SAASS Comps Prep Wiki

Clausewitz, On War

248pages on
this wiki
Add New Page
Talk0 Share
Clausewitz-on-war small
Clausewitz, On War (1831)

Book II—On the Theory of War

Context: (1780-1831) Prussian major general who first encountered war as 12-year old lance corporal going to be a staff officer with political/military responsibilities at the very centre of the Prussian state. He wrote about the enduring principles about the nature of war that he experienced first hand in battle against Napoleon’s forces. He never commanded but served as chief of staff and reflected often during staff assignments at their War College.

Thesis: War is fighting against the enemy’s moral strength via physical means. The characteristics of war can be split into war preparations and war proper (actual war). He views the study of war as being ‘irrational’ / ‘romantic’, not rational / scientific. He dismisses Jomini’s scientific ‘cookbook’ approach to understanding war. He accepts that elements of both exist, but favours the emotional side.

Argument: - Tactics: “activity of planning and executing these engagements themselves;” also, tactics “teaches the use of armed forces in engagement.”

- Strategy: “the use of engagements for the object of war.”

- He identifies all the factors, both material and moral, which could contribute to the theory of war, with a single paragraph on most of them. He then lists ‘the means’, before finally propounding what it is that one is trying to learn, and why.

- Reducing war to scientific principles and statistical analysis is an oversimplification. He defines war as an art not a science, and identifies the need to break war down to elemental levels to study it.

- “[…] all military action is intertwined with psychological forces and effects.”

- Moral values determined by military genius or by using the “inner eye;” courage = principal factor

- All information is uncertain so talent of commander is key

- Theory is not doctrine (manual for action)

- “It is meant to educate the mind of the future commander, or, more accurately, to guide him in his self-education, not to accompany him to the battlefield.”

- Task of theory is to study the nature of the ends and means

- Factors affecting means: terrain, time of day, weather (only fog makes difference)

- He warns about the pitfalls of ‘judgement by results’ since ccritics of past battles have more information than the participants. He does not dismiss this, but sees it as acceptable only with certain constraints.

- Knowledge is simple, determined by responsibility (regiment vs. army commander), object of science

- Proposed action-observation-reflection (AOR) model

- Winton favorite: “[knowledge is] an intellectual instinct which extracts the essence from the phenomena of life, as a bee sucks honey from a flower.”

- War includes art (creative ability) & science but is really a social existence (neither art nor science)

- No “laws” apply to war since it constantly changes

- The purpose of critical analysis is to determine cause and effect: first, establish all the facts; second, attribute multiple causes to their effects; third, evaluate the ways and means employed.

- The ultimate objective of analysis is “to bring about peace.”

- Historical examples provide the best proof but should be studied in depth and not breadth. He warns that not only must the example show that something happened, but it must specifically explain the point it is supporting, as to why directly such and such contributed, or is relevant or whatever.

- He sees 4 justifications for using examples: to explain an idea; to show application of an idea; to support a factual statement; to deduce a doctrine through detailed examination

- Clausewitz gives example of Napoleon’s decision-making; infers it may have been better for Napoleon to finish off Blücher due to Blücher’s enterprising spirit

Implications for Strategy

- A strategist must consider the moral aspects of war

- Study a historical battle in depth not breadth to determine true causes

Clausewitz, On War (Book 1, Book 2 ch1)

Thesis: What is War

- War is an act of force to compel our enemy to do our will

- Force is the means of war; to impose our will on the enemy is the object of war

- To secure that object we must render the enemy powerless; and that, in theory, is the true aim of warfare

Argument – Philosophical argument starting from the ideal progressing to reality

War in the Ideal

- War is an act of force, and there is no logical limit to the application of that force. Each side compels its opponent to follow suit. This is the first case of interaction and the first extreme.

- War is always the collision of two living forces. I am not in control; he dictates to me as much as I dictate to him. This is the second case of interaction and it leads to the second extreme.

- Overcoming the enemy requires that you match your effort against his power of resistance (product of his means and the strength of his will). But the enemy will do the same. This is the third case of interaction and the third extreme.

- War is only ideal when:

- - Wholly isolated act

- - It consisted of a single decisive act or a set of simultaneous ones

- - The decision achieved was complete and perfect in itself

- Only one consideration can restrain military action: a desire to wait for a better moment before acting

- - Brought about by two factors

- - 1. superiority of the defense over the attack

- - 2. imperfect knowledge of the situation

War as an Instrument of Policy

- War is not merely an act of policy but a true political instrument, a continuation of political intercourse, carried on with other means.

- The first, the supreme, the most far-reaching act of judgment that the statesman and commander have to make is to establish by that test the kind of war on which they are embarking; neither mistaking it for, nor trying to turn it into, something that is alien to its nature. This is the first of all strategic questions and the most comprehensive.

- To bring a war to a successful close requires a thorough grasp of national policy. On that level strategy and policy coalesce.

Remarkable Trinity

- As a total phenomenon its dominant tendencies always make war a paradoxical (remarkable) trinity—composed of primordial violence, hatred, and enmity, which are to be regarded as a blind natural force (people); of the play of chance and probability within which the creative spirit is free to roam (commander and his army); and of its element of subordination, as an instrument of policy, which makes it subject to reason alone (government).

- War has three broad objectives: the enemy’s armed forces, the country, and the enemy’s will

- Many roads lead to success, and they do not all involve the opponent’s outright defeat

- They range from the destruction of the enemy’s forces, the conquest of his territory, to a temporary occupation or invasion, to projects with an immediate political purpose, and finally to passively awaiting the enemy’s attacks.

- War means: It is inherent in the very concept of war that everything that occurs must originally derive from combat

Genius in war

- Defined as a very highly developed mental aptitude for a particular occupation

- Genius consists in a harmonious combination of elements (courage, intellect, coup d’oeil, determination, presence of mind, boldness), in which one or the other may predominate, but none may be in conflict with the rest

Intelligence in war

- Many intelligence reports in war are contradictory; even more are false, and most are uncertain.

Friction in war

- Everything in war is very simple, but the simplest thing is difficult.

- This is the major distinction between real war from war on paper.

- Countless minor incidents—the kind you can never really foresee—combine to lower the general level of performance, so that one always falls far short of the intended goal.

- The commander is the only lubricant for friction of war: The good general must know friction in order to overcome it whenever possible, and in order not to expect a standard of achievement in his operations which this very friction makes impossible.

- The art of war is the art of using the given means in combat; there is no better term for it than the conduct of war

- Tactics: teaches the use of armed forces in the engagement

- Strategy: the use of engagements for the object of war

- The activities of war can be divided into two main categories: those that are merely preparations for war, and war proper. The theory of war proper is concerned with the use of the means provided as a result of war preparation.

- Tactics and strategy are two activities that permeate one another in time and space but are nevertheless essentially different. Their inherent laws and mutual relationship cannot be understood without a total comprehension of both.

Implications for Strategy:

- War and politics cannot be divorced; war is a continuation of politics by other means

- The best way to bend the enemy to one’s will is to render him powerless (i.e. destroy his forces)

- War is an uncertain activity and military genius is required to see past the “fog and friction”

Clausewitz, On War, Chapters III and VIII

Thesis: - Book III Central proposition: Strategy is the use of the engagement for the purpose of war. The best strategy is always to be very strong, first generally, then at the decisive point.

- Book VIII Central proposition: No one starts a war—or rather, no one in his senses ought to do so—without first being clear in his mind what he intends to achieve by that war and how he intends to conduct it


Book III:

- Strategic Theory…deals with planning; or rather, it attempts to shed light on the components of war their interrelationships;

- Strategic elements categorized into 5 types: Moral, Physical, Mathematical, Geographical, and Statistical; it would be disastrous to try to develop our understanding of strategy by analyzing these factors in isolation.

- There is no more imperative and simpler law for strategy than to keep the forces concentrated.

