1. Data: Standard Bibliographic Entry

Clausewitz, Carl. On War. Trans. And ed. Michael Howard and Peter Paret. Princeton:

Princeton University Press, 1984.

Paret, Peter. Ed. Makers of Modern Strategy: From Machiavelli to the Nuclear Age. Princeton:

Princeton University Press, 1986.

2. Author: Information concerning the author that influenced his ability to theorize about a particular aspect of the art and science of war.

Same as previous lesson…

3. Context: Information about the author’s environment that influenced the development of his theory.

Having established the nature of war and a method for analyzing war, Clausewitz's next step was to consider the elements of strategy, which he defined as the use of engagements for the purpose of the war. He does this in Book III and again in his summary in Book VIII. Also be alive to the fact that his discussion of the term “center(s) of gravity” [a valid translation, but not the only valid translation, of the German term(s) Schwerpunkt(en)] in Book VIII treats the concept in both a singular and plural fashion.

4. Scope: What is the theory about? How broad or narrow is it?

Clausewitz explores the elements of strategy. Clausewitz's notion of strategy thus straddles what we in contemporary parlance refer to as military strategy - the use or the threat of the use of force in order to obtain political objectives - and operational art - the design, organization, conduct, and support of major operations and campaigns in order to achieve strategic objectives. Clausewitz shifts his perspective regarding his use of the word "strategy" from the national level to the theater level.

5. Evidence: What is the basis of evidence for the theorist’s work?

Clausewitz uses inductive reasoning, historical cases studies, and firsthand knowledge extensively to prove his theory.

6. Central Proposition: What is the fundamental proposition put forward by the theorist, i.e., the one upon which the remainder of the theory rests?

Clausewitz’s central proposition remains: (69) “War is nothing but the continuation of policy with other means.”

7. Other Major Propositions: What additional propositions does the theorist advance? Think of the relationship between these propositions and the central proposition as being roughly analogous to the relationship of corollaries to a theorem in geometry.

(177) “Strategy is the use of the engagement for the purpose of the war. The strategist must therefore define an aim for the entire operational side of the war that will be in accordance to its purpose.”

(183) There are five elements of strategy:

a. moral – intellectual, psychological qualities, and influences

b. physical – size of the force

c. mathematical – wherever geometry enters into the war

d. geographical – the influence of terrain (environment)

e. statistical – support and maintenance (logistics)

(186) Moral[e] elements:

a. skill of the commander

b. experience and courage of the troops

c. patriotic spirit

(189) There are two sources of military spirit

a. a series of victorious wars

b. frequent exertions to the utmost limits of strength

(192) Boldness is inversely proportional to military rank

(210) “a strategic reserve becomes less essential, less useful, and more dangerous to use, the more inclusive and general its intended purpose.”

a. nuclear war?

b. in the case of a hegemony?

(217) “The history of warfare so often shows us the very opposite of unceasing progress toward the goal, that it becomes apparent that immobility and inactivity are the normal state of armies in war, and action is the exception.”

a. fear and indecision native to the human mind

b. imperfection of human perception and judgment, which is more pronounced in war

than anywhere else.

c. the greater strength of the defensive

(578) “When all is said and done, it really is the commander’s coup d’oeil, his ability to see things simply, to identify the whole business of war completely with himself, that is the essence of good generalship.”

(578) “Theory should cast a steady light on all phenomena so that we can more easily recognize and eliminate the weeds that always spring from ignorance; it should show how one thing is related to another, and keep the important and the unimportant separate. If concepts combine of their own accord to form that nucleus of truth we call a principle, if they spontaneously compose a pattern that becomes a rule, it is the task of the theorist to make this clear.”

(578) “Theory cannot equip the mind with formulas for solving problems, nor can it mark the narrow path on which the sole solution is supposed to lie by planting a hedge of principles on either side. But it can give the mind insight into the great mass of phenomena and of their relationships, then leave it free to rise into the higher realms of action.”

(582) “Since war contains a host of interactions since the whole series of engagements is, strictly speaking, linked together, since in every victory there is a culminating point beyond which lies the realm of losses and defeats—in view of all these intrinsic characteristics of war, we say there is only one result that counts: final victory.”

(585) Scale of the military objective and of the effort to be made:

a. the scale of political demands on either side

b. the situation and conditions of the belligerents

c. the governments’ strength of will, their character and abilities

(604) “As the modifying principle gains a hold on military operations, or rather, as the incentive fades away, the active element gradually becomes passive. Less and less happens, and guiding principles will not be needed. The art of war will shrivel into prudence, and its main concern will be to make sure the delicate balance is not suddenly upset in the enemy’s favor and the half-hearted war does not become a real war after all.”

a. the American experience in its limited wars of the 20th century

b. the nuclear age makes this more the case today

(617) “The first principle is that the ultimate substance of enemy strength must be traced back to the fewest possible sources, and ideally to one alone.”

a. center of gravity

8. Critique: Theories are evaluated on the basis of internal consistency and comprehensiveness as well as external validity.

a. Internal Consistency and Comprehensiveness.

