Clausewitz and Strategic Studies

Topics: Carl von Clausewitz, On War, War Pages: 8 (2646 words) Published: August 22, 2010
Strategic Studies Essay
“Choose a pre-20th century military strategist and show how/why their ideas remain relevant in the 21st century.”

Major General Carl von Clausewitz was a staff officer in the Prussian Army in the early parts of 19th century, suffering defeat in 1806, but leading Prussia back to glory in 1815. However, he was better known as a military theorist, and today is recognised as an integral figure in the evolution of military strategy, for many of his ideas are still prominent and embedded in the modern day strategies used today.

Clausewitz is renowned for his famous work On War (Vom Kriege), in which he records his observation in analytical form, shaped by military and political considerations. His writings come from 39 years of military experience and contains many ideas, although some unfinished, but nevertheless still relevant to today‟s warfare. The big reason why his ideas are some relevant even in modern day is that he has grasped the principle of war; and although the character of war may change from such factors as era, location, culture and political objective of the war, they always follow the principle, and Clausewitz has recognised this in his writing. This essay will introduce the most important Clausewitz theories, which includes the ideas the nature of war according to Clausewitz, the three determining factors towards successful strategy, fog and friction of war and centre of gravity. These ideas were raised in the Clausewitzian era; however, the ideas are still very much relevant in the 21 st century.

One of Clausewitz‟s most important ideas is the nature of war; it involves fighting in a contest, it can be seen as a social activity and is used as an instrument of policy. He quoted that war is

-2“a true political instrument, a continuation of political activity by other means”1 . It opposes the popular thought that war is simply a consequence of failed politics, a final option to a break down of diplomacy between nation states. According to Clausewitz, politics is always embedded in war; effective war can not stage without strong political backing. He explains that there is always a political objective, whether it be expanding the empire or territory, exerting an ideology or influence over another state or to gain economical advantage. “War is always the servant of policy… without a sound policy, success in war is improbable. War will on that account be in no way lowered in importance… if only the commander in chief and the leading statesmen are agreed that in all circumstances war serves the ends of politics best by a complete defeat of the enemy”.2 War is only a means to achieve this, not an end, and is employed usually after diplomacy or non- violent alternatives have failed. However, according to Hugh Smith, despite what Clausewitz has stated, it “does not mean that war is always used as an instrument of policy in practice” 3

This theory is still relevant in today‟s society, from WWII to the modern warfare in Iraq, each conflict is started by political objectives, and war is often used as a means to achieve the objective. The most prominent war in the 21 st century, the war on terror, is forged against terrorist organisations around the war, and due to the fact the coalition was not dealing with a nation state, diplomacy could not resolve the problem, military action was commenced. Smith also explains the different natures of war which Clausewitz has outlined in his publication „On War‟. Clausewitz had insisted that to truly appreciate strategy; one must understand the nature of war.


Hugh Smith, „Clausewit z: Apostle of Modern War (Chapter 3)‟ in Hugh Smith (ed)., The Strategists, Australian Defence Studies Centre, Canberra, 2001, p 29. 2 Michael Ho ward, „The Continuing Relevance of Clausewit z‟, in Carl von Clausewitz, On War, edited and translated by Michael Howard and Peter Paret, Princeton University Press, Princeton, NJ, 1976, p 64. 3 Hugh Smith, „Clausewit...
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