Clausewitz on COUNTERINSURGENCY
Contemporary counterinsurgency doctrine essentially describes counterinsurgency as an inherently political and cultural contest for the trust of the population and an inherent principle in this contest is the primacy of legitimate government: essentially politics has primacy and in counterinsurgency, “all politics is local.”
Clausewitz said that “the ideal of a logically complete or sufficient answer to any problem in warfare is sheer delusion”. [i] Many would ask how a book written over 150 years ago would be relevant today and worth the time in a counterinsurgency.
From a conventional point of view we always understood that war was fought for a political purpose. As described in one of the masters most often repeated quotes as that “war is merely the continuation of policy by other means”[ii]. Here is where it may be misleading to use selective key phrases or proverbs to capture the essence of counterinsurgency and War as this contributes to establishing mindset.
What if we misunderstood the underlying intent? Not as readily accepted, understood or apparent is that the master also meant the subsequent consequences and implications. If war was meant to achieve a political purpose, everything else also entered into the equation such as the political, economic, social, informational, strategic planning, and actual conduct of operations that would determine its course and purpose.
In essence, a key component of warfare, any kind of warfare, and certainly and most assuredly counterinsurgency warfare was the need and requirement to be versatile, flexible, and adaptable in order to serve the desired objectives.
Is this the premise for a whole of government, comprehensive and integrated approach to counterinsurgency ?
For instance, “If war is an act of force, the emotion cannot fail to be involved. War may not spring from them but they will affect it to some degree, and the extent to which they do so will depend not on the level of civilization but on how important the conflicting interests are and on how long the conflict lasts”[iii] This seems to have in interesting parallel to the fundamental and historical principles of counterinsurgency.
War and especially counterinsurgency is a social phenomenon rather than just a technical phenomenon and the principles of war are necessary in a subjective sense, an educational sense, from the point that they never are sufficient for one to decide what one should do in actual practice nor necessary for a right military decision. “[T]heory does not teach commanders the rules of war as an art, but only attempts to analyze war as an object”.[iv]
The objective of a vignette, a STX, and the process of examining and re-enacting is not just to learn correct procedures but to engage and come to terms with the rational and emotional elements of command dilemma; to understand the multiple vectors that influence decision making under difficult conditions.
Science and history is in essence a collection of observations. Doctrinal theory is derived from these observations. The master himself lays out rules for learning and proscribes three primary activities: finding all the pertinent facts, tracing the effects of their causes, and, the investigation and assessment of all available means. He also offers key considerations such as: every effect has more than one cause (in Counterinsurgency Targeting and Measures of Effectiveness ?), war involves a real rather than abstract social component and the analysis had to be thorough. In essence, the past could be used to prove anything and it is said that Napoleon remarked that history is “fable agreed upon”; as the proverb goes; “beauty (historical truth and applying the seemingly correct doctrinal theory /lessons in counterinsurgency ?) is in the eyes of the beholder”
One might accuse the author of selecting key phrases or proverbs to capture the essence of counterinsurgency and On War as misleading. But the nature of war, to which counterinsurgency is also a type, is to be referred to from the sum total of its fundamental cause and effect relationships as: “Each era had its own kinds of war, its own limiting conditions, its own biases. Each would also have its own theory of war”[v] For instance, the shift in purpose, ways and means is not always multilateral. By way of illustration using historical context look at Mogadishu in 93 and in Iraq where operations swiftly turned into a complex insurgency.
[i] W.B.Gallie, Philosophers of Peace and War: Kant, Clausewitz, Marx, Engels and Tolstoy, pp 43-46 Cambridge University Press, 1978
[ii] On War, Howard and Paret, Book One, Chapter One, page 87
[iii] On War, Howard and Paret, Book One, Chapter One, page 76,
[v] On War, Howard and Paret, Page 593