'87 Sir

Thirty years of service ----USNA Class of 1987 '87 Sir

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

War as an Art or Science, Part 2

Born several centuries later, Carl Von Clausewitz, and Antoine-Henri Jomini, further developed these concepts of warfare and statecraft but drew very different conclusions on waging war from their experiences serving in the Napoleonic Wars.
            Jomini was a clear proponent of war as a science that was governed by timeless and well-developed principles.  His work The Art of War, was written in a very precise and scientific manner, proposing concrete actions for a commander to take in given situations-“War is always to be conducted according to the great principles of the art; but great discretion must be exercised in the nature of the operations to be undertaken which should depend upon the circumstances of the case.”  [6] Jomini does an admirable job of offering an early delineation of Strategy, Operational Art and Tactics, but still provides a checklist approach to battle that, while useful on a tactical or even operational level, does not take into account the political or diplomatic elements of war at the strategic level.  Jomini’s entire thinking on warfare can be summed in his ‘fundamental principle of war’ which states- “To throw by strategic movements the mass of an army successively upon the decisive points of a theater of war and also upon the communications of the enemy as much as possible without compromising one's own.”  [7]
            Jomini’s thinking on the art or science of war was not as sophisticated or as complete as Sun Tzu’s or Clausewtiz’ on the political and diplomatic relationship to strategy and warfare.  Moreover, although Jomini was an enthusiastic proponent of his self-described principles of war, as well as his concept of using ‘interior lines’ to conduct offensive operations, he did not clearly proscribe under what circumstances to apply which principle, in a sense contradicting his own ideas of war waged by fixed scientific principles.  [8]
            Clausewitz was probably the greatest of the classic strategic thinkers and incorporated a holistic view of war that remains both relevant and confusing today.  As a member of the defeated Prussian military in 1806, Clausewitz shared Sun Tzu’s and Machiavelli’s viewpoints on the importance of the study and preparation for warfare to the survival of the state.  Clausewitz very much considered war more of an art than science and did not subscribe to any particular set-piece solution for a tactical or strategic problem—“In short, absolute, so-called mathematical, factors never find a firm basis in military calculations…in the whole range of human activities, war most closely resembles a game of cards.”  [9]   
Clausewitz clearly understood that warfare was a very human interaction since armies and their commanders rarely remain static in their thinking and actions.  The constant action and reaction of opponents in combat make a scientific approach to warfare very problematic and required a commander to exercise his ‘genius’ on a battlefield to overcome the friction and uncertainty of the battlefield.  Clausewitz famous dictum of the ‘friction’ of combat that prevents a commander from exercising total control over a battlefield remains true today.  Clausewitz and Sun Tzu both exhibited keen insights into the psychological aspects of warfare and Clausewitz in particular wrote extensively on topics such as the ‘genius’ or intuition of a commander to handle uncertainty, fear, bad information, and the basic confusion of a battlefield and still prevail.  [10]
            All of the author’s agree that at the tactical level there are definite ‘principles’ that apply to the successful conduct of battle such as discipline, use of terrain, the role of deception and surprise, simplicity and concentration of force.  At the operational and certainly at the strategic level, the authors have some significant differences, which are never really reconciled, particularly the relationship between politics, diplomacy and military action and the interplay between generals and rulers. 
            History and even current American doctrine would seem to indicate that at the tactical level, there are certain ‘scientific’ principles that apply to combat.  The employment of tanks, artillery, air power, and other modern weapons systems, particularly when combined with modern sensors and information systems would seem to make warfare an overwhelmingly technical and scientific activity that would eliminate Clausewitz’s ‘fog of war’.  However, at the strategic and even operational level, war remains very much still an art.  The U.S. Army’s current Field Manual 3-0 states- “Commanders use operational art to envision how to create conditions that define the national strategic end state. Actions and interactions across the levels of war influence these conditions. These conditions are fundamentally dynamic and linked together by the human dimension, the most unpredictable and uncertain element of conflict. The operational environment is complex, adaptive, and interactive. Through operational art, commanders apply a comprehensive understanding of it to determine the most effective and
efficient methods to influence conditions in various locations across multiple echelons.”  [11]
Because warfare is always fought between people that react and adapt, there is likely never going to be a completely scientific approach to war.  Technology cannot replace the thinking and reacting that a good battlefield commander brings to a conflict and as long as warfare is conducted between human opponents, war will remain more an art than a science.