- Strategic Surprise: the two factors that produce surprise are secrecy and speed


- The aim of war should be what its very concept implies—to defeat the enemy

- Time, then, is less likely to bring favor to the victor than to the vanquished

- Conditions for defeating an enemy presuppose great physical or moral superiority or else an extremely enterprising spirit

- War is only a part of political intercourse, therefore by no means an independent thing in itself

- Limited aim: Offensive war: The positive object can be nothing else than the conquest of a part of the enemy’s country

- Limited aim: Defensive war: The defender weakens more than the attacker for two reasons: 1) He is weaker anyway; 2) The enemy will usually deprive him of territory and resources

Implications for Strategy

- Strategy is the link between political purpose (logic of politics) and tactical activity “engagements” (It provides coherence between tactical activity and political purpose

- It would be a mistake to regard surprise as a key element of success in war. The principle is highly attractive in theory, but in practice it is often held up by the friction of the whole machine. - Policy sets the character of war

- If the attacker sustains his efforts in limited war, whilst the opponent does nothing other than wards them off…sooner or later an offensive thrust will succeed

- Two categories in the defensive:

- - 1) Keep his territory: this gains time, and gaining time is the only way to achieve his aim

- - 2) Plan for the counteroffensive: Defense now assumes a positive purpose

- Two basic principles that underlie all strategic planning

- - 1) The ultimate substance of enemy strength must be traced back to the fewest possible sources, and ideally to one source alone

- - 2) The second principle is: act with the utmost speed. No halt or detour must be permitted without good cause.

Clausewitz, On War (1831), Book VI, Chapters 1-9; 23-30

Thesis: Tactically, defense is the stronger form of war (with a weaker—or negative—object). Stated precisely, the defensive form of warfare is intrinsically stronger than the offense (353). Attack is the weaker form of war with a positive object. Every offensive action will inherently have a defensive component to it. That which is acquired must be held.


Chapter 1 - Attack and Defense

- 1. The Concept of Defense

- - a. “But if we are really waging war, we must return the enemy’s blows; these offensive acts in an offensive war come under the heading of ‘defense’ – in other words, our offensive takes place within our own positions or theaters of operations. Thus, a defensive campaign, can be fought with offensive battles, and in a defensive battle we can employ our divisions offensively. .. So, the defensive form of war is not a simple shield, but a shield made up of well directed blows.”

- 2. Advantages of Defense

- - a. “What is the object of defense? Preservation. It is easier to hold ground that take it.”

- - b. “It is the fact that time which is allowed to pass unused accumulates to the credit of the defender.”

- - c. Another benefit derives from the advantage of position, which tends to favor the defense.”

- - d. “But defense has a passive purpose: preservation; and attack a positive one -conquest. The latter increases one’s own capacity to wage war; the former does not. So in order to state the relationship precisely, we must say that the defensive form of warfare is intrinsically stronger that the offensive.”

- - e. “If defense is the stronger form of war, yet has a negative object, it follows that it should be used only as long as weakness compels, and be abandoned as soon as we are strong enough to pursue a positive object.”

Chapter 2 - The Relationship Between Attack and Defense in Tactics

- “Only three things seem to us to produce decisive advantages: surprise, the benefit of the terrain, and concentric attack.”

- Defense should be used only so long as weakness compels, and be abandoned as soon as we are strong enough to pursue a positive object . [CVC’s focus is on the military object, not the political object. He believes the transition from the defense to the offense is the greatest moment for the defense]

- Types of Resistance: The concepts characteristic of time — war, campaign, and battle — are parallel to those of space — country, theater of operations, and position — and so bear the same relation to our subject. [Winton called this really important, because it sets up the relationship between time and space. War is longer than campaign which is longer than battle (based on time). Country is bigger than the theater of operations which is bigger than position (based on space). Grouped together, war+country=war plans; campaign+theater of operations=strategy; battle+position=tactics.]

Chapter 5 - The Character of Strategic Defense

- “What defense is … a means to win victory that enables one to take the offensive after superiority has been gained … to proceed to the active object of the war.”

- “A sudden and powerful transition to the offensive – the flashing sword of vengeance – is the greatest moment for the defense.”

- “Consequently, if we are to conceive of defense … it is this. All means are prepared to the utmost; the army is fit for war and familiar with it; the general will let the army come on it from confused indecision and fear, but by his own choice, coolly and deliberately; fortresses are undaunted by the prospect of a siege and finally a stout hearted populace is no more afraid of the enemy than he of it.”

- Defensive culmination: so long as the defender’s strength increases every day while the attacker’s diminishes, the absence of the decision is in the defender’s interest. However, the point of culmination will necessarily be reached when the defender must make up his mind and act, when the advantages of waiting have been completely exhausted. [Winton’s emphasis: If at some point, the defender doesn’t use the advantages accrued by waiting, he may lose them.]

Chapter 23 - The Key to the Country

- “ … we maintain that if the term ‘key position; is to rank as an autonomous strategic concept, all it can mean is an area which one must hold before one can risk an advance into enemy territory.”

- “The real key to the enemy’s country is usually his army, and if terrain is to have precedence over military force, it must promise some exceptionally advantageous conditions. If these are present, they can usually be recognized by two outstanding characteristics: first, that the powers of resistance of the force deployed to that particular place be notably improved through the support of the terrain and second, that the position effectively threatens the enemy’s lines of communication before one’s own are threatened by him.”

Book VII:

Chapter 26 - The People in Arms

- “War by means of popular uprisings … It has its advocates and its opponents. The latter object to it either on political grounds, considering it as a means of revolution, a state of legalized anarchy that is as much of a threat to the social order at home as it is to the enemy; or else on military grounds, because they feel that the results are not commensurate with the energies that have been expended.”

Chapter 2 – The Nature of Strategic Attack

- 1. As we have seen, defense in general is not an absolute state of waiting and repulse; it is not total, but only relative passive endurance.

- 2. The act of attack, particularly in strategy, is thus a constant alternation and combination of attack and defense. The latter, however, should not be regarded as a useful preliminary to the attack or an intensification of it, and so an active principle; rather it is simply a necessary evil, an impeding burden created by the shear weight of the mass. It is its original sin, its mortal disease.

Chapter 3 – The Object of the Strategic Attack

- 1. “In war, the subjugation of the enemy is the end and the destruction of his fighting forces the means.”

- 2. The object of strategic attack, therefore, may be thought of in numerous gradations, from the conquest of the whole country to that of an insignificant hamlet.

- 3. “In practice, the stages of the offensive, that is, the intentions and the actions taken –as often turn into defensive action as defensive plans grow into the offensive.”

- 4.“So it becomes clear that if a successful defense can imperceptibly turn into attack, the same can happen in reverse. These gradations must be kept in mind if we wish to avoid a misapplication of our general statements in the subject of attack.”

Chapter 4 – The Diminishing Force of the Attack

- “The diminishing force of the attack is one of the strategist’s main concerns.”

- Overall strength will be depleted:

- 1. If the object of the attack is to occupy the enemy’s country.

- 2. By the invading armies’ need to occupy the area in their rear so as to secure their lines of communication and exploit its resources.

- 3. By losses incurred in action and through sickness

- 4. By the distance from the sources of replacements

- 5. By sieges and the investment of fortresses

- 6. By a relaxation of effort

- 7. By the defection of allies

Chapter 22 – The Culminating Point of Victory

- “Often even victory has a culminating point.”

- “As a war unfolds, armies are constantly faced with some factors that increase their strength and with others that reduce it. Every reduction in strength on one side can be considered an increase on the other. It follows that this two-way process is to be found on the attack as well as the defense.”

- “The end is either to bring the enemy to his knees or at least deprive him of some of his territory – the point being not to improve the current military position but to improve everyone’s general prospects in the war and in the peace negotiations.”

