Modifications in Practice [from abstract extremes].
COMMENT: Clausewitz acknowledges that extremes are logical results of theoretical terms, which themselves are useless in actual action. In this regard, nuclear threats imply new global perception of threat (the end of sovereignty and neutrality). Forces are geared to air defense with expanded view of defense to a much wider area. Martin van Creveld "Eternal Clausewitz" in Clausewitz and Modern Strategy, ed. by Michael I. Handel, (London: Frank Cass, 1986), pp. 42-43). Thermonuclear threats imply greater destruction and numbers of weapons. Options more limited. Nuclear war moved from Clausewitz’ definition of absolute war from a Platonic ideal to a physical possibility, i.e., war consisting of single short but massive blow. (David Jablonski, Why Strategy is Difficult)
Without limitations on new technology, Clausewitz’ connection between military strategy at the apex of a vertical continuum; and policy represented by sum total of national strategy on a horizontal plane is broken. Thus victory in total war becomes meaningless. For example, with respect to nuclear weapons, “a people saved by us through our free use of nuclear weapons over their territories would probably be the last that would ever ask us to help them.” (Bernard Brodie, “More About Limited War,” World Politics 10, no. 1 (October 1957), 117).
Thus in the field of abstract thought although the inquiring mind can never rest until it reaches the extreme, for here it is dealing with an extreme; a clash of forcers freely operating and obedient to no law but their own. (Book One, Chapter One, § 6, p. 78).
Clausewitz recognizes that when one moves from the abstract world to the real world things look different.
In the abstract world, optimism was all-powerful and forced us to assume that both parties to the conflict not only sought perfection but attained it. Would this ever be the case in practice? Yes, it would if: (a) was were wholly an isolated act, occurring suddenly and not produced by previous events in the political world; (b) it consisted of a single decisive act or a set of simultaneous ones; (c) the decision achieved was complete and perfect in itself, influenced by any previous estimate of the political situation it would bring about.
Modifying Condition 1: War is Never and Isolated Act
Of the conditions described in (a) to (c) above, first, the power of resistance of neither opponent is an entire unknown, not even the power of will.
The will [of each opponent] is not a wholly unknown factor [to the other opponent]; we can base a forecast of its state tomorrow on what it is today. War never breaks out wholly unexpectedly, nor can it spread instantaneously… Man and his affairs, however, are always something short of perfect and will never quite achieve the absolute best. Such shortcomings affect both sides and therefore constitute a moderating force. (Book One, Chapter One, § 7, p. 78).
Modifying Condition 2: War Does Not Consist of a Single Short Blow
But if the decision in war consists of several successive acts, then each of them, seen in context, will provide a gauge for those that follow. Here again, the abstract world is ousted by the real one and the trend to the extreme is thereby moderated. (Book One, Chapter One, § 9, p. 79).
[A]s soon as preparations for a war begin, the world of reality takes over from the world of abstract thought; material calculations take the place of hypothetical extremes and, if for no other reason, the interaction of the tow sided tends to fall short of maximum effort. Their full resources will therefore not be mobilized immediately. (Book One, Chapter One, § 9, p. 79).
By resources in question, Clausewitz is referring to “the fighting forces proper, the country with its physical features and population, and its allies.” [italics in original] (id.)
the very nature of war impedes the simultaneous concentration of all forces… Anything omitted out of weakness by one side becomes a real, objective reason for the other to reduce its efforts, and the tendency towards extremes is once again reduced by this interaction. (Book One, Chapter One, § 8, p. 80).
Modifying Condition 3: In War the Result is Never Final
Lastly, even the ultimate outcome of a war is not always to be regarded as final. 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. It is obvious how this, too, can slacken tension and reduce the vigor of the effort. (Book One, Chapter One, § 9, p. 80).
Warfare thus eludes the strict theoretical requirement that extremes of force be applied. Once the extreme is no longer feared or aimed at, it becomes a matter of judgment what degree of effort should be made; and this can only be based on the phenomena of the real world and the laws of probability. (Book One, Chapter One, § 10, p. 80).
