Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Clausewitz's General Theory of War: My First Peer-Reviewed Article

In an effort at shameless self-promotion . . . My first academic contribution to the field of strategic theory . . . or specifically Clausewitzian strategic theory, as if there were anything else but . . . An Introduction to Clausewitzian Strategic Theory Free subscription required. Enjoy. I would also like to thank IJ for this opportunity.


  1. Congratulations, Seydlitz, on some serious work. I've recently had a similar experience -- McGraw-Hill accepted my manuscript on water conservation. The book will be out in the fall.

  2. A fine article Seydlitz!

    And thanks for showing us the way to that IJ website. I took the liberty of reading some of the other articles also. Some questions:

    1] What was your opinion on Armstrong's article: Living in a Mahanian World?

    2] I note that in your article you mention Svechin, Mao, Schelling, and Smith. Why Schelling? Is his strategy of "controlled escalation" in Vietnam considered Clauswitzian?

    3] And why not Mahan, Corbett, and perhaps Sumida?

    4] Who if anyone was a German Naval Clauswitzian?


  3. Thanks for the kind words gentlemen and congratulations to Paul on his upcoming book . . .

    As to Mahan, he seemed more interested in using history to promote his take on a US future grand strategy. Interesting, but not strategic theory.

    Schelling was a student of Bernard Brodie and developed the concept of compellence in his classic, "Arms and Influence".

    Corbett is a Clausewitzian theorist and I should have added him to the list. Sumida? Naval historian and writes about Clausewitz, but is he a theorist? At the Clausewitz Conference in 2005 he argued that the dominance of the defense was the central concept of On War, which no one seemed to agree with. Rather imo, it seemed more a wish to influence US policy, a la Mahan . . .

  4. Well done; nothing like a publication to add tone. As my fellow grunts used to say about tanks; attractive and useful all in one compact package.

  5. seydlitz -

    I cannot agree regarding Schelling. His escalated punitive bombing strategy was a complete bust IMHO. Maybe Schelling's grand idea of "compellence" slightly mirrors Clauswitz's coercion aka "increase the enemy’s expenditure of effort". But not by much. And I believe Clauswitz had a different approach to coercion than Schelling did. The coercion might work early on to convince an enemy that war may not be worth it, but I do not see it working at a later time after a lot of blood has already been shed and I do not believe that Clauswitz did either. Le Duan and Van Tien Dung were certainly better Clauswitzians than Schelling.

    Perhaps you are right re Mahan. After WW2 he has been labelled (or libeled depending on your point of view) as a battleship man and taken a beating by submariners and naval aviatiors. And back in his day he was labelled as being too much of an intellectual and not a red-blooded ship driver. Mahan had more influence in Europe than he did in America until the 1920s which was after he was dead. Stimson, SecWar (Army Secretary) and admittedly biased, said the Navy Department thought "Neptune was God, Mahan was his prophet, and the US Navy the only true church". Good on them I say, the ascendancy of Mahan's ideas in the US Navy in the 20s and 30s paved the way for the destruction of the Imperial Japanese Fleet and the clearing of Donitz's Rudeltaktik from the Atlantic in the 40s.

    Now Mahan may not have been a theorist and a Clauswitzian. But I tend to see a lot of similarities between Mahan and Corbett and Clauswitz - all professors in one of their respective country's War Colleges, all used historical examples to clarify concepts. And didn't Mahan influence Corbett (through Laughton)? In the 1890s through the end of WW1 Mahan was certainly more influential in England than he was at home.

  6. mike-

    I can see why you don't like Schelling, but consider this: We're not talking about the best approach, or how to fight wars. Rather we're talking about the general theory which can used to describe, not prescribe action, all wars. So I'm not talking about Schelling's notion of incremental escalation, which was meant more for possibly nuclear confrontations, but his whole concept of compellence and deterrence which have broad applications in the general theory. I used Schelling to link Martin Luther King to Niebuhr and Clausewitz in my MLK thread . . . Clausewitz deals with coercion early on in Book 1, Chapter 1, Section 4, the second interaction towards extremes. Schelling ably imo expands the whole conceptual range of coercion nicely. Does every Clausewitzian agree with my interpretation? Probably not, but I do think I have an argument.

    Now a bit more on Sumida. I've read his book, Decoding Clausewitz, I've read his past papers on Clausewitz, and I've spoken to him personally (at the 2005 Clausewitz conference). He has specific views on Clausewitz and Imo attempts to put him in a rather narrow conceptual box. I think his criticism of Raymond Aron and Peter Paret unconvincing, and rather than "decoding Clausewitz" I think he has more confused the issues. While he is a Clausewitzian, given his perspective it is difficult for me to label him a theorist and since I am a Clausewitzian theorist this is where I put the emphasis. Not that one has to be a theorist to be a Clausewitzian . . . CvC's thought ranges far beyond strategic theory . . .

  7. Seydlitz -

    Up until your post and fine article I had never been aware of the Infinity Journal. And lately, instead of the usual druck on the telly I have been browsing youtube and elsewhere for videotaped lectures and discussion panels from the Marshall Center, and both the Army and Navy War Colleges. Last night I heard of them again. Wilf Owen, introduced as co-founder and editor of IJ, was a speaker on one of the panels at the USAWC Strategy Conference last April. He comes in about minute 44 on panel 2.


    He had some good insights I thought. Most of the other speakers were talking policy (or what was termed grand strategy) rather than war strategy, but probably rightly so on an unclassified forum. All of the panel discussions and keynote speakers were interesting though.

