POLICY, POLITICS, WAR, and MILITARY STRATEGY
by Christopher Bassford
1. Lieutenant Colonel Charles H. Cureton, series "U.S. Marines in the Persian Gulf, 1990-1991," With the 1st Marine Division in Desert Shield and Desert Storm (Washington, DC: History and Museums Division, HQUSMC, 1993), pp. 44-46.
2. Carl von Clausewitz, On War, ed./trans. Michael Howard and Peter Paret (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1976), p.141.
3. Saddam Hussein is an exception that proves the rule.
4. This phrase appears in various forms in Clausewitz's On War. See especially p. 605. The translation used here differs from the Paret/Howard version in translating the German word Fortsetzung, literally "forth-setting," as "expression" rather than as "continuation." The latter term, while technically correct, seems to give readers the impression that the other aspects of politics somehow cease, which is contrary to Clausewitz's argument.
5. The intentional violence of war evokes powerful emotions that mere random death and destruction—even when committed by other humans—do not. For instance, the deaths of 57,000 Americans in Indochina over a 10-year period had sufficient emotional impact to throw American society into turmoil. This turmoil still lingers 30 years later. Similar numbers of traffic fatalities on an annual basis have no such effect. Sometimes we seek to capture that emotional power by misusing the word "war" to refer to competitions of a non-violent nature. Business competition, for example, however fierce, is not "economic warfare" unless it involves the actual violent destruction of lives and property. The Marxists sought in the same manner to equate market capitalism with militaristic imperialism. Various xenophobic and racist movements do similar things, equating the mere presence of foreigners or ethnic competitors with murder. All of these uses of the word are lies, but they often function as self-fulfilling prophecies.
6. Donald Kagan, On the Origins of War and the Preservation of Peace (New York: Doubleday, 1995), pp.15-74, illustrates the practical meaning of "security, honor, and self-interest" in the context in which this statement was made.
7. Thucydides, The History of the Peloponnesian War, trans. Rex Warner (Baltimore: Penguin, 1954), 1:76:2 (p.80).
8. Geoffrey Blainey (an economic historian), The Causes of Wars (New York: Free Press, 1973), p.246. Blainey's point is that, if both parties see the distribution of power in the same terms, neither side will demand concessions which it lacks the power to enforce. If, in contrast, one side believes it has sufficient power to back up its demands while the other believes it can successfully resist, the stage is set for war.
9. Eric Larrabee, Commander in Chief: Franklin Delano Roosevelt, His Lieutenants, and Their War (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1987), pp.40-95, provides a revealing discussion of the ambiguity of FDR's political and military motivations and actions. And yet, FDR was surely one of the most accomplished and successful political leaders this nation has ever had—in either peace or war.
10. The emotional level that triggers violence is extremely variable. In some societies, at some phases in their histories, violence may be an immediate, unhesitating response to personal or political provocations. The same society at other times may turn to violence, even in self-defense, only with extreme reluctance.
11. For example: "Politics and strategy are radically and fundamentally things apart. Strategy begins where politics end. All that soldiers ask is that once the policy is settled, strategy and command shall be regarded as being in a sphere apart from politics." Command and General Staff School, Principles of Strategy for an Independent Corps or Army in a Theater of Operations (Fort Leavenworth, KS: U.S. Army Command and General Staff School Press, 1936), p.19.
12. Once war begins, however, it is true that the warring entities often tend to take on many, if not all, of the attributes of states.
14. Another major contributing factor is that military professionals are often frustrated or even repulsed by the notion that their activities and sacrifices are mere instruments in the morally suspect process of politics. We have very often sought to escape from political complexities, finding comfort instead in an apolitical "science of war."
15. T.N. Dupuy, Understanding War: History and Theory of Combat (New York: Paragon House, 1987).
16. Much of the following discussion—indeed, much of the world view underlying this manual—derives from the scientific concepts of nonlinearity and "complexity." For the best overall introduction to complexity theory, see M. Mitchell Waldrop, Complexity: The Emerging Science at the Edge of Order and Chaos (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1992). For a clearer idea how this body of theory relates to classical military thought, see Alan D. Beyerchen, "Clausewitz, Nonlinearity, and the Unpredictability of War," International Security, Winter 1992/1993.