Naturally probabilities are based on assessments of the enemy’s character, from his institutions, the state of affairs of each side relative the other—war is interactive. What applies to one side applies to the other in correlative fashion. (Book One, Chapter One, § 10, p. 80).
Political Object Now Comes to the Fore Again
The law of extremes, the will to overcome the enemy and make him powerless overshadows the political object of war.
But as this law begins to lose its force and as this determination wanes, the political aim will reassert itself. If it is all a calculation of probabilities based on given individuals and conditions, the political object, which was the original motive, must become an essential factor in the equation. The smaller the penalty you demand from your opponent, the less you can expect him to try and deny it to you; the smaller the effort he makes, the less you need to make yourself. Moreover, the more modest your own political aim, the less importance you attach to it and the less reluctantly you will abandon it if you must. This is another reason why your effort will be modified. (Book One, Chapter One, § 11, pp. 80-81).
The political object –the original motive for the war—will thus determine both the military objective to be reached and the amount of effort it requires. The political object cannot, however, in itself provide the standard of measurement… We can therefore take the political object as a standard only if we think of the influence it can exert upon the forces it is meant to move. [the outcome cannot be calculated with mathematical fashion]… Between two peoples and two states there can be such tensions, such a mass of inflammable material, that the slightest quarrel can produce a wholly disproportionate effect—a real explosion.
This is equally true of the efforts a political object is expected to arous in either state, and of the military objectives which their policies require. Sometimes the political and military objective is the same—for example, the conquest of a province. In other cases the political object will not provide a suitable military objective. In that event, another military objective must be adopted that will serve the political purpose and symbolize it in the peace negotiations…
Generally speaking, a military objective that matches the political object in scale will, if the latter is reduced, be reduced in proportion; this will be all the more so as the political object increases in predominance. Thus it follows that without any inconsistence wars can have all degrees of importance and intensity, ranging from a war of extermination down to simple armed observation. (Book One, Chapter One, § 11, p. 81).
GIV Comment: See Aristotle, Nichomachean Ethics, p. 87 [cite]. Aristotle says that political science is the most authoritative—determines what sciences are necessary in states. Strategy is subordinate to it—a subset. Politics makes use of strategy as rules what people may or may not do. Clausewitz, in my estimate, gets the idea of politics guiding war from Aristotle.
Only One Consideration Can Suspend Military Action, And It Seems That It Can Never Be Present on More Than One Side
If two parties have prepared for war, some motive of hostility must have brought them to that point. Moreover so long as they remain under arms (do not negotiate a settlement) that motive of hostility must still be active. Only one consideration can restrain it: a desire to wait for a better settlement before acting…
But an absolute balance of forces cannot bring about a standstill, for if such a balance should exists the initiative would necessarily belong to the side with the positive purpose—the attacker.
One could, however, conceive of a state of balance in which the side with the positive aim (the side with the stronger grounds for action) was the one that had the weaker forces. The balance would then result from the combined effects of aim and strength. (Book One, Chapter One, § 13, p. 82).
Continuity Would Thus Be Brought About in Military Action and Would Again Intensify Everything
If this continuity were to really exist in the campaign its effect would again be to drive everything to extremes… But war, of course, seldom if ever shows such continuity. In numerous conflicts only a very small paart of the time is occupied by action, while the rest is spent in inactivity. This cannot always be an anomaly. Suspension of action in war must be possible; in other words, it is not a contradiction in terms. (Book One, Chapter One, § 14, p. 83).
Principle of Polarity
By thinking that the interests of the two commanders are opposed in equal measure to each other, we have assumed a genuine polarity… The principle of polarity is valid only in relation to one and the same object, in which positive and negative interests exactly cancel one another out. In a battle each side aims at victory; that is a case of true polarity, since the victory of one side excludes the victory of the other. When, however, we are dealing with two different things that have a common relation external to themselves, the polarity lies not in the things but in their relationship. (Book One, Chapter One, § 15, p. 83).
