Saturday, May 26, 2012


INTRODUCTORY COMMENT: As a B-52 Electronic Warfare Officer in the former Strategic Air Command, U. S. Air Force, I remember the first time I saw a nuclear bomb: A B28FI with a 1.1 Mt warhead. (Nuclear Weapons Databook, Vo1. 1: U.S. Nuclear Forces and Capabilities. Ballinger, 1984, p. 42). My first thoughts were “This is it? This is all there is to it?” I can say without doubt that this remains the most anti-climatic experience I’ve had as an individual. Yet even then I knew that the “wimpy” visual belied a truly awesome and frightening possibility: If ordered by national command authorities, we would fly and drop this thing; which would destroy the assigned target…

As I developed professionally, the answer to those questions grew ever more complex and meanings more shaded. But its basis remains: What is war? What is the meaning of war in the nuclear age? The answer begins with Carl von Clausewitz, On War.  Ed. and Trans. by Michael Howard and Peter Paret.  Princeton University Press, 1976.

On War by Carl von Clausewitz

It’s important to note that only Book One of “On War” is the only book that Clausewitz considered as complete. Peter Paret considers Books Three (On Strategy in General) and Eight (On War Plans) as the most beneficial and integrated with respect to Book One.


Chapter One: What is War?

Definition. War is nothing but a duel on a larger scale. Countless duels go to make up war, but a picture of it as a whole can be formed by imagining a pair of wrestlers. Each tries through physical force to compel the other to do his will; his immediate aim is to throw his opponent in order to make him incapable of further resistance.

War is thus an act of force to compel our enemy to do our will.[italics in original] (On War, Book One, Chapter One, § 2, p. 75)

COMMENT:  Clausewitz does not believe in international law and custom as a means to limit war:

Attached to force as certain self-imposed, imperceptible limitations hardly worth mentioning, known as international law and custom, but they scarcely weaken it. Force—that is physical force, for moral force has no existence save as expressed in the state and the law—is thus the means of war; to impose our will on the enemy is its object. To secure that object we must render the enemy powerless; and that, in theory, is the true aim of warfare. That aim takes the place of the object, discarding it as something not actually part of war itself. (Book One, Chapter One, § 2, p. 75)

The Maximum Use of Force. COMMENT:  Interesting comment particularly apropos to those who dismiss Clausewitz in favor of the (apparent) bloodless wars advocated by Sun Tzu as the epitome of military art.

Kind-hearted people might of course there was some ingenious way to disarm of defeat and enemy without too much bloodshed, and might imagine this is the true goal of the art of war.    Pleasant as it sounds, it is a fallacy that must be exposed:  war is such a dangerous business that the mistakes which come from kindness are the very worst.  (Book One, Chapter One, § 3, p. 75)
Extremes.  COMMENT:  Clausewitz’ concept of each side driving the other to extremes.  From the 20th century forward, the development of nuclear weapons thus their possible and/or probable use,  forces us to grapple with the theoretical concept of extremes.
If one side uses force without compunction, undeterred by bloodshed it involves, while the other side refrains, the first will gain the upper hand.  That side will force the other to follow suit; each will drive its opponent toward extremes, and the only limiting factors are the counterpoises inherent in war.  (Book One, Chapter One, § 3, pp. 75-76)
Incompatibility of Moderation in Theory of War.   COMMENT:  Clausewitz does not contend that moderation does not exist in war.  These are the forces that give rise to the war, and likewise “circumscribe and moderate it.”  Rather he says that these forces cannot be part of the theory of war—because these forces exist before the fighting starts.
If wars between civilized nations are far less cruel and destructive than wars between savages, the reason lies in the social conditions of the states themselves and in their relationships to one another. … To introduce the principle of moderation into the theory of war itself would always lead to logical absurdity. (Book One, Chapter One, § 3, p. 76)

COMMENT:   Given the horrific destructive global wars of the 20th century, one can surely debate the culturally-affected opening sentence of the paragraph above. However, it is clear of what Clausewitz is referring to—social conditions affect the methods of war. What he did not predict is the effect of technology on wars as a destroyer of worlds.

Two different motives make men fight one another: hostile feelings and hostile intentions. Our definition is based on the latter, since it is the universal element. … Savage peoples are ruled by passion, civilized peoples by the mind. The difference, however, lies not in the respective natures of savagery and civilization, but in their attendant circumstances, institutions, and so forth … Even the most civilized of peoples, in short, can be fired with passionate hatred for each other. (Book One, Chapter One, § 3, p. 76)

COMMENT:  The Nazi experience speaks for itself on this point.

