Who can forget Clausewitz’s dictum, “war is an act of policy”? The government decides to use war to achieve a policy objective. The military is ordered to fight the war. Its commanders know the part they must play and how that contributes to attaining the objective.
It sounds so simple. But as Clausewitz reminds us in Book 1, “everything in war is simple, but the simplest thing is difficult”. When it comes to war, many politicians overlook the obvious – the need to clearly establish what it is they want to achieve.
What makes for a good policy objective in relation to the use of war? I’m extrapolating a bit, but this is what I take from On War:
(1) The objective must be clear from the outset, as must the military’s role in achieving that objective.
The government must answer the following questions: “what is it that needs to be achieved?”, “how will the military help achieve this objective?”, and “are there alternatives to the use of force that will achieve the objective either as efficiently or more efficiently?”.
(2) The objective must be realistic, and in proportion to the military and other resources at the government’s disposal.
(3) It must not be open-ended. A realistic time limit should set, and regular review points set, so progress can be assessed and strategy adjusted.
(4) It should be clear that if the objective is achieved, real advantage will result.
In recent times, how many wars fought by western nations meet these basic criteria? Gaza, Afghanistan, Lebanon (2006), Iraq? It would be interesting, and perhaps instructive, to run the rule over these conflicts.