Attack and Defense Being Things Different in Kind and Unequal in Strength, Polarity Cannot Be Applied to Them
[I]f the only differences between attack and defense lay in the fact that attack has a positive aim whereas defense does not, and the forms of fighting were identical; then every advantage gained by one side would be a precisely equal disadvantage to the other—true polarity would exist. (Book One, Chapter One, § 16, p. 83).
GIV COMMENT: This is debatable because a defense can have a positive aim, e.g., wear down the enemy in order to bleed him and prepare for a counter attack as was the case in the Battle of Moscow between October and December 1941. This is Mao Zedong’s premise for guerrilla war.
But there are two distinct forms of action in war: attack and defense… the two are very different and unequal in strength. Polarity, then, does not lie in attack or defense, but in the object both seek to achieve: the decision. (Book One, Chapter One, § 16, p. 84).
The Superiority of Defense over Attack Often Destroys the Effect of Polarity, and This Explains the Suspension of Military Action
[D]efense is a stronger form of fighting than attack. Consequently we must ask whether the advantage of postponing a decision is as great for one side as the advantage of defense is for the other… the superiority of the defensive… explains without any inconsistency most periods of inaction that occur in war. The weaker the motives for the action, the more will they be overlaid and neutralized but this disparity between attack and defense, and the more frequently will action be suspended—as indeed experience shows. (Book One, Chapter One, § 17, p. 84).
A Second Cause is Imperfect Knowledge of the Situation
There is still another fact that can bring military action to a standstill: imperfect knowledge of the situation… it must rank among the natural causes which, without entailing inconsistency, can bring military activity to a halt. Men are always more inclined to pitch their estimate of the enemy’s strength too high than too low, such is human nature… The possibility of inaction has a further moderating effect on the progess of the war by diluting it, so to speak, in time by delaying danger, and by increading the means of restoring a balance between the two sides. The greater the tensions that have led to a war, and the greater the consequent war effort, the shorter these periods of inaction. Inversely, the weaker the motive for conflict, the longer the intervals between actions. For the stronger motive increases willpower, and will power, as we know, is always both an element in and the product of strength. (Book One, Chapter One, § 18, p. 84-85).
Frequent Periods of Inaction Remove War Still Further from the Realm of the Absolute and Make it Even More a Matter of Assessing Probabilities
The slower the progress and the more frequent the interruptions of military action the easier it is to retrieve a mistake, the bolder will be the general’s assessments, and the more likely he will be to avoid theoretical extremes and to base his plans on probability and inference. Any given situation requires that probabilities be calculated in the light of circumstances, and the amount of time available for such calculation will depend on the pace with which operations are taking place. (Book One, Chapter One, § 19, p. 85).
Therefore Only the Element of Chance is Needed to Make War a Gamble, and That Element is Never Absent
[T]he objective nature of war makes it a matter of assessing probabilities. Only one more element is needed to make war a gamble—chance: the very last thing that war lacks. No other human activity is so continuously or universally bound up with chance. And through the element of chance, guesswork and luck come to play a great part in war. (Book One, Chapter One, § 20, p. 85).
Not Only Its Objective But Also its Subjective Nature Makes War a Gamble
If we now consider briefly the subjective nature of war—the means by which war has to be fought—it will look more than ever like a gamble. The element in which was exists is danger. The highest of all moral qualities in time of danger is certainly courage. (Book One, Chapter One, § 21, p. 85).
In short, absolute, so-called mathematical, factors never find a firm basis in military calculations. From the very start there is an interplay of possibilities, probabilities, good luck and bad that weaves its way throughout the length and breadth of the tapestry. In the whole range of human activities, war most closely resembles a game of cards. (Book One, Chapter One, § 21, p. 86).
