Academic journal article Strategic Review for Southern Africa

The Concept of Military Doctrine with Specific Reference to the South African National Defence Force

Academic journal article Strategic Review for Southern Africa

The Concept of Military Doctrine with Specific Reference to the South African National Defence Force

Article excerpt

Director: Institute for Strategic Studies University of Pretoria (*)


The concepts "doctrine", "strategy" and "posture" are often used as synonyms, while closer analysis does reveal a specific meaning for each of these concepts. Moreover, although they are mutually interdependent, they are linked in a sequential fashion. In this article these concepts are described and discussed, and some of the implications of post-Cold War developments for doctrine, strategy and principles of war are referred to. Finally, a brief overview is provided of the status of doctrine in the South African National Defence Force.


This article analyses the concept of military doctrine, the sources and formulation of military doctrine, levels of military doctrine, and the relationship between doctrine, strategy and the principles of war. Some reference to the effect of post-Cold War developments on military doctrine is also made, and the current status of doctrine in the South African National Defence Force (SANDF) is discussed in broad terms.

Doctrine, in the general sense of the word, is described as "any explicit set of beliefs that purports to explain reality and usually prescribes goals for political action. A coherent set of doctrines constitutes an ideology". (1) Doctrine can therefore guide (and follow from) both political decision-making and strategic decision-making at all levels, from the national strategy level to the operational and tactical level. In this article the emphasis will fall on military doctrine -- sometimes also called strategic doctrine -- although the latter actually applies to higher levels than the military.


The term strategy is, in certain usages, still seen as the equivalent of doctrine. Similarly, the concept strategic doctrine is sometimes used interchangeably with military doctrine or defence doctrine. As stated, strategic doctrine is usually associated with a higher level of decision-making than is the case with military doctrine, and is described as consisting of "the major set of consciously adopted political-military assumptions on which specific strategies and manageable elements of defence policy are based" (2) (it would of course at this level also include non-military doctrine).

The current usage of military doctrine refers to "a system of views adopted by a given state as a programme for preparing and waging war, and the rationale of this". (3) In this context, military doctrine should include the concept of future wars (including doctrine, strategy and preparation); the use of military force to prevent war and to wage war; the use of military force in peace-time in support of foreign policy; and the domestic role of the armed forces. Doctrine does not only consist of certain principles or views, but includes drills and procedures, especially at lower levels.

Military doctrines of specific countries are shaped by factors such as national goals and policies; the size of a military force; threat perception; and anticipated ranges of the use of military force. The concept of deterrence substantially changed the concept of military doctrine as related to guidelines for the fighting of wars. Deterrence is however, in certain views, not part of military doctrine but a political concept. (4)

Military doctrines should also indicate the methods of co-ordination of military and non-military instruments, both in times of war and peace. As far as focus is concerned, military doctrines tend to be externally oriented. Domestic uses of military force tend to be toned down or omitted, especially in Western countries. However, military doctrine serves the purpose of mobilising domestic public opinion in support of foreign and defence policies, and boosting morale, also of the armed forces. There may be discrepancies between the official version of military doctrine and its actual content, mainly for reasons of the requirements of secrecy. …

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