Clausewitz: Friction

Did improvements in modern warfare through technology render Clausewitz’s theories obsolete? On War, from a tactical perspective, did not apply to all the wars fought in the past nor would they cover all wars to be fought in the future. Clausewitz’s goal was to explain war as a universal phenomenon.[1] His theory on war involved universal principles that could apply to war itself. In this sense the theory holds true regarding modern warfare. Clausewitz viewed war as a tool to accomplish political goals; technology has not altered this reality in modern warfare. In book eight, chapter two of On War Clausewitz states, “the overthrow of the enemy is the natural end of the act of war; and if we would keep within the strictly philosophical limits of the idea, there can be no other in reality.[2] The theory holds true regarding modern warfare and changes in technology; the objective has not changed, and new technology cannot be relied on as strategy.

Colonel Powell’s experience in Vietnam compelled him to conclude truths from the passages of On War, regarding Clausewitz’s warnings against limited war. Powell demonstrated this in his actions as Chairman of the Joint Chief of Staff in 1992 regarding Bosnia by rejecting the use of limited force.[3] Tommy Franks, a one-star general during Desert Storm, focused on operational aspects, concluded that technology would allow the U.S. army to do even better in the next war because “speed has a mass of its own.” Franks did not reject Clausewitz’s theories but sought to refine them. The conflict was *not proof (as some have suggested) that technology could remove the fog of war and uncertainly on the battle field thereby eliminating one of the conditions Clausewitz refers to as “friction” in his trinity model.[4] Considering the mishaps involved in this middle eastern conflict—speed, as Tommy Franks asserted, may indeed create a mass of its own but it has failed to eliminate “friction” in modern warfare.  

More on this topic can be found in: Philosophy of War


[1]  Hew Strachan, Clausewitz’s On War (New York, NY: Grove Press, 2007), 77

[2] Carl von Clausewitz, On War, trans. Colonel J.J Graham (New York: Barns & Noble, Inc., 2004), 666.

[3] Hew Strachan, Clausewitz’s On War, 3

[4] Hew Strachan, Clausewitz’s On War, 5

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s