Elements of Strategic Logic in War
All wars are simply a phenomenon in which military force is used to achieve specific political aims. 1 As the primary character of war is a duel, the path to the political aim materialises by affecting the opponent‟s will. There two distinct models of using military force: the first is the war model which aims to affect the opponent‟s political will to resist. In the second type, the public policy model, military means and operations aim to achieve destructive or pervasive intermediary conditions (concerning security, nation building and expertise) required by higher governmental policy. This study focuses on the first type.2
Clausewitz highlighted affecting the enemy‟s will in On War, stating “War is thus an act of force to compel our enemy to do our will.”3 However, the general ways and
conditioning elements of affecting the political will were insufficiently developed in
On War. They were mentioned in different contexts and under a variety of titles, but
Both Colin S. Gray, Modern Strategy (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999) pp.40-46 and Brian Bond, Pursuit
of Victory: from Napoleon to Saddam Hussein (New York: Oxford University Press, 1998) pp.178-179
discredited efficiently the flawed assumptions about the so-called ‘non-political’ wars.
2Emile Simpson, War from the Ground Up: Twenty First Century Combat as Politics (London: Hurst and
Company, 2013) p.1, differentiated between two forms of force utilisation, ‘the use of armed forces within a military domain that seeks to establish military conditions for political solution, a practice traditionally associated with the concept of war’ and the second, ‘the use of armed forces that directly seeks political as opposed to specifically military outcomes, which lies beyond the scope of war in its traditional paradigm’. He argued that many current conflicts and peace operations would lie in the second. This differentiation was not accurate as military force was used historically for both military and direct political aims such as in the use of air power for example. Interestingly, Liddell Hart’s Strategy the Indirect Approach, called the second use of the military arm ‘grand strategic’ because it’s valuable in directing our focus to the political sensitivities of using military means. Moreover, it is not helpful in delineating the strategic logic. What is more helpful however, is categorizing the use of force depending on the military ‘duel’ of two opposing political wills, as this will differentiate between war and the use of the military in some modern operations.
3 Carl von Clausewitz, On War, Translated by Michael Howard and Peter Paret (Princeton: Princeton University
not clearly organized. The inherited methodological and linguistic difficulties in the book further jeopardize the conceptual clarity of understanding how strategy works. In general, strategic logic can be understood as “how” the military is used through its operational objectives and tactical efforts to achieve the desired change in the enemy‟s political will. This is “the strategic effect” that paves the way to achieve political aims in war.
The calculus of strategy is the means-ways-ends equation. Strategy uses military force, primarily in war, and other means in specific ways to achieve the policy ends.
Strategy as a Bridge and the Levels of War
The role of strategy, as a logic and institution, is to bridge the gap between policy and operations, and to keep a healthy link with feedback in both directions and refinement of plans. Strategy should make sure that military operations are directed to achieve a specific “strategic effect”, which is deemed necessary by policy, and not act to disrupt policy aims, exceed them or fall short of them.
Strategy should also make sure that policy provides the military with the resources needed, and that policy does not ask for wider objectives beyond the military‟s ability. As simple as this looks on paper, it is tremendously difficult in practice given the institutional tensions and cultural clashes between the military and the politicians in ideas, attitude and language. Hence, the role of strategist, and strategy, is a bridging power between two spheres with different norms and attitudes, a “currency converter” as it was described by Gray.4
Clausewitz used the word “strategy” in different contexts and in both strategic and operational senses.5 He says for example: “The strategist must therefore define an aim for the entire operational side of the war that will be in accordance with its purpose…” and he adds: “he will, in fact, shape the individual campaigns and
Colin Gray, The Strategy Bridge: The Strategy Bridge: Theory for Practice (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010), p.135.
within this decide on the individual engagements. Since most of these assumptions may not prove correct, while other more detailed orders cannot be determined in advance at all, it follows that the strategist must go to the campaign itself”6. Clausewitz devoted Book Three “On Strategy in General”, mostly to the art of generalship in the operational, and sometimes even in the tactical, sense. Hugh Smith stated that Clausewitz used the term in a sense similar to what we call today “operational strategy” or “operational art”, or how major military means are organised and manipulated to achieve the higher operational (military) objectives.7 This is clearly not the case, as Clausewitz spoke of strategy in the sense of using
military means, and victories to achieve political aims. He indicated the fusionist
character of levels of war which dictate the umbilical connection between policy and strategy, strategy and operations, and tactics.
As the operational level of war was still in its infancy at the time of Clausewitz, he assumes that upper operational manipulation lies in the hands of strategists, so he had to coin the term “pure strategy” in Book Eight to differentiate things strategic from what strategists were required to do in the technological and communicational atmosphere of the early nineteenth century. Also important is his emphasis on the real time management of engagements by being on the spot.
