• Class Number 7500
  • Term Code 3160
  • Class Info
  • Unit Value 6 units
  • Mode of Delivery In Person
    • James Brien
  • Class Dates
  • Class Start Date 26/07/2021
  • Class End Date 29/10/2021
  • Census Date 14/09/2021
  • Last Date to Enrol 02/08/2021
    • AsPr Garth Pratten
SELT Survey Results

This course is concerned with the conduct of war. It will examine the theories developed to guide the use of organised violence in the pursuit of political objectives, and how the application of those theories has shaped the experience of war for those involved in it. While the course’s staring point is the texts held to constitute the ‘classical’ foundations of military thought, such as Sun Tzu’s The Art of War, Clausewitz’s On War, and Jomini’s The Art of War, its emphasis will be on reciprocal relationship between the development of military technology and the evolution of military theory from the mid-19th to the early-21st centuries. Students will thus explore ideas about the conduct of war on the sea, on the ground, and in the air, as well as the rapidly emerging operational domains of space and cyberspace, and efforts to produce joint theories of warfare that unite activity in all these spheres. The course will challenge the Eurocentrism of much of the writing about the evolution of military thought by embracing non-Western theories of war and critically examining the notion of culturally-defined approaches to warfighting.

Learning Outcomes

Upon successful completion, students will have the knowledge and skills to:

  1. Describe the tenets of the major military theories from the mid-19th to the early 20th Century;
  2. Relate the origins of the major military theories of the mid-19th--early-21st century to their cultural, technological, political, and philosophical contexts;
  3. Evaluate the practical application of he major military theories of the mid-19th--early-21st century through the medium of historical case studies;
  4. Critically examine historical sources and commentaries; and
  5. Express the results of analysis coherently, concisely, and confidently in both written and oral forms.

Staff Feedback

Students will be given feedback in the following forms in this course:

  • written comments
  • verbal comments
  • feedback to whole class, groups, individuals, focus group etc

Student Feedback

ANU is committed to the demonstration of educational excellence and regularly seeks feedback from students. Students are encouraged to offer feedback directly to their Course Convener or through their College and Course representatives (if applicable). The feedback given in these surveys is anonymous and provides the Colleges, University Education Committee and Academic Board with opportunities to recognise excellent teaching, and opportunities for improvement. The Surveys and Evaluation website provides more information on student surveys at ANU and reports on the feedback provided on ANU courses.

