Indirect approach

The Strategy of Indirect Approach is a strategy in which the enemy's political will is overcome by wisdom and not by force. So basically a conflict is not a competition between military forces but also a comprehensive conflict embracing politics, economics, military force and diplomacy. A commander or leader first attacks his enemy's plans, followed by attacking his enemy's alliances, then attack his enemy's army and last attack his enemy's territory and possessions.

Although this kind of strategy has been used for a long time it was the book, Strategy, The Indirect Approach, by Captain Basil Henry Liddell Hart (1895-1970), written in 1929 that really put this strategy on the map. Liddell Hart had based his some of his ideas on those of Major General J.F.C. Fuller of the British Tank Corps. Fuller thought of using tanks in combination with dive bombers which who take out the enemy headquarters. While the aircraft would take out the brains of the enemy the tanks followed by support units would destroy the confused enemy.

Liddell Hart claimed that history had shown that direct attacks against an entrenched enemy had rarely worked. Instead victory goes to the commander unhuning the enemy's equilibrium before the main battle. Therefore the longest way round is often shortest way. The indirect approach loosens the defender's hold by upsetting his balance. Liddell Hart describes two strategies that must be used to properly overcome the enemy:

  • Grand Strategy;
  • Operational Strategy.

Grand Strategy

The grand strategy was aimed at bringing out the sense of policy in execution. To Liddell Hart the role of grand strategy was to coordinate and direct all the resources of the nation, towards the attainment of the political object of war. The ability to fight is but one of the instruments. The other instruments included the ability to apply power of financial pressure, diplomatic pressure, commercial pressure, and ethical pressure to weaken the opponent's will. The Grand strategy encompasses indirect strategy at the highest level when it expounded on means other than the military option.

Military Strategy

Operational strategy concerns the deployment and use of armed forces to attain given a given political objective. Liddell Hart emphasised on the use of movement and surprise, to take the least line of resistance and hence expectation, to achieve not just physical but also psychological dislocation. The desired effect was to render enemy forces ineffective without a decisive battle.

Therefore the success of such the indirect approach is dependent upon deception, surprise and flexibility. Deception and surprise are essentials to distract the enemy's mind to deny him from freedom of action and subsequently, his conception. Flexibility is needed to allow for simultaneous threatening of two or more objectives so as to cause the enemy to over extend his defence in favour of one objective for the other, thus offering the most economical method of distraction to the enemy.

Operational Use

The ideas of Fuller and Liddell Hart were not as welcome as people nowadays might think. The commanders of the conservative British army saw this kind of strategy as a possible threat to their own position. Fuller was eventually relieved from his command and Liddell Hart was fully ignored. The British tanks were divided over the British Infantry Divisions as support weapons. Dive bombers never made it to the Royal Air Force which believed that heavy bombers would make the real change in warfare.

The German Army however was experimenting and willing to try any new strategy. It was the Young Captain Heinz Guderian of the mechanised Troops who was very pleased with the writings of Fuller and Liddell Hart. Having served with a mobile infantry unit and a radio station he saw great potential in the strategy of indirect approach. From this he developed the from what know now as the Blitzkrieg.

Even during modern warfare the strategy is still used on a grand scale. The best example is the first Gulf War in 1990 and 1991. During this conflict the exploitation of of the line of least expectation. speed, flexibility, surprise and deception to achieve physical and psychological dislocation effects was near perfect and the results were telling. Although the Grand Strategy had failed to accomplish the desired results, no other conflict was concluded in such a short time with such low casualties rates for the coalition.

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