks to veteran Welsh politician and former President of the NATO Parliamentary Assembly Madeleine Moon about her reflections on two decades of handling political-military relations, and on the challenge of answering the desire for engagement by younger generations.

Go to episode


Episode 38: Hybrid is Everything and Everything is Hybrid

Since the Ukraine war of 2014, most Western governments have classified any hostile challenge as 'hybrid', 'sub-threshold', or as actions belonging to the 'grey zone' space, be those of 'little green men' seizing a TV station, or mechanized divisions invading another country. Why is the West so surprised, confused or bamboozled by the actions of competitors? Peter Roberts talks to UK psychological operations expert Ewan Lawson about lazy language, the digital revolution, and the struggle to find coherent responses (and not solely military ones).

Go to episode


Episode 37: The Fluidity of Nuclear Doctrine

It is common to consider nuclear doctrine as a fixed, unmoving and largely successful element of the Western Way of War. Dr Heather Williams talks to Peter Roberts about why this just isn't the case. The pair also debunk some myths about the nuclear domain including the myths surrounding the 'escalate to de-escalate' doctrine, allaying concerns about third party nuclear weapon proliferation. They also address the question of whether AI might bring stability to nuclear decision-making in the future.

Go to episode


Episode 36: No More Walking Away; No More Policy Vacuums

Former senior US Ambassador Ryan Crocker tells Peter Roberts that the Biden administration will overturn not only the foreign policy direction of Trump, but also that of Barack Obama, and engage with the world once again as Washington did during the peak of the US ascendency on the global stage. This has important consequences for both the US military and Washington’s allies.

Go to episode


Episode 35: The Future Rules of Warfare

Technological change is creating an inflection point for Western states that will have radical implications on how they will fight in the future. Even if such rates of change are not so radical, the gap between how the West and adversaries are behaving on the battlefield nonetheless continues to diverge at an alarming rate. Norms and behaviours in contemporary conflict are markedly different to our expectations and it is not clear that the West is adapting in the appropriate way. What does it tell us about the future? Dr Paddy Walker, principal investigator in a new project on 'The Future Rules of Conflict', talks to Peter Roberts about the scope of his important work and where this trend might lead us.

Go to episode


Episode 34: Is the West Developing Innovation Fatigue?

Acknowledging the power of innovation as a driver for building a competitive edge in warfare, new defence policies in the UK and US since 2015 began elevating military innovation as the chief development goal above all other processes. Laura Schousboe from the Royal Danish Defence College explores with Peter Roberts the possibility that this fixation has resulted in “innovation fatigue” in Western militaries, and tests the idea that the faddism over such a language may make innovation itself a toxic subject for future generations.

Go to episode


Episode 33: General (Retd) David Petraeus

In this bumper episode, General David Petraeus talks to Peter Roberts about military operations since 1980s, including those conducted during the Cold War and, subsequently, in Bosnia, Kosovo, Haiti, Kuwait, Iraq and Afghanistan. Serving in six consecutive command appointments as a general officer and five in combat, Petraeus holds a war record unrivalled by any other living officer of his rank. His reflections in the podcast capture that experience, and offer some advice for young leaders.

Go to episode


Episode 32: Vapourwear, Transformations and AirLand Battle

Show host Peter Roberts picks some highlights from Season One of the show, with more than a nod to divergent thinking, challenging orthodoxy and listeners' comments. Too many quotable one liners across the series so far to do justice to it all, so browse the back catalogue and catch up with some myth busting lines from unusual quarters. Strap in for Season Two: Welcome to the WWOW 2021!

Go to episode


Season One

Episode 31: When Did We Stop Inventing Stuff?

Disruptive technology has surpassed innovation as the de rigour buzzword for policy documents and is a mandatory phrase for successful funding applications. Militaries and defence organisations regard it as equal to Climate Change in their considerations about the future of conflict. Is all this nonsense? Whatever happened to invention? What makes a technology disruptive and not just helpful? Nick Colosimo leads Peter Roberts through the minefield of language and approaches to try and understand the reality of what some consider just another fad.

Go to episode


Episode 30: Is the Era of Manoeuvre Warfare Dead?

US military power since 1980 has been one of historical significance. The doctrine of rapid manoeuvre in the deep battle space, by elite armies of professional all-volunteer forces has defined the Western Way of War.

Professor Tony King contends such an era is over, and the future portends one of positional warfare; endless and indecisive campaigns, in a geography that blends deep, close, and rear, requiring a new approach. The lessons from contemporary conflict, particularly in urban warfare, will challenge the core assumptions on which the West has based its military theology. Heresy? Perhaps. Informed and evidenced analysis? Definitely.