Class Schedule

Week/Session Summary of Activities Assessment
1 A lexicon of warfare WARS2001 – Theories of War is the compulsory second year course for the War Studies Major/Minor, but it is also open to enrollment for students from other programs. It is critical that all students begin the course with a common understanding of foundation ideas and be fluent in the technical language of warfare. This session will thus revisit the question ‘what is war’? introduced in WARS1001 and then proceed to introduce students to a lexicon of warfare. The start point will be the concepts that have historically been applied to explain its form and guide its conduct - 'nature' and 'character', 'theory' and 'practice', and 'art' and 'science' - which will prove fundamental to discussions throughout the course.
2 Foundation theories and theorists: Asia China has the longest continuous tradition of military literature of any culture, dating from around 500 BCE and continuing through to current times. India also has a tradition of political and military literature stretching back beyond the beginning of the common era. This work, collectively, is often argued, and sometimes very crudely, to embody an 'Oriental' or 'Eastern' way of war that emphasises guile, deception, and an indirect approach to avoid major force-on-force contests. This session will explore the ancient works of Chinese and Indian military theory to start adding breadth to our survey of international thinking about war and allow subsequent critical reflection on the notion of culturally determined approaches to warfighting.
3 Foundation theories and theorists: Europe Carl von Clausewitz, often mockingly referred to as the 'Dead Prussian' or 'Dead Carl', has almost become a military theory characiture. Mangled snippets of his work are widely quoted, but his seminal book On War is much less frequently read and often poorly understood. While Clausewitz's influence is arguable, his prominence as one the most well-known theorists is not. It was not always thus. In Clausewitz's own time the most prominent theorist of war was Antonine Henri de Jomini, a man whose ideas were held to be of more immediate relevance to the practical conduct of war. This session will explore Jomini's The Summary of the Art of War alongside On War and compare and contrast the style, scope, key tenets, and lasting influence of both works.
4 To Command, Control or Deny?: Theories of sea power The oceans cover approximately 71 per cent of the Earth’s surface and, as both a means of intercontinental communication and a source of resources, have historically been of great strategic significance. They remain so. The evolution of naval warfare in the 20th Century was heavily influenced by several sea power theorists writing around the turn of the century – Captain Alfred Mahan and Sir Julian Corbett being foremost among them. Corbett’s writings in particular presaged the type of combined (joint) operations that would characterise campaigns in the Mediterranean, on the Normandy coast, and throughout the Pacific during the Second World War. This session will examine the work of the classical sea power theorists and compare it to more contemporary theories in order to gauge the impact of evolving naval technology upon the conduct of operations on the sea.
5 'To advance with as little impediment possible': Combined arms warfare The stalemate and horrendous casualties of the Western Front during the First World War cast a long shadow over subsequent theorising about land warfare. Concepts of mass and attrition became bywords for slaughter and exhaustion and the quest for theorists of land warfare was to ensure mobility on the battlefield, which was widely held to bring with it less costly victory. This session will examine the development of theories of land warfare during the 20th Century critically examine the role of mass, manoeuvre, momentum and attrition in them.
6 'The aeroplane will kill war': Theories of air power In 1935 the French airpower theorist Pierre Faure published L'Avion tuera la guerre (The aeroplane will kill war). He argued that the a large bomber force would prevent war through its deternent power, or bring it to a swift conclusion with devasting strikes on the enemy's cities. Arising from the costly ground operations of the First World War, and the development of aircraft from simple reconnaissance platforms to full-fledged weapon delivery systems, the inter-war period saw the emergence of multiple air power theorists, like Faure, who foretold a revolution in warfare and, at their most extreme, predicted an end to ground combat. This session will examine their work, the political, military, and economic factors that shaped ie, and how it influnced the conduct of air warfare for the next 60 years. Furthermore, we do well to reflect on the the grandiose hyperbole of early airpower theory versus the eventual reality as there are many echoes to be heard among contemporary discussion of war in the cyber domian.
7 Avoiding Armageddon: How to fight a nuclear war In 1946, the sheer destructive potential of atomic weapons caused the American strategist Bernard Brodie to write: 'Thus far the chief purpose of our military establishment has been to win wars. From now on its chief purpose must be to avert them. It can have almost no other useful purpose'. Nevertheless, throughout the Cold War the military establishments of the United States, and later its allies, and the Soviet Union continued to expand and refine their nuclear arsenals and theorise about how to employ them to win wars. This session will explore these theories, as well as the political and military factors shaping them, and reflect on the nature and character of war featuring a nuclear release. It will also reflect on potential future developments in the field of nuclear warfare - throughout the world many minds continue to devote their attention to ways to effectively employ nuclear weapons. As absurd as theories of nuclear warfare may seem to modern sensibilities, students are urged to remember L. P. Hartley's reflection on history - 'The past is a different country: they do things differently there' - and seek to consider this topic through the context of the time rather than the hindsight of today.
8 Responding to Conventional Dominance: Irregular warfare Irregular warfare – war characterised by tactics and strategies that eschew the model of organised armed forces confronting each other directly – is often portrayed as a key hallmark of war in the post Second World era. This is attributed to the sheer military power of the superpowers, which had the power to crush weaker opponents electing a conventional strength versus strength clash; the spectre of nuclear war, which limited inter-state conflicts; and large numbers of intra-state conflicts arising from clashes of ideology, struggles for independence, and grabs for power and resources; many of which were exacerbated by of the great powers. As readings earlier in the course demonstrate, however, irregular warfare has been used by the weak, to negate the strengths of the strong since the earliest days of organised warfare. This session will recap these writings, but will focus on twentieth century theories of insurgency (and counter-insurgency), one of the most prominent manifestations of irregular warfare.
9 Joint Warfare Throughout the course thus far the conduct of warfare in the three traditional operational domains - sea, land and air - has been discussed separately. While some theorists have emphasised the potential war-winning capabilities of one arm or another, it has become generally accepted in the past century that successful military operations require the coordinated employment of two or more arms. In modern military parlance such operations are referred to as 'joint'. In this seminar we will explore the concept of joint warfare, some theoretical manifestations of it, and the practicalities of successfully conducting it.
10 Looking for the silver bullet: Theories of quick, clean war The victory of the United States-led coalition in the 1991 Gulf War was seen by many military theorists as the realisation of the full potential of air power. The Desert Storm air plan became the genesis of a decade of military thought that conceptualised the enemy as a system of systems, in which striking at critical nodes or elements could generate effects beyond the simple destruction of the target. Such attacks would be executed rapidly and simultaneously with the aim of engendering shock and paralysis in the enemy leadership, its armed forces, or even its populous. The result - quick and bloodless victories. Initial dramatic results in campaigns in Kosovo, Afghanistan and Iraq were hailed as confirmation of the efficacy of the new approach, but hindsight led to questions if clever targeting had been substituted for sound planning, and the true nature of war had been ignored.
11 "Every gadget you own...a weapon on a virtual battlefield"?: The rise of the cyber domain and the future of warfare A recent online briefing warned: 'Cyberwarfare could turn every gadget you own into a weapon on a virtual battlefield. And the damage will be felt in the real world'. It is characteristic of the hyperbole with which the impact of rapidly evolving technology on war and warfare is discussed. Digital networked technologies have already shaped warfare and will no doubt continue to do so, but this session aims to take a more grounded look at what their continuing influence may be. The session will also highlight that digital technology is just one factor shaping the future character of war and will examine broader theories of hybrid or multi-domain war in which human, environmental, and other technological factors are also accounted for. Ultimately, this session will ask whether rapidly evolving digital technology, including artificial intelligence, has the potential not just to shape the character of war, but to change its very nature.
12 Military theory, culture, and national identity Particular approaches to warfare are often held to reflect national or regional characteristics, for instance an 'American Way of War' lacking in strategy but highly dependent of technology and firepower, or an 'Eastern Way of Warfare' resting on far-reaching strategy executed through guile and deception. This session examines the role of culture in the formualtion and execution of military theory and explores the utility of defining national 'ways of war'.

