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Planning For and Applying Military Force: An Examination of Terms

Authored by Lieutenant General (USMC Ret) Paul K Van Riper. | March 2006

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This Letort Paper briefly examines current and, in some cases, still evolving definitions in joint doctrine?especially with regard to strategy, center of gravity, decisive point, and commander?s intent. It discusses the heritage of those concepts and terms, most of which derived from the writings of Clausewitz and Sun Tzu. In so doing, the author finds that current joint planning definitions and concepts tend to confuse more than they inform. In short, they are not ready to be incorporated into formal doctrine, and certainly not into the actual planning process. Hence, concept developers need to go back to the drawing table, and make a concerted effort to separate the proverbial wheat from the chaff. Change is good, but so is tradition. The definitions advanced by Sun Tzu and Clausewitz have stood the test of time for good reasons. If we decide to change them, we should have equally good reasons for doing so.