Clausewitz, “On War” Book VIII: War and Political Leadership

Clausewitz’ theory culminates in the eighth book, on “War Plans”. While it is clear by the absence of chapters that Clausewitz had more to tell us, he does a great job of bringing everything full circle in order to demonstrate the application of the information in the other books. Clausewitz manages to pull all of the previous discussions together to demonstrate applied strategy, complete with supporting examples from recent history at the time of his writing. In my mind, however, the most valuable chapters of the book are those in which Clausewitz expands on his ideas about war’s relation to the Government, particularly section B of chapter 6.

Clausewitz tells us right away in book one that war is “… a true political instrument, a continuation of political intercourse, carried on with other means” (p. 87). Here he discusses for the reader the idea that war is not an isolated occurrence that springs into being of its own accord, but rather a continuation or extension of a social process. Indeed, throughout “On War”, Clausewitz eludes to the relationship that warfare, and particularly the army must have with the government and the people. Here in this final book, however, he gives us a more intricate view of his thoughts on how war should be governed.

Because this relationship exists, Clausewitz asserts that strategy cannot be isolated from policy (p.605, 606). Further he recommends that, due to this relationship those who create policy be familiar with the concepts of war, though not necessarily career soldiers (p. 608). Clausewitz is confident that where this is the case, policy can only be advantageous to the strategist (p. 608). Clausewitz again gives us several historical examples to prove his point. If we were to examine US military history we would find several examples, both positive and negative, where Clausewitz’ theory holds.

The question is then, what can we, as citizens of a democracy take from this? As a voter, I’m inclined to choose leaders who have military experience. As Clausewitz points out, however, the best generals are not always good politicians, and an intelligent and capable policy maker can generally be taught the basics of military science (p.608). Some would argue that the ability to effectively handle military policy should not be a major priority in the choice of a leader. I disagree with this stance on the basis that war, as a political tool is vital, if for nothing else, for the preservation of the status quo in relation to other political entities. My suggestion then, based on what Clausewitz theorizes is that we must look to individuals who correctly understand the relationship between war and policy to lead our nation. We must choose leaders who are capable of making policy that does not hinder our ability to wage war when it is necessary.