Ø How is the subject under investigation defined? Does this definition conflict with other definitions contained in the theory?

o The word moral should be “morale” in many cases and vice versa. Clausewitz’s definition is not consistent.

o The concept of “Center(s) of Gravity” is not consistent. Although the quoted definition above justifies multiple centers, the best general principle is that centers of gravity must be minimized

o Extensive explanation of limited war is spent throughout On War. Although, Clausewitz’s intent is to explain the non-ideal state of war, he does not make it clear that limited war is of limited purpose.

Ø How does the theorist categorize the subject under investigation? Does the totality of the categories equal the totality of the field? Are the categories distinct?

o Clausewitz provides categorization of the subject through his use of elements. The categories are distinct. They are not all encompassing but the most important aspects of strategy. His principles support the element categorizations.

Ø How does the theorist explain relationships among various parts of the subject? Are these explanations internally consistent, or do some contradict others?

o Clausewitz does an excellent job tying everything back to the central concept of the relationship between politics and war. Moreover, he expands on his concept of the strategic trinity.

Ø How well does the theorist connect the subject under investigation to other related subjects?

o Clausewitz cross-references concepts (elements and principles) throughout his work.

Ø Is the theory complete? Does it comprehend all relevant topics and components?

o His theory is not complete. He died before he could complete chapters on “planning a campaign” and “supreme command.” Also, since the first chapter is the only book that was finished, it is evident that some of the subsequent chapters were not finished/polished. They are disjointed in places.

b. External Validity.

Ø How well do the theoretical propositions correspond with the evidence of historical analysis?

-- Historical case studies support theoretical propositions. However, given Clausewitz’s context and perception, historical analysis is largely confined to Napoleonic warfare. Nonetheless, they correspond in an excellent manner.

Ø How well do the theoretical propositions correspond with the evidence of contemporary reality?

-- They correspond in an excellent manner to the exception of nuclear weapons and airpower.

Ø How well do the theoretical propositions offer a plausible explanation for anticipated future developments?

-- If domains are considered synonymous with territory, Clausewitz’s theory is very applicable to future developments.

9. Comparison and Synthesis. How does this work of theory compare and contrast with other theoretical works in the same general field? What synthesis, if any, is possible among these theories?

Yes, Sun Tzu overlaps with Clausewitz in the areas of “Tension and Rest” (Chapter 18). Also, Clausewitz’s ideas relating to surprise and cunning are similar to Sun Tzu.

10. Importance. What is the significance of this work in the development of the theory and practice of military art and science? What influence did it have on the conduct of war? What is its contemporary and future relevance?

The concept of the “culminating point” and “center of gravity” are essential for military professionals. These concepts dictate when and where to transition from the offensive to the defensive, and vice versa, and provides insight into how to plan for application of force in an effort to meet political objectives.


1. Moral – covers everything that is created by intellectual and psychological quantities and influences

2. Physical – consists of the size of the armed forces, their composition, armament etc.

3. Mathematical – angle of lines of operation, the convergent/divergent movements

4. Geographical – the influence of terrain such as commanding positions, mountains, rivers/woods/roads

5. Statistical – support and maintenance

Page 184 – Moral Elements – constitute the spirit what permeates was as a whole and establish a close affinity with the “will” that moves and leads the whole mass of force. It cannot be academically defined, but must be seen or felt.

Page 186 – “THE PRINCIPAL MORAL ELEMENTS” – 3x elements and 3x examples of where each play out based on how they impact the fighting force

1. The Skill of the commander – felt greatest in HILL COUNTRY

2. The Experience and Courage of the Troops – felt most in OPEN COUNTRY

3. Patriotic Spirit - prevails in MOUNTAIN WARFARE as soldiers are mostly split up and on their own to survive the conditions

Page 187 – Military virtues = obedience, order, rule, and method. Esprit de’ Corps is the professional pride (never to be underestimated)…where professional pride is the bond between the various natural forces that activate military virtues

Page 189 – Military spirit = is one of the most important elements of war. There are only two sources to create it:


1. ''The Armed Forces

2. ''The Country

3. ''The Enemy’s Will


1. Invasion – the seizure of enemy territory; not with the object of retaining it

2. Give priority to operations that will increase the enemy’s suffering (via military or political means)

3. Wear down the enemy – using the duration of the war to bring about a gradual exhaustion of his physical and moral resistance

Page 95 – There is only one MEANS….that is COMBAT.

v Combat itself is made an element of war by its very purpose, by its objective

v Each of these elements which become distinct in the course of fighting is named an engagement

Page 100 – Military Genius: It is a harmonious balance of a few items…

1. ''Courage- The soldiers first requirement

2. ''Physical strength of mind and body

3. ''Sensitive and discriminate judgment

4. ''Open to chance

v This gives way to the very items that help a person with genius do well

1. ''Determination

2. ''Coup d’oeil (inward eye)

Page 119 – Friction in War – is the only concept that more or less corresponds to the factors that distinguish real war from war on paper. “Action in war is like movement in a resistant element”…. “The good general must know friction in order to overcome it whenever possible, and in order not to expect a standard of achievement in his operations which this very friction makes impossible”… “Friction, as we choose to call it, is the force that makes the apparently easy so difficult”….military experience and first-hand knowledge reduces friction

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