CLAUSEWITZ ON WAR:

A COMMENTARY ON THE 'PEACE PROCESS'

By Prof. Paul Eidelberg

General Karl von Clausewitz (1780-1831) was perhaps the greatest writer on war. His magnum opus, On War, is carefully studied in military schools to this day, for its principles are as valid for nuclear as for conventional and guerrilla warfare, including the terrorist war of attrition Arabs are waging against Israel. We may even learn from Clausewitz why modern Israel has never won a single war!

Clausewitz defines war as "an act of violence intended to compel our opponent to fulfill our will. Violence is the means; submission of the enemy to our will the ultimate object. As long as the enemy remains armed, he will wait for a more favorable moment of action. The ultimate object of war is political. To attain this object fully, the enemy must be disarmed. Disarming the enemy "becomes therefore the immediate object of hostilities." Clausewitz would thus be dumbfounded, seeing that Israel's prime ministers have armed the PLO-Palestinian Authority. Of course, these prime ministers might deny that Israel and the PLO are at war.

They have called PLO chief Yasser Arafat a "partner in peace." In any event, if the ultimate object of war is the total destruction of the enemy, then the military object coincides with the political object, in which case there is no theoretical limit to the violence that may be used. [Congressman Jim Saxton's "Task Force Report on Terrorism and Unconventional Warfare" indicates that various Arab-Islamic regimes regard Israel's territorial truncation "a unique opportunity to, at the very least, begin the process leading to Israel's destruction."]

As Clausewitz understood, unlimited wars are usually animated by unmitigated ideological hatred [like Islam's hatred of Israel] which cannot be assuaged until the enemy's population is enslaved or annihilated. This does not necessarily mean that limited wars -- wars having limited political objectives -- involve limitations on the types of weapons used in combat. For again, the immediate object is to disarm the enemy, which means to destroy his military forces, and this may require great bloodshed [hence the use of unconventional weapons]. Clausewitz warns: "Philanthropists may readily imagine there is a skillful method of disarming and overcoming an enemy without causing great bloodshed, and that this is the proper tendency of the art of war. However plausible this may appear, still it is an error which must be extirpated; for in such dangerous things as war, the errors which proceed from a spirit of benevolence are the worst" [errors not to expected from Israel's enemies].

This being so, the distinction between civilians and soldiers becomes questionable, since the former provide the arms for the latter. A "nation in arms" suggests that every citizen is a soldier. Not that Clausewitz advocates indiscriminate slaughter. He warns, however, that "he who uses force unsparingly, without reference to the bloodshed involved, must obtain a superiority if his adversary uses less vigor in its application." [Perhaps from humane and political considerations, the United States failed to heed this principle in the Korean and Vietnam wars. The result was protracted conflict and greater loss of life on both sides, as would surely have occurred had the U.S. invaded Japan in World War II rather than use the atomic bomb on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.] Again Clausewitz: "Let us not hear of generals who conquer without bloodshed. If a bloody slaughter is a horrible sight, then that is a ground for paying more respect to war, but not for making the sword we wear blunter and blunter by degrees from feelings of humanity, until someone steps in with one that is sharp and lops off the arm from our body."

It follows that moderation as a principle of war [or what some Israeli generals call "purity of arms"] is absurd. The correct military principle is proportionality. Thus, to defeat the enemy, the means must be proportioned to his powers of resistance. But above and beyond military proportionality is statecraft. For in the last analysis, war is never an isolated act. The military commander is subordinate to the statesman. The statesman, says Clausewitz, must take into account not only the forces of the enemy. He must also understand the character of his own people as well as the character and the interests of his allies. His first concern is national morale and unity. He must solidify the confidence and determination of his people. They must believe in the justice of their country's cause and understand the importance of victory as well as the consequences of defeat. The statesman must display wisdom, decisiveness, and clarity. Needless to say, a protracted war undermines the morale of the home front and may depress the troops and disrupt alliances.

Above all the statesman must have a clear view of his post-war goal or political object. The political object takes war out of the realm of abstraction. Belligerents are no longer mere conceptions but individual states and governments having distinct political and ideological characteristics. [It is one thing to be at war with a political dictatorship; quite another to be at war with a dictatorship animated by an all-consuming ideology. The political object of the former may be limited, perhaps a portion of your territory; the political object of the latter may be unlimited, your total destruction.] Hence the political object, which is the motive of war, as well as the nature of the enemy, will determine the purpose of military force as well as the amount of force to be used.

Clausewitz's oft-quoted dictum that war is a continuation of politics by other means is often misunderstood. War is itself a political act. The political object is the first and highest consideration in the conduct of war. But "the political object is not a despotic lawgiver on that account." It must accommodate itself to the nature of the means, i.e., the military forces available, and this may involve a temporary modification of the political objective. [For example, the PLO-Palestinian Authority has limited military forces. It can only launch limited military strikes against Israel -- terrorist attacks or suicide bombings -- with a view to demoralizing the Jews and gaining territorial and other concessions. But suppose the PLO, as evidence indicates, is an instrument of war employed by Arab-Islamic states, especially Egypt, its creator and patron.

The purpose of the instrument is to enfeeble Israel by terrorist attacks. Such attacks compel Israel to engage in counter-terrorist activity, which impairs the country's ability to defend itself against external enemies. The "peace process," otherwise known as the policy of "territory for peace," should then be deemed a facade for an Arab-Islamic war of attrition intended to facilitate Israel's coup de grace -- the conclusion of the Saxton report.] This scenario illustrates Clausewitz's contention that "policy is interwoven in the whole action of war, and exercises continuous influence upon it." War is both a political act and a political instrument, a continuation of political intercourse by other means or by a mixture of means. Hence war is not an independent thing. The dichotomy of war and peace is fallacious. War changes its appearance because the means change. And the means may not only be military but economic and diplomatic [such as the Arab boycott and the signing of "peace" agreements on the White House lawn].

If we view the "peace process" in this light, Israel's political and military (not to mention rabbinical) leaders appear as babes in the woods. Which suggests that Israel desperate needs an entirely new type of leadership, one that understands the principles of war, that knows how to negotiate with Arabs, and that takes Islam seriously.

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Prof. Paul Eidelberg is on the faculty of Bar-Illan University in Israel and writes a column for THE JEWISH PRESS. To learn how Israel may obtain such leadership, join the Foundation for Constitutional Democracy, 244 Madison Avenue, Suite 427, New York, NY 10016, E-mail: Constitution@USA.Net.

The Freeman Center urges you to support the valuable work of Prof. Eidelberg.


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