Clausewitz says, “The art of war...cannot attain the absolute, or certainty...With uncertainty in one scale, courage and self-confidence must be thrown into the other to correct the balance.” So, we use theories that have been tested by time—from those that explain the holistic picture of war to those that focus on the duel between two people—and provide invaluable guidance to science such that it can manage uncertainty.
ake the works of the past and use them as the foundation for a new space theory that will receive the approval of the public and stand the test of time. If a proper unified theory emerges, it will be codified and a coherent plan for every nation can be implemented and each can posture for strategic success as they see fit. Then humanity’s great curiosity of the cosmos may be be satisfied, even if only for a moment.
In this––our final installment––we appeal to each element of the Clausewitzian Trinity to do its part. To remain silent as practitioners of policy and war, we believe, would perpetuate the betrayal of those troops and civilians––American and foreign––who have made the ultimate sacrifice for reasons this country still struggles to articulate.
War and violence decoupled from strategy and policy—or worse yet, mistaken for strategy and policy—have contributed to perpetual war, or what has seemed like 15 years of “Groundhog War.” In its wars since 11 September 2001, the United States has arguably cultivated the best-equipped, most capable, and fully seasoned combat forces in remembered history. They attack, kill, capture, and win battles with great nimbleness and strength. But absent strategy, these victories are fleeting. Divorced from political objectives, successful tactics are without meaning.
As many historians like to point out, 19th century Prussian military theorist and army officer Carl von Clausewitz’s (1780-1831) seminal work, On War, was not written to be a “how-to” manual about waging warfare, but instead as a timeless treatise on the nature of war. Yet, Clausewitz was a product of both his time and experience. As a result, some of the ideas and metaphors Clausewitz used to describe his understanding of war and warfare might have outlived their utility. This is certainly not to say On War or Clausewitzian theory no longer carries value, but instead suggests some of the concepts therein need reexamined in relation to the passing of time. One of Clausewitz’s more controversial concepts, the center of gravity, falls into this category. The center of gravity (COG) – a metaphor to define warfare between relatively closed systems – has been rendered ineffective in modern warfare. Modern warfare is embodied by the collision of opposing systems in pursuit of political objectives. Modern systems sense, adapt, and act, while simultaneously hiding and protecting their critical vulnerabilities, and operating for self-perpetuation. Doctrine, rooted in a linear, Jominian application of Clausewitz’s COG concept, lacks the agility – cognitive and physical – to match the dynamism of contemporary systems warfare. As a result, doctrine must break with an anachronistic application of a metaphor, which is suited for 18th and 19th century warfare, and instead address the realities of contemporary and future warfare by replacing the COG with a systems approach that accounts for an adversarial systems’ ability to sense, adapt, and act. In doing so, doctrine will become more responsive to the fleeting opportunities in warfare, resulting in a more meaningful use of force.
Just as no war can take place without an enemy, there can be no war without targets. Considering the enemy, as a whole, a target, while true, borders on tautology. Instead, we subdivide the enemy into many individual parts against which we act. However, selecting these targets requires accurate strategic vision and precise tactical acumen.
Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland can help us better understand the experience of Clausewitzian genius. Now, this sounds about as illogical as Lewis Carroll’s famous riddle, uttered by the Mad Hatter: “Why is a raven like a writing desk?” But unlike the riddle, which was initially constructed without an answer, the concept of genius links Clausewitz and Alice without artifice. While Clausewitz’s “field of genius...raises itself above rules,” Wonderland is a fantastical space that enables Alice to raise herself not only above rules, but also sense. To see how this is so, we can appeal to Alice and her encounters in Wonderland to highlight the complexity found within military genius. But first we must locate genius in the space where theory fails to map onto reality.
The alternative to a good theory of causality is not the lack of a theory of causality, but a poor or ill-considered theory of causality. Unfortunately, such a theory of causality has made it remarkably difficult for airmen to explain and advance what air, space, and cyberspace do for the joint community and national objectives. We’ve spent the last decade disrupting threat networks from the air, but without the language of causality, we’ve analytically relegated these actions to the realm of support instead of claiming the mantle of airpower. A water-thin theory of causality leaves us all scrambling for the prize real estate on the “tip of the spear,” while a better theories of causality allows us to appreciate how the diversity of airmen’s contributions actually complement each other.
History is a dangerous thing. Parallels between contemporary events and history are all too easy to arrive at. In unskilled hands, historical events can be manhandled to seemingly deliver lessons and solutions to apparently intractable contemporary problems. This is ‘instrumentalising’ history. In reality, history can be misleading, its so-called ‘lessons’ proving counter-productive if their context is not properly understood.