- “The culminating point in victory is bound to recur in every future war in which the destruction of the enemy cannot be military aim, and this will presumably be true of most wars. The natural goal of all campaign plans, therefore, is the turning point at which the attack becomes defense.”

- The superiority that I have attributed to the defensive form of warfare rests on the following:

- 1 The utilization of terrain

- 2. The possession of an organized theater of operations

- 3. The support of the population

- 4. The advantage of being on the waiting side

- “Only the man who can achieve great results with limited means has really hit the mark.”

Implications for Strategy

- Planner’s perspective: one must understand the appropriate time to switch from defense to offense. [consider, timing, morale, LOCs, numerical strength, knowledge of the opposing general...Air example in the Battle of Britain. The key decision point was when Churchill received the Ultra transcript stating Hiller had called off the invasion. Churchill knew that things would start getting better, but he didn’t have enough capability to make the transition.]

- Defensive campaign planning isn’t popular, but if you do it, you must consider the defensive culmination point.

- Must anticipate the culminating point of attack. Planners want to structure their campaign such that the objective is achieved before the culminating point is reached. This is not always possible, but highly desired. CVC claims this is related to genius.

Sugar's tips on Clausewitz

“Prefactory” material

Clausewitz paraphrased: I’m describing war, not defining it – no comprehensive theory of war exists as of yet, but it if did, what you read here is only part of it. I wrote this to try and understand war myself, not because I understood already. But if I learned anything, it is this: war is nothing but the continuation of policy (politics) by other means. – they are not separate, and war should always serve as a means to achieve a political purpose, not as an end in itself (German uses the same word – Politik – for both politics and policy)

Clausewitz also establishes who he’s writing for: “statesmen and strategists”.70 Genius for war is not enough – you need to be able to communicate strategic concepts to others if you’re either of those, and this work can help to provide the vocabulary for informed discussions on strategy. The big ideas he’s going to discuss include:

- Relationship between offense and defense and culmination

- Cumulative effect of success in campaigns

- Turning points (centers of gravity affected)

- Definition of victory (take away the enemies capability and will to resist you and accept your will)

- Changing modes or directions is difficult, both in the cognative and physical sense

Clausewitz makes it clear that war is about struggle that seeks to impose a desired status quo, and war is different than other realms of human competition because it applies the ultimate sanction, killing and destruction, or the threat of it.

“War is thus an act of force to compel the enemy to do our will”, driven by “hostile feelings and hostile intentions” . 75-76

“If the enemy is to be coerced, you must put him in a situation that is even more unpleasant than the sacrifice you call on him to make. 77

He also makes it very clear that war as a “duel”:

“War, however, is not the action of a living force upon a lifeless mass (total nonresistance would be no war at all), but always the collision of two living forces. “ 77

And at best, war can only impose a temporary desired outcome, so long as the opponent continues to have the will to resist “The defeated state often considers the outcome merely as a transitory evil, for which a remedy may still be found in political conditions at some later date.” 80. This (Sugar’s Opinion) is one of his most valuable insights , because it means that unless you achieve a political solution that is ultimately acceptable to both sides , and make both stakeholders in the imposed status quo, war never ends – the aggrieved side will only be restrained by “a desire to wait until a better moment before acting” 82

The Nature of War

- It is a political activity “by other means” at its core, and should serve to disarm the enemy only as a means to some other political end 91-93

- War slides along a spectrum, from totally destroying the enemy to remaining purely defensive 94

- To Clausewitz, there is only one means in war – combat, or the threat of it that forces the enemy to calculate and capitulate 96

- To fight war requires genius, which is “a harmonius combination of elements of intellect and character. 100 “Coup d’oeil” is the ability to draw from these qualities and intuitively choose the appropriate response to one’s circumstances. 102 - The Climate of War: danger, exertion, uncertainty, and chance 104 - The Atmosphere of war: danger, physical exertion, intelligence, & friction 122 - Friction is the combination of manmade and natural events that prevent events from going as you have forseen them, caused by anything that offers resistance to your planned activities. 119

The Art of War - Includes activities to raise and maintain armies, as well as conducting war

- Conducting war involves planning and conducting the fighting – engagements. Thus tactics teaches the use of armed forces to win engagements, and strategy teaches the use of engagements to win wars.

Book 2

War is about fighting, a struggle of physical and mental wills between opponents. 127

War really includes all of the activities that support it, including raising, equipping, and training forces 127

War consists of multiple acts, engagements, which forces us to plan for additional layer of complexity beyond raising and maintaining forces for a single, decisive battle. This second layer, coordinating the engagements, is strategy, where managing the individual engagements is tactics. 128

Manuever (the march) serves both tactical and strategic purposes. 129

Preparations for war and “”War Proper” are separate activities , and thus they require separate theories. Theories for being a force provider – logistics, personnel, admin, training, etc – belong to the first, and fall more under the realm of management and science. The actual employment of forces – the fighting - requires the “art of war”, and assumes and understanding of the former. 132

As war became more complicated, the demand for a theory of war grew, and people started to develop principles that mainly described the linear nature of operational deployment 134-135

These formulations tended to ignore the intangible (moral) aspects of war, which cannot be ignored, and must be considered equally with the physical considerations like terrain, time, weather, etc 137-143

Engagements can be ends in the short term, but they are means in the strategic sense until one achieves victory 143

Any theory of war must be validated by experience, which can only be derived from a study of history 144

A successful strategist must be familiar with the full myriad of activities that “empty themselves into the great ocean of war” - can’t be a one trick pony 144

Great commanders are men of action and experience, which is why scholars seldom become great commanders. Because few commanders have been scholars, the utility and importance of theory tended to be minimized . But whether these have been acknowledged or not, the genius commanders require certain knowledge, which theory can describe 145-146

“In the field of strategy, therefore, even more than in tactics, theory will be content with the simple consideration of material and psychological factors, especially where it embraces the highest achievements. It will be sufficient if it helps the commander acquire those insights that, once absorbed into his way of thinking, will smooth and protect his progress, and will never force him to abandon his convictions for the sake of any objective fact. “ In other words, theory is meant to inform the commander, not direct his actions. 147

“Art “describes activities which require creative ability (all thought is art), which depends to some extend on comprehension of science. Science belongs to realms of pure knowledge like math and astronomy, which still require some elements of art. 148

War requires both, thus it belongs neither to art or science, but is rather a part of man’s social existence. It’s a “clash of major interests, which is resolved by bloodshed – this is the only way in which it differs from other conflicts” .The crucial distinction between war arts/ sciences is that it is applied to an animate object that reacts” (your opponent). Thus, prior scientific and artistic attempts at deriving a theory of war have failed, and “all attempts at formulating any have been found too limited and one sided and have constantly been undermined and swept away by the currents of opinion, emotion, and custom “ 149

But that does not mean that war may not be subject to general laws that can be used to provide a useful guide for action – this book will investigate this, in the belief that the “internal structure” of war “can to some degree be revealed) 150.

Describes laws, principles, rules, regulations, and methods 151-152

Some amount of routine in war is inevitable, since your ways and means are always limited, by time if nothing else. Routine may limit your options, but it also provides “precise and reliable leadership, reducing natural friction and easing the working of the machine” 153

War consists of single, great decisive actions, each of which needs to be handled individually 153

“So long as not acceptable theory, no intelligent analysis of the conduct of war exists, routine methods will tend to take over even at the highest levels” 154 Read that to mean that the generals will think tactics, not strategy, and will be conditioned to use the tools that they’re used to, not necessarily the right ones for the job

The better developed theory is, the more creativite the commanders will become, basing their actions on informed understanding of the current situation, not just imitation of past successful actions. The later is a danger that theory must prevent by offering “lucid, rational criticism” to keep the commander from applying the wrong lessons of the past to a new situation 154

Critical analysis is key to historical research and comparison to current events 156

“Effects in war seldom result from a single cause; there are usually several concurrent causes” 157. Essentially, Clausewitz is describing war as a “wicked problem” s century and a half before Rittel defines the term.

