Perspectives on Politics

Reflections Symposium

Puzzles versus Problems: The Alleged Disconnect between Academics and Military Practitioners

Michael W. Mossera1

a1 Southwestern University, Georgetown, TX. E-mail: [email protected]


In the halls of both academic and government buildings, the stories of the gap between theory and praxis are legion. Practitioners speak of misguided academics and armchair generals criticizing the creation of strategy and the conduct of operations from the safety of their universities. Moreover, and at a more fundamental level, practitioners are frustrated that academics just don't seem to “get” the policy world. Conversely, academics bemoan the fact that practitioners often fail to fully think through the problems they claim need to be solved. If they had, many scholars argue, they would understand that the “solution” to a “problem” either becomes a part of the problem itself, or creates a whole new set of problems. Whether one calls the gap between theory and praxis in international relations a difference, a disconnect, or a divide hardly matters. What matters is discovering whether or not it actually exists, and if so, what is being done to rectify it. I first describe and then challenge the conventional wisdom that irreconcilable differences separate the academy and military practitioners.


This article began as a working paper presented at “Bridging the Gap: Universities Meeting Global Challenges,” Robert S Strauss Center for International Security and Law, University of Texas, February 2009.

The author would like to acknowledge Dr. James Lindsay for the original idea and for his invaluable comments; Dr. Dan Cox at the School of Advanced Military Studies at Fort Leavenworth, KS, and the majors who read and commented on its draft iterations as part of their curriculum. He would especially like to thank his colleagues at Southwestern University, and particularly Dr. Bob Snyder and Dr. Gil St. Clair for their exceptional comments and support during revision.