Can Clausewitz's concepts of genius, friction and the centre of gravity be applied to the war on terror?
War theories and strategies have always evolved, together with technological improvements and geopolitical transformations. Along with shifts from javelins to ballistic missiles, commanders have moved their tactics from mass regiments to dissuasive nuclear weapons. They have also built concepts, which allow them to better understand the nature and causes of conflicts. One of the most renowned war theorists is a Prussian General of the XIXth century, Karl Von Clausewitz. His book On War is regarded as a classic of strategic studies. He particularly emphasizes the impact of friction, genius and centre of gravity in the outcome of war.
[...] Shultz and Andreas Vogt, The Real Intelligence Failure on 11/9 and the Case for a Doctrine of Striking First, in Russell D. Howard, Terrorism and Counterterrorism: Understanding the New Security Environment, p.413. Carl von Clausewitz, On War, p In this case, by suicide. Lee Harris, Al Qaeda’s Fantasy Ideology, in the Policy Review Online, can be accessed at http://www.policyreview.org/AUG02/harris.html (last visited the 15th of march) At least, in the short run. Samuel P. Huntington, The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order, (USA, Simon & Schuster, 1998), preface. [...]
[...] Could we rather not derive his ideas and apply them to this War on Terror? Thus, we will first use his friction and genius concepts, in order to understand the difficulties that the USA faces and see to what extent they can help us understand the nature of the War on Terror. We will finally explore the different ways of endearing this war, using Clausewitz’s concept of centre of gravity. Friction and genius are two highly related notions, and the former cannot be understood without the latter. [...]
[...] At this point, Clausewitz’s concept of friction usefully improved our understanding of terrorism. However, there are two other major causes of exertion in the War on Terror, which he does not count as friction. It is pacification and media-relation. Indeed, the key and most important objective of the War on Terror, is the total collapse of terrorism. Although military interventions are relatively efficient in wiping out terrorism, it is only the case in the short run. As a matter of fact, terror is fed by poverty and dictatorial regimes. [...]
[...] We have seen that uncertainties are the very causes of friction, and that is precisely the reason why terrorism is hard to counter. Indeed, fundamental difference between War and Terrorism lies in the fact that War is a linear event’, that is, it is predictable. For instance, a conventional army would not dare to pass through a desert without appropriate water supplies. On the other hand, a terrorist behaviour is unpredictable, and therefore brings a lot of uncertainties. A kamikaze can strike everywhere at anytime, and is not afraid to die, he is eventually looking for death. [...]
[...] We should thus aim at destroying these camps, and cut their finances; that requires going to war against states supporting terrorist organisations. This is precisely what Clausewitz means by protector’s support. Nevertheless, although training camps have been destroyed in Afghanistan and Saddam Hussein’s army annihilated, terrorism is still active in these countries. Clausewitz identifies another type of CoG: personality of the leaders’. And indeed, Bin Laden is still on the run. Does it account for the persistence of terrorism? It cannot be denied that his influence has been valuable in the 9/11 attacks and on Al-Qaeda global strategy and finances. [...]