17. A tornado is not, in itself, a complex adaptive system (it is a "dissipative, non-equilibrium system"), but the termite hive is. This characteristic of complex systems is called "emergence." For various illustrations of nonlinear systems in the physical world, see "Interactive Illustrations of Chaotic Systems."
18. This is not to say that strategists must make fundamental adjustments in reaction to every minor change in the wind. The pursuit of survival and victory requires indomitable willpower and persistence. There is, however, a fine but crucial distinction between being persistent and merely being stubborn. Strategy requires the flexibility of a fine sword, not that of spaghetti.
19. Charles Tilly, "Reflections on the History of European State-Making," in Tilly, ed., The Formation of National States in Western Europe (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1975), p.42.
20. Lawrence H. Keeley, War Before Civilization (New York: Oxford University Press, 1996), p.33.
21. Keeley, War Before Civilization, Table 6.1, "Annual Warfare Death Rates," p. 195.
22. Bruce Porter (a political scientist), War and the Rise of the State: The Military Foundations of Modern Politics (New York: The Free Press, 1994), p.78.
23. Martin van Creveld, "The Fate of the State," Parameters, Spring 1996, pp.4-18.
24. "Operational Maneuver From the Sea: A Concept for the Projection of Naval Power Ashore," Marine Corps Gazette, June 1996, pp. A-1—6. As with most historical illustrations used to demonstrate a valid general point, this statement requires some caveats. For example, Spain's title to half the world was based on a decision by the Pope in 1493 to split lordship over the non-Christian world between Spain and Portugal. It required strenuous efforts and considerable time to turn this title into actual world preeminence, which Spain in fact achieved despite the fact that no other significant European power accepted its claim to such entitlement. Germany was disunited in 1850, but two German entities—Austria and Prussia—were among the great powers. The line about U.S. forces in 1935 is a bit misleading. American ground and air forces were indeed minuscule and of no account on the world stage. The U.S. Navy, however, was one of the most powerful naval forces on the planet, and had been for quite some time.
25. George Liska, quoted in Michael Sheehan, The Balance of Power: History and Theory (London: Routledge, 1996), p.2.
26. Clausewitz, On War, pp.566-573. Do not confuse this political idea with Clausewitz's closely related concept of the "culminating point of the offensive," which is primarily an operational and logistical concept.
27. America's invention of a "Revolution in Military Affairs," at a time when it effectively has no peer competitor, may reflect a strategy for avoiding this conundrum.
28. This argument probably originated with Arnold Toynbee. It was highly developed by world historian William H. McNeill. It appears in highly accessible form in Chapter 1, "The Rise of the Western World," of Paul Kennedy's The Rise and Fall of the Great Powers: Economic Change and Military Conflict from 1500 to 2000 (New York: Random House, 1987), pp.3-30.
29. We frequently see minor powers benefitting vastly from playing the role of balancer between two greater powers. This is particularly evident in parliamentary democracies, where small "swing" parties often exercise a disproportionate effect on policy. Small states are often able to do the same thing, making larger states compete for their alliance.
30. In the case of a power vacuum within an otherwise well-policed state, as for instance in some of America's inner cities, alternative power structures such as gangs, vigilante groups, and radicalized social movements may evolve.
31. The last phase of the Western intervention in Somalia falls into this category. The West's attempt to create an effective national Somali government failed when the costs exceeded the value of that goal—which was very low because the Somali power vacuum had no practical consequences for the Western powers.
32. Nor have they necessarily forgiven the United States' role in undermining their neo-colonialist ambitions in the period following World War II.
33. Just as socialist economies experience inflation when they print too much money, regardless of whether they believe in market theories.