“In short, a working theory is an essential basis for criticism. Without such a theory, it is generally impossible for criticism to reach that point at which it becomes truly instructive – when its arguments are convincing and cannot be refuted. ” 157

A critic should never use the results of theory as laws and standards, but only-as the soldier does-as aids to judgement. 158

In addition to theoretical insight into the subject, natural talent will greatly enhance the value of critical analysis: for it will primarily depend on such talent to illuminate the connections which link things together and to determine which among the countless concatenations of events are essential ones 161 This is exactly what the Army’s new “Design” concept is attempting to do.

Talent is also needed to evaluate not only the means actually employed, but to evaluate all possible means 161

The proof that we demand is needed whenever the advantage of the means suggested is not plain enough to rule out all doubts; it consists in taking each of the means and assessing and comparing the particular merits of each in relation to the objective 163 He is describing what we now call the wargaming process.

Don’t use 20/20 hindsight when studying the decisions commanders made in the past – apply the knowledge that they would have had as best you can 164-165

When evaluating generals, often the outcome proves the wisdom of a decision, not the quality of the decision itself. In war, it’s better to be lucky than good. 167

“Historical examples clarify everything and also provide the best kind of proof in the empirical sciences. This is particularly true in the art of war”. Historical examples are, however, seldom used to such good effect”. 170

“Theory is content to refer to experience in general to indicate the origin of the method, not to prove it” 171

Historical examples can be used to:

- Explain and idea – requires brief mention of the case

- Show the application of an idea – demands more detailed presentation of events

- Support a statement – sone by simple statement of an undisputed fact

- Deduce a doctrine – requires a thesis 171-172 History can be misused as well, “any lack of evidence can be made up by the number of examples, but this is clearly a dangerous expedient, and is frequently misused… critics are content to merely touch on three or four (examples), which give the semblance of strong proof. “ 172 Another disadvantage of merely touching on historical events lies in the fact that some readers do not know enough about them, or don not remember them well enough to grasp what the author has in mind. 173 Using historical justifications correctly requires extreme diligence and thoroughness, and also the moral courage to tell “the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth” about your conclusions, even if your boss doesn’t want the truth.

Clausewitz makes it clear that war is about struggle that seeks to impose a desired status quo, and war is different than other realms of human competition because it applies the ultimate sanction, killing and destruction, or the threat of it.

“War is thus an act of force to compel the enemy to do our will”, driven by “hostile feelings and hostile intentions” . 75-76

“If the enemy is to be coerced, you must put him in a situation that is even more unpleasant than the sacrifice you call on him to make. 77

He also makes it very clear that war as a “duel”:

“War, however, is not the action of a living force upon a lifeless mass (total nonresistance would be no war at all), but always the collision of two living forces. “ 77

And at best, war can only impose a temporary desired outcome, so long as the opponent continues to have the will to resist “The defeated state often considers the outcome merely as a transitory evil, for which a remedy may still be found in political conditions at some later date.” 80. This (Sugar’s Opinion) is one of his most valuable insights , because it means that unless you achieve a political solution that is ultimately acceptable to both sides , and make both stakeholders in the imposed status quo, war never ends – the aggrieved side will only be restrained by “a desire to wait until a better moment before acting” 82

The Nature of War

- It is a political activity “by other means” at its core, and should serve to disarm the enemy only as a means to some other political end 91-93

- War slides along a spectrum, from totally destroying the enemy to remaining purely defensive 94

- To Clausewitz, there is only one means in war – combat, or the threat of it that forces the enemy to calculate and capitulate 96

- To fight war requires genius, which is “a harmonius combination of elements of intellect and character. 100 “Coup d’oeil” is the ability to draw from these qualities and intuitively choose the appropriate response to one’s circumstances. 102 - The Climate of War: danger, exertion, uncertainty, and chance 104 - The Atmosphere of war: danger, physical exertion, intelligence, & friction 122 - Friction is the combination of manmade and natural events that prevent events from going as you have forseen them, caused by anything that offers resistance to your planned activities. 119 The Art of War - Includes activities to raise and maintain armies, as well as conducting war

- Conducting war involves planning and conducting the fighting – engagements. Thus tactics teaches the use of armed forces to win engagements, and strategy teaches the use of engagements to win wars.

Book 3 - On Strategy in General

“Strategy is the use of the engagement for the purpose of war” 177

Strategist must go on campaign and remain in control throughout – implies unity of command 177

“A prince or general can best demonstrate his genius by managing a campaign exactly to suit his objectives and resources, doing neither too much nor too little. “ 177 This describes the ideal of having consistent political objectives – something that rarely happens in practice as the war changes the political realities that originally spawned the objectives in the first place

“It is even more ridiculous when we consider that these critics exclude all moral qualities from strategic theory, and only examine material factors“ 178 This is a not so thinly veiled criticism of other theorists like Bulow and Jomini, and will be further expanded on by JFC Fuller in his descriptions of the moral, cognitive, and physical domains of war in his book The Foundations of the Science of War

“The relationships between the material factors are all very simple, what is more difficult to grasp are the intellectual factors involved. Even so, it is only in the highest realms of strategy that intellectual complications and extreme diversity of factors and relationships occur. At that level there is little or no difference between strategy, policy and statesmanship, and there, as we have already said, their influence is greater in quality and scale than in forms of execution. When execution is dominant, as it is in the individual events of a war whether great or small, then intellectual factors are reduced to a minimum. “ 178 Clausewitz briefly describes grand strategy here, but then goes on to describe military strategy in detail

“It sounds odd, but everyone who is familiar with this aspect of warfare will agree that it takes more strength of will to make an important decision in strategy than in tactics. “178

“Those who know war only from books or the parade ground cannot recognize the existence of these impediments to action, and so we must ask them to accept on faith what they lack in experience. “ 180

“The possession of provinces, cities, fortresses, roads, bridges, munitions dumps, etc. may be the immediate object of an engagement, but can never be the final one. Such acquisitions should always be regarded merely as means of gaining greater superiority, so that in the end we are able to offer an engagement to the enemy that he is in no position to accept. These actions should be considered as intermediate links, as steps to leading to the operative principle, never as the operative principle itself. “ 181 Something to remember as you rush to take Baghdad…

“If we do not learn to regard that a war, and the separate campaigns of which it is composed, as a chain of linked engagements each leading to the next, but instead succumb to the idea that the capture of certain geographical points or the seizure of undefended provinces are of value in themselves, we are liable to regard them as windfall profits. In so doing, and ignoring the fact that they are links in a continuous chain of events, we also ignore the possibility that their possession may later lead to definite disadvantages. This mistake is illustrated again and again in military history. “ 182 And more recently…

Elements of Strategy

Strategic elements: “moral, physical, mathematical, geographical, and statistical.” “A brief consideration of each of these various types will clarify our ideas, and in passing, assess the relative value of each. Indeed, if they are studied separately some will automatically be stripped of any undue importance…It would however be disastrous to try to develop our understanding of strategy by analyzing these factors in isolation, since they are usually interconnected in each military action in manifold and intricate ways. 183 Clausewitz is describing “complexity”, even if he doesn’t use the term we use today. He is also is describing a method for dealing with it, which is avoid just looking at the “nodes”, but perhaps more critically, to describe the links between these nodes. That said, having an understanding of the individual nodes is useful as well – might help you find points of leverage in particularly weak points of a system, especially in physical ones. This is the underlying principle in EBO. By recommending both deconstruction (looking at the individual parts to get context about the environment and its systems) and looking at the aggregate (sometimes the whole is more than the sum of the parts), Clausewitz is describing exactly the same kind of JIPOE and mission analysis that the US Army is currently trying to capture with “Design”

Moral Factors

On Moral elements: “They constitute the spirit that permeates war as a whole, and at an early stage they establish a close affinity with the will that moves and leads the whole mass of force, practically merging with it, since the will is in itself a moral quantity…Consequently, though next to nothing can be said about these things in books, they can no more be omitted from the theory of the art of war than can any of the other components of war. To repeat, it is paltry philosophy in the old fashioned way one lays down rules and principles in total disregard of moral values“ 184 The perils of systems like Network Centric Warfare which focus on tactical results rather than how the tactical actions will be interpreted and “spun”, often making tactical successes irrelevant in the strategic sense

“If a theory of war did no more than remind us of these elements, demonstrating the need to reckon with and give full value to moral qualities, it would expand the horizon, and simply by establishing this point of would condemn in advance anyone who sought to base an analysis on material factors alone. ..Hence, most of the matters dealt with in this book are composed in equal parts of physical and of moral causes and effects. One may say that the physical seem little more than the wooden hilt, while the moral factors are the precious metal, the real weapon, the finely hones blade. “184 What do we currently use in our joint doctrine to describe and plan for the “moral domain”? Hmmm….

