Carl von Clausewitz, On War, Book VIII, Chapter 5, “Serious Risk”

The condition for defeating an enemy presupposes great physical or moral superiority or else an extremely enterprising spirit, an inclination for serious risk.  When neither of these is present, the object of military activity can only be one of two kinds: seizing a small or larger piece of enemy territory, or holding one’s own until things take a better turn.  The latter is normally the aim of a defensive war. . .

The possibility that a military objective can be modified is one we have treated hitherto as deriving only from domestic arguments [Book VI Ch 8], and we have considered the nature of the political aim only to the extent that it has or does not have an active content.  From the point of view of war itself, no other ingredient of policy is relevant at all.  Still, as we argued in the second chapter of Book I (purpose and means in war), the nature of the political aim, the scale of the demands put forward by either side, and the total political situation of one’s own side, are all factors that in practice must decisively influence the conduct of war.

This post links this concept of “serious risk” with “surprise”, which is one of the keys to success in the tactical/operational attack, but then highlights the overall importance of the political purpose to which the military aim is subordinate.

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Carl von Clausewitz, On War, Book VIII, Chapter 3B, The Concept of Cohesion

There are many points one could make in connection with Book VIII of On War.  As I mentioned in my first post on this roundtable, Clausewitz deals with different types of theory in the book.  I have mentioned the general theory, Clausewitz’s art of Napoleonic warfare, and his theory of politics/political development.  This last type could be simply described as his concept of cohesion, since it is the different types of cohesion present which indicate the type of political community we are dealing with.  For this discussion I  rely on Chapter 3B of Book VIII particularly, in addition to his essay titled “Agitation”, as well as other parts of On War.

This concept has received next to no treatment in Clausewitz literature, or in any treatment of On War, outside of a paper I posted last year on the DNI site.  The concept indicates the “cutting edge” nature of Clausewitz in strategic theory even today.

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Carl von Clausewitz, On War, Book VI, Ch 6, Balance of Power

Clausewitz starts off this chapter with an extension of the range of resources that the defender has at his disposal, these in addition to those listed in Chapter 3 as being responsible for defensive strategic success.  This includes the militia (which exhibits distinct advantages and limitations as compared to the army; fortresses; the people (as in assisting the army operating on their own territory) which can be armed and become yet another source of power – the people in arms; and finally the defender’s allies.  In describing this last source of the defender’s power, Clausewitz provides his view of the balance of power in Europe:

If we consider the community of states in Europe today, we do not find a systematically regulated balance of power and of spheres of influence, which does not exist and whose existence has often been justifiably denied; but we certainly do find major and minor interests of states and peoples interwoven in the most varied and changeable manner.  Each point of intersection binds and serves to balance one set of interests against the other.  The broad effect of all these fixed points is obviously to give a certain amount of cohesion to the whole.  Any change will necessarily weaken this cohesion to some degree.  The sum total of relations between states thus serves to maintain the stability of the whole rather than to promote change; at least, that tendency will generally be present.

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Carl von Clausewitz, On War, Book VI: Chapter 3

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.

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