  8. Congrats Seydlitz! Been busy so haven't had a chance to read it yet.

  9. Thank you gentlemen-

    I would never underestimate the good achieved through attempted dialectic in a forum such as this. Without having the advantage of sounding out our ideas as we have in many forums: Intel Dump and MilPub being but two of the better . . . could we ever have hoped to achieve any level of clarity . . . especially in these times . . .


  10. Late to the fight. First, Seydlitz, congrats.

    I am not sure that it is fair to ask a maritime strategist to be fully recconciled with Clausewitz. Different idiom, different format.

    From the article: "Is is the role of the political leadership to make sure the military aim supports the political purpose. In short, they are responsible for strategy/grand strategy, with the assistance of the military commander."

    How are we doing? Manwarring constantly bemoans the paucity of strategic vision at the command of military top brass. Lets be honest, being a G.O. isn't about vision so much as your ability to run a complex organization. That's talent, not genius.

    Political leadership may likewise be more committed to day-to-day politik rather than long range strategy and vision.

    Makes you wonder who's really at the wheel (despite the fact that we're doing flank speed). I'm not bashing any leader. I'm contending that if such a responsibility is leavied upon the political body, do you think they see things the same way?

    BTW, Nice tie in to the rational policy/irrational politics (USMC strat manual would agree with you).

  11. Hi Jeremy-

    Thanks for commenting.

    I think the issue is more framed by strategic theory. A "maritime strategy" would not require a war, but once the shooting starts what navies do would be naval operations which would form part of the overall military strategy of combining military means to support political ends by imposing one's will over the enemy.

    To illustrate what I mean by this, consider this quote from JC Wylie:

    "The ultimate determinate in war is the man on the scene with the gun (a fourth basic assumption for strategic planning). This man is the final power in war. He is control. He determines who wins. There are those who would dispute this as an absolute, but it is my belief that while other means may critically influence war today, after whatever devastation and destruction may be inflicted on an enemy, if the strategist is forced to strive for final and ultimate control, he must establish or must present as an inevitable prospect, a man on the scene with a gun. This is the soldier." Military Strategy, page 72

    Personally, I prefer "domination" to "control" because I think the latter term better seen as a separate concept involving "systems", but I think my meaning is clear, or?

    In other words, strategic theory has a very specific understanding of what composes "strategy" in war, which would make naval and air warfare "operational" as in tactics, operations and strategy. The strategic goal remaining the imposition of the "man with the gun on the scene".

  12. "man-with-a-gun-on-the-scene" might possibly have worked for us in Vietnam if you define the 'scene' as north of the DMZ. Or not? But then maybe the same could have been done if we had kept or at least later re-established the naval blockade of Haiphong.

    It certainly worked with OBL. Let's keep that up with Zawahiri.

    But I do not see where our national objectives were accomplished in Iraq and Afghanistan with the "man-with-the-gun-on-the-scene". Unless we admit that Bush Junior's only objective was for revenge on Sadaam Hussein for a perceived insult.

    I do not foresee that happening in the future either due to our risk averse national command authorities (regardless of political party).

  13. mike-

    What were our "national objectives" in Iraq and Afghanistan?

    I think Wylie's point is that it comes down basically to imposing one's will upon the other side, what I refer to as "domination", what Wylie refers to as "control". This would also depend on the political purpose of the war, more limited objectives would not require the same level of domination . . . in both Iraq and Afghanistan, were our war aims not rather radical?

  14. @seydlitz: "What were our "national objectives" in Iraq and Afghanistan?"

    good question!

    According to Cheney, Wolfowitz and their mouthpieces our national objectives in Iraq were to change Iraq into a strong ally, a model Arab democracy and a major oil producer that would lower world prices, even while paying for its own reconstruction. It seems unfortunately we changed it into a strong ally of Iran. And what happened to that cheap Iraqi oil is what I want to know. As far as being a model Arab democracy - forget about it.

    Our initial national objective in Afghanistan as Junior Georgie said was a Crusade. Let's hope we are finished with that now that OBL is gone.

  15. mike-

    Which makes my point. The Iraq and Afghan war aims were not actually attainable by military means, unlike say in WWII where our aims were "the defeat of the German Army" or "the destruction of the Japanese Fleet", or even Korea where it was holding on to the southern half of the Korean peninsula. The professed war aims of our most recent wars were simply for domestic propaganda purposes, whereas the actual goals were what I have described as "dominance". Al Qaida, whatever that is, was never a real threat to the US, rather it presented an opportunity . . .

  16. seydlitz: unlike say in WWII where our aims were ..... or "the destruction of the Japanese Fleet"

    Wait, I am confused, didn't you say earlier that there was no such thing as a naval strategy?

  17. OK, you got me, but the strategy would have necessarily included the presence of the man with the gun at the scene, that is on the Japanese homeland. The war aim against Japan could have rather simply been the destruction of Japanese military power . . . I said "fleet" since we were dealing with a Pacific war, encompassing almost half the globe.

    The man with the gun symbolizes strategic effect, or essentially military victory. Air and naval operations can make their very necessary contributions, but they remain "operational" in regards to strategic effect and military victory in terms of strategic theory . . . am I making sense?

  18. Yes you are making sense. But it seems to me that a victory over the fleet of an island nation would mean total victory without ever resorting to the man-with-a-gun-on-the-scene ... or without even resorting to Little Boy and Fat Man. Leave the IJA outposts in China, Burma, the Philippines, et al to die on the vine like Truk and Rabaul.

    Probably would not have worked against the UK. Even if Raeder had somehow managed to isolate the British Isles (not likely), Hitler still had to contend with the rest of the Commonwealth. But perhaps they could have been dealt with by subversion in India and South Africa and diplomacy with the Kiwis and Aussies.

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