The relationship between doctrine and strategy

Over the past weeks we have discussed the need for Botswana to develop two major foundational matters of her security needs. In this episode I have elected to discuss the relationship between the two aspects relevant to our security needs.

Unless we have a National Security Strategy which is a nationally encompassing document for all our security apparatus, the military cannot develop a sound doctrine. Doctrinal issues are founded on the NSS. In one way or the other, there is an intertwining relationship that links the two.

A lot of developed countries around the world depend so much on the NSS and a military that has a sound doctrine. In this scenario allow me to pick on the United States of America which until lately was the only world’s superpower. The US did not become a superpower by mistake. They created themselves into occupying that lucrative and yet challenging position. Likewise, China has recently been investing greatly in the development of its military because they have realised that to become a superpower without military muscle is a total imbalance.

China’s growing military expenditure has been a great concern for her neighbours and the US as well. It is not that China wants to bully anyone in the region and beyond. This is just a natural course of growth and graduation into superpower status.


It will be interesting to learn what the new Chinese military doctrine is from what it was during the Korean War. At that time, the North Koreans almost overran the south because of the Chinese military doctrine. At the time, the Chinese had a doctrine of swarming enemy positions.

The Korean War pitted the two Koreas against each other. The north was militarily supported by the Chinese government while the south got immense support from the US. The South Koreans pushed their northern adversaries so far beyond the 34th parallel. The war gains for South Korea and her allies became so intoxicating that they left their logistical supplies far too behind. At that point the Chinese unleashed a torrent of soldiers and overran South Korean positions. They came wave after wave and overwhelmed their enemies. This was very costly in terms of lives but it worked to the satisfaction of the commanders and the political leadership.

The reason why the US has so much reach around the world is because of their NSS coupled with a sound military doctrine. They have their marines in every embassy around the world. As expensive as it may be, the US security concerns for her diplomats overrides the cost of maintaining the troops. This is in line with their NSS which does not allow them to relegate their primary security roles to a third country.

The US Embassy in Gaborone is primarily a diplomatic post. Nonetheless, even before it was build, security considerations were accounted for. This is how serious the Americans regard their security.

One of the best examples in the relationship of doctrine and strategy could be found next door in South Africa. Until February 1990 when Nelson Mandela was released from prison and the African National Congress unbanned, the country had a solid NSS coupled with a sound military doctrine. We all know and understand the unpleasant history of our neighbours to the south. They were not justified in the way they did things by terrorising the rest of southern Africa but my argument here is that they did not just do it in a haphazard and uncoordinated manner. They had a strategy that informed their military doctrine.

When you look at the history of South Africa from 1910 when the British withdrew from their overlord position, you would realise that the Afrikaners started constructing a working strategy across all spectrum of life. They knew that they needed a strong military in order to sustain themselves as an African superpower.

The establishment and development of Botswana Defence Force is as a direct result of the supremacist ideals of South Africa. The Rhodesian neighbours who became a pain in Botswana’s neck copied the strategy from their white neighbours.

After Zimbabwe attained her independence in April 1980, the South Africans overhauled their NSS and developed a new approach. That is what they referred to as “Total Onslaught.” In this new strategy they conducted frequent raids in the neighbouring countries and beyond. Their commandos were hitting targets all over and spreading overwhelming terror.

For South Africa to survive in that unfriendly environment; they had to export terror. This was necessary for the sustenance of their ideology as a state. They went for the ANC and other liberation movement members in the countries where they sought refuge.

For the apartheid state of South Africa, their strategy was to cause host countries to desist from harbouring refugees. When they came for these refugees they often killed citizens of the host countries. This was not just a mistake, but rather it was calculated, knowing that the citizens of the host counties would pile pressure on their governments. This strategy was in concert with the Setswana idiom, go pataganya nonyane le setlhare ( hitting a bird and the tree).

Botswana has always had a clear and unambiguous policy on hosting refugees. Refugees are kept in refugee camps and the country may not be used as a springboard to launch attacks against her neighbours. This was a good policy because the country could not answer to military retaliations from either Rhodesia or South Africa. This situation was not ideal for the ANC because in refugee camps they were like sitting ducklings.

However, South Africa’s NSS and military doctrine were not sustainable in the long term. That is why the structures ultimately crumbled and that gave birth to the new South Africa that we now know.

Editor's Comment
Botswana needs proper rehabilitation centres

Our sister publication The Monitor earlier this week carried a story on serious human rights abuses being meted on people who have gone for rehabilitation at a boot camp in Kgatleng. Allegations cite verbal and physical abuses, children being stripped of their dignity and shaved in front of others. While the abuse came to light after a suicide incident of a 23-year-old, Botswana Institute for Reintegration and Rehabilitation of Offenders’...

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