Tutorial Registration

Via Wattle

Assessment Summary

Assessment task Value Due Date Return of assessment
Contribution to Group Learning 10 % 29/10/2021 02/12/2021
Research Essay 15 % 03/08/2021 02/11/2021
Weekly Quizes 25 % 23/08/2021 03/09/2021
Future Warfare Assignment 25 % 11/10/2021 29/10/2021
Theorists and Theories Exam 25 % * *

* If the Due Date and Return of Assessment date are blank, see the Assessment Tab for specific Assessment Task details


ANU has educational policies, procedures and guidelines, which are designed to ensure that staff and students are aware of the University’s academic standards, and implement them. Students are expected to have read the Academic Misconduct Rule before the commencement of their course. Other key policies and guidelines include:

Assessment Requirements

The ANU is using Turnitin to enhance student citation and referencing techniques, and to assess assignment submissions as a component of the University's approach to managing Academic Integrity. For additional information regarding Turnitin please visit the ANU Online website. In rare cases where online submission using Turnitin software is not technically possible; or where not using Turnitin software has been justified by the Course Convener and approved by the Associate Dean (Education) on the basis of the teaching model being employed; students shall submit assessment online via ‘Wattle’ outside of Turnitin, or failing that in hard copy, or through a combination of submission methods as approved by the Associate Dean (Education). The submission method is detailed below.

Moderation of Assessment

Marks that are allocated during Semester are to be considered provisional until formalised by the College examiners meeting at the end of each Semester. If appropriate, some moderation of marks might be applied prior to final results being released.

Assessment Task 1

Value: 10 %
Due Date: 29/10/2021
Return of Assessment: 02/12/2021
Learning Outcomes: 

Contribution to Group Learning

Students play a role in the learning of their peers. As such, students are expected to engage with the material presented by the convenor, in the readings, and by their peers. Students should thus ensure they have prepared for each session. A mark will be awarded to recognise students’ contributions in class. Students will be assessed on their level of preparedness and participation for each activity, the clarity and relevance of their contributions, and their collaboration with and consideration of their peers.

Assessment Task 2

Value: 15 %
Due Date: 03/08/2021
Return of Assessment: 02/11/2021
Learning Outcomes: 

Research Essay

Students will write a 3,000 word research essay that will require them to reflect on how a particular theory, or theories, of war shaped the events and outcome of an historical case study, or how the events of a historical case study inspired the development of new theories of warfighting. Students will select their essay topic from a list of ten that will be provided on the course Wattle site.

Assessment Task 3

Value: 25 %
Due Date: 23/08/2021
Return of Assessment: 03/09/2021
Learning Outcomes: 

Weekly Quizes

Students will complete a series of online quizes in order to consolidate their knowledge of the theories and theorists discussed each week.

Assessment Task 4

Value: 25 %
Due Date: 11/10/2021
Return of Assessment: 29/10/2021
Learning Outcomes: 

Future Warfare Assignment

Students will complete a creative writing assignment requiring them to reflect upon the the theories of warfare discussed in the course and what elements of war they see as enduing (war's nature) and what elements they see as subject to change (war's character). Where is warfare heading? The monopoly on the use of violence held by states is eroding - will this continue? Will conflicts continue to be pursued, and decided, in the three principle domains - land, sea and air - or will new domains such as space and cyberspace become the new crucible of war? Will war remian an essentially human activity? Or will flesh and blood combatants be pushed aside replaced by machines and and the algorithms that direct them? Utlimately, in 2045 will the theorists examined in this course still hold relevence?

