The Theory Of Warfare

The Theory Of Warfare

War As An Essential element of Human Evolution

Although most of the human population would passionately condemn it, war has always been a defining characteristic of our human existence. As we have seen, history has been driven by cycles in which societies have grown and resource competition with neighbours has intensified. War is the point where collective competition gives way to conflict.

I have explained this dynamic at its most basic level in my Theory of Anti Entropy in Human Systems

Principal 5: Evolution and Entropy Tsunamis. Evolution demands that when a system goes into entropy it is removed just like the senescence cells in the body. Thus as Empires decline they lose their energy and decay leaving a vacuum into which the next empire moves to then reach greater levels of anti-entropy. Thus be prepared for the waves (and even Tsunamis) of entropy that engulf systems in decline with compounding consequences. The role of warfare is the cumulation of Darwinistic competition and is essentially a clash of anti-entropy and the side with the greatest levels wins. This explains why wars keep occurring despite broad protestation that they are inhuman and uncivilized. Natural events like pandemics, earthquakes and tidal waves are all examples of Entropy Tsunamis.

Looking ahead to the Future. Whilst the old mechanism of empires anti-entropy has served humanity well to date, with the destructiveness of modern warfare and high population density that is increasingly resource dependant, we are at the point where old habits could destroy the whole human DNA gene pool in a massive act of mean reversion. Unless we can find new ways to optimise human anti-entropy:

  • Possibility 1 Removing inter-human competition as the engine for optimising anti-entropy with an external objective such as colonizing our solar system.
  • Possibility 2 Substitute our current process of destructive competition through a more constructive form of competition that is contained within a shared social construct from becoming violent. BREXIT is the prime example of a new way to manage age-old social pressures that would once have needed a bloody civil war but today have been contained by the democratic process.
  • Possibility 3 AI and automation lessen the proportion of left brained genes in future generations increasing proportion of right brained genes and thus increasing creativity and anti entropy.
  • Possibility 4 To increase human anti-entropy potential by increasing the collective education, awareness, and consciousness of humanity, remembering that consciousness directly interacts and affects the physical universe increasing anti-entropy levels.

But before we can choose a new conscious mechanism to drive our evolution process we must first better understand the very nature of warfare and how it breaks out despite our most powerful hopes.

The Nature of War

theory of warfare

All wars are destructive, but not all wars are equal, because the position of the combatants within the Five Stages of Empire will define the nature of each conflict. In broad terms, an empire will be embroiled in three types of war that create distinct categories of conflict. These are wars of expansion, civil wars and wars of contraction (see Figure 41). However, as a precursor to a war of contraction, a pilot war may demonstrate signs of weakness in an established power and act as a pivotal catalyst for a subsequent major war. Each type of war has its own unique challenges and energy.

Wars of Expansion

Wars of expansion are typically those of a regional power or ascending empire, driven by primary polarisation to confront another power with the ultimate purpose of increasing territory and acquiring resources. In this process, the expanding power uses its growing population as risk capital. Typically, these are wars of choice, and they take place away from the territory of the challenger. If the war is against a declining empire of similar technological status and the conflict becomes inconclusive and destructive, there is usually the choice of withdrawal for the aggressor, with the possibility of making another attempt in the future with less threat to the homeland.

Expanding empires and nations will only make a challenge if they perceive that their potential opponent is weakening and in decline. Thus, in a predatory attack, the relative power between two nations or empires is key. As the balance of power shifts towards the younger, expanding system, the risks of conflict increase dramatically. This occurs because of the expansion of the challenger, but the trigger is a perceived sign of weakness in the established power.boae

However, there is one slight variation to the predatory model. This occurs when neighbouring territories of similar power and resources become locked in a struggle for the same territory into which they both need to expand. Thus, if the war is against another empire in a similar phase of expansion (as was the case with the Romans and Cathaginians), withdrawal is not a viable option, because the opposition would then seek to absorb the diminished aggressor. In such cases, the result is a long attritional struggle, as played out in the Punic Wars, the Hundred Years’ War and, later, the Anglo-French Wars.

Pilot Wars

Boer picket

A Boer picket on Spion Kop, Ladysmith, South Africa, on 1 January 1900. The battle of Spion Kop was fought on 23–24 January during the campaign to relieve Ladysmith and it resulted in an ignominious British defeat.

Pilot wars are minor confrontations that take place at the periphery of an empire’s sphere of influence. Very often they represent either a regional attempt to break away from the larger empire in order to gain independence, or a bid by a neighbouring state to seize territory from what is perceived to be a declining empire. Pilot wars tend to occur in the period of overextension and decline. Although at the time they do not appear to be a major challenge, they are in fact of critical importance to the world’s perception of the failing empire. How a minor, peripheral war is conducted allows potential aggressors to assess their chances in a direct challenge.

