What is War College?

For as long as humans have existed, so have wars. Yet well-planned wars don’t occur without focused premeditation. Institutions that serve the need to train strategic thinkers and facilitate discussion about war are called War Colleges.

Many nations have their own War Colleges, from the Pakistan Navy War College to the colleges that serve the different branches of the United States military. Such places conduct research, facilitate tactical and strategic thought, analyze war patterns, and develop doctrine and philosophical ideas about war.

Who is at a War College?

War Colleges typically attract a strong faculty of veteran military officers, who then train the next generation of senior military officials. The students are mostly career military officers with advanced ranking and at least 10 years of experience or more.

As opposed to the traditional notion of a college or university, War College is more of a mid-career polishing school than a liberal arts or job-training educational institution. In the United States, students are selected from their respective military branches for enrollment rather than independently enrolled through the school. Some schools also include a few civilians in the student body, who are typically employees at government organizations. Students might also include officers from other countries.

Why Attend?

Graduates typically become advisers to the senior leadership of the military of government agencies in their country. Eventually, they will be positioned to take on high-level leadership positions themselves.

The connections and training gained from attending a War College are a huge boost to a military career. For example, former U.S. president Dwight D. Eisenhower graduated at the top of his class from the U.S. Army War College.

What is Taught?

War Colleges aim to build up strategic leaders, whether through thought or practice. Consequently, they focus on building communication and critical thinking skills. Students gain a broad theoretical understanding of war by studying historical examples of war and reading the work of philosophers of war. They’ll learn about the process of making national decisions, international relations, and management. Additionally, they’ll study the workings of a country on a national level, considering economics and policy. Ultimately, students must learn how to apply the concepts they learn in actual real-life practice. They must formulate both an understanding of national interest and develop a method of protecting it.

Many War Colleges were established in the 1800s, heralding the beginning of modern warfare. To keep up with the changing tide of war and ensure the highest quality leadership and training, War Colleges have continued today as institutions that advance the best officers to become thought leaders within the armed forces.

War Colleges are instrumental in shaping the way each country’s leadership thinks about and implements wars. These factories of thought act as a sounding board for the brightest minds in the military to bounce thoughts off of one another and dramatically reshape how senior leadership executes the art of war.

Further Reading: What’s Wrong and What’s Right With the War Colleges