34. Clausewitz, On War. The translation differs somewhat from that in the Howard/Paret translation for reasons of clarity and to accurately reflect the original German. It is based on comparisons among the first edition of Vom Kriege (1832), the 1873 translation by J.J. Graham (London: N. Trübner, 1873); the O.J. Matthijs Jolles translation (New York: Random House, 1943); the Howard/Paret 1984 edition (p.89); and on long-running consultations with Tony Echevarria, Alan D. Beyerchen, Jon Sumida, Gebhard Schweigler, and Andreas Herberg-Rothe. The elements of the trinity are enumerated here for the sake of clarity—there are no numbers in the original.
35. See Edward J. Villacres and Christopher Bassford, "Reclaiming the Clausewitzian Trinity," Parameters, Autumn 1995, pp.9-19. This article demonstrates the fundamental difference between Clausewitz's original concept of the "trinity" and the version popularized by U.S. Army thinker Harry Summers, Jr., in his influential book, On Strategy: A Critical Analysis of the Vietnam War (Novato, CA: Presidio Press, 1982). Summers interpreted the trinity as being "people, army, and government." This approach, while important and useful (and derived directly from an illustration Clausewitz provided), misses the larger point Clausewitz sought to make about the nature of the strategic environment.
36. A fundamental flaw in nuclear warfighting strategies was that they sought victory without offering any hope of meaningful survival.
37. This argument is well developed in Fritz Fischer's books on German war aims in World War I. See Fritz Fischer (who is himself German), Germany's Aims in the First World War (New York: W.W. Norton, 1967); War of Illusions (New York: W.W. Norton, 1973); World Power or Decline: The Controversy Over Germany's Aims in the First World War (New York: W.W. Norton, 1974).
38. "Democracy" takes many forms, however. Very different forms of the democratic spirit can be found expressed in the modern liberal democracies of the West, in the militaristic radicalism of the French Revolution, or in totalitarian movements like Fascism and Communism.
39. One of the most powerful slogans of the French Revolution was "Careers open to talent!" Under the kings, members of the French middle and lower classes could not hope for advancement to high military or political rank. Napoleon himself, a member of the minor nobility, most likely would not have advanced beyond the rank of major in the royal army. The revolution set free a remarkable pool of military talent: Some of Napoleon's best generals were former NCOs or industrial craftsmen. Frenchmen were now "citizens" rather than "subjects." As members of the state, feeling a personal interest in its fate, citizens were far more willing to provide financial support and to assume a personal role in advancing its fortunes. And the state, freed of a great many traditional constraints, felt free to use new forms of pressure to gain cooperation when it was not freely given.
40. Sun Tzu, The Art of War, trans. Samuel B. Griffith (New York: Oxford University Press, 1963), p. 109.
41. Sometimes, to secure a stable peace, a negotiated settlement with no advantage to either side offers the most advantageous course. However, that can hardly be called victory for anyone—save possibly the voices of reason.
42. Clausewitz, On War, p. 92.
43. Discussions in this manual of American Cold War strategies are heavily influenced by, though not identical to, the analysis of John Lewis Gaddis, Strategies of Containment (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1982).
44. This mechanism was called the "Concert of Europe."
45. In a true civil war, two or more sides are fighting for control of the same political entity. The American Civil War was a war of secession. We call it a civil war because the secession failed and the Union remained intact.
46. The doctrine of "overwhelming force" usually implies an annihilation strategy that overtly requires such an advantage.
47. Assessing the degree of military superiority is thus a judgment call, not a mere "bean-count" of the opposing forces.
48. Hitler often suggested, wrongly as it turned out, that the Western allies would make peace with Nazi Germany rather than destroy it completely, because they needed a strong Germany as a buffer against Bolshevik Russia.
49. There was a political price to be paid, however, in public cynicism over the soft treatment meted out to the enemy leaders, considered by most Americans to be criminals.
50. Clausewitz, On War, p.528.
51. Germany took the territory called Alsace-Lorraine after Prussia's victory, but this reflected a case of ends expanded by success, not a primary motive for the war.