Go to episode


Episode 29: Electronic Warfare and Cumulative Risk

Above all other competitors, Russia is the pre-eminent authority in Electronic Warfare. The US military is trying to catch up with their generational deficit in this domain but there is little sign that the rest of the West is taking it seriously. Decades of poor investment decisions, marginalisation of expertise, and presumptions of technological advantage have led the West to a most precarious position.

Peter Roberts talked to Dave Hewitt about SQEP, data, personalities, and whether the West can catch up. An important conversation, but not one that will leave you full of confidence.

Go to episode


Episode 28: Soothsaying, Prophecy and Luck

Historically, the British have been averse to funding a standing army, and perhaps that feeling endures today, in the belief that it is possible to raise and train an army to meet any threat in a short time. Allan Mallinson contends it takes a decade to generate an army, but a momentary decision to decimate the underpinning culture.

Go to episode


Episode 27: The Paradox Facing Navies

Peter Roberts talks to Dr Sidharth Kaushal about naval warfare and capital ships in the era of Great Power Competition. Dr Kaushal describes a new form of strategic raiding, the historical precedence for where navies find themselves and how the reversion to a forgotten way of warfare might be the saviour of carrier-based naval power.

Go to episode


Episode 26: People as the Decisive Advantage

Some capabilities are fundamental to military activities, but strategic capabilities tend to be valuable, rare, and inimitable. That means they tend to be human, not technical.

HR guru Professor William Scott-Jackson talks to Peter Roberts about the research and science behind this, and what it means for military recruiting, training leaders, the problems with future employment models, and the centrality of culture/ethos.

This episode might change some of the assumptions you have about military leadership, and training leaders!

Go to episode


Episode 25: HYPErsonics?

Great powers are pressing ahead with hypersonic weapons, yet in adoption and adaptation there seems to be a missing foundational understanding of what the arrival of Mach 10 precision munitions means for warfare. In trying to get behind the hyperbole of hypersonics, Peter Roberts talked to Bryan Rosselli about speed, accuracy, range, manoeuvrability, and defense.

Go to episode


Episode 24: When did everything become securitised?

Alice Billon-Galland explains to Peter Roberts what a forward-looking reflective exercise is (for NATO), and what this issues are between NATO and the EU.

Go to episode


Episode 23: Utility vs Utilisation

Given the discussion of 'sunset' capabilities and the growing feeling in Brussels that the UK has a credibility problem inside NATO, Peter talks to Mungo Melvin (military historian and former soldier), about the dangers of thin-slicing history to draw conclusions about military capability requirements for the future.

Go to episode


Episode 22: Rules, Norms, and Structures

Peter Roberts is joined by Heather Conley from CSIS to talk INF, START, Open Skies, Coalitions of the Committed and the diversification of dependencies. The episode poses the question as to whether US (and European) structures are fit to fight, covering Russia's destabilising activities, and Chinese ambitions in the Arctic, plus the D10 as as a more resilient framework for the future

Go to episode


Episode 21: Western Way of War: Bad Procurement: A Peculiarly Western Issue?

Peter Roberts talks to John Louth, Defence Acquisition guru, about the military-industrial relationship, balance sheets, not winging it, the conspiracy of optimism, the cost of technology, speed/pace/acceleration in procurement, and the futility of importing alternative models.

Go to episode


Episode 20: Outwitted, Outgunned, and Outflanked

The West has been losing wars for too long and needs to change, suggests James Heappey MP, UK Minister for the Armed Forces. Peter Roberts talks to the former soldier-turned politician about people, the future operating environment, the UK's Integrating Operating Concept, the enduring fog of war, and what needs to change.

Go to episode


Episode 19: Wars Change Religion

The West (a contested concept in itself) has been misunderstanding the relationship between wars and religion for too long, contends Ziya Meral. Framed this way makes for a different interpretation of conflicts settings from BokoHaram, ISIS, and the Taliban to the Eastern Med. The conversation follows a journey from the mil/academic relationship to contemporary Western Values.

Go to episode


Episode 18: Don't Invade Parthia

Leaning on the Romans, the abnormal view of warfare, and defence in depth, Peter Roberts talks to Michael Clarke about how to recognise great commander, and why the British military don't have time to cultivate them (when other states do so much better at creating an ecosystem that brings them to the fore).

Go to episode


Episode 17: Political Risk, the Media and the Military

Lucy Fisher (Defence Editor of The Times) joins Peter Roberts to talk about the 2013 Syria vote in UK Parliament, the revered status of Western militaries, and ignoring social media.

Go to episode


Episode 16: Society and the Western Way of Peace

Does a successful and respected professional military force make a conversation with society at large over security and insurmountable conversation? Do government narratives over military threats alienate audiences? Elisabeth Braw and Peter Roberts talk about preppers, supply chains, a Western concept of peace, and the lack of imagination in politics.

Go to episode


Episode 15: CBRN and the Western Way of Warfare

Peter Roberts talks to chem/bio warfare guru Dan Kaszeta about the journey from weevils to sarin, political biological poisonings since 2000BCE, food security as a catalyst for chemical weapon research, and a reappraisal of President Nixon.

