National Mobilisation During War: Past Insights, Future Possibilities

Author name: 
Dr Peter Layton
ANU National Security College

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Mobilisation occurs during all conflicts with just the degree of mobilisation varying. Surprisingly then, most mobilisation thinking, doctrine and processes focus almost entirely on pre-war mobilisation activities, aiming to ensure that a nation is adequately prepared for an anticipated future war. In reality, this is an overly ambitious undertaking. Wars often arrive unexpectedly, their nature and scope are rarely understood before they start, their duration is unknown, and even the full list of participants is generally in doubt. Deep uncertainty inevitably frustrates thinking about mobilisation.

This paper aims to provide a structured way of thinking about mobilisation policymaking and planning that takes this inherent uncertainty into account. It uses two approaches: alternative futures and historical case studies. By projecting the known past into the uncertain future, the paper generates key insights on national mobilisation issues relevant to defence strategic thinking, doctrine and processes across a range of strategic circumstances.

Key points:

  1. National mobilisation concerns total national resources.
  2. National mobilisation also concerns international resources.
  3. National mobilisation must balance essential military and civilian requirements.
  4. National mobilisation and military strategies are interdependent.
  5. National mobilisation must be flexible in its use of controls.
  6. National mobilisation planning in peace and war is a deeply political issue.
  7. National mobilisation is an integrated activity.
  8. National mobilisation must consider the pre- and the post-war.

Dr Peter Layton is a Visiting Fellow at the Griffith Asia Institute, Griffith University, and an Associate Fellow at the Royal United Services Institute. He has extensive aviation and defence experience and, for his work at the Pentagon on force structure matters, was awarded the US Secretary of Defense’s Exceptional Public Service Medal. He has a doctorate from the University of New South Wales on grand strategy and has taught on the topic at the Dwight D. Eisenhower School for National Security and Resource Strategy, US National Defense University. For his academic work, he was awarded a Fellowship to the European University Institute, Fiesole, Italy. His research interests include grand strategy, national security policies particularly relating to middle powers, defence force structure concepts and the impacts of emerging technology. He is the author of the book Grand Strategy and several books on air power and emerging technology published by the Air Power Development Centre. His publications may be accessed at:

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