185 from “We might list the most important moral phenomena in war….” To “find ourselves proclaiming what everybody already knows” – makes the point that if you try to distill the moral phenomena to a planning process, you start limiting yourself and killing “genuine spirit of inquiry”

The Principal Moral Elements

Principle moral elements: “skill of the commander, the experience and courage of the troops, and their patriotic spirit“ 186.

Military Virtues of the Army

Military virtues: “In the soldier the natural tendency for unbridled action and outbursts of violence must be subordinated to demands of a higher kind: obedience, order, rule, and method. “ 187

Clausewitz ideal description of military virtue: “An army that maintains its cohesion under the most murderous fire; that cannot be shaken by imaginary fears and resists well-founded ones with all its might; that, proud of its victories, will not lose the strength to obey orders and its respect and trust for its officers even in defeat; whose physical power, like the muscles of an athlete, has been steeled by training in privation and effort; a force that regards such efforts as a means to victory rather than a curse on its cause; that is mindful of all these duties and qualities by virtue of the single powerful idea of the honor of its arms – such an army is imbued with the true military spirit.” 187-188

“You can win without your army having these virtues, but they must be a factor. “The spirit of an army may be envisaged as a definite moral factor that can be mentally subtracted, whose influence may therefore be estimated-in other words, it is a tool whose power is measurable” 188

“..when an army lacks military virtues, every effort should be made to keep operations as simple as possible, or else twice as much attention should be paid to other aspects of the military system. The mere fact that soldiers belong to a “regular army” does not automatically mean they are equal to their task” . 189 This goes along with Sun Tzu’s concept of “know your enemy and yourself”

“Military spirit, then, is one of the most important moral elements in war. Where this element is absent, it must be either replaced by one of the others, such as the commander’s superior ability or popular enthusiasm, or else the results will fall short of the efforts expended. “189

“Grim severity and iron discipline may be able to preserve the military values of a unit, but it cannot create them.” 189 Sounds a lot like Schofield’s quote: “The discipline which makes the soldiers of a free country reliable in battle is not to be gained by harsh or tyrannical treatment. On the contrary, such treatment is far more likely to destroy than to make an army... “

“We should never confuse the real spirit of the army with its mood.” 189


“Indeed, in which human activity is boldness more at home than in war? A soldier, whether drummer boy or general, can possess no nobler quality; it is the very metal that gives edge and luster to the sword. “190

“Whenever boldness encounters timidity, it is likely to be proven the winner, because timidity in itself implies a loss of equilibrium. “190

“The higher up the chain of command, the greater is the need for boldness to be supported by a reflective mind, so that boldness does not degenerate into purposeless bursts of blind passion. Command becomes progressively less a matter of personal sacrifice and increasingly concerned for the safety of others and for the common purpose” 190

“In a commander a bold act may prove to be a blunder. Nevertheless, it is a laudable error, not to be regarded on the same footing as others. ..Only when boldness rebels against obedience, when it defiantly ignores an expressed command, must it be treated as a dangerous offense…”190

“Boldness governed by superior intellect is the mark of a hero…In other words, a distinguished commander without boldness is unthinkable. ..therefore we must consider this quality the first prerequisite of a great military leader. How much of this quality remains by the time he reaches senior rank, after training and experience have affected and modified it, is another question” 192

“A people and nation can only hope for a strong position in the world only if national character and familiarity with war fortify each other by continual interaction.” 192 Bet this was underlined several times in Hitler’s copy of On War. Ironically, given that comment, this quote is remarkably similar to this quote: “The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants. It is its natural manure.” — Thomas Jefferson


“In war more than anywhere else things do not turn out as we expect.” 193

Since war is filled with friction and numerous inaccurate reports that contribute to the “fog of war” , “Perseverance in the chosen course is the essential counterweight, provided that no compelling reasons intervene to the contrary. ..It is steadfastness that will earn the admiration of the world and of posterity. “ 193 I bet this quote was underlined in a number of WWI generals copy of On War – too bad the part about “provided that no compelling reasons intervene” wasn’t double underlined.

Superiority of Numbers

“Superior numbers, far from contributing everything, or even a substantial part, to victory, may actually be contributing to very little depending on the circumstances…But superiority varies in degree…it can obviously reach the point where it is overwhelming…so long as it is great enough ot counterbalance all other contributing circumstances” 194-195 Sometimes quantity has a quality all its own.

“…we cannot doubt that in ordinary cases…a significant superiority in numbers will suffice to secure victory, however adverse in other circumstances .” True for tactical victory, at least.

“We believe then that in our circumstances and all similar ones, a main factor is the possession of strength at the really vital point. Usually it is actually the most important factor. To achieve strength at the decisive point depends on the strength of the army and the skill with which this strength is employed” 195

The first rule, therefore, should be: put the largest possible army into the field. This may sound like a platitude, but in reality it is not. “Get there furstest with the mostest” is a bastardization of this statement. Again, may be true tactically, but not necessarily strategically, especially in irregular warfare A bigger army didn’t help in Vietnam when the strategy was flawed, and in many ways was counterproductive to the “moral element” in maintaining popular support at home. El Salvador in the 80’s is a valuable counterexample where smaller numbers worked better than big numbers in a larger strategic sense, even though local superiority was still important to the El Salvadorans tactically . In a tactical sense, Clausewitz is absolutely right – one of the common mistakes in looking at a “David vs. Goliath” war is to assume that “Goliath” always has numerical superiority). More often than not, “David” has local numerical superiority because he can choose when to engage and when to fade away into the population or the wilderness – Nathanael Greene’s AMREV campaign against Cornwallis is great example of this. See Jeffrey Record’s “Beating Goliath, freebie from the CSAF reading list – great read, and shor too;col1


“…the universal desire for relative numerical superiority-leads to another desire, which is consequently no less universal: to take the enemy by surprise. ..without it superiority at the decisive point is hardly conceivable” 198

“We suggest the surprise lies at the root of all operations without exception, though in widely varying degrees depending on the nature and circumstances of the operation. “ 198. Sun Tzu and Boyd would agree, although Sun Tzu was more optimistic about the possibilities of strategic surprise than C, and Boyd likely more optimistic about the possibilities for strategic paralysis within all realms of human competitive activity.

Major success in a surprise action therefore does not depend on the energy, forcefulness, and resolution of the commander: it must be favored by other circumstances. 200 Good examples: Horns of Hattin in the Second Crusade, Shiloh in the Civil War.

Only the commander who imposes his will can take the enemy by surprise; and in order to impose his will, he must act correctly. If we surprise the enemy with faulty measures, we may not benefit at all, but instead suffer sharp reverses. Our surprise, in that case, will cause the enemy little worry; by exploiting our mistakes, he will find ways of warding off any ill-effects. 200-201 Again Shiloh. An even better Civil War example would be the Battle of the Crater during the siege of Petersburg, in which the Federal Forces surprised Rebel forces by tunneling under their lines and exploding a huge crater in them – a huge tactical surprise. But as Federal forces rushed into the crater, they became stuck inside and were slaughtered wholesale, as was depicted in the movie “Cold Mountain”. Big surprise, but terrible tactical and operational design, just as C describes.