Assessment Task 5

Value: 25 %
Learning Outcomes: 

Theorists and Theories Exam

Students will sit an exam of three equally weighted parts. The first part will consist of a series of short answer questions to test their knowledge of the specifics of theories discussed during the course. This part will be completed in the classroom. The second and third parts will consist of essay questions, intended, respectively, to allow them to demonstrate their knowledge of particular historical case studies and to reflect on the course as a whole. The second and third parts will be conducted as a take home exam

Academic Integrity

Academic integrity is a core part of the ANU culture as a community of scholars. At its heart, academic integrity is about behaving ethically, committing to honest and responsible scholarly practice and upholding these values with respect and fairness.

The ANU commits to assisting all members of our community to understand how to engage in academic work in ways that are consistent with, and actively support academic integrity. The ANU expects staff and students to be familiar with the academic integrity principle and Academic Misconduct Rule, uphold high standards of academic integrity and act ethically and honestly, to ensure the quality and value of the qualification that you will graduate with.

The Academic Misconduct Rule is in place to promote academic integrity and manage academic misconduct. Very minor breaches of the academic integrity principle may result in a reduction of marks of up to 10% of the total marks available for the assessment. The ANU offers a number of online and in person services to assist students with their assignments, examinations, and other learning activities. Visit the Academic Skills website for more information about academic integrity, your responsibilities and for assistance with your assignments, writing skills and study.

Online Submission

You will be required to electronically sign a declaration as part of the submission of your assignment. Please keep a copy of the assignment for your records. Unless an exemption has been approved by the Associate Dean (Education) submission must be through Turnitin.

Hardcopy Submission

For some forms of assessment (hand written assignments, art works, laboratory notes, etc.) hard copy submission is appropriate when approved by the Associate Dean (Education). Hard copy submissions must utilise the Assignment Cover Sheet. Please keep a copy of tasks completed for your records.

Late Submission

Late submission permitted. Late submission of assessment tasks without an extension are penalised at the rate of 5% of the possible marks available per working day or part thereof. Late submission of assessment tasks is not accepted after 10 working days after the due date, or on or after the date specified in the course outline for the return of the assessment item. Late submission is not accepted for take-home examinations.

Referencing Requirements

Accepted academic practice for referencing sources that you use in presentations can be found via the links on the Wattle site, under the file named “ANU and College Policies, Program Information, Student Support Services and Assessment”. Alternatively, you can seek help through the Students Learning Development website.

Extensions and Penalties

Extensions and late submission of assessment pieces are covered by the Student Assessment (Coursework) Policy and Procedure. Extensions may be granted for assessment pieces that are not examinations or take-home examinations. If you need an extension, you must request an extension in writing on or before the due date. If you have documented and appropriate medical evidence that demonstrates you were not able to request an extension on or before the due date, you may be able to request it after the due date.

Privacy Notice

The ANU has made a number of third party, online, databases available for students to use. Use of each online database is conditional on student end users first agreeing to the database licensor’s terms of service and/or privacy policy. Students should read these carefully. In some cases student end users will be required to register an account with the database licensor and submit personal information, including their: first name; last name; ANU email address; and other information.
In cases where student end users are asked to submit ‘content’ to a database, such as an assignment or short answers, the database licensor may only use the student’s ‘content’ in accordance with the terms of service – including any (copyright) licence the student grants to the database licensor. Any personal information or content a student submits may be stored by the licensor, potentially offshore, and will be used to process the database service in accordance with the licensors terms of service and/or privacy policy.
If any student chooses not to agree to the database licensor’s terms of service or privacy policy, the student will not be able to access and use the database. In these circumstances students should contact their lecturer to enquire about alternative arrangements that are available.

Distribution of grades policy

Academic Quality Assurance Committee monitors the performance of students, including attrition, further study and employment rates and grade distribution, and College reports on quality assurance processes for assessment activities, including alignment with national and international disciplinary and interdisciplinary standards, as well as qualification type learning outcomes.

Since first semester 1994, ANU uses a grading scale for all courses. This grading scale is used by all academic areas of the University.

Support for students

The University offers students support through several different services. You may contact the services listed below directly or seek advice from your Course Convener, Student Administrators, or your College and Course representatives (if applicable).

James Brien
6125 7645

Research Interests

James Brien is a PhD scholar from the Strategic and Defence Studies Centre at The Australian National University. His research interests are centred on the history of warfare in the 20th Century and military learning and adaptation. His research on the beachhead operations grew out of an Australian War Memorial Summer Vacation Scholarship project and has been supported by an Australian Army History Research grant. James has a background in education and in various teaching and academic support roles at ANU.

James Brien

Tuesday 14:00 15:00
AsPr Garth Pratten

Research Interests

AsPr Garth Pratten

Responsible Officer: Registrar, Student Administration / Page Contact: Website Administrator / Frequently Asked Questions