Higher Military Education Policies in major armies: Trends & Transformations

General Charles de Gaulle always emphasised that one of the most critical principles of good war preparedness is the preparation‭ ‬of leaders‭. ‬After becoming President of the Republic‭, ‬General de Gaulle made it a point to annually visit and inspect all higher education institutions affiliated with the French military academy‭, ‬ensuring the quality of the system that prepares future military elites and highlighting its utmost importance‭.‬

In our contemporary world‭, ‬the armies of major countries strive to develop their own higher military education policies to ensure their superiority and achieve their strategic objectives‭. ‬This is especially crucial given the transformations shaking the world since 2011‭, ‬the tightening of the global geostrategic context‭, ‬and the intensification of conflicts between nations extending‭ ‬into various fields‭. ‬

These changes necessitate the reflection of these dynamics in military education policies‭. ‬For example‭, ‬the hybrid nature of modern warfare demands more robust integration among all forces‭, ‬which cannot be achieved without military leaders trained in such‭ ‬integration to assume significant leadership or administrative responsibilities‭. ‬The return of war in Europe and the need to fight across multiple domains pose new challenges that require updated military education‭.‬

What is the value of the most innovative weapon systems or the best-trained troops without training military leaders to lead them and understand the issues and commitments for the future‭? ‬This urgent need is what armies strive to address to ensure the continuity of their military uniqueness and operational efficiency‭.‬

This brief study aims to highlight the most important current trends and transformations in higher military education policies in major armies‭, ‬as follows‭:‬

1‭. ‬Preparing Senior Officers to Efficiently Handle Responsibilities in Any Circumstance‭: ‬To tackle the challenges of training and preparing senior military personnel capable of anticipating the improbable‭, ‬analysing complex contexts‭, ‬making decisions amid uncertainty‭, ‬and acting in extraordinary adversity‭, ‬higher military education in major armies must be ambitious and sustainably innovative‭. ‬

This should span the entire career of officers and leaders at various levels‭, ‬both in operational fields and central administration‭. ‬

This significant investment by military educational institutions in continually adapting their administrative human capital to a‭ ‬rapidly changing environment ensures the performance of their senior executive leaders under all conditions‭. ‬

Therefore‭, ‬the implemented higher education system deserves special attention and must result from clear and organized policies‭,‬‭ ‬making it sufficiently readable so that its real added value in the officers‭’ ‬professional lives can be measured‭.‬

2‭. ‬Aligning with Military Uniqueness and Operational Efficiency‭: ‬Army management‭, ‬particularly higher military leadership‭, ‬must rely on higher education that provides officers with a vision of‭ ‬military issues and methods‭, ‬capable of giving them a clear understanding of military objectives and means‭. ‬Military uniqueness‭ ‬stems from the fact that every general officer started as a lieutenant‭, ‬regardless of their initial training‭. ‬

This mandatory progression through all ranks and successive levels of responsibility‭, ‬along with the training and preparation provided at these stages‭, ‬shapes officers capable of making decisions and acting‭, ‬no matter how severe the surrounding conditions‭.‬

Adequate training and preparation that align with military uniqueness contribute to the legitimacy and credibility of leaders‭, ‬thus enhancing the quality of higher military management‭, ‬avoiding risks of discouragement‭, ‬ensuring cohesion within the armed forces‭, ‬and enabling rapid adaptation regardless of circumstances‭.‬

Thus‭, ‬adherence to military conduct and rules that constitute military uniqueness strengthens mutual knowledge and solidifies the bond between forces and support‭. ‬These are the fundamental conditions for operational efficiency‭.‬

3‭. ‬Targeting Future War Preparedness‭: ‬Modern higher military education in major countries can be said to have undergone three phases‭: ‬the first phase focused on joint‭ ‬weapons manoeuvres for large ground formations‭. ‬The second phase‭, ‬which began after World War II and peaked during the First Gulf War‭, ‬emphasized joint training and alliances as study subjects‭. ‬Today‭, ‬the evolution of the strategic environment and new forms of warfare leads us to the third phase‭, ‬which must focus on preparing officers who are multi-disciplinary and multi-specialised‭.‬