“At first glance, it seems not unjust that the term ‘strategy’ should be derived from ‘cunning’ and that…the term still indicates its essential nature…the fact remains that these qualities do not figure prominently in the history of war” 202

To prepare a sham action with sufficient thoroughness to impress an enemy requires a considerable expendature of time and effort, and the costs increase with the scale of the deception. Normally this calls for more than can be expended, and consequently so-called strategic feints rarely have the desired effect. 203 Clausewitz is dubious as to the efficacy of strategic surprise, given his perspective of fighting wars between huge land armies that require unwieldy logistics and improved lines of communication to the point that make anything but local surprise unlikely. He is usually critiqued for this, and many feel that examples like Operation Fortitude in WWII or the combo of the Marines off shore and “Left Hook” in Desert Storm prove that strategic deception is still possible and likely, even in the information age. Given his qualifications above, and the fact that in both of these cases there were indeed significant time and resources available to “sell” these deceptions operations, perhaps C’s critics have been unduly harsh.

Concentration of Forces in Space

The best strategy is always to be very strong; first in general, and then at the decisive point. 204

“Apart from the effort needed to create military strength…there is no higher and simpler law of strategy than that of keeping one’s forces concentrated.” Mahan will later buy into this wholesale, and convince thousands of others that this is true in naval warfare. Clausewitz’s personal experience is probably key in declaring a “law” when he usually hesitates to do so – he was with the Prussian rearguard that prevented French General Grouchy from reinforcing Napoleon at Waterloo, which was significant in the defeat of the “genius” that compelled C to begin his study of war in the first place.

Unification of forces in time

Clausewitz goes into a lengthy theoretical discussion of the tactical considerations of keeping a tactical reserve vs committing your troops all at once, and concludes that such an analysis does not match intuition or experience, but concludes that “the deployment of too great a force may be detrimental: no matter how great the advantage which superiority offers in the first moment of the engagement, we may have to pay for it in the next. “206

“Tactical success, those attained in the course of the engagement, usually occur during the phase of disarray and weakness. On the other hand, the strategic success, the overall effect of the engagement, the completed victory…already lies beyond that phase. The strategic outcome takes shape only when the fragmented results have combined into a single, independent whole. ..The consequence of this difference is that in the tactical realm force can be use successively, while strategy knows only the simultaneous use of force…Since in strategy casualties do not increase with the size of the forces used, and may even be reduced, and since obviously greater force is more likely to lead to success, it naturally follows that we can never use too great a force, and further, that all available force must be used simultaneously” 206-207 This is a really difficult passage to understand, and C’s chain of logic is perhaps dubious at best with his discussion of casualties and battlefield geometry stretched into the strategic realm. The gist of his argument is that while it makes sense to use reserves in the context of the tactical engagement, it doesn’t make sense to hold reserves in the strategic sense. If you know where the most important point to attack is strategically, holding back forces is an unnecessary risk ceding strategic superiority by unnecessarily dividing your forces, and may cost you the ultimate decision. More in the next chapter.

The Strategic Reserve

There C goes with one of his quazi -dialectic arguments again. First he claims (without saying it exactly this way) that in the ideal world “the need to hold a force in readiness for emergencies may also arise in strategy. Hence, there can be such a thing as a strategic reserve, but only when emergencies are conceivable “, and that “forces should be held in reserve according to the degree of strategic uncertainty”. 210. This is a setup for his next argument, his second point. Then he goes on to say that “uncertainty decreases the greater the distance between strategy and tactics; and it practically disappears in that area of strategy that borders on the political…The greater the scale of operations, the smaller the chance of achieving a surprise. Time and space involved are vast, the circumstances that have set events in motion so well known and so little subject to change, that his decisions will either be apparent early enough, or can be discovered with certainty.” Clausewitz does something uncharacteristic of his own approach here, which is to use the superlative (danger, Will Robinson, danger!), saying that at this point the enemy’s actions will be discernable “with certainty”, completely contradicting his own arguments s on fog and friction in his effort to argue his point on strategic reserve. Now he adds the third observation:

“While the successive use of force in a tactical situation always postpones the main decision to the end of the action, in strategy the law of the simultaneous use of forces nearly always advances the main decision, which need not necessarily be the ultimate one, to the beginning. These three conclusions, therefore, justify the view that a strategic reserve becomes less essential, less useful, and more dangerous to use, the more inclusive its intended purpose. “211

Then his main point:

“The point at which the concept of strategic reserve begins to be self-contradictory is not difficult to determine: it comes when the decisive stage of the battle has been reached. All forces must be used to achieve it, and any idea of reserves, of available combat units that are not meant to be used until after this decision, is an absurdity…Thus, while a tactical reserve is a means not only of meeting any unforeseen maneuver by the enemy but also of reversing the unpredictable outcome of combat when this becomes necessary, strategy must renounce this means, at least so far as the overall decision is concerned. “211

Sugar’s critique of C’s argument on Strategic Reserves: I would cede you this point if 1. You could determine with certainty when the decisive action of the overall campaign was about to take place, and 2. If you could really know the enemy’s intentions and disposition. But based on your other arguments, and also by historical example, neither of these is possible “with certainty”. You also can’t discount the possibility of the unexpected addition of other antagonists – what if you concentrate all of your forces to deal with one enemy, and another seizes on your perceived weaknesses in other areas to strike? I don’t see that difference between what could happen and what will happen ever narrowing to the point where I wouldn’t prefer to have some kind of strategic reserve, but I will agree with you that if I don’t have enough in place to win the decisive battles, the unused reserve is pointless in the short term. In the long term however, even a defeated force may be the seed of future resistance (as it was in the case of the Prussian Army that rose again to face Napoleon after its initial defeat. You know what I mean - you were in both).

Economy of Force

Following on his earlier argument, C argues in the strategic sense that “If a segment of one’s force is located where it is not sufficiently busy with the enemy, or if its troops are on the march, that is, idle – while the enemy is fighting, then these forces are being managed uneconomically.” 213 Again, this assumes that your other forces are engaged in the decisive engagement – if they’re not, there may be advantages in keeping troops out of the fray in order to improve capabilities and training for a future decisive engagement that you may be able to steer more towards your own advantage, and they also might be more useful deterring other potential combatants.

The suspension of action in war

“Politically, only one can be the aggressor: there can be no war if both parties seek to defend themselves. The aggressor has the positive aim, while the defender’s aim is merely negative. Positive action is therefore proper to the former, since it the only means by which he can achieve his ends. Consequently, when conditions are equal for both parties the attacker out to act, since his is the positive aim. Seen in this light, suspension of action in war is a contradiction in terms (the ideal). ..But no matter how savage the nature of war, it is fettered by human weaknesses; and no one will be surprised at the contradiction that man seeks and creates the very danger he fears.” 216

“…immobility and inactivity are the normal state of armies in war, and action is the exception. “ 217

The “three determinants that function as inherent counterweights” to continuous war are

1. “Fear and indecision native to the human mind” – “aversion to danger and responsibility”

2. “Imperfection of human perception and judgment, which is more pronounced in war than anywhere else.”

3. “The greater strength of the defensive”

“Thus, in the midst of the conflict itself, concern, prejudice, and fear of excessive risks find reason to assert themselves and to tame the elemental fury of war” 217-218

“War is often nothing more than armed neutrality, a threatening attitude meant to support negotiations, a mile attempt to gain some small advantage before sitting back and letting matters take their course, or a disagreeable obligation imposed by an alliance, to be discharged with as little effort as possible” 218 Sounds like the Taiwan Relations Act to me…

“The more these factors turn war into something half-hearted, the less solid are the bases that are available to theory: essentials become rarer, and accidents multiply.” 218

“Woe to the government, which, relying on half-hearted politics and a shackled military policy, meets a foe who, like the untamed elements, knows no law other than his own power!” Weinburger Doctrine, anyone?

