Threats Defeated Through Doctrine

by SSgt Roberto A Davila

In the history of man, war has existed as a function of expression and a problem-solving solution. With a likeness to simplicity in this vague description, war is anything but. It is a timeless and ever-changing complexity with a constant nature that has multiple ways of being conducted.1 Current modern-era conflicts occur within a specific type of warfare of an irregular nature. Consequently, some believe current Marine Corps doctrine does not prepare Marines to perform maneuver warfare concepts. However, Marine Corps maneuver warfare concepts described in MCDP 1, Warfighting, adequately address the expanding forms of modern conflict and prepare Marines for irregular warfare by ensuring leaders are knowledgeable of the nature of war, theory of war, and preparation for war. The doctrine retains relevancy because it addresses the re-occurring themes of war as both an art and science, and it emphasizes decentralized command.

To prepare for war, it is best to understand its nature, theory, and the requirement needed to conduct it. Warfighting provides guidance over the nature and theory of war so the concepts can be applicable when identifying your enemy and how to defeat him. In irregular warfare, centers of gravity and critical vulnerabilities exist. Warfighting describes the relationship between these as “wanting to attack the source of enemy strength, but [not] into that strength.” Additionally, it examines the attributes of war that can be combined and utilized to exploit the enemy. This vulnerability can be a tangible, technological piece of gear, or it can be the intangible willpower and morale of the community. Either can be exploited by maneuver warfare concepts within irregular warfare conditions. Preparations for any conditions of warfare are done through training to address what is known (ballistics, weaponry, technology) and education to prepare for what is unknown (historical references for solutions). This allows us to balance the art and science of war.

Science is responsible for the types of weapons and technology that are created and used in war. The creative application of these weapons and technology is how art comes into play. Warfighting concludes “that the conduct of war is fundamentally a dynamic process of human competition requiring both the knowledge of science and creativity of art but driven ultimately by the power of human will.” The human will is a constant between art, science, and an attribute described in the nature of war as the human dimension; it is central in war. This balancing of technology and creativity exists on the battlefield of irregular warfare as does our will to exploit and defeat enemies. The understanding of this balance and the concepts in Warfighting is important for all levels because Marine leaders follow the guidance it gives to decentralize their command from the top to the lowest level to ensure the greatest unity of force.

In an irregular warfare environment, a leader cannot be at every significant event or place. However, he can give his intent so subordinates make decisions that align within his started, goals, giving him the opportunity to influence a greater area through his followers. This increased unity of force can be an intangible factor in the exploitation of a critical vulnerability in irregular warfare. The greater the area, the greater responsibility a commander will have as the levels of war compress together because his actions can influence different levels. As a commander of a conventional force, irregular warfare generates fair amounts of “uncertainty, disorder, and fluidity of combat,” but our doctrine provides the capability to combat this:

In order to generate the tempo of operations we desire, and to best cope with the uncertainty, disorder, and fluidity of combat, command and control must be decentralized.

It is the duty of Marine leaders to ensure the maneuver principles in Warfighting are implemented as they prepare for any type of war or conflict. To understand what is known about the nature and theory of war, we are given the edge against our enemies regardless of the type of warfare. Knowing these concepts will assist in the conduct of any war, as they affect the human will, which is a dynamic in all forms of war. Battle drills for combat, and the proper use of technology on the battlefield, contain known standards dictating how Marines should be trained. Education comes in the study of how art and science were paired in previous battles and understanding how decisions in these battles shaped their outcome PME can give references in unexperienced situations. All of this is achieved through a decentralized approach, with the intent lying within the pages of MCDP 1, Warfighting, to prepare Marines for modern conflict and irregular warfare.


  1. Headquarters Marine Corps, MCDP 1, Warfighting, (Washington, DC: 1997). MCDP 1 is cited throughout this article.