Relationship Between Politics and War Comparison Paper Discuss the two contrasting perspectives on the relationship between politics and war. Is war the co

Relationship Between Politics and War Comparison Paper Discuss the two contrasting perspectives on the relationship between politics and war. Is war the continuation of politics by other means, as Clausewitz argued, or is it the failure of the political process (and therefore a completely different endeavor, with its own rules) ?

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Resources:… Clausewitz and the
“New Wars” Scholars
© 2010 Bart Schuurman
ince the Second World War, western armed forces have been most successful against opponents whose weapons, methods of organization, and
ways of thinking closely resembled their own. Conflicts such as Israel’s SixDay War (1967) and the first Gulf War (1991) exemplified western militaries’ excellence at defeating those adversaries who closely matched their
own capabilities. The collapse of the Soviet Union in the early 1990s seemed
to underline the West’s military, economic, and ideological dominance. Yet
even as the Berlin Wall fell, new threats were emerging. As western hopes of
cashing in on the peace dividend were dashed in Somalia, Rwanda, and the
Balkans, academics and military professionals alike sought to explain how
the world’s most powerful militaries failed to defeat ragtag militias armed
with the most basic of weapons. Many observers concluded that the nature
of war had changed and that western armed forces had yet to make the necessary adaptations to the new paradigm..
The “new wars” school of thought has contributed significantly to understanding why conventional military superiority has limited value in civil
wars or counterinsurgencies. Victory in such conflicts no longer rests on the
ability to inflict massive destruction but on the ability to wrestle popular support away from one’s opponents, isolating the insurgent or the terrorist from
the things he needs most. New wars theorists have shown that western armed
forces have to decisively alter the way in which they think about and prepare
for armed conflict. Unfortunately, some of these theorists have also attempted to fundamentally change the way we think about war in general. This approach has led to several well-entrenched misunderstandings regarding war’s
fundamental characteristics and the relationship between contemporary and
historical conflicts. This article will shed some light on these misunderstandings and show the faulty reasoning upon which they are based. By doing so,
the author hopes to make a contribution to the development of a more nuBart Schuurman is a researcher in the Department of History and Art History at
Utrecht University, The Netherlands.
Spring 2010
Bart Schuurman
anced and robust intellectual framework that can be used to study historical
and contemporary warfare.1
“New Wars” Thinking
A central tenet of new wars thinking is that the fundamental characteristics of war are subject to change, making it possible for armed conflict
to develop through several distinct phases. This proposition stands in direct
contradiction to the work of the formidable Carl von Clausewitz, and it is
therefore no surprise that new wars theorists have attempted to do away with
the work of the Prussian strategist in order to validate their own findings. As
Tony Corn phrases it, “Infatuation with Clausewitz can lead to hair-raising
absurdities about the Global War on Terror.”2 Philip Meilinger expresses a
similar sentiment when he writes that “[m]istakes have been made in Iraq,
and over 3,000 Americans have paid with their lives for those mistakes, as
well as tens of thousands of Iraqis. The Clausewitzian paradigm so hastily
followed has proven disastrous.”3
Yet the arguments for Clausewitz’s dismissal are of a highly contested
nature. By a closer examination of the criticisms leveled at Clausewitz, this article aims to show that instead of validating the new wars theory, Clausewitz in
fact exposes its fundamental flaws. First of all, though, a brief review of several
leading new wars theorists will illustrate the theory and some initial pitfalls.
In many respects Mary Kaldor exemplifies the new wars thinking.
