Given that there is a lot of material in Book VI worthy of comment, I’ll start with this chapter since it allows us to provide something of a recap of what we have read in On War so far. On page 90 of his book, Clausewitz – Philosopher of War, Raymond Aron hesitatingly reduces a portion of the general theory to three conceptual pairs: moral/physical, means/end, and attack/defense. The first refers to the essence of war itself – the clashing wills – which leads to the second pair. The decision to go to war starts with the defense since the aggressor is more than happy to get what he wants by simply taking it (see Bk VI/Ch 5) . Attack without resistance is not war, but something else as Clausewitz indicated in Bk I/Ch 1. Means/ends can be further linked with two additional pairs: military aim/political purpose and strategy/tactics. Taken together these conceptual pairs constitute the “intelligent” aspects of the general theory, that is leaving out chance, friction (in all its forms) and “objective” Politik. So with the intelligent aspects, the aspects not responding to intelligence and the various operating principles we come once again to the whole of the general theory, with each concept only understandable in terms of the whole (that is in terms of the general theory).
In reading Chapter 3, which is quite short, we see that Clausewitz mentions all three of the initial conceptual pairs that Aron mentions and expands our understanding of the whole in some significant ways.
As we have said before, in strategy there is no such thing as victory. Part of strategic success lies in timely preparation for a tactical victory; the greater the strategic success, the greater the likelihood of a victorious engagement. The rest of strategic success lies in the exploitation of a victory won.
Thus the goal of strategy is optimally deploying the fighting forces achieving tactical victory and then exploiting that victory to its full sphere of influence. This leading possibily to the achievement of the military aim of the war in question. This idea of expanding success beyond the actual tactical victory is the basis of operational art.
In strategy, therefore, there would be no justification at all of putting forward the enveloping attack as a means of victory, were it not for its effect on lines of communication.
Later in this same paragraph Clausewitz mentions the disadvantage of the attacker whose lines of communication are at the end of the advance, whereas the defender is retreating back along his own lines of communication, so what is the significance of the sentence above?
I think this question is best answered initially by the great student of Clausewitz, Alexander Svechin who wrote:
Strategy is the study of communications . . . the useful work of military forces is to a great extent determined by the condition of their communications. Operational art should place the troops in the best possible tactical position. Strategic art must place our operations in the best possible communications conditions vis-a-vis the enemy’s. These advantages are even more important than tactical advantages. If lines of communication are functioning poorly, then an operation will suffocate.
Strategy, pp 257, 260.
“Communications” include not just command and control, but of course supply. For Clausewitz, as for Svechin, the goal of military action is the destruction of not only the enemy’s forces, but further, his communications, for the disruption of communications allows for a more more extensive expansion of the tactical victory’s sphere of effectiveness by destroying the enemy’s cohesion and allowing for operational pursuit, this in turn tied to the Clausewitzian concept of center of gravity, as we’ll see when we get to Ch 27.
Thus, if all elements of defense that occur during an offensive are weakened by the fact that they are part of the offensive, then we must regard this as another general liability pertaining to it.
This is not simply hairsplitting. Far from it: this is the greatest disadvantage of all offensive action. Hence when a strategic attack is being planned one should from the start give very close attention to this point – namely, the defensive that will follow.
This is how all offensives end which do not achieve the military aim supporting the political purpose: the goal of strategy being the return to peace with the political purpose of the war achieved. Strategies of annihilation/destruction when unsuccessful become strategies of attrition be default, unless of course the defender is able to go over to a strategy of annihilation – unleash the flashing sword of vengence and destroy the attacker’s will to carry on the fight. In any case the attacker must go over to the defense without enjoying most of the advantages of the stronger form.
Failed strategies of destruction are common in history, whereas successful ones are much rarer. The general conditions from which war arises influence of course all of this as we will see in Ch 8.