In a World Without Doctrine, Chaos Reigns Supreme

By Commander Shannon Wells, United States Navy, Staff Officer, Doctrine Support Branch, Joint Warfare Centre

Throughout history, doctrine has provided an operational foundation for governments and organisations. NATO is no different in this regard. Without well-conceived doctrine, no organisation can effectively achieve its objectives.

NATO defines doctrine as, "Fundamental principles by which military forces guide their actions in support of objectives. It is authoritative, but requires judgement in application."

Well-respected military leaders throughout history understood the value of having guiding principles during times of conflict. Carl von Clausewitz famously said, "Principles and rules are intended to provide a thinking man with a frame of reference."

Doctrine provides the modern military commander with guidance on the "how", but not the "what" or "why" for virtually every aspect of military operations. In this manner, doctrine provides an ever-evolving structural framework that allows for flexibility of action in a dynamic combat environment.

NATO doctrine, as a common language for operations, is essential to interoperability. Doctrine establishes the fundamentals and guidance for employing NATO assets to achieve strategic aims.

The JWC's Doctrine Support Branch is tasked to evaluate doctrine and raise doctrine lessons identified captured during the planning and execution phases of operational-level exercises hosted and directed by the Centre.

Doctrine lessons identified take the form of doctrinal gaps and shortfalls, outdated doctrine, and contradictions between various pieces of doctrine. This work in the doctrine domain supports the mission of the JWC to ensure warfare development outputs are incorporated into collective training events and exercises. This is achieved by integrating new concepts and doctrine through the support of experimentation in joint operational-level training programmes that enhance interoperability and operational effectiveness.

Additionally, the Doctrine Support Branch routinely provides subject matter experts in support of other JWC branches during periods of high-intensity exercises. The branch also works with outside entities that use JWC facilities to conduct third-party events and workshops.



The principles of doctrine are defined by traditional, enduring capabilities proven by best practices while incorporating contemporary insights on how these principles are applied. Although doctrine has enduring principles, it is constantly reviewed for relevance and is, therefore, evolutionary in nature.

The Doctrine Support Branch has existed in one form or another over the entire lifetime of the JWC, and during this time, the branch has sought to develop, improve, and validate doctrine as a cost-effective means of maximising interoperability between Alliance Members.

As warfare continues to evolve, so must the doctrine that guides it.

The Doctrine Support Branch will remain heavily involved in the development of future doctrine, covering areas such as Hybrid Warfare, Space Warfare, Cyber and Electronic Warfare, and Strategic Communications. These are but a few of the areas developing at a rapid pace that will shape the battlefield of the future.
Establishing and maintaining relationships with Allied doctrine custodians will ensure the JWC Doctrine Support Branch has access to the “keepers” of NATO doctrine through our ongoing effort to enhance custodian involvement in every phase of the exercise lifecycle.

This relationship building includes our involvement in doctrine writing workshops in addition to custodian involvement in exercise planning.
Additionally, the Doctrine Support Branch participates in Allied Command Transformation events that develop products such as the Strategic Foresight Analysis (SFA) and the Framework for Future Alliance Operations (FFAO).

These documents inform the Transformation of NATO’s military forces and provide the Alliance, national leaders and defence planners with an informed perspective of the challenges and opportunities facing the Alliance forces in the decades to come. The FFAO is a key document that supports the long-term military Transformation efforts of the Supreme Allied Commander Transformation and places this long-term future into an Alliance-specific context to present NATO Bilateral Strategic Command (Bi-SC) proposals on how the Alliance might transform over the next 15 years.

Clearly, for the foreseeable future, doctrine will continue to represent the binding element that allows individual, multinational military units to come together and operate as a single force to guarantee the collective security of the Alliance.

Originally published in Joint Warfare Centre's 15th Anniversary Book, "Celebrating 15 Years: 2003-2018" produced by the Public Affairs Office