In this piece, I argue the relevance of Clausewitz in modern times and address the potential contradiction in his “wondrous trinity” by answering three questions.
Is Clausewitz still relevant in modern times?
Clausewitz’s “On War” presents a unique approach to warfare as a theoretical entity that can be studied on its own. It examines War and violence as a singular entity and the various actors involved, making it a timeless and universally relevant theory of War. However, the question remains whether Clausewitz’s principles are still relevant in the present day, especially given the significant changes in the nature of War, particularly with the advent of information technology.
One could argue that the introduction of technology has rendered many of Clausewitz’s core principles irrelevant. For example, friction, uncertainty, danger, fear, courage, and chance, which Clausewitz identified as integral to War, hold little significance in cyberspace and the future of warfare.
However, it is also important to note that Clausewitz’s theories remain somewhat relevant as they study War as a theoretical entity. Although the practical application of his work may face criticism, the theories he presents continue to offer valuable insight into the nature of War and its various components.
2. Does Clausewitz’s ‘wondrous trinity’ contradict his own statement that ‘War is the continuation of politics by other means’?
Clausewitz’s “wondrous trinity” refers to the three central entities involved in War – the people, the commander and his army, and the government. It is argued that this trinity does not contradict Clausewitz’s statement that “War is the continuation of politics by other means”. In fact, these three entities form the foundation of politics itself.
Politics refers to any activity that influences a government’s policies, actions, or direction or the ability to retain power within a government. The people serve as the backbone of politics, as they hold the power to elect and remove governments. Governments, in turn, rely on popular support to remain in power.
For example, the Russian Revolution of 1917 serves as a prime example of the people rising against an unpopular War, ultimately leading to the fall of the Tsar’s regime.
The commander and his army, on the other hand, may not have much agency in the matter. In modern times, politicians and the government are responsible for sending the military to War, while the military carries out their directives. However, this does not mean that the military has no impact on politics. The military can be a significant factor in shaping a government’s policies and actions, especially in times of crisis.
In conclusion, Clausewitz’s “wondrous trinity” does not contradict his statement that “War is the continuation of politics by other means.” Politics involve the government, with the people serving as the backbone, and the military as a significant factor. Accepting that War is simply the process of bending the enemy to do one’s will, which is a factor of politics, further supports Clausewitz’s argument.
3. Should we then abandon the work of Clausewitz?
In summary, Clausewitz’s theories, although complex, remain relevant in modern times, offering valuable insight into the nature of War and its various components.
No, I do not believe so. We should not throw away the work of Clausewitz simply because times have changed. Clausewitz’s “On War” remains a seminal work in the field of military strategy and the study of warfare. Although, like I already emphasised above, some of his principles may not be directly applicable in the modern context however, the underlying themes and concepts that he discusses, such as the relationship between war and politics, the role of the commander and the army, and the importance of understanding the nature of war, continue to be relevant today.
Moreover, Clausewitz’s theories provide a valuable historical perspective on the evolution of warfare, and they offer insight into the nature of war that is still applicable today. By studying Clausewitz’s work, we can gain a deeper understanding of the evolution of warfare and the challenges that have faced military leaders in the past, and we can use this knowledge to inform our understanding of the challenges we face today.
In conclusion, while we should not blindly apply Clausewitz’s theories in the modern context, we should not dismiss his work altogether. Instead, we should approach his work with an open mind and a critical perspective, recognizing its value as a historical reference and as a source of insight into the nature of war.