Carl von Clausewitz Reviewed

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This article was originally published in Volume 17, Number 2 of the Canadian Military Journal in spring 2017.

These four recent books on the Prussian General Carl von Clausewitz (1780-1831) attest yet again to this master theorist’s ongoing interest to practitioners and scholars in the fields of strategy, international relations, military theory, and civil-military relations. His masterpiece, On War, has been of enormous influence worldwide ever since its posthumous publication in the 1830s. There have been innumerable testimonials to its impact, but four will suffice here to make the point. According to Major-General JFC Fuller, Clausewitz rises to the level of a Galileo, a Euler, or a Newton. T.E. Lawrence (of Arabia) considered Clausewitz the intellectual master of all writers on the subject of war, and the British philosopher W.B. Gallie is of the view that On War was the first and to date, the only book of outstanding intellectual eminence on the subject of war. Finally, one of the leading strategic theorists still writing today, Colin Gray, has concluded that for as long as humankind engages in warfare, Clausewitz must rule.1

How Organization Theorists Help Explain Military Power

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This article was originally published by Political Violence @ a Glance on 21 February 2017.

With the inauguration of Donald Trump, the United States began the same kind of reevaluation of military priorities and strategies that accompany all transitions of power. Crucial in such appraisals is updating assessments of the military power – and therefore threat – posed by a variety of states around the world. My research suggests that a factor rarely considered in estimates of military power – armed forces’ command and control systems – needs to be front and center in the minds of analysts.

To understand why command and control systems, or command structures, are so important to estimates of military power, it is helpful to turn back the clock to a very old conflict. In the late summer of 1904, Japanese and Russian forces fought a major battle outside the Manchurian town of Liaoyang and, to the shock and surprise of both observers and combatants, the Japanese won. This occurred despite the fact that the Japanese fielded fewer men and weapons, attacked well-prepared defensive positions with unimaginative tactics, and enjoyed no clear advantage in soldier quality or skill. The Japanese won because they could better discern what was happening on the battlefield and, as a consequence, use their men and materiel more efficiently and effectively than could the Russians.

The Future of War in Space is Defensive: A Strong Offense isn’t Always the Right Answer

 Unknown Star Wars Character
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This article was originally published by War is Boring on 24 November 2016.

The best defense is a good offense — or is it? The answer to this question, along with an understanding of the stronger form of warfare, is the single most important consideration in U.S. space strategy and funding major space programs.

Satellites and other spacecraft have always been vulnerable targets for America’s adversaries. Today, attacking U.S. on-orbit capabilities offers the potential to cripple U.S. conventional power projection and impose significant costs, whether in dollars, lives or political capital.

Many strategists and policymakers have concluded that because space-based systems are seen as exposed to attack — with little way to defend them — that the offense is the stronger form of warfare in space. This conclusion is incorrect and has led to an underdeveloped U.S. space strategy.

Time-tested theory and principles of war underscore that the defense is the stronger form of warfare in space.

Hard Power and the “Irrational” Approach of Clausewitz and the Germans (Part 3/8)

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The tidy, war-can-be-domesticated rationalists we looked at yesterday inevitably provoked a reaction. That it coincided with the great Romantic Rebellion in early 19th century Europe was no accident. That the reaction was largely German was no accident either, as the formidable (and seminal) Prussian general, Gerhard von Scharnhorst, clearly illustrated.

Out went geometry, out went science, and out went firm rules. Prussia’s antidote to Napoleon first repudiated the neoclassical characterization of war as a comprehensible part of a clockwork universe. Instead, Scharnhorst believed war was a blind, demonic force. It was changeable, imponderable and immeasurable. It roiled with brutal and spiritual energy, and therefore involved a free play of opaque spiritual forces that defied rigid, one-sided tick boxes. And since no abstract formula could capture war’s sheer diversity, one could not delimit it in exclusively mathematical (i.e., mechanical) terms.

If that wasn’t enough, Scharnhorst then dismissed the history-has-continuities arguments of the rationalists. He thought that Machiavelli and his disciples were wrong – the history of war was not homogenous and the past did not necessarily repeat itself. Instead, each epoch of armed violence was unique. It involved, as Clausewitz would note, an interplay of “possibilities, probabilities, good luck and bad” that worked against historical cycles or patterns. Therefore, those who tried to foist personal or absolute templates on the past were doomed to defeat. (It was futile, Clausewitz argued in the late 1820s, for 19th century warriors to examine prior wars for hoary lessons learned. The similarities between past and present, he continued, did not extend beyond the War of the Austrian Succession [1740-1748]. Prior to that historical point, there were no fixed military dictums that one could identify, catalog, and adapt to the present or future, or so Scharnhorst’s disciple argued.)