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Principles of war



1.1 Background to the study.

Principles of war are key considerations that commanders use as an academic start point when contemplating combat operations. They range from strategic, and operational, to tactical factors which serve as guiding rules which must not be violated in order to ensure success in any operation. The Principles of war range from; selection and maintenance of the aim, offensive action, flexibility, sustainability, concentration of force, cooperation, economy of effort, surprise and security. A new fundamental principle of war which though yet to be acknowledged as such in tactical manual books, has been born. This birth resulted from the rapid advancement in technology coupled with the proliferation and growth of television and radio new in the 1960s.[1] For the first time in history, the gruesome reality of warfare was brought into American living rooms on nightly newscasts. This powerful visual medium altered the entire interplay between the news media and government policy making. In particular, it would no longer be possible to wield the military instrument of national power without first considering how it would play in the news media.[2] The media in today’s society serve the role of an informant, especially in the cases of distant violence in times of war. They provide the eyes and context through which the public view events and the formulation of policy. The agendas of the media often reflect that of the government and the corporate interests that control them. While ‘freedom of the press’ gives journalist free reign to criticize or provide alternative views to government activities, there is evidence that reliance on official sources and competition censors the resultant news product (Kracke,2004). The independence of the media from the government exists in principle but does not manifest itself in practice. Given this perspective and the understanding that the media serve as the primary conduit of information from the battlefield to the public, and often the policy makers, facilitating a relationship with the media has been a challenge for the military. An examination of the relationship between the military and the media may provide a valuable perspective on how to capitalize on this relationship and provide greater input into framing the news that reaches the public and policy makers.[3] Military commanders could never again afford to ignore the way combat operations would be portrayed in the news media. This essential consideration for any would-be combat commander constitutes the new principle of war.

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1.2 Statement of the Problem.

Ghana has after half a century of independence experienced intermittent military intervention which brought in its wake limiting roles of the media in accessing military related information. The cumulative effect of this has been an extended gap between the military and the media as both parties seem to lack the basic understanding of a reasonable coexistence through realistic collaboration. The study will attempt to answer the following questions such as; What are the principal roles of the military in accounting to the wider population?, how well positioned is the military in addressing their obligations to the wider population? and what measures dictate the media environment that has made the media so powerful as to be regarded as the Forth arm of Government? The research will also seek to determine what are the contemporary challenges in military- media relationship? and lastly, how can the Ghana Armed Forces contribute to the development of a viable military — media relationship?

1.3 Objectives of the Study

The objectives of this study are to provide information that may lead to a better understanding of the nature of military — media relations that should exist in a democratic Ghana as well as to determine how military-media relations in Ghana can be enhanced.

1.4 Research Methodology

A combination of primary and secondary sources of data collection is used in the study. Primary data was sourced from personal interview of both serving and retired military officers as well as civil servants and journalists. Data was also sourced from books, journals, official government documents, conference papers, news-magazines and newspapers. The collected data were analyzed qualitatively using logical arguments and sequential presentation of points.

1.5 Significance of the Study

The study will contribute to existing knowledge and current discussions on military-media relations. It will also assist the Ghana Armed Forces in adopting training strategies for the reorientation of the Public Relations Department to deal with the media.

1.6 Limitations of the Study

The limitation faced in this study is the paucity of written material on the Ghanaian situation. The lack of adequate time for proper research will also affect the quality. However, the research will try and authenticate all documents assessed to remove all inconsistencies.