Democracies that are the product of a mature and declining empire are particularly prone to being misunderstood and are sometimes viewed by dictatorships as soft targets, which are weak and unwilling to act in defence of their assets. In reality, they are slow to engage in combat but resolute in their purpose once at war. This error of judgement was made by Germany in 1914 and 1939, and by Japan in 1941, and it was a common belief in the Kremlin for most of the Cold War.

The significance of pilot wars can be seen in three key examples;

The first is the Second Anglo-Boer War (1899–1902), in which a small group of Boer guerillas in South Africa held out to the British Empire. Britain’s failure to act decisively encouraged Germany’s belief that it could mount a challenge to this established imperial power.

A second example was Germany’s contravention of the Versailles Treaty in 1936, when it marched its soldiers back into the demilitarised zone. This was an action that the treaty clearly stated would be interpreted as an act of war, but it was met with British and French passivity. Hitler was emboldened by the lack of response. Four months later, he supported the Franco faction in the spread of Fascism in Spain and continued with Germany’s own expansionary policies, which led to World War Two.

The third example is The Falklands War where historical documents in the Kremlin show that Britain’s determination to defend its interests 8000 miles away in the Falklands War came as a surprise. From that point in time capitalist nations were no longer automatically considered by the USSR as weak-willed, especially Britain's with its Nuclear weapons and key role in NATO. Thus as the USSR crumbled economically it was effectively deterred from one last roll of the dice, by using its massive army to invade Europe. The cold war never went hot.

In summation, Pilot wars are a test of an empire’s intention, national vigour and military capability, and shortcomings in any of these areas can encourage a predatory empire or regime to aspire to dominance. Strategically, it is preferable to fight a pilot war properly – for example, to respond to a low threshold challenge such as Hitler marching into the Rhineland – than to fight the all-out war that will inevitably follow. Recent protracted American failures in Iraq and Afghanistan, to create stable state outcomes should be viewed a failed pilot wars, that have exposed America to accelerated aggression from Russia and most significantly China.

Civil Wars

Civil wars display a particular dynamic and take place at two distinct stages. Firstly a regional civil war, at or near the peak of a regional stage of an empire cycle as right-brained creative energy seeks to rise to control the system and accelerate its expansion into the next stage. Secondly a peak civil war, at the apex of an empire cycle during the maturity phase. Where, with no external battles remaining, the last of the expansive energy turns inwards as two internal value systems fight for control.

The English Civil War of 1642–45 between the Royalists and Parliamentarians was just such a regional conflict. Not only did it decide the very nature of national governance in favour of a constitutional democracy but it was also a part of the process of establishing Protestantism as the dominant religion of Britain, thereby determining the core value system that would power the country to empire. The American Civil War proved to be the final war in the regionalisation process of the united states with the victorious Northern States dictating the social, industrial and military values that would dominate the newly united States as it ascended to empire.

Whilst the clearest examples of a peak civil war were the two world wars for the WCSE. Without a unifying political system, the competition between the constituent empires of this super-empire could only be resolved through conflict. However, the energy of civil war when contained by a strong legal and constitutional democracy my not always be resolved through bloodshed. A prime example occurred at the peak of the British Empire with the Second Reform Act of 1867, when Queen Victoria relieved the social pressure of the growing Republican movement by presiding over the evolution of the constitutional monarchy, thereby creating the two-party system and resulting in a modern democracy as we know it today.

Wars of Contraction

Wars of contraction take place when an empire is in decline, as other rising empires and regional powers seek to make their challenge. Typically, the citizens of the empire in decline have grown soft, having enjoyed the material comforts of the mature phase of empire and in sharp comparison to the tough challengers who have lived in a more difficult social environment. The established empire is usually highly dependent on technology to maintain its military edge against an often more numerous and less capable adversary. However, having invested enormous sums of money to develop and maintain a powerful and advanced military complex, such an empire will be vulnerable to one thing – military innovation.

Having invested psychologically in the current military structure, a declining empire can be blind to the benefits of adopting new weapons. The British Royal Navy, for example, was particularly resistant to the introduction of the submarine because the vessel was perceived at the time to threaten the supremacy of the traditional surfacebased navy. Furthermore, even if new innovations are recognised as being desirable, two types of financial issue tend to arise: the years of economic investment make it difficult for a nation to scrap the earlier systems, and financial overextension renders new investments problematic. The British found themselves in this situation yet again when they developed the dreadnought, which forced them to dispose of their old battle fleet and build a new one. In the ensuing fourteen-year-long naval arms race, Britain was matched almost ship-for-ship by Germany.

Decline is a difficult and confusing time, as the old empire fights a series of wars that destroy its economic and military power, often through a long process of attrition.

Asymmetric Warfare

Asymmetric warfare is a conflict between two opponents with very different military resource bases. The result is a non-conventional war. Asymmetric warfare is driven by a minority force that, through conflict with its opposition, seeks to spread their perception of their enemy throughout the general population, thereby increasing their own ranks. As such, these conflicts are as much about the shaping of popular opinion as they are about tangible military results. Because of this, it is essential for the defending party to keep innocent civilian casualties to an absolute minimum, otherwise they risk swelling the ranks of the insurgents with new recruits inspired by the desire for revenge.

warfare and empires

From the perspective of the hegemonic empire, there are two distinct types of asymmetric warfare depending on where in the Five Stages of Empire the conflict occurs. First, there are the asymmetric wars of expansion, and then as an empire declines there are the asymmetric wars of contraction (see Figure 44). These two have very different characteristics and present different risks for the empire.