4‭. ‬Adapting to a Changing and Complex Strategic Environment‭: ‬The new strategic environment today is characterized by complexity‭, ‬rapid development‭, ‬and unpredictability‭. ‬Our contemporary world witnesses interconnected crises and threats‭, ‬which sometimes manifest as a continuous chain between external operation theatres and national territories‭. ‬It faces hybrid security challenges blending governmental and non-governmental actors‭, ‬blurring the lines between war and peace‭, ‬and disrupting the balance of power in international relations‭, ‬thus increasing the likelihood of‭ ‬wars to settle political disputes‭.‬

Moreover‭, ‬the three traditional military domains‭ (‬land‭, ‬sea‭, ‬and air‭) ‬where conventional armed conflicts occurred now include three new domains of military confrontation‭: ‬outer space‭, ‬cyberspace‭, ‬and the information domain‭. ‬These domains‭, ‬initially considered force multipliers‭, ‬have become grey areas‭, ‬neither fully peaceful nor entirely at war‭, ‬where potential destructive actions pose real challenges‭. ‬High-intensity conflict will certainly start in one or more of these areas‭. ‬

Given such complexity‭, ‬rapid transformation‭, ‬and uncertainty‭, ‬strategic surprise is inevitable unless higher military education‭ ‬is developed to enhance resilience‭, ‬survival‭, ‬and operational superiority‭. ‬Innovation alone‭, ‬not just technologically but also procedurally and organizationally‭, ‬will make adaptation possible during increasingly challenging operations‭.‬

5‭. ‬Providing a Competitive and Dynamic Training Environment‭: ‬New policies for military education in major armies view this education as a crucial tool in strengthening the connection between the military and the public‭, ‬as well as within the context of international relations‭. ‬This education must be valued because it defines the place of officers and their contribution to the defence of the state‭, ‬the people‭, ‬and global peace‭.‬

6‭. ‬Allowing the Acquisition of Necessary Knowledge Beyond the Military Field‭: ‬To assume leadership‭, ‬officers must acquire a diverse range of knowledge‭, ‬including military expertise and non-military knowledge‭. ‬To fulfil their leadership duties‭, ‬officers should possess the appropriate military knowledge and skills for contemporary and‭ ‬future war contexts‭, ‬with a strong emphasis on non-military culture‭. ‬This should encompass the humanities and social sciences‭, ‬as well as pure and natural sciences‭, ‬to understand the evolution of the world and society without necessarily having expertise‭ ‬in all fields‭. ‬Higher military education institutions must therefore ensure their officers comprehend the economic and industrial context behind developing the defence industrial and technological base‭. ‬They should also encourage attention to future studies‭, ‬the implications of emerging technological breakthroughs on capabilities‭, ‬and an understanding of the challenges posed by new‭ ‬forms of conflict‭.‬

7‭. ‬Promoting War-Related Research and Supporting Warfare‭: ‬Higher military education in major countries aims to form an elite of officers combining rich operational experience with superior quality training and education‭. ‬Developing war studies through higher military education institutions is essential to support‭ ‬the strategic thinking of armies and enhance the impact of their military thought‭.‬

8‭. ‬Opening Up to Civil and Partner Cultures‭: ‬Understanding the shared culture of partners and allies is essential for effective communication‭. ‬On a national level‭, ‬openness to the civilian world and knowledge of the organisation and functioning of national civil institutions‭, ‬as well as understanding the processes governing interaction with other ministerial departments‭, ‬are crucial for senior officers‭. ‬National defence only makes sense within an inter-ministerial framework‭, ‬which‭, ‬when applied to crisis management‭, ‬allows for leveraging the strengths that form the concept of comprehensive power‭.‬

