Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Applicable Insights from both Jomini and Clausewitz

     Should military practitioners rely on any one historical theorist's insights when waging twenty-first century warfare? The answer is no. The future of global conflict will side with the owner of the best ideas, not necessarily the strongest competitor.[1] Therefore, the military needs to not only out-fight opponents, it needs to out-think them. No one theorist provides enough insights to drive military thinking. Instead military practitioners should frame twenty-first century warfare around an admixture of theorists with an emphasis on those factors maximizing sophistication while remaining practical. For this reason the two theorists, Jomini and Clausewitz, offer ingredients to strengthen a military foundation for uncertain challenges.
            Jomini's systematic approach to war fighting is useful for the mass production effect of the military system. The U.S. military is a massive bureaucracy that moves slowly in a fluid, dynamic environment. It requires a certain amount of rigid, simple structure. Jomini’s approach to break systems into manageable components speaks to the lowest common denominator which should be the target audience for the military as a whole. His principles of strategy and tactics are easy to understand. Likewise, they are easy to teach. For instance, when defining rules for selecting tactical positions, Jomini, in straightforward fashion says, "The rules to be generally observed in selecting tactical positions are the following"[2] Without parsing words he then goes on to list eight succinct rules that if followed will guarantee the tactician a positional advantage. Jomini uses this checklist methodology throughout his book, The Art of War. In simple fashion he lists various rules, principles, maxims, and parts, from the "six distinct parts" of the art of war to eighteen principles related to logistics.[3] The value of what Jomini espouses is that his lessons are easily translatable into practical tools such as choosing lines of operation and selecting decisive points.[4]
            The benefit of  a simple approach is that genius is not required to understand it. More importantly, genius is not required to implement it. Jomini breaks down elements of strategy and tactics into step by step checklists to ease implementation for victory.[5] His processes are easy to follow, and logically they make sense if one is attacking a visible and known enemy. The problem, however, with a singularly en masse attack approach is that it leaves the attacker vulnerable to over-commitment if the enemy is unknown and invisible.
            For this reason Jominian warfare is overly simplistic. Jomini himself acknowledges this when he talks about applying mass against a decisive point.[6] He says, “This principle has too much simplicity to escape criticism…” and then goes on to defend any effort to objectively criticize the simplicity of his principle.[7] In his view, the only purpose of war fighting is victory; therefore, to achieve victory commanders should just apply as much force as is necessary to achieve it. John Shy makes the point that with regard to Jomini, “all energies [are] focused on the sole aim of victory.”[8]          
            Consider, then, Usama bin Laden’s 2004 comments in which he said, "All that we have to do is to send two mujahidin to the furthest point east to raise a piece of cloth on which is written al-Qaida, in order to make the generals race there.."[9] Adhering to a strict Jominian approach to simply attack Al Qaeda where they visibly appear plays directly into Al Qaeda's hands and risks expending excessive resources against a limited enemy. This illustration represents a dispersed environmental complexity to which forces cannot mass.
            Jomini does recognize that certain types of wars can be complex, but he lacks depth when describing each. He acknowledges that complexities associated with popular support, engaging in multiple wars, and even insurgent uprisings exist, but only in-so-much as they are recognized.[10] Jomini's method for engaging in counterinsurgency for instance, is just too terse:
make a display of a mass of troops proportioned to the obstacles and resistance likely to be encountered, calm the popular passions in every possible way, exhaust them by time and patience, display courtesy, gentleness, and severity united, and, particularly, deal justly."[11]   
What Jomini lacks for modern day warfare is a measure of sophistication able to adapt to complicated uncertainty, like that of a counterinsurgency. Clausewitz fills the sophistication gap particularly for the strategic levels of authority today.
            While this essay does not attempt to compare the complexity of today's global environment with that of the past, the current and foreseeable global environment consists of influential dimensions previously unknown, namely non-governmental actors and information technology.[12] Technology specifically has closed the gap of  information between the planner and the operator such that the operator potentially knows more about strategic impacts than the planner.[13] This phenomenon requires a thinking soldier rather than one just able to execute orders. These dimensions also require comprehensive thinking beyond sets of simple principles. Clausewitz provides a basis for flexible, adaptive, and comprehensive whole of government options to deal with what Donald Rumsfeld terms, the "unknown unknowns."[14]
            Clausewitz acknowledges that although warfare seems simple, waging it is not.[15] The elements of war entail more than just physical fighting addressed by all elements of national power. This is his famous point regarding war as, "an instrument of policy."[16] The idea suggests that nations use war as one of many tools to deal with problems, but he also strongly advises that the most important aspect of waging war is determining which kind of war.[17] This is a very important distinction between Clausewitzian and Jominian thinking. When determining the kind of war to affect intended policy outcomes, strategy practitioners must understand the nested intentions of military strategy to that of the political or national strategy. Evidence of this is seen today in the progressive transformation of strategy documents beginning with the National Security Strategy and extending through the various service strategies. Each subordinate guide builds on its superior in terms of narrowing broad ideas into applicable concepts. Synthesizing political and military thought requires a more sophisticated level of analysis than that of Jomini because factors of national policy affect the very existence of a nation's ideals.
            Moreover, no two conflicts are the same. Every situation needs unique analysis and constant assessment. Clausewitz teaches the practitioner to treat each war as, "an uncharted sea."[18] The 'unknowns' account for what Clausewitz terms the 'friction' in war that changes the dynamic of fighting from simple to difficult.[19] Dr. Kautt illustrates this point with regard to technology outpacing strategic planning in World War I.[20] When strategic planning failed to keep pace with rapid technological advances (the 'unknowns'), a stalemate ensued (the 'friction'). General Rodriguez warns of avoiding a similar knowledge to technology disparity by thinking critically about what is unknown to the extent we should, "embrace uncertainty."[21] Military practitioners should consider Clausewitz' view of war to comprehensively account for unforeseen issues which complicate the simple.
            The range of certain and uncertain future threats will need to be matched with a balance of strength and intellect. Jomini approaches warfare with a measure of certainty whereas Clausewitz approaches warfare with a measure of uncertainty. Clausewitz helps the practitioner think through the complexity of warfare problems. Jomini helps the practitioner apply those thoughts with practical tools. No theorist singularly provides enough insight into developing twenty-first century warfare. A mixture of concepts from each theorist adds perspective to present day fighting. Future threats will test our ability to be creative rather than mass power. Therefore, adopting aspects from each theorists should guide future thinking particularly with regard to out-thinking our competitors.

