Military Strategy – The Politics and Technique of War

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The book aims to understand one of the most significant challenges facing military strategists; defining the goals of war. Renowned Prussian commander Carl von Clausewitz concluded that the aim of military operations should be to disarm the enemy as quickly as possible. However, he found that this goal was often unattainable, as the enemy is not a static element in battle. Therefore, Clausewitz sought an alternative solution, realizing that war is essentially a political act. Political differences do not only lead to war, but also contribute to motivations for the use of force. This means that strategy is a political act, and its success requires sound judgment. The most fundamental asset a strategist has is a solid understanding of an enemy’s motives for fighting a war, and crucially, the strength of those motivations. Without this type of understanding, superior technical means are of little use.

Given the difficulty of this task, and the uncertainty of war, strategists have strived to achieve certainty through the use of advanced military techniques. However, this reduces war to an exercise in the efficient use of force, and marginalizes political considerations, until the fighting ends and a new peace is brokered. Addressing war as solely a military-technical project is, in most cases, counterproductive. It does nothing to eliminate the need to make preparations for the use of armed force within a wider political context. Force leads to force, each technique has a counter-technique and the rate of violence increases until the final costs of war are greater than the political differences that originally sparked conflict.

The author reaches this conclusion through an analytical approach that combines leading historical methodologies and theories of decision-making. He examines historical examples of strategic practice, from the French Revolution in 1789 to the US invasion of Iraq in 20003. In considering each case, the author seeks to define the nature of the strategy employed, within the prevailing political and military-technical considerations of the time. In this way, he aims to show whether the balance struck between these considerations resulted in a successful approach. This focus on strategy formulation, under various political and technical conditions, also assumes the rationality of the strategy. Divided into seven chapters, the first chapter looks at how the French Revolution allowed military techniques to play a greater role in international politics. Chapter Two analyzes Prussia’s strategy during and after the German Unification War, and until World War I. It demonstrates how Bismarck succeeded in deploying the militarily superior Prussian army to achieve German political unification. Chapter Three examines how the costs of modern warfare, as demonstrated by World War I, greatly undermined the political value of the war. Chapter Four looks at US military strategy in the two decades from 1941 to 1961, showing how its approach changed in order to avoid the heavy human costs of war. Instead, the US focused on deploying sophisticated mechanized land and air forces, before going on to take the lead in developing nuclear weapons. Chapter Five goes on to address the development of US nuclear strategy, based on the idea that Soviet aggression could be deterred by the threat of nuclear retaliation. Chapter Six examines US conventional warfare techniques in the second half of the twentieth century, while Chapter Seven addresses the War on Terror, which was waged with misplaced confidence that the threat of terrorist attacks could be overcome by force. The idea that using advanced military techniques to re-engineer the world, and build a new world hostile to terrorist ideologies, making them vulnerable to attack, was soon proven to be a fallacy.

Publisher: The Emirates Center for Strategic Studies and Research, Year: 2014

John Stone has been a Senior Lecturer in War Studies at King’s College, London, UK, since 1997. He graduated from the Department of Strategic Studies at the University of Aberystwyth, UK. His research areas of interest include, the theory and history of military strategy, the social shaping of military technology and the strategic aspects of war.

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