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Monday, June 4, 2012

Clausewitz and his "trinity."- I do not think it means what you think it means

The final criticism, and one of the more recent topics of discussion in the strategy and policy community, is the applicability of the Clausewitzian ‘trinity’ to conflicts involving counter-insurgency, counter-terrorism, or involving non-state actors.

This debate also concerns the very notion of what On War has to say about the exclusive province of nation-states using military operations in international diplomacy.  One of the more difficult challenges facing Western military forces is dealing with amorphous organizations like Al Qaeda that occupy no territory, but have all of the other characteristics of a military or paramilitary organization.  While the classic trinity of the people, state, and army may no longer be as useful in today’s security environment; the deeper trinity of emotion, chance, and reason has gained some traction in the study and discussion of COIN and CT operations.  Clausewitz notes that although the methods, goals and forms of warfare will be a product of a particular age, the interplay of emotion, chance and rationality will still be applicable.1

In addition, the proper understanding of Clausewitz’ trinity, like all of his theories, must take place within the context of warfare as a battle between two organizations composed of people—therefore one combatant’s ‘trinity’ will directly affect and react to, changes in the other combatant’s trinity as long as the conflict endures.  The proper study of the trinity, in fact, offers the most flexible means of analyzing terrorism and insurgency by looking at the interaction of the three primordial forces involved in decisions to use violence for political ends.2

Many observers have stated the failure or decline of the nation-state to exclusively wield “war making” power has rendered Clausewitz’ trinity obsolete.  In fact, the rise of militias, auxiliary troops, gangs and other types of groups have not lessened the use of political violence.  In place of a failed government, such as Anbar Province in Iraq from 2003-2006, other groups, often clan or tribal, have emerged to seek political position, often though the use of force.  Although their goals may not seem rational to an outside observer, there is ultimately a purpose and end goal in play.

Iraq offers additional examples where the attacks on the Shia population and religious sites by Al Qaeda in early 2006 may have seemed senseless and random, but there was a very clear goal of igniting sectarian strife that could be exploited to create chaos, increase their power and influence over the Sunni tribes and wear down American public opinion.  Although this would seem illogical when considering the Shias held power and were a greater percentage of the Iraqi population, Al Qaeda had their motivation to unite Sunnis under their aegis to fight the Shia and Americans. 3
 
1    Colin Fleming, "New or Old Wars? Debating a Clausewitzian Future," The Journal of Strategic Studies (Routledge), April 2009, 213-241; Clausewitz, 89.  
2  Michael I Handel, Masters of War: Classical Strategic Thought, 3rd (New York, NY: Frank Cass Publishers, 2001), 104-111.
3  Bing West, The Strongest Tribe: War, Politics and the Endgame in Iraq (New York, NY: Random House, 2008), 114-130; Bart Schuurman, "Clausewitz and the "New War" Scholars," Parameters (U.S. Army War College), Spring 2010: 89-100.

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