[1] For additional research the author has conducted on the nature of conflict management and threats including nuclear threats, illicit drugs, criminal gangs, extremist organizations, and fragile states such as Somalia see http://www.diplomaticdiscourse.blogspot.com/.
[2] Jomini, Henri baron. The Art of War. Kindle Edition. Translated by G.H. Capt. Mendel and W.P. Lieut. Craighill. Public Domain Books, 2009 Originally published in 1862. See Kindle location 2492 or pg. 139 for the eight rules.
[3] Jomini, Kindle location 66 or pg. 7 for the parts of the art of war and Kindle location 3590 or pg. 195 for principles of logistics.
[4] Jomini. The line of operations and the decisive point are two major themes consistent throughout The Art of War. References to each are found within each chapter.
[5] Jomini, Kindle locations 915-939. Jomini explains 13 points regarding strategy and 8 points regarding tactics. They are in essence checklists.
[6] Jomini. Kindle Location 890 or pg. 52.
[7] Ibid.
[8] Shy, John. "Jomini." In Makers of Modern Strategy from Machiavelli to the Nuclear Age. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1986. See p. 151.
[9] In 2004 bin Laden released a video statement in which he warns the United States that he will bankrupt the U.S. and its way of life by baiting the U.S. into protracted war. Al Jazeera transcribed the statement into english. That unedited transcript is available at: http://english.aljazeera.net/archive/2004/11/200849163336457223.html.
[10] See Jomini The Art of War. Throughout he addresses various complex aspects of types of wars.
[11] See Jomini, Kindle Location 333 or p. 22.
[12] The 2010 National Security Strategy maintains a consistent thread with regard to the uncertainty of non-state actors and technology challenges. This author has rephrased the actor as non-governmental recognizing a trending power diffusion from state and even non-state governments to state and international commercial and non-commercial power bases. Global international businesses and crime organizations fall into this category for instance.
[13]Kautt, W. H. Ambushes and Armour The Irish Rebellion 1919-1921. Dublin: Irish Academic Press, 2010. See pp. 29-30. Dr. Kautt raises a very important question in his book by asking, "does the frontline rifleman know how to fight the war, or does he know how to fight the battle?" The question implies that today's soldier possesses technology giving him the ability to fight the war at the front line.
[14] In a press briefing, Donald Rumsfeld famously said, "We also know there are known unknowns; that is to say we know there are some things we do not know. But there are also unknown unknowns -- the ones we don't know we don't know."
[15] Clausewitz, Carl von. On War. Edited by Michael Howard and Peter Paret. Translated by Michael Howard and Peter Paret. Princeton: Princeton Universtiy Press, 1984 paperback edition 1989. See p. 119. He says, "Everything in war is very simple, but the simplest thing is difficult." This coincides with his concept of friction.
[16] Clausewitz, p. 88.
[17] Ibid.
[18] Clausewitz, p. 120.
[19] Clausewitz, p. 121. Specifically Clausewitz says, "Friction, as we choose to call it, is the force that makes the apparently easy so difficult."
[20] Kautt, pp. 30-32.
[21]Rodriguez, David M. General. "Leaving Afghanistan to the Afghans." Foreign Affairs 90, no. 5 (September/October 2011): 45-53. General Rodriguez makes the point that we should be thinking critically as military leaders and adapting to change before change forces us to adapt. This coincides with how Clausewitz considers the 'friction' as a necessary consideration in war because that is where war becomes difficult. 


Clausewitz, Carl von. On War. Edited by Michael Howard and Peter Paret. Translated by Michael Howard              and Peter Paret. Princeton: Princeton Universtiy Press, 1984 paperback edition 1989.
Jomini, Henri baron. The Art of War. Kindle Edition. Translated by G.H. Capt. Mendel and W.P. Lieut.       Craighill. Public Domain Books, 2009 Originally published in 1862.
Kautt, W. H. Ambushes and Armour The Irish Rebellion 1919-1921. Dublin: Irish Academic Press, 2010.
Laden, Usama bin. "Aljazeera English." Archive: Full transcript of bin Ladin's speech. November 1, 2004.                 http://english.aljazeera.net/archive/2004/11/200849163336457223.html (accessed October 20,                 2011).
Paret, Peter, ed. Makers of Modern Strategy from Machiavelli to the Nuclear Age. Princeton: Princeton               University Press, 1986.
President of the United States. The National Security Strategy of the United States of America.                 Washington, D.C.: The White House, 2010.
Rodriguez, David M. General. "Leaving Afghanistan to the Afghans." Foreign Affairs 90, no. 5      (September/October 2011): 45-53.
Rumsfeld, Donald H. "U.S. Department of Defense." Transcript: DOD News Briefing - Secretary Rumsfeld              and Gen. Myers. February 12, 2002.            http://www.defense.gov/transcripts/transcript.aspx?transcriptid=2636 (accessed October 25,          2011).