She dismisses Clausewitz with the argument that he saw war as “the use of
military means to defeat another state” and that this approach to warfare is
no longer applicable in today’s conflicts.4 She argues that states are no longer the primary actors in war, having been replaced by “group[s] identified
in terms of ethnicity, religion, or tribe” and that such forces rarely fight each
other in a decisive encounter.5 Kaldor believes that contemporary conflicts
no longer revolve around attaining a specific military victory but that they
are matters of political mobilization through the use of violence, which has
led to civilians becoming the main targets. Sometimes objectives are altogether absent and combatants are inspired to maintain a state of conflict
because it provides them with lucrative economic benefits. Kaldor hypothesizes that these new wars speed up the processes of state disintegration that
gave rise to them in the first place. In short, she argues that the end of the
Cold War saw the demise of interstate war in favor of a new type of conflict
characterized by civil strife.6
William Lind and Thomas Hammes developed another popular form
of new wars thinking. They contend that the history of war has progressed
through several distinct stages and that the world is currently experiencing “fourth generation warfare” (4GW). In 4GW, high technology empowered western armed forces to face elusive and materially inferior opponents
Clausewitz and the “New Wars” Scholars
who, through a combination of guerrilla warfare, terrorism, and campaigns
aimed at undermining western public support, are nevertheless able to pose
a significant threat to western security. Lind and Hammes believe
It is only logical that the
that western forces are struggling
materially inferior actor will
to effectively utilize their military pursue strategies that bypass his
potential because they are still op- opponent’s military superiority.
erating according to the outdated
principles and doctrines of earlier
generations of war that stressed maneuver warfare as exemplified by the concept of blitzkrieg.7
Initial Thoughts
These cases are but two examples from the new wars literature. Yet
they reflect two important general characteristics, namely the tendency to
impose clear historical boundaries and the belief that modern developments
reflect fundamental changes in the nature of warfare that constitute a break
with the “old” Clausewitzian concept. An immediately apparent weakness of
these examples is voiced by Colin Gray, who notes that “[t]here always has
been intercommunal strife. It is a global phenomenon today, but then it always has been. We should not exaggerate its incidence.”8 Edward Newman
underlines this point by showing that many factors viewed as being characteristic of new wars, such as economic or criminal motives, the deliberate targeting of civilians, ethnic cleansing, and even genocide, were already
prevalent in a number of conflicts in the early twentieth century and before.9
Fourth generation warfare’s division of war into distinct historical
categories is equally problematic. Critics such as Lawrence Freedman discard the theory due to its use of selective historical sources and improbable
clearly demarcated time periods. Likewise, Michael Evans finds its foundation on a Marxist-style division of warfare into definable stages too neat
and its linear model of progression too generalized, negating the fact that
contemporary war is in fact a synthesis of forms. To a large extent these
criticisms reflect 4GW thinkers’ tendency to mistake war’s outwardly visible variations for fundamental changes to its nature. This error has led proponents to perceive fundamental distinctions between “generations” where
there are none. While war certainly has evolved and will continue to do so,
these changes concern contextual factors rather than fundamental ones: the
parties waging war, the objectives they fight for, and the weapons they use.10
For example, recent developments such as global communication networks, the international financial market, and the use of religiously inspired
suicide bombings have enabled terrorist organizations such as al Qaeda to
threaten their opponents in hitherto unforeseen ways. But in itself, this trend
Spring 2010
Bart Schuurman
is nothing truly new. It is only logical that the materially inferior actor will
pursue strategies that bypass his opponent’s military superiority. As Antulio Echevarria summarizes, “[t]hroughout history, terrorists, guerrillas, and
similar actors have typically aimed at an opponent’s will to fight rather than
his means; the difference now is that they enjoy enhanced access to that
will.”11 Similarly, while an individual suicide bomber may be motivated by
religious convictions, the groups that employ such means often pursue worldly goals. Al Qaeda’s published aims are not religiously inspired mass murder
but the removal of western influences from Muslim lands and the establishment of a Palestinian state. In other words, groups such as bin Laden’s terrorist network pursue decidedly old-fashioned goals of power and influence.12
Different manifestations of war do not necessarily herald a truly new
age or generation in the historical development of armed conflict. Instead, they
reflect contextual specifics and the current configuration of war’s underlying
and unchanging elements. This argument is heavily based on Clausewitz’s
ideas on the nature of war, and it is to these that this article now turns. In order to properly show the new wars theory’s shaky foundations, and to propose an alternative way of thinking about armed conflict, it is essential to
discuss Clausewitz’s ideas regarding the nature of war and those authors
who criticize them.
