1.2 Book One, Chapter 2: Purpose and Means in War
[P]ure concept of war… the political purpose of war had no connection with war itself; for if war is an act of violence meant to force the enemy to do our will its aim would have always and solely to be to overcome the enemy and disarm him. That aim is derived from the theoretical concept of war… (Book One, Chapter Two, p. 90).
[T]hree broad objectives , which between them cover everything: the armed forces, the country, and the enemy’s will...
The fighting forces must be destroyed: that is, they must be put in such a conditions that can no longer carry on the fight. Whenever we use the phrase “destruction of the enemy’s forces” this alone is what we mean.
The country must be occupied; otherwise the enemy could raise fresh military forces.
[S]o long as the enemy’s will has not been broken: in other words, so long as the enemy government and its allies have not been driven to ask for peace, or the population made to submit. (Book One, Chapter Two, p. 90).
Be that as it may, we must always consider that with the conclusion of peace the purpose of the war has been achieved and its business is at an end. (Book One, Chapter Two, p. 90-91).
Since of the three objectives named, it is the fighting forces that assure the safety of the country, the natural sequence would be to destroy them first, and then subdue the country. Having achieved these two goals and exploiting our own position of strength, we can bring the enemy to the peace table. As a rule, destroying the enemy’s forces tends to be a gradual process, as does the ensuing subjugation of the country.
But the aim of disarming the enemy (the object of war in the abstract, the ultimate means of accomplishing the war’s political purpose, which should incorporate all the rest) is in fact not always encountered in reality, and need not be fully achieved as a condition of peace. On no account should theory raid it to the level of a law. May treaties have been concluded before on of the antagonists could be called powerless—even before the balance of power had been seriously altered. What is more, a review of actual case shows a whole category of wars in which the very idea of defeating the enemy is unreal: those in which the enemy is substantially the stronger power. (Book One, Chapter Two, p. 91).
COMMENT: One example of this is the Vietnam War or even the war in Afghanistan [in 2012]; in which the US is the far stronger power. Obviously, the Vietnamese did not disarm the US and the Afghans will not disarm the US—unless we speak of disarming metaphorically thus losing precision and meaning.
[Theoretical object of war is sometimes inappropriate to actual conflict] If war were what pure theory postulates, a war between states of markedly unequal strength would be absurd, and so impossible. At most, material disparity could not go beyond the amount that moral factors could replace; and social conditions being what they are in Europe today, moral forces would not go far. [I wonder what Islamic fanatics would think of that]. But wars have in fact been fought between states of very unequal strength, for actual war is often far removed from the pure concept postulated by theory. Inability to carry on the struggle can, in practice, be replaced by two other grounds for making peace: the first is the improbability of victory; the second is its unacceptable cost. (Book One, Chapter Two, p. 91).
Not every war need be fought until one side collapses. When the motives and tensions of war are slight we can imagine that the very faintest prospect of defeat might be enough to cause one side to yield. If from the very start the other side feels that this is probable, it will obviously concentrate on bringing about this probability rather than take the long way round and totally defeat the enemy. (Book One, Chapter Two, p. 91).
Since war is not an act of senseless passion but is controlled by its political object, the value of this object must determine the sacrifices to be made of it in magnitude and also in duration. Once the expenditure of effort exceeds the value of the political object, the object must be renounced and peace must follow. (Book One, Chapter Two, p. 92).
[T]he original political objects can greatly alter during the course of the war and may finally change entirely since they are influenced by events and their probable consequences.
The questions now arises how can success be made more likely. One way, of course, is to choose objectives that will incidentally bring about the enemy’s collapse—the destruction of his armed forces and the conquest of his territory; but neither is quite what it would be if our real object were the total defeat of the enemy… If we wish to gain total victory, then the destruction of his armed forces is the most appropriate action and the occupation of his territory only a consequence… If on the other hand we do not aim at destroying the opposing army, and if we are convinced that the enemy does not seek a brutal decision, but rather is an advantage in itself; and should this advantage be enough to make the enemy fear for the final outcome, it can be considered as a short cut on the road to peace.