1.7 Literature Review

In searching for material to support this study it was anticipated that limited amounts of printed literature would be available on this topic particularly with reference to the Principles of War. This was assumed because Principles of War is a relatively tactical doctrine that can be found mostly in military training manuals. Upon filtering the questions for each area of research this study will address, the literature is grouped into two to deal with the media perspective and the tactical perspective. ‘Distorting Defense’ by Stephen P. Aubin[4] and General Ferdinand Foch’s book ‘The Principles of War’ [5]will be reviewed.
In the book ‘Distorting Defense’, Stephen P. Aubin arouses ones interest in the media’s coverage of defense issues. Even though Aubin’s book does not address the military – media relationship specifically, however, it delves into how the media has covered defense-related issues. Aubin presents a content analysis of evening broadcasts of major media networks as NBC and CBS on defence related issues during the Reagan, Bush and Clinton administrations. He posits that the American People and their media have since colonial times been very suspicious and even to some extent hostile to defence related issues. Aubin highlights that the Americans would rather opt for cheaper routes in achieving the nations security.[6] Aubin’s content analysis revealed that about 32 percent of the evening news coverage on defence issues were problematic.[7] Aubin defined ‘problematic coverage’ as; overemphasis on drama or bad news at the expense of substance and context, lack of knowledge on the part of the correspondent, lack of context as a result of brevity, general lack of balance or context, loaded labelling or advocacy; and bad news judgment. Aubin presents a historical review of an American people who he finds difficult to convince about the need for new weapon systems, an increase in defense spending or the deployment of US troops into a conflict.[8] Juxtaposing his historical review with the content analysis on problematic coverage of defense issues, one observes that the US military public affairs need to do a lot to tell the military story the right way. This is not limited to the US alone as such hurdles permeate wider societies especially young democracies such as in Ghana. The media will continue to be very critical of military operations because they are the agents of collecting, interpreting and transmitting information to worldwide audiences and therefore have tremendous power to affect the outcome of military operations. Aubin however was unable to capture this vital relationship between the media and the military. This is the aspect that this study seeks to reveal by drawing on some of the characteristics of the media environment as put forward by Aubin.
Foch’s book ‘The Principles of War’ is an excellent starting point when reviewing what factors and guidelines that men in arms must take into consideration when planning for and executing wars. Foch, who was a Commander of the Allied Armies on the Western Front during the final campaigns of World War I presents the picture that War is so important that it must be studied in detail and it is for this reason that nations have ‘War Colleges’. Foch emphasises on theories that one needs to understand and execute in order to be victorious in war. These include having large numbers, better armament, bases of supplies and the advantage of terrain. Foch enumerated a number of principles such as economy of power, freedom of action, protection, intellectual discipline, strategic surprise and strategic discipline. These he stated, must not be violated in order to be successful. Foch related his principles mostly to the Napoleonic wars in the organisation and disposition of forces. In modern battles, Foch opined that ‘the decisive attack in the battle of today is not to be sought indifferently on any point yet it can be imposed on us, or as an opportunity suddenly arise, in spite of all that theory may teach.’[9] Foch’s principles amongst others have over time been reframed into modern day principles of war as is contained in present day military manuals and aide memoires. Foch however fails to highlight the fluidity of the operational environment as directed by political interference and the demands of accountability by the people through the media. These are very relevant and actually do affect the modern day battle environment. This study takes advantage of the Foch’s principles of war as it relates to contemporary times and the relevance of other factors of the modern day battle environment.

1.8 Organisation of the Study

The scope of the study will cover four chapters. Chapter one will present a background to the study and a statement of the research problem as well as a literature review and the methodology of the research. Chapter two will highlight on the mission and role of the military as well as strategies employed in achieving its goal. It will also cover the media environment and activities of the media. Chapter three will dwell on the challenges of the military-media relationship and the role of the Ghana Armed Forces in building a healthy relationship between the media and the Armed Forces. Chapter four expounds on the conclusion and recommendations.


Mac D Felman The Military/Media Clash and the New Principle of War: Media Spin, (Air University USAF, 1992)
Tina S. Kracke Mass Media: The Ether Pervading the Clausewitzian Trinity, (USACGSC,2004)
Stephen P. Aubin, Distorting Defense (Westport, Connecticut: Praeger, 1998).
JB Synder Seeing Through The Conflict: Military-Media Relations, (USAWC, 2003).
Ferdinad Foch, The Principles of War, (AMS PRESS,1970).


[1] Mac D Felman The Military/Media Clash and the New Principle of War: Media Spin, (Air University USAF, 1992).
[2] Ibid.
[3] Tina S. Kracke Mass Media: The Ether Pervading the Clausewitzian Trinity, (USACGSC,2004)
[4] Stephen P. Aubin, Distorting Defense (Westport, Connecticut: Praeger, 1998) 6.
[5] Ferdinad Foch, The Principles of War, (AMS PRESS,1970).
[6] Ibid.
[7] Ibid.
[8] JB Synder Seeing Through The Conflict: Military-Media Relations, (USAWC, 2003).
[9] Ibid,372.

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