Clausewitz Revisited
Arguably the most interesting, as well as the most debated, part of
Clausewitz’s heritage is his theory that war’s fundamental nature resembles a
“paradoxical trinity” whose constituting elements are violence, chance, and
rational purpose. To gain a fuller understanding of the value of this theory, as
well as the criticisms leveled against it, it is helpful to first discuss the related
concept of “absolute” versus “real” war.13
It was this concept that led the influential twentieth-century British
military historian and strategist Basil Liddell Hart to accuse Clausewitz of
being an advocate of unlimited warfare, and as such directly responsible for
the carnage of the First World War.14 John Keegan has more recently taken
a similar point of view, calling Clausewitz “the apostle of a revolutionary
philosophy of war making” and declaring that he advocated unconstrained
warfare as being in the best interest of the state.15
Although On War does open with an argument that, at first glance,
may seem to support these views, Liddell Hart and Keegan’s criticism are unfounded. Clausewitz defines war as “an act of force to compel our enemy to
do our will” and declares that “to introduce the principle of moderation into
the theory of war itself would always lead to logical absurdity,” going on to
say that because “there is no logical limit to the application of that force” this
“must lead, in theory, to extremes.”16 As these quotes show, however, Clause92
Clausewitz and the “New Wars” Scholars
witz was writing about war in the theoretical sense. A mere two pages beyond
these provocative statements he points out that if one moves “from the abstract to the real world . . . the whole thing looks quite different.”17
Essentially, Clausewitz was not advocating anything but exploring
the philosophical notion of war’s “ideal” type in the Platonic sense, as a phenomenon removed from the limitations of the real world. By further contrasting war’s absolute tendencies with the factors that limit its scope in reality,
Clausewitz shows that war is not governed by any particular logic, but that
it is a combination of elements reflecting its diverse nature. Part of the confusion, according to Clausewitz scholar Christopher Bassford, arises from
the Prussian theorist’s use of a dialectical method of presentation. As such,
Clausewitz’s musings about war as an abstract phenomenon removed from
reality should not be examined independently but should be seen as the first
part of a larger argument. He posits war’s tendency to extremes as the thesis
to which his most famous statement that “[w]ar is merely the continuation of
policy by other means” is the antithesis.18 The thesis of war as unmitigated
violence and its antithesis of war as a rational activity are synthesized, writes
Bassford, in Clausewitz’s trinity with the addition of the element of chance.19
Whether through honest misunderstanding or, as Bassford claims of
Keegan, a complete lack of critical study, the claim that Clausewitz advocated that war should know no boundaries is shown to lack substance.20
Another Clausewitz scholar, Andreas Herberg-Rothe, reinforces this point,
agreeing that the concepts of absolute war and war as an instrument of politics should not be connected to each other but rather seen as opposites.21
On the one hand, Clausewitz shows that if war is observed in the abstract as a clash of forces “obedient to no law but their own,” the reciprocal
nature of violence inevitably leads to extremes as both opponents attempt
to gain the advantage.22 On the other hand, he also realized that in reality
several factors keep war from escalating to such extreme levels, and that
politics set wars’ goals and boundaries. He synthesized these observations
as follows:
[W]ar is more than a true chameleon that slightly adapts its characteristics to the given case. As a total phenomenon its dominant tendencies always make war a paradoxical trinity—composed of primordial
violence, hatred, and enmity, which are to be regarded as a blind natural force; of the play of chance and probability within which the creative spirit is free to roam; and of its element of subordination, as an
instrument of policy, which makes it subject to reason alone.23
As Edward Villacres and Bassford show, by describing war as more
than a chameleon, as something that does not superficially change its appearance, Clausewitz emphasizes that war can take on a host of different
forms, all of which can be understood as a combination of irrational (violent emotion), nonrational (chance and luck), and rational (war as an instruSpring 2010
Bart Schuurman
ment of policy) forces.24 After describing what has become known as the
primary trinity, however, Clausewitz goes on to define the secondary one,
stating that “[t]he first of these three aspects [violence] mainly concerns the peoViolence, chance, and
ple; the second [chance] the commander
rational purpose are
timeless principles of war. and his army; the 25third [rational purpose]
the government.” This single sentence
has become the focal point of criticism
for authors who would consign Clausewitz to history’s dustbin. Focusing on
the secondary trinity, they argue that his trinitarian model implies that war is
waged only by states because these political entities singularly have such a
clear division between the people, government, and armed forces. Observing the post-1945 world, the critics conclude that since most modern wars
are, in fact, waged by nonstate actors, Clausewitz’s work has become obsolete and irrelevant.