52. Sun Tzu, p. 134.
53. This is essentially the position taken by the influential chief of the German general staff, Helmuth von Moltke (the elder).
54. This kind of process has been referred to by many writers as a "war of attrition," which is literally a synonym for erosion. But this is using the word attrition to describe a tactical process, rather than the strategic objective we describe with the terms erosion. If the military object is to leave the enemy actually helpless to resist the imposition of our political will, tactical attrition may be our method, but our strategic aim remains annihilation.
55. Iraq attempted a fait accompli in 1980, when it invaded Iran (then weakened by internal turmoil) and rapidly seized some disputed territories. To Iraq's surprise, the Iranians proved willing and able to pay an extremely high price to recover the lost land. In 1990, Iraq seized tiny Kuwait. Although the Iraqi strategy against Kuwait was clearly one of annihilation, the larger intent was to present the world with a fait accompli. Saddam Hussein clearly believed, as had Japan's leaders 49 years earlier, that the United States would be unable to muster the resolve to reverse his action.
56. "Center of gravity" is a concept from Clausewitz; "critical vulnerability" is a Marine Corps doctrinal concept that appeared first in FMFM 1: Warfighting (Washington, D.C.: Department of the Navy, 1989), pp. 35-36.
57. The term center of gravity found its way into our strategic vocabulary via Clausewitz's On War. Clausewitz used the term frequently and in a variety of meanings. He did not intend it to assume a narrow definition or to become part of military jargon. However, he did provide a very specific definition for it in the strategic context. See On War, pp. 595-597.
58. The current joint definition (from Joint Pub 3-0) of center of gravity is "those characteristics, capabilities, or locations from which a military force derives its freedom of action, physical strength, or will to fight." This is an operational-level definition, concerned exclusively with a military force. At the strategic level, we have to consider all aspects of a political entity at war. Consequently, in this manual, we follow Clausewitz's definition.
59. Williamson Murray, "Reflections on the Combined Bomber Offensive," Militärgeschichtliche Mitteillungen, vol.51 (1992), no.1, p. 93.
60. The dispersal of this effort across so wide a target spectrum weakened its effects, however, and its impact remains a matter of controversy.
61. Wars are often called "limited" because they are constricted to a certain geographic area, to certain kinds of weapons, to a certain level of bloodshed. These distinctions are not meaningless, but they reflect specific factors at work in a particular conflict rather than any fundamental strategic taxonomy.
62. Clausewitz, On War, p.598.
63. Even the weak leadership of France and Britain, who in 1938 were willing to sacrifice the independence of Czechoslovakia in return for "peace in our time," realized that the German conquest of other states endangered their own nations' positions. Morbidly afraid of war with Germany, they were nonetheless unwilling to see the balance of power shifted too far. For this reason, they declared war in 1939 in response to the German attack on Poland.
64. This idea is embodied in J.F.C. Fuller's concept of a "constant tactical factor." See Fuller, Armament and History (New York: Scribner's, 1945), p.20.
65. One particularly useful example comes from the field of "game theory." In the game called "Prisoners' Dilemma," it is virtually impossible for the players to achieve the optimum outcome in any single iteration of the game. Logic forces them, in fact, to the worst possible behavior and results. Over many iterations, however, in which players establish histories and reputations known to other players, various strategies have wildly different results. See Waldrop, Complexity, pp.262-266. An excellent introduction to strategic game theory is Thomas Schelling, The Strategy of Conflict (New York: Oxford University Press, 1960).
66. Air Force Colonel John Boyd pioneered the concept in his lecture, "The Patterns of Conflict."
67. There is a long tradition of military theory involving asymmetrical strategies. It appears in Chinese military theory, most prominently in Sun Tzu and in the works of Mao Zedong. A particularly clear discussion appears in Edward O'Dowd and Arthur Waldron, "Sun Tzu for Strategists," Comparative Strategy, v.10 (1991), pp. 25-36. British military thinker Basil Liddell Hart propounded asymmetry in his theory of the "indirect approach," most powerfully in his books, The British Way of War (London: Faber and Faber, 1932), The Ghost of Napoleon (London: Faber and Faber, 1933), and Strategy, revised ed. (New York: Praeger, 1954). See also his introduction to Samuel Griffith's translation of Sun Tzu.