“All of these reasons explain why action in war is not continuous but spasmodic. Violent clashes are interrupted by periods of observation, during which both sides are on the defensive. But usually one side is more strongly motivated, which tends to affect its behavior: the offensive element will dominate, and usually maintain it continuity of action.” This describes the war in Vietnam, in which a highly motivated nationalistic population (the North) eventually took down a population that had little internal motivation (beyond security) to support its own mostly corrupt government (warning – vast oversimplification on my part, but true enough to leave in here).

The Character of Contemporary Warfare

“The stubborn resistance of the Spaniards, marred as it was by the weakness and inadequacy of the particulars, showed what can be accomplished by arming a people and by insurrection.” 220

“ …the prospect of eventual success does not always decrease in proportion to lost battles, captured capitals, and occupied provinces, which is something diplomats used to regard as dogma, and made them ready to conclude a peace however bad. ” 220

It’s getting old pointing out how many of these observations were demonstrated in our recent experiences in Afghanistan and Iraq…but I can’t stop.

“Obviously, wars waged by both sides to the full extent of their national strength must be conducted on different principles from wars in which policy was based on the size of regular armies…all of these cases have shown what an enormous contribution the heart and temper of a nation can make to the sum total of its politics, war potential, and fighting strength.” 220 Something the Japanese underestimated in Dec of‘41

Tension and Rest

“When fighting is interrupted…a state of rest and equilibrium results…as soon as one side adopts a new and positive aim and begins to pursue it however tentatively, as soon as the opponent resists tension of forces builds up. This tension lasts until the immediate issue has been decided: either one side renounces its goal, or the other side concedes it. This decision, which is always derived from the results of the combination of actions that are developed on both sides, is followed by movement in one direction or the other. When this movement is has been exhausted, either through the difficulties it has met, such as the frictions that are inherent in any action, or through new opposing forces, inactivity returns, or a new cycle of tension and decision begins, followed by further movement – usually in the opposite direction… A state of rest and equilibrium can accommodate a good deal of activity: that is to say, the kind of activity arising from incidental causes, and not designed to lead to major changes.” 221 There’s our relationship with North Korea in a nutshell (Help! Help! I’m stuck in a nutshell! – insert fake British accent here). Let’s hope it never goes so far as to illustrate his point described by the “explosion in a carefully sealed mine” metaphor…

The most significant lesson drawn from these observations is that any move made in a state of tension will be more important, and will have more results, than it would have if made in a state of equilibrium. In times of maximum tension this importance will rise to an infinite degree 222 Kind of like routine missile tests and U-2 overflights of the USSR…during the Cuban Missile Crisis, that is. Also applies to assassinating Austro-Hungarian dukes named after Alt Rock bands.

Book VI - Defense

What is the concept of defense? The parrying of a blow. What is its characteristic feature? Awaiting the blow. It is this feature that turns any action into a defensive one. 357

The distinguishing feature of defense is that the enemy has the initiative at first…

But if we are really waging war, we must return the enemy’s blows; and these offensive acts in a defensive war come under the heading of “defense” …Thus, a defensive campaign can be fought with offensive battles, and in a defensive battle, we can employ our divisions offensively.

But this does not mean that you have to wait for the enemy to land the first blow to still react defensively. Once the enemy commits himself, he becomes somewhat predictable , which can be exploited by the defender

What is the object of defense? Preservation. It is easier to hold ground than take it…Any omission of attack – whether from bad judgment, fear, or indolence-accrues to the defenders’ benefit. 357

We have already indicated in general terms that defense is easier than attack. But defense has a passive purpose: preservation; and attack a positive one: conquest. The latter increases one’s own capacity to wage war; the former does not. So in order to state the relationship precisely, we must say that the defensive form of warfare is intrinsically stronger than the offensive. 358 This assumes that the forces on both sides are comparatively equal in quality and quantity.

If defense is the stronger form of war, yet has a negative object, it follows that it should be used only so long as weakness compels, and be abandoned as soon as we are strong enough to pursue a positive object. 358 This is exactly what current US Army doctrine states – we go on the defensive in order to prepare to resume the offensive. Clausewitz believes that military engagements should lead to decision – “A major victory can only be obtained by positive measures aimed at a decision, never simply waiting on events. 616”. Thus, while you can remain strong in the short term in defense, in the long run, it is counterproductive to the final outcome to remain there indefinitely - this was the problem Pericles had, using few offensive attacks to hurt the Spartans, they never had an incentive to stop pillaging Attica every season. Even in Vietnam, where some will argue that the North Vietnamese won by delaying the outcome, their offensive actions during Tet and the conventional invastion of S Vietnam were key to the ultimate decision in their favor.

The Relationship between Attack and Defense in Tactics

Only three things seem to produce decisive advantages (in attack and defense): surprise, the benefit of terrain, and concentric attack. 360 He later calls these the “three elements of victory”

Surprise becomes effective when we suddenly face the enemy at one point with far more troops than he expected. This type of numerical superiority is quite distinct from numerical superiority in general: it is the most powerful medium in the art of war. 360 This goes back to the “local superiority” discussion from yesterday – it’s more important to have local numerical superiority at the right place in time than to have a numerical superiority overall.

What is the relationship between the attack and defense on these matters? Bearing in mind the three elements of victory already described, the answer must be this: the attacker is favored by only a small part of the first and third factors (surprise and concentric attack) while their larger part, and the second factor exclusively (advantages of terrain), are available to the defender. Not so on that last point anymore with the introduction of airpower, I’d argue. But Clausewitz is making the case that since the defender can also take advantage of the same things the attacker can with a counterattack or preemptive strike, and also has advantages of terrain, the defense is inherently stronger than the offense.

The Relationship between Attack and Defense in Strategy

As we have said before, in strategy there is no such thing as victory... The rest of strategic success lies in the exploitation of the victory won. 363

The main factors responsible for bringing about or facilitating such a success – thus the main factors in strategic effectiveness – are the following:

1. The advantage of terrain

2. Surprise – either by actual assault or deploying unexpected strength at certain points (like the French fleet suddenly showing up off Yorktown)

3. Concentric attack (all three as in tactics)

4. Strengthening the theater of operations, by fortresses, with all they involve

5. Popular support

6. The exploitation of moral factors 363

In strategy as well as tactics, the defense enjoys the advantage of terrain, while the attack has the advantage of initiative. Tactical initiative can rarely be expanded into a major victory, but a strategic one has often brought the whole war to and end at a stroke. On the other hand, the use of this device assumes major, decisive , and exceptional mistakes on the enemy’s part. Consequently it will not do much to tip the scales in favor of attack. 363 Clausewitz acknowledges the possibility of a successful strategic attack being a war winner, but sees it as extremely unlikely unless the enemy has left himself particularly vulnerable. Had the Japanese gone after the Pacific Fleets fuel storage on Dec 7, 1941, we might have a historical example to illustrate such a successful strategic attack being successful, at least for a time.

Because of the greater areas involved in strategy, envelopment or concentric attack will of course only be possible for the side which takes the initative – in other words, the attacker. 364

The fourth element, the advantages of theater operations, naturally benefits the defender 365 (with prepared fortifications, interior lines of communication and depots)

The offensive is not composed of active elements alone, and more than the defense is made solely up of passive elements. Indeed, any attack that does not immediately lead to peace must end on the defensive 365 Here comes culmination…

Convergence of Attack and Divergence of Defense

Generally, this section says that in tactics there is much more flexibility for maneuver, including producing crossfires, convergent attack, and cutting off retreats because of the larger areas involved, but “the advantage of interior lines increases with the distances to which they relate” , and that there are more possibilities for concealment of movement in the strategic sense when forces are out of view of one another 369

The Character of Strategic Defense

Even when the only point of the war is to maintain the status quo, the fact remains that merely parrying a blow goes against the essential nature of war, which certainly does not consist merely in enduring….While he is enjoying the advantage (secured by a successful defense), he must strike back, or he will court destruction. 370

“…it is the weak, those likely to need defense, who should always be armed in order not to be overwhelmed. Thus decrees the art of war” 370.

