G.S. Isserson and the War of the Future: Key Writings of a Soviet Military Theorist

By Fridman, Ofer | Joint Force Quarterly, October 2017 | Go to article overview

G.S. Isserson and the War of the Future: Key Writings of a Soviet Military Theorist


Fridman, Ofer, Joint Force Quarterly


G.S. Isserson and the War of the Future: Key Writings of a Soviet Military Theorist

Translated and Edited by Richard W. Harrison

McFarland, 2016

332 pp. $45.00

ISBN: 978-1476662367

On December 8, 1594, William Louis of Nassau, one of the commanders of the Dutch army, sent a letter to his cousin, Maurice of Nassau, in which he suggested a new way to deploy musketeers on the battlefield that significantly increased their rate of fire. He argued that six rotating ranks of musketeers could produce a continuous hail of fire, keeping the enemy at bay. This "volley" technique (known as the "European Countermarch" today) soon became the standard way of force deployment in European armies. It was part of the emerging military revolution that changed not only the ways to conduct wars but also the geopolitical balance in Europe and the general course of history. (1) In 1532, 62 years before this pivotal work of the Counts of Nassau, another work of military significance was published--The Prince by Niccolo Machiavelli. While this book did not deal with military deployment per se, its significance as one of the fundamental works on political-military relations has been widely acknowledged through the centuries.

On the one hand, both these works deserve our recognition as important keystones in military history. On the other, their contributions to the phenomenon of war were entirely different. While the first had an instrumental and practical nature intended to solve problems in the context of 16th-century military technology and tactics, the second shaped the philosophical understanding of why states fight and how they should do it. Therefore, it is not surprising that while the military genius of the Counts of Nassau is remembered only by a small circle of military historians, Machiavelli maintains his position as one of the founders of modern political-military thought.

Reading Dr. Richard Harrison's translation G.S. Isserson and the War of the Future calls to mind the work of the Counts of Nassau more than that of Machiavelli. On the one hand, Isserson truly deserves his place in the pantheon of all great military thinkers, as one of the most prominent developers and promoters of the concept of deep operations that proved itself so profoundly on the battlefields of World War II. Without doubt, his concept of deep operations was the European Countermarch of the 20th century that changed the way of war. On the other, Isserson is too practical and instrumental in solving the technological and tactical problems of his time, focusing on functional improvement of force deployment, rather than on the broader phenomenon of war or its evolution in the 20th century.

Reading through Harrison's selection of six of Isserson's works that comprises the book, it is difficult to see their relevance today or for the future of war. Thus, I do not share the enthusiasm of retired Lieutenant General Paul K Van Riper's foreword, which states that Isserson still has "much to offer for those involved in force development, that is, writing military concepts and doctrine and designing future organizations" (p. 5). Indeed, it is easy to understand why he finds Isserson's claim--"the determination of the tasks of military operations corresponding to the political goals of war" (p. …

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