The Last Refuge of the Unimaginative? Doctrine and Its Role in the Military Profession

Søren Sjøgren

Publikation: Bog/antologi/afhandling/rapportPh.d.-afhandling


This thesis explores the concept of military doctrine. It is an empirically informed philosophical inquiry into the role of doctrine in military practice. It examines how it is understood among practitioners, its use, and its limitations within the military profession. The thesis offers a novel approach to the concept of doctrine, viewing it as a process that constructs uniformities across time and space through agreed-upon rules, and follows it into practice to describe what it does. The study is based on fieldwork conducted at a NATO divisional headquarters during a one-year training cycle, as well as 33 interviews held with NATO commanders and senior staff officers.

I argue that doctrine is not limited to written publications in the military profession but encompasses a set of organisational givens and deeply embedded imaginaries, which are socialised into officers during their professional military education. Disagreements about doctrine are epistemological and ontological in nature; they raise philosophical questions that are never articulated due to the idea of pragmatism and the expectation that we are all talking about the same thing when we use the word ‘doctrine’. The study also finds that mundane organisational routines, processes, and material components such as power point templates influence the translation of doctrine into operational plans. These often overlooked components are decisive in the military’s understanding of the battlefield, the construction of plans, and the operationalisation of doctrine. They lead to a mechanical application of doctrine. Whenever there was a divergence from the mechanical application, commanders were found to play a key role. These findings also explain why new approaches to military planning, such as design thinking, cannot gain traction, namely, due to the fact that they clash with the prevailing notions of knowledge and ideals of professionalism.

At times, professionalism is rational and procedural; and at other times, it is the willingness to depart from the procedure. However, as this study shows, the demands placed on the staff officers means that the former is more likely to dominate, causing military problems to be conceived primarily as managerial problems or puzzles requiring one analytical process to solve. This kind of thinking promotes the prescriptive elements of written doctrine. In this case, doctrine indeed becomes a ‘refuge’, not because military officers are unimaginative but because they are implicitly expected to behave in this way.

Chapters 5-8 are published as independent articles/chapters (see relations). Please reference the original articles.

▶ Ch. 5: Rethinking Clausewitz's Chameleon:
▶ Ch. 6: What Military Commanders Do and How They Do It: (Open)
▶ Ch. 7: What we disagree about when we disagree about doctrine:
▶ Ch. 8: War, PowerPoint and hypnotised chickens: (Open)
ForlagRoskilde Universitet
Antal sider194
StatusUdgivet - 10 aug. 2023

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