But there is another way. It is possible to increase the likelihood of success without defeating the enemy’s forces. I refer to operations that heave direct political repercussions, that are designed in the first place to disrupt the opposing alliance, or to paralyze it, that gain us new allies, favorably affect the political scene, etc. (Book One, Chapter Two, p. 92).
The second question is how to influence the enemy’s expenditure of effort; in other words, how to make the war more costly to him.
The enemy’s expenditure of effort consists in the wastage of his forces—our destruction of them; and in his loss of territory—our conquest. (Book One, Chapter Two, p. 93).
[I]n practice, when strong motives are not present, the slightest nuances often decide between the different uses of force. (id.)
In addition, there are three other methods directly aimed at increasing the enemy’s expenditure of effort. The first of these is invasion, that is the seizure of enemy territory; not with the object of retaining it but in order to exact financial contributions, or even to lay it to waste. The immediate object here is neither to conquer the enemy country nor to destroy its army, but simply to cause general damage. The second method is to give priority to operations that will increase the enemy’s suffering… The third, and far the most important method, judging from the frequency of its use, is to wear down the enemy… Wearing down the enemy in a conflict means using the duration of the war to bring about a gradual exhaustion of his physical and moral resistance.
[GIV COMMENT: Can we separate physical and moral resistance. Should we? Clearly this is what is at play in today  in Afghanistan and to a lesser degree in Pakistan]
If we intend to hold out longer that our opponent we must be content with the smallest possible objects, for obviously a major object requires more effort than a minor one. The minimum object is pure self-defense; in other words, fighting without a positive purpose… But resistance is a form of action, aimed at destroying enough of the enemy’s power to force him to renounce his intentions. Every single act of our resistance is directed to that act alone, and that is what makes our policy negative. (Book One, Chapter Two, p. 93)… What is lacks in immediate effectiveness it must make up for in its use of time, that is by prolonging the war. Thus the negative aim, which lies at the heart of pure resistance, is also the natural formula for outlasting the enemy, for wearing him down. (Book One, Chapter Two, p. 93-94).
Here lies the origin of the distinction that dominates the whole of war: the difference between attack and defense… that from the negative purpose derive all the advantages, all the more effective forms, of fighting, and that in it is expressed the dynamic relationship between the magnitude and the likelihood of success.
If a negative aim—that is, the use of every means available for pure resistance—gives an advantage in war, the advantage need only be enough to balance any superiority the opponent may possess: in the end his political object will not seem worth the effort it costs.
We can now see that in war many roads lead to success, and that they do not all involve the opponent’s outright defeat. They range from the destruction of the enemy’s forces, the conquest of his territory, to a temporary occupation or invasion, to projects with an immediate political purpose, and finally to passively awaiting the enemy’s attacks… One further kind of action, of shortcuts to the goal, needs mention: one could call them arguments ad hominem. In there a field of human affairs where personal relations do not count, where the sparks they strike do not leap across all practical considerations? The personalities of statesmen and soldiers are such important factors that in war above all it is vital not to underrate them. (Book One, Chapter Two, p. 94)
[means of war] There is only one: combat… it is inherent in the very concept of war that everything that occurs must originally derive from combat.
Everything that occurs in war results from the existence of armed forces: but whenever armed forces, that is armed individuals, are used, the idea of combat must be present.
Combat in war is not a contest between individuals. It is a whole made up of many parts, and in that whole two elements may be distinguished, one determined by the subject, the other by the objective… Moreover, combat itself is made an element of war by its very purpose, by its objective.
COMMENT: Review Soviet laws of armed conflict.
The whole of military activity must therefore relate directly or indirectly to the engagement. The end for which a soldier is recruited, clothed, armed, and trained, the whole object of his sleeping, eating, drinking, and marching is simply that he should fight at the right place and the right time.