[6] Antoine Henri Jomini, "The Art of War," Google Books, 1862, http://books.google.com/books?id=nZ4fAAAAMAAJ&printsec=frontcover&source=gbs_navlinks_s#v=onepage&q=&f=false (accessed Oct 2009), 15.
[7] Jomini, 70.
[8] John Shy, "Jomini," in Makers of Modern Strategy: From Machiavelli to the Nuclear Age, 143-185 (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1986).
[9] Carl Von Clausewitz, On War, trans. Michael Howard and Peter Paret (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1976), 86.
[10] Clausewitz, 100-102, 148-150; Peter Paret, "Clausewitz," in Makers of Modern Strategy: From Machiavelli to the Nuclear Age, 186-216 (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1986); Michael I Handel, Masters of War: Classical Strategic Thought, 3rd (New York, NY: Frank Cass Publishers, 2001), 26-27.
[11] Headquarters, Department of the Army, "Field Manual (FM) 3-0: Operations," Joint Electronic Library, Feb 2008, http://www.dtic.mil/doctrine/doctrine.htm (accessed July 2009), 6-4.

Monday, October 18, 2010

War as an Art or Science?

So, we have been discussing in my MILH511 MA class on whether war is an art or science...here is my view..

The discussion of war as an art or science in nearly as old as warfare itself.  Two of the early strategic thinkers, Sun Tzu and Niccolo Machiavelli, offer remarkably similar viewpoints on the importance of warfare to a state while presenting different opinions on how best to wage war successfully.  While their great treatises reflect the particular issues faced by their states and rulers, they do provide a common frame of reference to begin the strategic issues of war.   Born centuries after Sun Tzu and Machiavelli, Clausewtiz and Jomini expanded upon earlier thoughts of warfare and statecraft, but diverged significantly on the lessons learned from their common experiences in the Napoleonic Wars.  A careful review of these four great thinkers provides an excellent departure point for arguing whether waging war is an art or science and the importance of waging war to a state.
            Sun Tzu, writing in China of the 6th century BC, and Niccolo Machiavelli, who lived in 16th century Renaissance Europe, hard remarkably similar views on warfare and statecraft.  Both men considered the study and preparation for war to be the most important task of a ruler.  In both of their eras, being able to successfully wage war was literally a life or death matter for a ruler or dynasty and was a task never to be undertaken lightly.  Both men offered several early insights into the relationship between politics and warfare, particularly the notion that warfare was a common and accepted instrument of diplomacy.  “Warfare is the greatest affair of state, the basis of life or death, the Way to survival or extinction.  It must be thoroughly pondered and analyzed” was Sun Tzu’s view [1], while Machiavelli expressed his thoughts on the topic as “A Prince then out to have no other aim, nor other thought, nor take anything else for his proper art, but war, and the orders and discipline therof:  for it is the sole art which belongs to him that commands.”  [2] As these quotes show, both writers developed a keen understanding of war’s importance and the need for a ruler to undertake a serious study of strategy and diplomacy.  Both of these writers certainly considered warfare to be more of an art than science, and Sun Tzu in particular developed some of the earliest theories of indirect and psychological warfare as a means to avoid battles that, even if won, could destroy a ruler’s army and drain his treasury-“Thus one who excels at employing the military subjugates other people’s armies without engaging in battle…thus his weapons will not become dull, and the gains can be preserved.” [3]
Although Machiavelli was not as detailed in The Prince on how warfare should be conducted, he did introduce two important thoughts into military strategy—the increasing role of nation-states in raising and equipping armies and the need for conscription of soldiers to avoid the chaotic role of mercenary armies in Italy.  [4]
However, both authors were also influenced by their particular situations.  Sun Tzu actually served as a military commander and advisors to Emperors and his Art of War serves partly as a military manual, offering advice not only on strategy and policy, but deception, logistics and the equipping and organizing of armies.  Machiavelli was a product of 15th and 16th century Enlightenment thinking, as well as the political struggle of the Italian city-states to maintain their independence against larger and better armed foes.  One particular flaw in Machiavelli’s Art of War and The Prince was his complete disregarded or misunderstanding of the on-going changes to warfare at the tactical level caused by the widespread introduction of modern artillery and hand-held gunpowder weapons.  [5]

[1] Ralph D. Sawyer, trans., The Seven Military Classics of Ancient China, trans. Ralph D. Sawyer (New York, NY: Basic Books, 1993), 157.
[2] Niccolo Machiavelli, The Art of War (Radford, VA: Wilder Publications LLC, 2008), 191.
[3] Sawyer, 161.
[4] Felix Gilbert, "Machiavelli: Renaissance of the Art of War," in Makers of Modern Strategy: Machiavelli to the Nuclear Age, ed. Peter Paret, 11-31 (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1986).
[5] Gilbert, 11-31.
More later this week