Consequently, it would be an obvious fallacy to imagine war between civilized peoples as resulting merely from a rational act on the part of their governments and to conceive of war as gradually ridding itself of passion, so that in the end one would never really need to use the physical impact of the fighting forces—comparative figures of their strength would be enough. That would be a kind of war by algebra. (Book One, Chapter One, § 3, p. 76)

Theorists were already beginning to think along such lines when the recent wars taught them a lesson. If war is an act of force, the emotions cannot fail to be involved. War may not spring from them, but they will still affect it to some degree, and the extent to which they do so will depend not on the level of civilization but on how important the conflicting interests are an on how long their conflicts lasts. (Book One, Chapter One, § 3, p. 76)

First Case of Interaction and First Extreme.

The invention of gunpowder and the constant improvement of firearms are enough in themselves to show that the advance of civilization has done nothing practical to alter or deflect the impulse to destroy the enemy, which is central to the very idea of war.

The thesis, then, must be repeated: war is an act of force, and there is no logical limit to the application of that force. Each side, therefore, compels an opponent to follow suit; a reciprocal action is started which must lead, in theory, to extremes. This is the first case of interaction and the first “extreme” [italics in original] we meet with. (Book One, Chapter One, § 3, pp. 76-77)

Aim is to Disarm the Enemy: Second Case of Interaction and Second Extreme.

The worst of all conditions in which a belligerent can find himself is to be utterly defenseless. Consequently, if you are to force the enemy, by making war on him, to do your bidding, you must either make him literally defenseless or at least put him in a position that makes this danger probable. If follows, then, that to overcome the enemy, or disarm him … must always be the aim of warfare. (Book One, Chapter One, § 4, pp. 77)

War [says Clausewitz is not between a living force and a lifeless mass – total non resistance is not war] but always the collision of two living forces.  The ultimate aim of waging war, as formulated here, must be taken as applying to both sides.  Once again, there is interaction.  So long as I have not overthrown my opponent I am bound to fear he may overthrow me.  Thus 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.”  (Italics in original)  (Book One, Chapter One, § 4,  pp. 77).

Maximum Exertion of Strength. Third Extreme.

If you want to overcome your enemy you must match your effort against his power of resistance, which can be expressed as the product of two inseparable factors, viz. the total means at his disposal and the strength of his will … Assuming you arrive in this way at a reasonably accurate estimate of the enemy’s power of resistance, you can adjust your own efforts accordingly; that is, you can either increase them until they surpass the enemy’s or, if this is beyond your means, you can make your efforts as great as possible. But the enemy will do the same; competition will again result and, in pure theory, it must again force you both to extremes. This is the third case of interaction and the third “extreme.” (Italics in original) (Book One, Chapter One, § 5, p. 77).

COMMENT:   The idea of total war approaches Clausewitz’s concept of extremes in war.  As the entry for “total war [sic]”in the Oxford Companion to Military History states:  “total war is one in which the whole population and all the resources of the combatants are committed to complete victory and thus become legitimate military targets.” (The Oxford Companion to Military History.  Richard Holmes, ed. (Oxford University Press, 2001), p. 915.)
Next Entry to Follow:   Modifications in Practice [from abstract extremes].

Monday, May 21, 2012

Aims and Lessons of War

The Aim of War is to Achieve Political Objectives

Marshal of the Soviet Union Boris Shaposhnikov captured the essence of war in military-political terms:

"[A] war must begin with the defeat of the strongest and most dangerous enemy, and it must not be diverted by successes over a weak one by leaving the stronger to hang over one’s neck... It must be not forgotten that for the resolution of a war, it is important to have not only military successes, but also obtain political success, that is, win a victory over a politically important enemy ... Otherwise, only after an extended period accompanied even by military successes, will we be forced to return to the same fight against the main enemy against which we initially were only on the defensive."  (David M. Glantz, The Military Strategy of the Soviet Union:  A History, (Portland, OR:  Frank Cass, 1992), p. 42.)

Lessons of the Cold War

George Kennan in discussing American foreign policy and democracy notes that we made two big boo-boos dugint the cold war. (1) to attribute to the “Soviet leadership aims and intentions it did not really have; in jumping to conclusion that the Soviet leaders were just like Hitler and his associates…” with the same aspirations, timetable, and who could only be dealt with in the same manner as Hitler was. (2) The second postwar mistake was to embrace the nuclear weapon “the mainstay of our military posture, and the faith we placed in it to assure our military and political ascendancy in this postwar era.”  (George F. Kennan,  At a Century’s Ending.  Reflections 1982-1995 (New York:  W. W. Norton & Company, Inc., 1996), p. 130.)