In addition to Keegan and Kaldor, the internationally renowned scholar Martin van Creveld is one of the most prominent critics who subscribe to
this line of reasoning. Van Creveld boldly states that “[i]f any part of our intellectual baggage deserves to be thrown overboard, surely it is not the historical record but the Clausewitzian definition of war that prevents us from
coming to grips with it.”26 He is led to this conclusion based on his reasoning that the Clausewitzian trinity consists of “the people, the army, and the
government”27 and that this definition reflects Clausewitz’s belief “[t]hat organized violence should only be called ‘war’ if it were waged by the state,
for the state, and against the state.”28 Thus he ascribes to Clausewitz and his
work a very state-centric outlook that has become obsolete due to the increase
of nonstate warfare in recent times.29
Both van Creveld and Kaldor attribute Clausewitz with an inability
to come to terms with war serving anything but a rational purpose aimed at
the greater good of the state.30 They are supported by Keegan, who claims
that many of today’s nationalistic, ethnically fueled conflicts are irrational
affairs of violent emotion and apolitical to such an extent that they stand outside of Clausewitz’s concept of war.31
While such views are reinforced by additional modern-day scholars such as Steven Metz, who argues that Keegan and van Creveld “should
be required reading for national security leaders in and out of uniform,” the
arguments do not hold up under close scrutiny.32 As Villacres and Bassford
write, Keegan, Kaldor, and van Creveld miss the crucial point that Clausewitz describes war as consisting of violence, chance, and rationality and that
he connects these to the secondary trinity of people, armed forces, and government mainly as an example. Though seemingly trivial, this distinction is
in fact critical because Clausewitz’s primary trinity implies nothing about
the sociopolitical nature of the entity waging war.33
Clausewitz and the “New Wars” Scholars
Whether state, warlord, Communist revolutionary, or international terrorist organization, all entities are subject to the interplay of the forces of violence, chance, and rational purpose. Andreas Herberg-Rothe notes
that Clausewitz even devoted a chapter in On War to the warfare waged by
nonstate actors and that there thus cannot be any other conclusion beyond
“Clausewitz’s concept of state must be understood as any kind of community.”34 Daniel Moran emphasizes this point, positing that “Clausewitz’s trinity
consists of abstractions” and “[t]here is no question that [to view it as people,
armed forces, and government] is wrong.”35
Regarding the question of whether Clausewitz’s particular notion of
rationality precludes his work from being applicable to today’s nonstate conflicts in which violence itself may seem to be the goal, once again the primary trinity shows that he endorsed no particular rationale in the waging of war.
Hatred and enmity have as much a place as reason. Indeed, as Robert Baumann argues, “the passions and rationales that move states to roll the dice
of war differ little from those which arouse tribes or insurgents.”36 Or, as
Clausewitz put it, “[p]olicy, of course, is nothing in itself; it is simply the
trustee for all these interests against other states. That it can err, subserve the
ambitions, private interests, and vanity of those in power, is neither here nor
there.”37 Clearly Clausewitz did not believe that war had to follow a particular form of rationality aimed at a greater good.
Finally, Christopher Daase writes that there is a conceptual schema
present in On War that makes it applicable to any kind of conflict. Daase
provides the best explanation of this schema himself.
By categorically distinguishing war and policy and subsuming the
former under the latter, [Clausewitz] offers a tripartite stipulation of
war as the application of violent means (Mittel) to realize military
aims (Ziele) to achieve political ends (Zwecke). If we add the two actors from the initial situation, we arrive at five elements that constitute
the conceptual schema of war which Clausewitz had in mind: the attacker, the defender, violent means, military aims, and political ends.
With this schema, diverse forms of political violence can be described
and compared without the need to draw strict conceptual boundaries
or to identify conceptual cores.38
To summarize, it seems that those scholars who call for On War’s
dismissal have done so on the basis of questionable arguments. Clausewitz
is neither …
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