Alberico Gentili, De Jure Belli Libri Tres (1588-1599)

Alberico Gentili (1552-1608) was an Italian jurist, practicing lawyer and professor of law at Oxford University, who is consistently mentioned as a key figure at the very origins of modern international law. Just a few years before Hugo Grotius, Gentili took substantial steps in the development of a secular jurisprudence. Yet, his standing as a “pioneer” of the modern concepts of international law has been overshadowed by the preeminence of Grotius, the Dutch jurist generally regarded as the father of international law.

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B. H. Liddell Hart, Strategy (1954)

The origins of Liddell Hart’s indirect approach are twofold. From a theoretical perspective, he is writing in response to military and political leaders who he claims misread and misapplied the theory of 19th century Prussian military thinker Carl von Clausewitz. From an empirical perspective, he is digesting the experiences of the World Wars, especially the stalemated trench warfare of the Great War and the mechanized and aerial battles of the fight against Hitler. Liddell Hart argues vigorously that the application of poorly understood Clausewitizian strategy fueled the bloodbath that was World War I and the slow adaptation of alternatives during World War II, all of which called into question the validity of the old theory and demanded reformulating how military force might be applied to achieve political aims.

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C.E. Callwell, Small Wars: Their Principles and Practice (1896)

The roots of modern counterinsurgency strategy are deep. As far back as Roman times historians like Tacitus recorded accounts of regular forces battling local guerrillas, and from these origins a long tradition of studying these peculiar types of conflicts was born. One of the most historically significant efforts to encapsulate lessons from irregular wars, or “small wars,” comes from the pen of British officer C. E. Callwell. Caldwell’s exploration of this type of warfare that yielded what remains one of the most insightful treatments of insurgency and counterinsurgency. While his work is a far cry from modern population-centric visions of counterinsurgency, it represents an important starting point in the development of modern counterinsurgency strategy and tactics.

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Christine de Pizan, The Book of Deeds of Arms and of Chivalry (circa 1410)

Pizan wrote The Book of Deeds around 1410 during the Hundred Years’ War, a time of conflict between France and England, as well as among various factions for control of France itself. In most of her writings related to politics, her purpose was “to advise the French royal family against the disastrous political infighting that brought the monarchy to the brink of civil war.” The work was written in “the plainest language possible” (Middle French) instead of Latin because she wanted to have an impact on the French military, nor just the court.  As a military manual it tells us a great deal about the strategy, tactics, and technology of medieval warfare and is one of our most important sources for early gunpowder weapon technology.

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David Galula, Counterinsurgency Warfare: Theory and Practice (1964)

While great power war defined the first half of the twentieth century, insurgencies defined its latter half. Given present trends, these types of conflicts will rage for the foreseeable future, and students of strategy and diplomacy will want to consider classic counterinsurgency (COIN) writings as they face this future. Central among these is Counterinsurgency Warfare: Theory and Practice by David Galula. This book written in 1964 was in many ways a forgotten work; however, it quickly grew in prominence as the United States and its allies found themselves facing insurgencies in Iraq and Afghanistan during the opening years of the twenty-first century.

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Emmerich de Vattel, The Law of Nations (1758)

The Law of Nations had a particular impact on the American revolutionaries of the late 18th Century and early 19th Century. Vattel’s ideas were utilized to argue against the tax burden which the British Crown levied on the American colonies. Early American lawyers and jurists were exuberant Vattelophiles. In 1775, Benjamin Franklin received three copies of a new edition on behalf of the Continental Congress and, in thanking his friend Charles Dumas for sending them from the Netherlands, he remarked that they “came to us in good season, when the circumstances of a rising State make it necessary to frequently consult the law of nations” and that “[the book] has been continually in the hands of the members of our Congress now sitting."

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Francisco de Vitoria, Relectiones (1538-1539)

War is essential in Vitoria’s work because Vitoria’s concept of sovereignty is elaborated mainly in terms of the sovereign’s right to wage war. As Vitoria constructs a law of nations, administered by the sovereign, he reintroduces Christian norms as universal rules endorsed by jus gentium. Evangelizing is authorized not by divine law but by the law of nations, and may be likened now to travelling and trading. Vitoria argues that “…ambassadors are inviolable in the law of nations (jus gentium). The Spanish are the ambassadors of Christendom, and hence the barbarians are obliged at least a fair hearing and not expel them.” Thus, acceptance of the Christian faith could not be forced and should not serve as an excuse for conquest.

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François de Callières, The Art of Diplomacy (1716)

In The Art of Diplomacy, secret diplomacy is considered as embedded in the art of negotiation. In this regard, Callières notes that secrecy is absolutely necessary for the generation of confidence and understanding. He advocates that secret negotiations could help maintain peace and thus are necessary to manage relationships between states. Callières believes that before a diplomat could progress towards a negotiated settlement of a dispute, confidence and confidentiality have to be established. He explains that “an able minister will take care that no man shall penetrate into his secret before the proper time.”

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Geoffroi de Charny, The Book of Chivalry (circa 1350)

Unlike previous manuals of arms and warfare, such as Vegetius or Christine de Pizan, or those that would follow soon after like Machiavelli’s Art of Warfare, Charny does not spend much time discussing the theory of operations or strategy. For Charny, understanding war comes with understanding the knight’s way of life. Charny explains the chivalric ethos, the virtues and the education of the knight and how one can acquire the military prudence needed to be successful in warfare, rather than battlefield methods.

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Giulio Douhet, The Command of The Air (1921/1927)

Giulio Douhet, an Italian army officer who never learnt to fly, first published one of military theory’s most recognized and controversial works on airpower, The Command of The Air, in 1921. Just three years after the end of the First World War and the first widespread use of airplanes in warfare, this new technology had yet to be fully integrated into military strategy. Douhet advocated a new strategic application for what he identified as the airplane’s superior capabilities in order to avoid the destructive stalemate of the First World War in future wars. Promising a quick and decisive end to war, The Command of The Air synthesized concepts, namely strategic bombing, an independent air force, the dominance of an offensive strategy, and breaking the will of the civilian population, among others, which contributed to the development of the modern air force.

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