COMMENT: Marshal of the Soviet Union Vasili I. Chuikov “The Battle for Stalingrad”—“But for success in battle beautifully drawn maps count for very little. A good strategic or operational plan needs to be implemented in good time, needs good tactics and the flexible handling of armies. But when a decision is taken late, it will inevitably be carried out in haste. In such cases, there will as a rule be a lack of organization and co-ordination.” This is the reality of war: maps and calculations count for very little.
How in General This Best Suits Human Nature
Although our intellect always longs for clarity and certainty, our nature often finds uncertainty fascinating… Should theory leave us here, and cheerfully go on elaborating absolute conclusions and prescriptions? Then it would be no use at all in real life. No, it must also take the human factor into account, and find room for courage, boldness, even foolhardiness. The art of war deals with living and with moral forces. Consequently, it cannot attain the absolute, or certainty; it must always leave a margin for uncertainty, in the greatest things as much as in the smallest. With uncertainty in one scale, courage and self-confidence must be through into the other to correct the balance. The greater they are, the greater the margin that can be left for accidents. Thus courage and self confidence are essential in war, and theory should propose only rules that give ample scope to these finest and least dispensable of military virtues, in all their degrees and variations. (Book One, Chapter One, § 22, p. 86).
But War is Nonetheless a Serious Means to a Serious End: A More Precise Definition of War
When whole communities go to war—whole peoples, and especially civilized peoples—the reason always lies in some political situation, and the occasion is always due to some political object. War, therefore, is an act of policy… War is a pulsation of violence, variable in strength and therefore variable in the speed with which it explodes and discharges its energy… If we keep in mind that war springs from some political purpose, it is natural that the prime cause of its existence will remain the supreme consideration in conducting it. That, however, does not imply that the political aim is a tyrant. It must adapt itself to its chosen means, a process with can radically change it; yet the political aim remains the first consideration. Policy, then, will permeate all military operations, and, in so far as their violent nature will admit, it will have a continuous influence on them. (Book One, Chapter One, § 23, p. 86-87).
War is Merely the Continuation of Policy by Other Means
We see, therefore, that war is not merely an act of policy but a true political instrument, a continuation of political intercourse, carried on with other means. What remains particular to war is simply the peculiar nature of its means. War in general, and the commander in any specific instance, is entitled to require that the trend and designs of policy shall not be inconsistent with these means. That, of course, is no small demand; but however much it may affect political aims in a given case, it will never do more than modify them. The political object if the goal, war is the means of reaching it, and means can never be considered in isolation from their purpose. (Book One, Chapter One, § 24, p. 87).
The Diverse Nature of War
The more powerful and inspiring the motives for war, the more they affect the belligerent nations and the fiercer the tensions that precede the outbreak, the close will war approach its abstract concept, the more important will be the destruction of the enemy, the more closely will the military aims and the political objects of war coincide, and the more military and less political will war appear to be. On the other hand, the less intense the motives, the less will the military element’s natural tendency to violence coincide with political directives. As a result, war will be driven further from its natural course the political object will be more and more at variance with the aim of ideal war, and the conflict will seem increasingly political [as opposed to military] in character. (Book One, Chapter One, § 25, p. 87-88).
[re emotions may be aroused to the point that the political factor cannot control them] Yet such a conflict will not occur very often, for if the motivations are so powerful there must be a policy of proportionate magnitude. [jus in bellum—proportionality of means] On the other hand, if policy is directed only toward minor objectives, the emotions of the masses will be little stirred and they will have to be stimulated rather than held back. (Book One, Chapter One, § 25, p. 88).
The Effect of This Point of View on the Understanding of Military History and the Foundations of Theory
[All wars can be considered an act of policy (§ 26)] First, therefore, it is clear that war should never be thought of as something autonomous but always as an instrument of policy; otherwise the entire history of war would contradict us. Only this approach will enable us to penetrate the problem intelligently. Second, this way of looking at it will show us how wars must vary with the nature of their motives and of the situations which give rise to them. (Book One, Chapter One, § 27, p. 88).
The first, the supreme, the most far-reaching act of judgment that the statesman and commander must have to make it 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. (Book One, Chapter One, § 27, p. 88-89).