Go to episode


Episode 14: Combined Arms, Military Culture, and the Failures of Leadership

Peter Roberts talks to US scholar-practitioner Dr Pete Mansoor (author of 'Baghdad at Sunrise', 'Surge', and 'The Culture of Military Organisations') about the Western Way of Warfare from the Peloponnesian war to Iraq: competition, economics, technology, logistics, and escalatory concepts.

Go to episode


Episode 13: Taoism and Clausewitz

Chilean general John Griffiths talks to Peter Roberts about how success can be forged into a coherent strategy in such powers, accelerated by Great Power competition in the Indo-Pacific.

Go to episode


Episode 12: Does the Battle Decide the Political End State?

Peter Roberts talks to Francois Villiaumey, formerly Deputy Director of Ecole de Guerre in Paris, about the Western Way of War from Charlemagne to Eisenhower, the fallacy of linear doctrines and why the law of the victor is a clearer end-state to achieve militarily.

Go to episode


Episode 11: Air Power Beyond Tactical Effects

After 'shock and awe', and the linear approach airforce planning, Stuart Atha talks to Peter Roberts about synchronisation, harmonisation, strategic integration, using hard power to burst A2AD bubbles, and air power as a political tool

Go to episode


Episode 10: The Realities and Future of Swarming and Drones

Peter Roberts talks drones, human control, and mowing the lawn with Dr Ulrike Franke. A great intro to the future of drone warfare, surveillance, aerial technology, remote warfare, and the offence/defence balance of air power in the future.

Go to episode


Episode 9: Air Power in an Age of Great Power Competition

Peter Roberts talks to Dr Peter Layton from Australia on compromised air platform design, how you might conduct operations against a China-style adversary, and why the F35 was the perfect platform for the wars of the last two decades.

Go to episode


Episode 8: A Politicians View on the Utility of Hard Power

Tobias Ellwood (Chair UK Parliament's Defence Committee) talked to Peter Roberts about how political views on the military have changed (risk averse, reactive, lacklustre), the 'Special relationship', pandemic response, Trump, and moving from an operational design focused on punishment to one that denies.

Go to episode


Episode 7: The Death of Military Superiority

Wilf Owen and Peter Roberts discuss why Western Power have sleep walked into a way of fighting suitable for "The Second XI", but just won't work against peer adversaries, and what needs to happen to change that.

Go to episode


Episode 6: Air Marshal Philip Osborn

Peter Roberts and Philip Osborn discuss military relationships (industrial and international), partnerships, martial habits, and why interoperability with the US alone won't solve the problem with the lack of a Western War of Warfare.

Go to episode


Episode 5: Professor Frank Hoffman

A wide ranging discussion in which Peter Roberts talks to Frank Hoffman about decisive battles, concepts of victory, strategic culture, divergence, societal risks, militaries as ubiquitous political tools, the 7th industrial revolution (augmentation), an offence/defence division of labour, and a glimpse at Hoffman's new 4 faces of future warfare.

Go to episode


Episode 4: Admiral Sir Philip Jones

Peter Roberts and Admiral Sir Philip Jones talk about why it is people that represent the competitive edge in the Western Way of Warfare - and have done for centuries, and how technology is supporting but not necessarily dominant.

Go to episode


Episode 3: Baron Richards of Herstmonceux

Peter Roberts and David Richards discuss the ten commandments of the manoeuvrist approach to warfare, thinking of weapons as servants not principles, the enduring nature of challenge, and the British Way of Warfare as 'The absence of mass'.

Go to episode


Episode 2: Sir Graeme Lamb

Peter Roberts and Graeme Lamb talk about the Western Way of Warfare from the Elizabethan Era to today's Great Power Competition. Failing to adapt, superiority, advantage, and moving from 'Force on Force' to 'Force on Will'.

Go to episode


Episode 1: Professor Nina Kollars

Peter Roberts and Nina Kollars talk futurology, exceptionalism, decisive engagements, pathology, winnable fights, and vapourware, all in the pursuit of a more pragmatic view on the Western Way of Warfare.

Go to episode


Podcast Trailer: What is the Western Way of Warfare?

What is the Western Way of War? Is there one? How did it come about? Is it war or warfare (and what is the difference)? In this trailer to the new podcast from RUSI, we tackle these issues and others, mapping the origins of the term, to why the current discussions are perhaps misguided and immature.

Go to trailer


Show produced by: Tom Ascott

The Western Way of War Podcast Series is part of the Profession of Arms programme run by the Military Sciences Research Group

You can subscribe to this podcast on Spotify and iTunes Podcasts

Contacts

Professor Peter Roberts
Director Military Sciences, RUSI
Peppi Vaananen
Project Officer, Military Sciences