Offensive and defensive strategies are millions of years old and can be found in nature. Predatory behaviors in animals are an excellent example of an offensive strategy in the natural world. Predators need to use their speed and physical strength while hunting to spot potential prey and catch it. For prey animals, the danger of being killed triggers various defense mechanisms. Depending on a particular situation, they might try to run, attempt to fight back, or try to use a form of deceptive tactics, such as taking on the appearance of being dead.
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Evolutionarily, homo sapiens have played both the role of prey and predators and, humans have naturally developed mechanisms for each of the strategies. Specific features of the two opposite approaches determine their implementation, making it essential to understand their nature to apply them in a real battle successfully. The goal of this paper is to compare and contrast the offense and the defense and discuss the key characteristics of these principles.
The proactive nature of offense behavior is its main characteristic, and it defines and, to a considerable extent, determines the process. The offense requires the subject to actively take action and overcome the potential resistance to achieve the objective. The defense, on the other hand, is reactive and is evoked in response to the activities of the enemy. Examples of these strategies can be found in various forms, but usually, they follow the general patterns associated with the offense and the defense. Thus, these opposite characteristics are the primary source of difference between the two phenomena, and they determine the forms the strategies take.
In the military setting, the lack of initiative associated with defensive behavior is often seen as a weakness. Many historical thinkers, military leaders, and philosophers criticized the passiveness associated with this approach, suggesting that one should take the initiative to achieve success on the battlefield. Ancient Chinese military strategist Sun Tzu emphasized in his writing that to protect from an outside threat, one should take action and destroy the enemy’s ability to attack (Li and Yang 915).
This vision has become popular and is applied in many areas. As a result, defensive strategies might have an offensive aspect and, thus, display mixed characteristics. The tendency gave birth to the emergence of active defensive tactics that use maneuvering and pre-emptive attacks to stop the enemy from concentrating forces and launching an offense (Dawson 710). The common idea of these strategies is not to lose strategic initiative and force the enemy to fight in unfavorable circumstances. As these principles always have an offensive component, they can be viewed as a mixture of the two.
The course of action is predicated on the objective of the actor. Thus, it is essential to discuss the goals that the strategy aims to achieve. The fact that the defense sets the protection of the status quo as its primary purpose is another fundamental characteristic of this strategy. Contrary to that, offensive actions are focused on changing the current state. This type of behavior is used to bring about a new and more favorable situation. This distinction leads to several differences in implementation between offensive and defensive strategies.
Attitude towards time is one of the fundamental aspects of both principles, and analyzing it helps better understand the specifics of their application. In offense, time is usually a critical resource, and unexpected delays can lead to disastrous consequences for the attacking side. The defenders, on the other hand, have the time playing on their side, and prolongation of the bottle is advantageous for them.
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Despite the limitations, as mentioned earlier, defensive tactics also have significant benefits. A familiar environment and prepared positions are a source of advantage for the defenders. The defending side can benefit from the landscape and, if there is enough time, build fortifications. Certain types of the landscape, such as mountains, hills, and swamps, create severe barriers for attacking forces and, if the defense is appropriately organized, might be almost impenetrable for the enemy.
These factors make defensive strategies useful, allowing avoiding unnecessary casualties while inflicting more damage on the enemy. In offense, military units have to fight on unknown territory and deal with additional obstacles such as land mines and barbed wire. Thus, offensive actins usually require supremacy in numbers, firepower, and equipment to compensate for the positional advantages of the defenders. Defensive tactics allow wearing down the enemy forces forcing them to deal with high attrition. Still, a decisive defeat of the enemy usually requires active offensive actions.
Offensive and defensive tactics have existed for a very long time, and they have evolved together with human civilization. The offensive is necessary to win a war decisively, and its proactive nature allows taking the strategic initiative. However, offensive actions require more men and resources and are usually associated with higher losses. Defensive strategies are more conservative and can be suitable for wearing down an enemy army, waiting for the best moment to launch a counteroffensive. At the same time, the passive nature of this strategy might give the enemy an upper hand allowing them to regroup and maneuver. An effective combination of both approaches is essential for a successful military operation.
Dawson, Doyne. The Origins of Western Warfare: Militarism and Morality in the Ancient World. Routledge, 2018.
Li, Peter Ping, and Monsol Yang. “How to Approach the Ancient Chinese Wisdom? A Commentary Concerning Sun Tzu’s The Art of War.” Management and Organization Review vol.13, no. 4, 2017, pp. 913-920.