It is important that levels of war are conceived as a whole and in order, not replacing ends with means, and also as an institutional (and democratic) necessity to keep policy and military apart. However, over-levelling is harmful. Strategy is a bridge, and the bridge does not exist analogically if it is not linking two edges. For this reason, Clausewitz noticed that the highest level of strategy is merged into policy. “In short, at the highest level the art of war turns into policy, but a policy conducted by fighting battles rather than sending diplomatic notes”.8 And, based on that, the lowest level of strategy is merged into higher operational thinking and
6 Clausewitz, On War, p 177. 7
Smith, On Clausewitz; David Zabecki, The German 1918 Offensives: A Case Study in the Operational Level of
War (London: Routledge 2006) p.14.
practice. This “fusionist” approach in perceiving strategy was supported also by Alastair Finlan.9 Hence, the term “pure strategy” deals with the essence of strategic thinking and practice, exactly in the middle of the strategic rainbow but moving gradually to each edge.
Although Clausewitz did not forge a strict definition of what he meant by “pure strategy”, he stated that it deals with war as whole and would be discussed in the chapters of Book Eight on War Plans. In this book, nobody can misunderstand what Clausewitz conceives as the essence of strategic thinking: linking military campaigns to political aims. Clausewitz discussed the impact of political aims on military objectives, the will of the enemy and how it is assessed, two types of war depending on the scale and limits of the war objectives, and different strategic and operational patterns in each type.
Clausewitz was aware that his writings could evoke ambiguities and obscure the strategic lamp behind the fumes of operational and tactical issues. In his note of 1827, he stressed the importance of Book Eight, its role in organising the mind of the strategist, and the need for more development of his thinking.10
This not to deny that the most common usage of “strategy” in the nineteenth century was mainly operational, as was described by Vego.11 Clausewitz himself in his note of 1830 pointed to the lack of clarity in common usage of the word, “The theory of major operations (strategy, as it is called) presents extraordinary difficulties.”12
Another source of confusion is the distinction between grand and military strategy. Grand strategy as coined in British strategic literature has two components: the comprehensive and higher manipulation of military and non-military means to
9 Alaistair Finlan, Contemporary Military Strategy and the Global War on Terror: US & UK Armed Forces in
Afghanistan and Iraq 2001-2012 (London: Bloomsbury, 2014) pp. 7-8.
10 Clausewitz, Two Notes by the Author on His Plans for Revising on War edited by Michael Howard and Peter
Paret, Bernard Brodie and Rosalie West (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1984) pp. 69-72.
11 Milan N Vego, “Policy, Strategy and Operations”, in Handel et al, Strategic Logic and Political Rationality, p.
achieve the policy ends in a case of war, and long-term strategic planning of defence in war and peace.
Grand strategy in war, as was described by Hart, aims to supply the fighting machine with its human and material resources, and also to regulate, orchestrate and combine military and non-military means for the purpose of war.13
He also said: “The crux of grand strategy lies in policy, that is, in the capacity of the nation‟s leaders to bring together all of the elements, both military and non-military, for the preservation and enhancement of the nation‟s long-term (that is, in wartime and peacetime) best interests”.
Adding to the routine mixing between policy and grand strategy in the previous definition, Hart made this distinction between grand strategy and military strategy, “whereas strategy is only concerned with the problem of winning military victory, grand strategy must take the longer view – for its problem is the winning of the peace. Such an order of thought is not a matter of „putting the cart before the horse‟, but of being clear where the horse and cart are going”14.
Clearly, Hart considers the utility of military conduct in order to achieve the political aim as a grand strategic responsibility, so he criticized the term of “strategic air bombing” and offered a more “correct” term “grand strategic bombing” as it does not aim to attain a military victory on the battlefield but to modify the opponent‟s political will directly.
However, Hart keeps the means-ways-ends strategic calculus clear, and knows where the cart and the horse are going; it is not a problem in practice. Nevertheless, this requires the grand strategist to manipulate the detailed military strategies in order to direct and control their arrays towards the policy ends. The problem in this is incompatibility with the modern institutional parameters of civil-military relations and the usually weak military experience of political leaders. Hence, the military strategist in Hart‟s model should know exactly the political utility of its military
Liddell Hart, Strategy: The Indirect Approach (London: Penguin, 1991) pp.349-350.
means and objectives. He should know how his military objectives produce the aimed “strategic effect” to achieve the ends of policy, whether the objectives should be victory or not and on what scale, and that they should be under continuous review due to the unpredictable risks and chances of war. If we replace what Hart called “military strategy” with “operational strategy” or “operational art” this tension is resolved.
The last point was best described by Clausewitz in the statement:
Strategy is the use of engagement for the purpose of war. The strategist must therefore define an aim for the entire operational side of war what will be
in accordance with its purpose. He will draft the plan of the war, and the aim
will determine a series of actions intended to achieve it. He will, in fact: 1- Shape the individual campaigns and, within these,
2- Decide on the individual engagements. 15
Although the destruction of the enemy‟s army was considered many times by Calusewitz as the legitimate military objective in war, he also gave different variations: “They range from the destruction of the enemy‟s force, the conquest of his territory, to a temporary occupation or invasion, to projects with an immediate political purpose, and finally to passively waiting for enemies attacks. As any of these may be used to overcome the enemy‟s will, the choice depends on circumstances.”16
Military objectives, then, are not ends in themselves; they are just means in the hands of the strategists to produce specific strategic effects to facilitate the materialization of the political aims. This strategic effect is the enabler of the enemy‟s change of will.