It is from these two great mistakes that there has flowed, as I see it, the extreme militarization not only of our thought but of our lives that has become the mark of this postwar age. And this is a militarization that has had profound effects not just on our foreign policies but also on our own society… And this habit—the habit of pouring so great a part of our gross national product year after year into sterile and socially negative forms of production—has now risen to the status of what I have ventured to call a genuine national addiction. We could not now break ourselves of the habit without the serious of withdrawal symptoms. Millions of people, is addition to those other millions who are in uniform, have become accustomed to deriving their livelihood from the military-industrial complex. Thousands of firms have become dependent on it, not to mention labor unions and communities. It is the main source of our highly destabilizing budgetary deficit. An elaborate and most unhealthy bond has been created between those who manufacture and sell the armaments and those in Washington who buy them. We have created immense vested interests in the maintenance of a huge armed establishment in time of peace and in the export of great quantities of arms to other peoples—great vested interests, in other words, in the Cold War. We have made ourselves dependent on this invidious national practice; so much so that it may fairly be said that if we did not have the Russians and their alleged iniquities to serve as a rationalization for it, we would have to invent some adversary to take their place—which would be hard to do. [My highlight]

Kennan notes that the problem is made worse by the unnecessary wastefulness of it all, the lack of coherent relationship between the way Congress figures out civilian and military costs.

It sometimes seems to me that those of us not involved in this great military-industrial enterprise are in danger of becoming, in the figurative sense, a nation of camp followers, like the pathetic civilian stragglers who trailed along behind the European armies of earlier centuries in the hopes of picking up remnants from the relative abundance of the military resources of food and clothing which the armies disposed.

And because of these requirements we need to keep demonizing our opponent and giving him qualities which make them 10 feet tall in order to justify the military-industrial requirements which become self-generating.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Some Thoughts on Future War

North Korea clearly has chosen to pursue nuclear-based security to prevent itself from being coerced politically and militarily by the United States, and gain political respect and legitimacy as a regional power. The nuclear option is insurance against defeat and/or humiliation at the hands of the United States, South Korea, or anyone else. It is worth pondering that as the force structure and technological capabilities that the United States displayed in recent wars are beyond the capacity of any nation in the foreseeable future, the only recourse available to a developing power is the cheaper and more accessible nuclear/ballistic missile option.

Paradoxically, America's search for a conventional combat capability in order to preclude nuclear war has proven so successful, that others seek to counter this capability through nuclear forces. Iraq could have drastically altered the outcome of the war, politically in particular, had they used SCUD attacks earlier and with more powerful warheads. Iraq's missile force structure was both logical and affordable; its poor execution and lack of punch is what rendered it ineffective. We cannot use this lack of combat effectiveness as a planning factor, for other nations may prove better capable of effective employment.

For example, during the Falklands War, Argentina successfully used their very limited number of Exocet missiles to cause considerable damage to the British Nave. Despite recent failures, North Korea's missiles are bound to perform better after failures are studied and corrected. Massive strikes, properly timed and combining alternate conventional, chemical, and/or nuclear warheads can create widespread damage, both in military terms and more importantly in political terms which will dictate the war's tempo and determine what outcome will follow. Strategically, a nation equipped with a missile force which is facing a far better armed and more capable opponent will seek to retain a retaliatory capability, with a secure reserve force which will guarantee unacceptable pain, or cause sufficient doubt as to intentions and capabilities upon the enemy, thus allowing for the maximum room for political maneuver. Our future adversaries will combine mobile missiles for offensive operations, dispersing them in depth, using active deception measures for protection and ensuring its operational capacity. This is the face of future war.

A key doctrinal question that we must answer in future war is what will air superiority do for us against an opponent who combines a nuclear missile force with moderate war aims? Another question we must address is how will we be able to deal with a strategic fait-accompli, such as the Iraqi occupation of Kuwait, before being able to deploy our assets? We must focus on building missile targeting and guidance capabilities, and defenses against missiles rather than stressing the role which airpower played in the Gulf and in Iraq/Afghanistan. In this area space forces can be most useful, providing real-time target updates, reconnaissance, and course correction/guidance to anti-ballistic missiles or offensive weapons.

Warfare is Darwinistic by nature; survival of the fittest is what it is all about. In future war, an opponent may alternately seek to withstand initial blows through dispersion of forces/maskirovka, and selectively attack high value targets with weapons of mass destruction or launch early preemptive attacks against our base/staging areas. On the other hand, it may engage in more subtle operations designed to wear us down politically as was done in Vietnam. In many respects, Maoist protracted guerrilla war strategy is most apropos for this type of future warfare by deception, using missile forces for political effects through military coercion: the enemy attacks, we retreat; the enemy encamps, we harass; the enemy tires, we attack; the enemy flees, we pursue. What will superior technology/air superiority do for us?

Victory in war does not guarantee future success. Airpower has matured and we can take pride in its merits, but these merits cannot blind us to its limitations vis a vis the changing complexion of war. As our defense budget decreases along with our military-industrial capabilities, is an air campaign the answer to future warfare against a nuclear missile armed adversary? We must address these issues now; tomorrow they will be upon us.