Asymmetric Wars of Expansion

An expanding empire seeks to move into territories that are resource rich and yet relatively undefended in what could best be described as colonial wars of acquisition. This strategy was typified by the WCSE’s expansion into the Americas and Africa from the seventeenth century onwards. The drivers of such expansion, as we have seen, were primarily demographic, but they were facilitated by innovations in technology that allowed for conquest and assimilation and, at times, the annihilation of less militarily sophisticated societies. To the threatened societies, the invaders must have seemed overwhelming: their weapons were more powerful and they had a growing populace that was able to quickly replace any losses suffered. The expanding empire’s commitment to expansion meant that it was simply a matter of time before it succeeded, and its very confidence in the outcome must have been sensed by its opposition, often hastening the resulting capitulation.

Asymmetric Wars of Contraction

In contrast, asymmetric wars of contraction take place when a group or nation wants to assert its independence from the empire, or indeed begin to challenge what is perceived as a declining empire. This is part of the fracturing of an empire, and also the beginning of challenges from growing neighbouring regional powers. For the conflict to be classified as asymmetric, the challenge must come from a group that lacks the ability to arm and deploy a coherent military structure. The only option for the challenger is to wage war from within society: a guerrilla or insurgency-based conflict.

The conflict may seem to be unbalanced, with the technology of the empire’s established military fighting an apparently rag-tag group of insurgents, but appearances can be deceptive, and such struggles are often far more protracted than one would expect, suggesting that there are key factors at work in their favour, as described below.


The first key factor is the intention to win the conflict. On one side is an empire whose collective toughness has been softened by decades of high living standards and security, and which consequently places a high value on human life. In effect, all the empire wishes to do is to maintain the status quo. Thus it is militarily complacent and will probably fail to take the bold steps that are required to mobilise its full resources to quickly and effectively suppress the challenge.

On the other side are the insurgents who are usually part of a demographically expanding population in the process of rediscovering their historic sense of nation or religion. They live in an altogether tougher environment that places a lower value on individual rights, and they have less to lose by pursuing a conflict that they think might help to improve their position. Their strength and commitment to their cause is often underestimated by their seemingly more powerful foe, whose arrogance is founded in the hubris of empire. This is a misjudgement made by many throughout history, including the Greeks of the Macedonians, the Indians of the Assyrians, the Russians of the Afghans and, today, the US of the Middle East

The higher levels of intention possessed by the minority group give them an advantage that means that they can pose a serious challenge to the waning empire.


The second key factor is time. Again, this greatly favours the insurgents because, in all probability, they will outlive the political imperatives of the empire to continue their struggle. Indeed, as the empire’s decline deepens, the insurgents will continue to expand demographically, giving them a long-term advantage.


While an empire is conducting an expeditionary war, the insurgents will be fighting on their home territory. Without the option of withdrawal, the insurgents may be more willing to exceed the boundaries of acceptable behaviour and to inflict more extensive civilian casualties on their own people. For them, this is preferable to losing the war, their values and their homeland.

Previous empires were not restricted by the moral ethos of protecting the civilian population, so this resulted in widespread destruction. However, today the values of the WCSE impose considerable restrictions on the persecution of civilians, which generates unique problems in the resolution of counter-insurgency warfare. The most relevant historic examples that illuminate today’s asymmetric conflicts were those fought by the WCSE from the beginning of the twentieth century.

The Nature of Conflict as A Function Of the Combatants location of The Empire curves

nature of conflict

The nature of the conflict between the challenger and defender as a function of their respective stages of empire

Example The Wars of the WCSE

An analysis of the cycles of war during the WCSE’s history (see Figure 42) can provide an understanding of modern-day geopolitics and its challenges. This period covers almost nine centuries, from the beginning of the second millennium to the start of the twenty wars-of-western-christian-empires.pngfirst century, and it divides into two distinct categories. The first is the wars between the European empires and the second is the wars of imperial expansion, fought against the militarily less sophisticated cultures of the Americas, Africa and the Far East. Full details are available in Breaking The Code Of History.

wars of western christian empires

David is one of the best and most innovative geo-strategic thinkers I know. His understanding of past and current wars, and the weapons and strategies used to shape their outcomes, is profound. This has enabled him to make a series of remarkably prescient predictions about the new age of war, that unfortunately are coming true in front of our eyes. Our political and military leaders would greatly benefit from drawing on his knowledge and insight to help them navigate through these perilous times.

Lord Richards of Herstmonceux, General Richards GCB, CBE, DSO, DL formerly The Chief of the Defence Staff, the professional head of the British Armed Forces.