Scope of the Means of Defense

Closer look at militias, fortresses, the people, the home guard, and allies.

We therefore argue that a state of balance tends to keep the existing order intact – always assuming that the original condition was one of calm, of equilibrium….Most states will certainly assume that the collective interest will always represent and assure their stability. It us thus also certain that in defending itself every individual state whose relations with the rest are not already strained will find that it has more friends than enemies . ..If it wer not for that common effort toward maintenance of the status quo, it would never have been possible for a number of civilized states to coexist peacefully over a period of time; they would have been bound to merge into a single state. 374 This sounds alot like Thomas Friedman’s argument that two countries with McDonalds are unlikely to go to war (although it did happen in 1999 with Serbia), because to have one you have to be stable and put on the “Golden Straightjacket” of conforming to international economic norms.

“..we believe that we have shown that as a rule the defender can count on outside assistance more than can the attacker; and the more his survival matters to the rest- that is, the sounder and more vigorous his political and military condition- the more certain he can be of help. 376

Interaction between attack and defense

It is the defender, who not only concentrates his forces but disposes them in readiness for action, who first commits an act that really fits the concept of war. 377 Don’t know if I buy this, unless he’s arguing that the act of the defensive is the first time when the “duel” has truly begun. It seems that by his argument that if we had never fired back at the Japanese attackers at Pearl Harbor, then the surprise attack wouldn’t have fit the “concept of war”, even though thousands of people had died and it had effectively changed the status quo. What am I missing here?

Types of resistance

Since defense in war cannot simply consist of passive endurance, waiting will not be absolute either, but only relative ..Defense is thus composed of two distinct parts, waiting and acting…But a defensive action- especially a large-scale one like a campaign or a war- will not, in terms of time, consist of two great phases, the first of which is pure waiting and the second pure action; it will alternate between these two conditions so that waiting may run like a continuous thread through the whole period of defense. 379

“…we must insist that retaliation is fundamental to all defense. Otherwise, no matter how much damage the first phase of reaction, if successful, may have done to the enemy, the proper balance would still be wanting in the restoration of the dynamic relationship between attack and defense. 380

In our discussion, we have always assumed decision to occur in the form of battle, but that is not necessarily so. We can think of any number of engagements by smaller forces that may lead to a change in fortune, either because they really end in bloodshed, or because the probabilities of their consequences necessitate the enemy’s retreat. 384

In light of these ideas, we think it is fair to say that two decisions, and therefore two kinds of reaction are possible on the defending side, depending on whether the attacker is to perish by the sword or by his own exertions (Napoleon’s Grande Armee got to do both as they retreated from Moscow) 384

The vast difference between savage repulse in a straightforward battle (Waterloo), and the effect of a strategic web that prevents things from getting far (Russia, Spain), will lead one to assume that a different force must be at work…386

“all strategic planning rests on tactical successes alone, and that, whether the solution is arrived at in battle or not- this is in all cases the fundamental basis for the decision. 386 (Possessing a demonstrateable capability, will, and intent to defeat your opponent’s military strategy is one of the lynchpins of deterrence)

The Defensive Battle

In the history of war major victories are less often the consequence of defensive battles than of offensive ones, but that does not prove that defensive battles are inherently less likely to be victorious: rather, the defender simply finds himself in markedly different circumstances. ..We maintain unequivocally that the form of warfare that we call defense not only offers greater probably of victory than attack, but that its victories can attain the same proportions and results. Moreover, this applies not only to the aggregate success of all the engagements that make up a campaign, but to each individual battle, provided that there is no lack of strength and determination 392 Look at US victory in AMREV to illustrate this one – most of our battles were losing ones, with a few notable and decisive exceptions. 392

Retreat to the Interior of the Country

We regard a voluntary withdrawl to the interior of the country as a special form of indirect resistance – a form that destroys the enemy not so much by the sword as by his own exertions …All attackers find their strength diminishes as they advance 469

The People in Arms

This is Clausewitz’ brief acknowledgement of the different character of insurgent warfare, along with his candid cop out “This discussion has been less an objective analysis than a groping for the truth. The reason is that this sort of warfard is not as yet very common; those who have been able to observe it for any length of time have not reported enough about it. We merely wish to add that strategic plans for defense can provide for general insurrection in one of two ways: either as a last resort after a defeat or as a natural auxiliary before a decisive battle.” 483

A government must never assume that its country’s fate, its whole existence, hangs on the outcome of a single battle, no matter how decisive. Even after a defeat, there is always a possibility that a turn of fortune can be brought about by developing new sources of external strength or through the natural decimation all offensives suffer in the long run or by means of help from abroad. ..No matter how small and weak a state may be in comparison with its enemy, it must not forgo these last efforts, or one would conclude that its soul is dead. 483 True in Prussia’s case after Napoleon, but not until after the King had willingly handed over the country to Napoleon. The Melians made this argument against Athens – didn’t work out so good for them.

Defense of a theater of operations

The scale of victory’s sphere depends, of course, on the scale of the victory, and that in turn depends on the size of the defeated force. For this reason, the blow from which the broadest and most favorable repercussions can be expected will be aimed against that area where the greatest concentration of enemy troops can be found ; the larger the force with which the force is struck, the surer its effect will be. 485

A center of gravity is always found where the mass is concentrated most densely. It presents the most effective target for a blow; furthermore, the heaviest blow is that struck by the center of gravity. 485 This implies that a COG is a source of strength against you as well as a target for you to strike against.

Our position then, is that a theater of war, be it large or small, and the forces stationed there, no matter what their size, represent the sort of unity in which a single center of gravity can be identified. This is the place where the decision should be reached; a victory at that point is in the fullest sense identical with the defense of the theater of operations. 487 This statement, after the previous statements about the need to keep forces relatively close to maintain the striking power of your own COG against that of the opponent, infers a relatively contiguous battlespace, like Clausewitz was familiar with in continental Napoleonic warfare. It doesn’t seem to make sense when you apply it to noncontiguous ops, like we saw in the Pacific Theater in WWII. Thus, many commentators today continue to simply to single centers of gravity when multiple ones may apply, or at least vie in importance beyond our ability to pick out the one that is most important – if such an “Achilles heel” even exists in complex adaptive systems that most agree best describe our current OEs. Sugar’s take – COG is more of a hindrance than a help, because it vastly oversimplifies almost infinitely complex physical and social systems, which need multiple models to provide useful context, not just one distillation of a COG at each level with associated CC/CR/CVs. It’s also inherently biased towards the physical domain, where the moral and cognitive domains may be more key (as they are in counterinsurgency and war termination after MCO).

Sorry, out of time to dissect Attack like this. Key points – Attack has the positive object, and is ultimately required - or at least must be credibly threatened - to force a decision. Attacks weaken as the progress, especially as they get further from organic sources of support, and must be planned with the aim of exploiting successes (the next objective should help determine the immediate one), and consolidation ones gains after achieving them by assuming the defensive either at the point of or before one reaches the “culmination point”. Diversions can be useful, but can do more harm than good if not sold well t the enemy or if they’re inadequately planned/executed.

Ad blocker interference detected!

Wikia is a free-to-use site that makes money from advertising. We have a modified experience for viewers using ad blockers

Wikia is not accessible if you’ve made further modifications. Remove the custom ad blocker rule(s) and the page will load as expected.