68. Sun Tzu, p. 73.
69. John Foster Dulles, "The Evolution of Foreign Policy," Department of State Bulletin, January 25, 1954.
70. See, for example, Liddell Hart's enthusiastic discussion of airpower in "The Napoleonic Fallacy," Chapter VII of The Remaking of Modern Armies (London: J. Murray, 1927), pp. 88-112.
71. In practice the invasion and occupation of a nuclear-armed state has come to be considered impractical. This is a major reason that nuclear weapons are so attractive to militarily weak states.
72. The title of this section and some of its underlying themes are influenced by Professor Paul A. Rahe, "Justice, Necessity, and the Conduct of War in Thucydides," a paper written at the University of Tulsa.
73. Just War thinking can be interpreted and used in various ways. This section is very heavily influenced by the works of James Turner Johnson, Can Modern War Be Just? (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1984).
74. The precepts of Just War are entirely in line with such hard-nosed strategic concepts as the Weinberger Doctrine. See Johnson, "Just War Thinking and its Contemporary Application: The Moral Significance of the Weinberger Doctrine." The Weinberger criteria are: (1) The United States should not commit forces to combat overseas unless the particular engagement or occasion is deemed vital to our national interest or that of our allies. (2) If we decide it is necessary to put combat troops into a given situation, we should do so wholeheartedly, and with the clear intention of winning. (3) If we do decide to commit forces to combat overseas, we should have clearly defined political and military objectives. (4) The relationship between our objectives and the forces we have committed—their size, composition and disposition—must be continually reassessed and adjusted if necessary. (5) Before the U.S. commits combat forces abroad, there must be some reasonable assurance we will have the support of the American people and their elected representatives in Congress. (6) The commitment of U.S. forces to combat should be a last resort. From "The Uses of Military Power," Text of Remarks by Secretary of Defense Caspar W. Weinberger to the National Press Club, November 28, 1984.
75. This is actually a jus in bello issue.
76. See, for example, Lothar Burchardt, "The Impact of the War Economy on the Civilian Population During the First and Second World Wars," in Wilhelm Deist, ed., The German Military in the Age of Total War (Dover, New Hampshire: Berg Publishers Ltd, 1985).
77. Henry Kissinger, Diplomacy (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1994), pp. 27-28.
78. This is a fundamental argument of Samuel P. Huntington's classic book on military professionalism, The Soldier and the State: The Theory and Politics of Civil-Military Relations (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1957).
79. Alfred Thayer Mahan, The Influence of Seapower upon History, 1660-1783 (Boston: Little, Brown, and Company, 1898 [originally 1890]). Mahan's book is primarily a history. His theoretical conclusions appear on pp. 25-89. As with most theorists, Mahan's warnings against simplistic interpretations were lost on many of his readers.
80. April 14, 1950, Foreign Relations of the United States, 1950, vol.I. The concept of containment was originally put forward by U.S. diplomat George F. Kennan in his famous "long telegram" from Moscow in February 1946. It became well known through his article, "The Sources of Soviet Conduct," attributed to an anonymous "Mr. X" in Foreign Affairs, July 1947. Kennan came to feel, however, that his concept had been misunderstood and misapplied, with too much emphasis on the military instrument of power.
81. Graham Allison, Essence of Decision: Explaining the Cuban Missile Crisis (Boston: Little, Brown, 1971), provides a classic attack on the idea that states and bureaucracies act rationally.
82. This is a further demonstration that politics and war are driven, not by a purely rational "continuation of policy," but by the interplay of such rationality with emotions and chance. The "CNN factor" is hardly new, however. Western intervention in the Greek War of Independence (1821-32) was sparked to no small degree by the impassioned reports of journalists like Lord Byron.
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