The desired strategic effects are named by Clausewitz as the objectives of war. He says, “The object of war can vary just as much as its political purpose and its actual
Clausewitz, On War, p.177 (my numbering and emphasis).
The eternal malady in the world‟s militaries is mixing the levels of analysis; where strategy is replaced by operational thinking and the variety of military objectives is mummified in a single and rigid objective - the destruction of the enemy forces in the battlefield. The strategic outlook on the military conduct is mostly missed.
Instead, Clausewitz enumerated many war, or strategic, objectives which vary depending on the scope and nature of the political purpose which drives them. In a war with limited aims the strategic effect needed maybe to increase the cost for the enemy in order to affect his political will. Increasing the cost as an aim presents different military options in order to inflict general and expensive damage. Hence, the strategist manipulates military conduct to choose specific operations with military objectives which may be different from a straightforward tactical victory.
It is easy to imagine two alternatives: one operation is far more advantageous if the purpose is to defeat the enemy; the other is more profitable if that cannot be done. The first tends to be described as the more military, the second the more political alternative. From the highest point of view, however, one is as military as the other, and neither is appropriate unless it suits its particular condition.17
In his discussion of defensive wars with limited aims, Clausewitz differentiated between two defensive patterns. The first is strategically passive and aims at wearing down the enemy and waiting for a turning point, as was the position of Frederick the Great during the Seven Years War. The second, exemplified by the Russian strategy in the 1812 campaign, involves a positive aim which requires a counter-attack to chase the enemy forces after an opening defensive phase. Although this description is mainly operational, the implications of the two approaches to defence cannot be understood without the strategic outlook.18
17 Clausewitz, On War, p.93. 18
The Crux of Strategic Logic: Two Types of Wars
There is an organizing principle in defining the ways of strategy which is related to how and to what extent the enemy‟s political will needs to be changed. Two major patterns of war were described briefly by Clausewitz: war with unlimited/total aims19 and war with limited aims.
In the first, the enemy‟s will is destroyed and the military target is the total destruction of the enemy‟s capability to fight, this is ”annihilation of the enemy”. In explaining how this “will” might be crushed, Clausewitz stated that it required the destruction of the enemy‟s Centre of Gravity (COG). The term COG was coined by Clausewitz and is one of his great achievements. Alas, COG has been interpreted for generations, as Handel indicated, in purely mechanical and operational terms as simply the destruction of the enemy forces in the battlefields.20
Clausewitz, however, defines COG in wider terms as, “the hub of all power and movement, on which everything depends. That is the point against which all our energies should be directed”. Although the enemy‟s army is a COG as it is his main means of resistance, it is not the only one, or even the most important one in affecting the enemy‟s will in all cases. In his dialectic approach, Clausewitz describes the COG of “theoretical war” as annihilating the enemy‟s forces, but his comprehensive analysis has been continually misunderstood and over-simplified. A COG varies from one state to another or one actor to another depending on its character and circumstance. As Clausewitz said: “What the theorist has to say here is this: one must keep the dominant characteristics of both belligerents in mind. Out of
Clausewitz did not use the term of “war with total aims” but only described this type of war as “defeating the enemy” in contrast to “wars with limited aims” with its two subtypes offensive and defensive in Book Eight. If we choose to use “war with total aims”, this should be differentiated from the “total war” concept which was put to work in the two Worlds Wars where both means of war and the targets of military operations (military or civilians) were total.
these characteristics a certain centre of gravity develops.” Then he provided some examples of COG depending on the nature of the state:
For Alexander, Gustavus Adolphus, Charles XII, and Frederick the Great, the centre of gravity was their army. If the army had been destroyed, they would all have gone down in history as failures. In countries subject to domestic strife, the centre of gravity is generally the capital. In small countries that rely on large ones, it is usually the army of their protector. Among alliances, it lies in the community of interest, and in popular uprisings it is the personalities of the leaders and public opinions.21
This list is not prescriptive but descriptive. Choosing the appropriate COG, whether one or more, depends on the circumstances of the particular case. Although Michael Handel warned seriously against handling the concept of COG in a mechanical and simplistic way, he himself did so in considering the ordered preferences of COG for Clausewitz in contrast to the order of Sun Tzu.22
In the second pattern of war, the aim is to modify the enemy‟s will under pressure and the military targets are more diverse. Military targets are selected for their capacity to deliver an impact on the enemy to modify his will. This effect is a proportional feeling of insecurity and a perception on the part of the enemy that victory is unreachable.
There are indefinite ways to affect the opponent‟s will to give up his offensive aims (by defensive warfare) or to give some concessions (by offensive warfare), but all may catalyse the will change by affecting the enemy‟s calculations using one or