[T]he destruction of the enemy is not the only means of attaining the political object, when there are other objectives for which the war is waged. (Book One, Chapter Two, p. 95)
There is only one means in war: combat. But the multiplicity of forms that combat assumes leas us in as many different directions as are created by the multiplicity of aims, so that our analysis does not seem to have made any progress. But that is not so: the fact that only one means exists constitutes a strand that runs through the entire web of military activity and really holds it together. (Book One, Chapter Two, p. 96)
[the importance of destruction of the enemy’s forces relative to other purposes] In any given case the answer will depend on circumstances…
Combat is the only effective force in war; its aim is to destroy the enemy’s forces as a means to a further end. That holds good even if no actual fighting occurs, because the outcome rests on the assumption that if it cam to fighting, the enemy would be destroyed. (Book One, Chapter Two, p. 97)
COMMENT: The Soviets recognized this principle in their correlation of forces analysis.
[W]e can only say destruction of the enemy is more effective if we can assume that all other conditions are equal… Greater effectiveness relates not to the means but to the end; we are simply comparing the effect of different outcomes.
When we speak of destroying the enemy’s forces we must emphasize that nothing obliges us to limit this idea to physical forces: the moral element must also be considered… The advantage that the destruction of the enemy possesses over all other means is balanced by its cost and danger; and it is only in order to avoid these risks that other policies are employed.
That the method of destruction cannot fail to be expensive is understandable; other thing being equal, the more intent we are on destroying the enemy’s forces, the greater our own efforts must be.
The danger of this method is that the greater the success we seek, the greater will be the damage if we fail. (Book One, Chapter Two, p. 97)
COMMENT: Operation Desert Storm – failure to destroy the Iraqi Republican Guard allowed Saddam to put down the Shiite rebellion in the South; and caused the Kurds to be displaced. As a result, we were stuck in Northern Iraq from 1991 to 2003; 12 years of phony war – like 1939-1940. This is significant for future war.
If he were to seek the decision through a major battle, his choice would force us against our will to do likewise… Two objectives, neither of which is part of the other, are mutually exclusive: one force cannot simultaneously be used for both.
The effort to destroy the enemy’s forces has a positive purpose and leads to positive results, whose final aim is the enemy’s collapse. Preserving our own forces has a negative purpose; it frustrated the enemy’s intentions—that is, it amounts to pure resistance, whose ultimate aim can only be to prolong the war until the enemy is exhausted.
The policy with a positive purpose calls the act of destruction into being; the policy with a negative purpose waits for it.
[A] policy of waiting must never become passive endurance, that any action involved in it may just as well seek the destruction of the opposing forces as any other objective. It would be a fundamental error to imagine that a negative aim implies a preference for a bloodless decision over the destruction of the enemy. A preponderantly negative effort may of course lead to such a choice, but always at the risk that if is not the appropriate course: that depends on factors that are determined not by us but by the opponent. (Book One, Chapter Two, p. 98)
The one certain effect a preponderantly negative policy will have is to retard the decision: in other words, action is transposed into waiting for the decisive moment. This usually means that action is postponed in time and space to the extent that space is relevant and the circumstances permit. (Book One, Chapter Two, p. 98-99.)
COMMENT: Crucially, Clausewitz comments that while there are many different roads to lead to a goal, “to the attainment of the political object, fighting is the only possible means. Everything is governed by a supreme law, the decision by force of arms… To sum up: of all the possible aims in war, the destruction of the enemy’s armed forces always appears as the highest. (Book One, Chapter 2, p. 99.) This is the second point of Mao Zedong’s dictum: “The first law of war is to protect ourselves and then destroy the enemy.”
These conclusions concerning the nature of war and the function of its purposes and means; the manner in which war in practice deviates in varying degrees from its basic, rigorous concept, as to a supreme law; all these points must be kept in mind in our subsequent analyses if we are to perceive the real connection between all aspects of war, and the same true significance of each; and if we wish to avoid constantly falling into the wildest inconsistencies with reality and even with our own arguments. (Book One, Chapter Two, p. 99)