Adam Elkus posts on “Clausewitz, The Rage of the People, and Strategies of Positive Ends”

This is an excellent, link-laden post on Rethinking Security: Asymmetric Analysis by Adam Elkus. Adam points out that many of the modern manifestations of large scale violence in recent times are derived from one of the three segments of Clausewitz’s “trinity” — the rage of the people. But, as Adam notes, without the other segments, political aim and military organization and direction and discipline, the violence cannot accomplish anything. It either burns itself out, or turns into a pointless “vortex” of violence. (Vortices go around and around as I recall.)

The challenge for policy makers, military commanders and democratic publics in developed countries is: How do you deal with this type of outbreak? As we know:

The first, the supreme, the most far-reaching act of judgment that the statesman and the commander have to make is to establish by that test [i.e., what’s the value of the objectives] the kind of war on which they are embarking; neither mistaking it for, nor trying to make it into something that is alien to its nature. This is the first of all strategic questions and the most comprehensive.

If you are the French, and it is happening in Algeria, you leave. If you are the USA and these events are happening in a place that threatens your oil supply, or in a collapsing state that has nukes such as Pakistan may eventually be, what then? What if one side has all the elements of Clausewitz’s trinity in place, but its opponent does not? What if only one side has an articulable political purpose? Is the conflict a war at all? I ask this not to be pedantic. Getting terms clear from the outset is an essential aid to analysis. I think it is a war, since at least one side has political goals. But it is war which most of the time may have a relatively dilute mixture of what we would now call “kinetics”. Whether it is called a war or not, there are likely to be political and/or police measures rather than military measures in place much of the time. Bribing and coopting a faction in the “vortex” may make more sense than sending your own people into it, for example. The British failed to conquer Nepal, and they made lemons into lemonade — they brought the Gurkhas into their employ, to their mutual benefit for almost two centuries.

1 thought on “Adam Elkus posts on “Clausewitz, The Rage of the People, and Strategies of Positive Ends””

  1. I might suggest a review of historical cases where order was brought out of chaos but, to paraphrase Polybius, it usually required a strong hand becoming a new master and then a pitiless extermination of predatory freebooters.

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