Clausewitz in the 21st Century

On War, Deterrence theory, Carl von Clausewitz

Clausewitz lived in a time where battles were fought in columns and lines, with soldiers using muskets and solid-shot cannon; when states were the exclusive actors in war; when technological change occurred over decades, if not centuries. What relevance could his work therefore have for the strategic problems of the 21st century?

Clausewitz was not a cookbook writer. He was not looking for hard and fast rules for conducting war, which he eschews. Indeed, Clausewitzian theories elaborated at different periods of time are in close conjunction with the prevalent political, strategic, and military context, which is completely consonant with Clausewitz’s original conception of his own work:

‘Theory should be study, not doctrine […] It is an analytical investigation leading to a close acquaintance with the subject; applied to experience – in our case, to military history – it leads to thorough familiarity with it. The closer it comes to that goal, the more it proceeds from the objective form of a science to a subjective form of a skill, the more effective it will prove in areas where the nature of the case admits no arbiter but talent.’

‘Theory is meant to educate the mind of the future commander, or, more accurately, to guide him in his self-education, not to accompany him to the battlefield.’

If ‘the absurd difference between theory and practice’ is to be ended, then the correspondence between theory and practice implies the correspondence between the military commander and military thinker. Therefore, ‘self-education’ is important and useful to the military thinker too. He must not be bounded by a single theory of war but with the means to develop his own ideas (objective knowledge of war), fuelled by his talent (subjective capacity and application). The phenomena of war are more diverse than ever: from terrorism to inter-state war, from information war to riots in rural areas, from air strikes to intifada. Loose networks of limited wars...
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