On a regional and international level‭, ‬officials need to master the organisation and functioning of regional institutions‭. ‬Military higher education institutions are the ideal place to develop mutual knowledge about the history and culture of different allied countries to understand their various approaches and strategic visions‭. ‬

This mix of knowledge is an indispensable condition for developing a national strategic culture and the strategic culture of allied countries‭.‬

Finally‭, ‬on the international level‭, ‬senior officers must understand the strategic environment and global issues‭, ‬and be knowledgeable about international organisations‭, ‬especially those related to security‭, ‬to understand the interests and goals of their state‭, ‬allies‭, ‬and strategic competitors‭. ‬In this context‭, ‬mastering modern languages is an essential prerequisite for any desire‭ ‬to influence or work in a multinational framework‭.‬

9‭. ‬Enabling Access to High-Level Responsibilities with Three Integrated Levels‭: ‬Higher military education in major military institutions is typically divided into three progressive and integrated levels‭:‬

•‭ ‬The first level includes education at a high tactical or technical level‭, ‬preparing officers to take on responsibilities in specific fields‭.‬

•‭ ‬The second level involves education at an operational level requiring high expertise‭, ‬preparing officers to perform leadership‭ ‬and management roles‭.‬

•‭ ‬The third level equips officers called to assume high responsibilities with deeper knowledge in political‭, ‬military‭, ‬and strategic fields‭.‬

10‭. ‬Bridging the Gap Between Generations‭: ‬An officer’s role in leading and directing subordinates‭, ‬often much younger than themselves‭, ‬requires an understanding of societal evolution‭, ‬the characteristics of those generations‭, ‬the challenges they face‭, ‬and the dynamics governing their interactions‭. ‬Young soldiers or civilian collaborators with the military do not share the same cultural references as their commanding officers‭. ‬Societal changes‭, ‬new priorities‭, ‬and the evolution of information technologies all exacerbate the generational gap‭, ‬which‭ ‬must be understood correctly for effective leadership‭. ‬Future leaders will need to adapt their leadership style to the new characteristics of their subordinates to enhance their skills and leverage their innovation capabilities‭, ‬ensuring victory in modern‭ ‬warfare‭.‬


The ambitions pursued by higher military education policies can be summarised as follows‭:‬

  1. 1Developing modern operational capabilities of armies by preparing administrative human capital with the skills necessary to accomplish military tasks in contemporary and future contexts‭.‬
  2. Strengthening the bond between the military and the people‭.‬
  3. Considering higher military education as a tool of international influence‭, ‬serving political interests‭.‬
  4. Ensuring that military education policies are flexible‭, ‬responsive‭, ‬and adaptable to unexpected changes and can sustainably endure shocks‭.‬

No country or army possesses all the tools necessary to prevent and resolve crises‭. ‬Therefore‭, ‬a broad network of partners is essential to combine and leverage various strengths‭: ‬diplomatic‭, ‬informational‭, ‬military‭, ‬and economic‭. ‬

In the context of new forms of conflict‭, ‬ranging from hybrid warfare to full-scale confrontation‭, ‬it is crucial to establish partnerships‭, ‬including beyond the military domain‭, ‬with a wide range of actors‭ (‬civil society‭, ‬private sector‭, ‬governmental and non-governmental organisations‭, ‬and international bodies‭) ‬to consider war in all its dimensions and provide substance to the military‭. ‬Central command leadership must be flexible and dynamic to increase decision-making speed from the political-strategic level to the tactical level while enhancing decentralised operational control‭.‬

In a battlefield dominated by AI and autonomous systems‭, ‬higher military education must balance the need for speed and maximum decision-making efficiency with the requirement to maintain control over the generated effects‭, ‬while taking ethical considerations into account‭.‬

‮«‬ By‭: ‬Dr‭. ‬Wael Saleh‭

(‬Expert at Trends Research and Advisory Centre‭)‬

Al Jundi

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