Clausewitz, On War, Book V: Jointness à la Carl

Book V, entitled “Military Forces”, is a prescriptive summary of the “… conditions necessary to military action,” the maintenance and leadership of the three military branches contemporary to Clausewitz’s day: Infantry, Cavalry and Artillery. Many of Clausewitz’s edicts could just as easily apply to Ground, Air and Naval forces in our modern age.

Throughout Book V, Clausewitz makes note of the evolution of conflict from barely a century prior: the interrelated nature of distinct “Theaters of Operation” to a politically-driven war effort, the diminished need for “… long fixed periods in winter quarters” that would halt an operational tempo for months, and how (when combating forces are nearly equal in strength) the most creative and innovative commander will triumph.

Logistics is treated as an integral component of the forces as a whole, “… consider[ed] … as a single entity” of a force “… in constant readiness for action.” While some portions of Book V are anachronistic (e.g., “Advance Guard and Outposts”), much of what Clausewitz wrote in the early 19th century remains applicable today.

For instance, Clausewitz the Environmentalist mentions in three separate chapters the “devastation of the countryside” from massive mobilizations without adequate billeting and sustainment as well as the “[g]reat wear and tear on one’s own forces [that] must be expected if one intends to wage a mobile war.” Napoleon’s ill-fated Russian campaign of 1812-1813 is shown as a startling example of how losses from marches can rival – and sometimes even exceed – losses from battle.

Most relevant to our challenges today is Clausewitz’s analysis of the countervailing notions of span of control and speed of command. Clausewitz notes the value of a combined arms approach (nearly 150 years before Goldwater-Nichols!), prefacing the 2GW school by asserting that “artillery is the principal agent of destruction” while also hinting at the 3GW philosophy by observing the force has “… ceased to be a monolith” with elements “detached and reattached” as circumstances permit.

Even with the command considerations of a combined (i.e., multinational) force, Clausewitz was well ahead of his time. Citing the 1815 campaign of Blücher and Wellington that culminated in Waterloo, “[W]here matters are properly arranged, there will be only one supreme commander in a single theater.”

Particularly striking is his assessment that “[t]he elemental fire of war is now so fierce and war is waged with such enormous energy …” due to the integration of political and military objectives “through the efforts of governments” since Westphalia (1648). The dependence of each branch on a unique facet of society (infantry :: populace, cavalry :: equine/husbandry and artillery :: finance/manufacturing) further served to increase the scope and scale of warfare – evidenced by France’s levée en masse of 1793.

“Regulated and coordinated military action did not really become possible until states replaced feudal levies with mercenary troops…. Not only an independent military class but also an independent system for supplying it were thus created.” Consequently, war became far more cumbersome and unwieldy – and was “… waged with much less vigor.”

Clausewitz’s conclusion of this growth – what a certain U.S. President (and former Supreme Commander in a theater of operations) more than a century later called the Military Industrial Complex – is startling: “Military institutions thus tended to become more and more independent of the country and the people.”

As a lifelong civil servant and Department of Defense employee (less a brief stint in industry), I have long decried the dwindling proportion of U.S. legislators who have worn a military uniform. Am I perpetuating this same “distancing” from the country and the people? Is prior military service truly a desirable objective for the ruling political class? Or should it be the military that needs to re-calibrate its value system so that it is more consonant with the rest of society?

1 thought on “Clausewitz, On War, Book V: Jointness à la Carl”

Comments are closed.