Clausewitz: On War (Part-2)

Clausewitz: On War

The political object of war
The political object of the war had been rather overshadowed by the law of extremes, the will to overcome the enemy and make him powerless. 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


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. Since we are dealing with realities, not with abstractions, it can do so only in the context of the two states at war. The same political object can elicit differing reactions from different peoples and even from the same people at different times. 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 nature of those forces, therefore, calls for a study. Depending on whether their characteristics increase or diminish the drive toward a particular action, the outcome will vary. 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 arouse 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. But here, too, attention must be paid to the character of each state involved. There are times when, if the political object is to be achieved, the substitute must be a good deal more important. The less involved the population and the less serious the strains within states and between them, the more political requirements in themselves will dominate and tend to be decisive. Situations can thus exist in which the political object will almost be the sole determinant.

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 its predominance. Thus it follows that without any inconsistency wars can have all degrees of importance and intensity, ranging from a war of extermination down to simple armed observation. This brings us to a different question, which now needs to be analyzed and answered.


Only the element of chance is needed to make war a gamble and that element is never absent
It is now quite clear how greatly the 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 a chance. And through the element of chance, guesswork, and luck come to play a great part in the war. 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 war exists is the danger. The highest of all moral qualities in time of danger

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 war exists is a danger. The highest of all moral qualities in time of danger is certainly courage. Now courage is perfectly compatible with prudent calculation but the two differ nonetheless and pertain to different 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 war exists is a danger. The highest of all moral qualities in time of danger is certainly courage. Now courage is perfectly compatible with prudent calculation but the two differ nonetheless and pertain to different psychological forces. Daring, on the other hand, boldness, rashness, trusting in luck is only variants of courage, and all these traits of character seek their proper element-chance.

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, a war most closely resembles a game of cards.


War is serious means to serious ends
Such is war; such is the commander who directs it, and such the theory that governs it. War is no pastime; it is no mere joy in daring and winning, no place for irresponsible enthusiasts. It is a serious means to a serious end, and all its colorful resemblance to a game of chance, all the vicissitudes of passion, courage, imagination, and enthusiasm it includes are merely its special characteristics.

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. Were it a complete, untrammeled, absolute manifestation of violence (as the pure concept would require), war would of its own independent will usurp the place of policy the moment policy had brought it into being; it would then drive policy out of office and rule by the laws of its own nature, very much like a mine that can explode only in the manner or direction predetermined by the setting. This, in fact, is the view that has been taken of the matter whenever some discord between policy and the conduct of the war has stimulated theoretical distinctions of this kind. But in reality things are different, and this view is thoroughly mistaken. In reality, war, as has been shown, is not like that. Its violence is not of the kind that explodes in a single discharge but is the effect of forces that do not always develop in exactly the same manner or to the same degree. At times they will expand sufficiently to overcome the resistance of inertia or friction; at others, they are too weak to have any effect. War is a pulsation of violence, variable in strength and therefore variable in the speed with which it explodes and discharges its energy. War moves on its goal with varying speeds; but it always lasts long enough for influence to be exerted on the goal and for its own course to be changed in one way or another long enough, in other words, to remain subject to the action of a superior intelligence. 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 which 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.
We see, therefore, that war is not merely an act of policy 


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 peculiar to war is simply the peculiar nature of its means. The war in general, and the commander in any specific instance is entitled to require that the trend and designs of a 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 is the goal, war is the means of reaching it, and means can never be considered in isolation from their purpose.

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 closer 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 in character.

At this point, to prevent the reader from going astray, it must be observed that the phrase, the natural tendency of war, is used in its philosophical, strictly logical sense alone and does not refer to the tendencies of the forces that are actually engaged in fighting-including, for instance, the moral and emotions of the combatants. At times, it is true, there might be so aroused that the political factor would be hard put to 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. On the other hand, if a 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.


All wars can be considered as policy
It is time to return to the main theme and observe that while a policy is apparently effaced in the one kind of war and yet is strongly evident in the other, both kinds are equally political. If the state is thought of as a person, and policy as the product of its brain, then among the contingencies for which the state must be prepared is a war in which every element calls for policy to be eclipsed by violence. Only if politics is regarded not as resulting from a just appreciation of affairs, but as it conventionally is-as cautious, devious, even dishonest, shying away from force, could the second type of war appear to be more "political" than the first.