War as a continuation of policy? (I)


"At the decisive battle of Fleurus on 26 June 1794 the Austrians even began by launching a series of assaults which, after a very hard-fought day, held the French to at least a draw. However, the Austrian commander then consulted his secret political orders and realized that he had no need to fight at all. Tired of the game, he retreated without being forces to do so. (It transpired that the core Austrian war aim was to allow the French to capture Belgium so that the Austrians - through the arcane workings of 18th-century diplomatic logic - would be awarded Bavaria as compensation. Oddly, in the event they weren't.)"
"French Napoleonic Infantry Tactics 1792-1815", by Paddy Griffith

This is a curious episode.
On the one hand it supports von Clausewitz' conclusion that war(fare) is the extension of policy. On the other hand it adds to the cases that do not align with his conclusion that the aim in warfare is to disarm the political opponent in order to force him to yield to your demands.

Other examples where this conclusion isn't confirmed are wars of extinction (such as many of the Indian Wars in North America or the hunt for anyone loosely affiliated with AQ) and a couple wars that happened for no other reason than revenge or payback for insult. It's also very much possible that the Franco-German war of 1870/1871 was at least initially about unifying Germany (minus Austria; "kleindeutsche Lösung") rather than the eventually huge French reparations.

The question of the objective of warfare is one of the weakest spots in Carl von Clausewitz' theoretical work.*


*: Let's ignore his brain-melting terrible grammar and non-existing prosaic qualities here.
He would never be this popular if the people actually read his works at length. I'll happily read "the art of war" for the 10th or "Principles of War" for the 5th time, but certainly never read my "Vom Kriege" edition a second time from front to back! I heard it's going to be translated to yet another language from the German original, and I pity the translator.


  1. Wasnt the political aim of the Indian wars for the native peoples of the US to no longer be there?

    The yanks political demand was that the native americans cease to exist. That comes with obvious advantages for the formation of their nation. Especially when that formation was draped in such self-regarding, moralistic, legalese crap.

    AQ, that was hunting the 'big black bear'. They tied AQ to Saddam, even though that was absurd. They used AQ as the casus belli to get in to Iraq. After they were in there they reduced funding in the Afghan campaign. Bush is on tape joking that he doesnt care about finding Bin Laden. So any actual hunting of AQ was just for show. It was for political purposes. It was to support their version of why sept11 happened, of why they went in to Iraq.

    Everything is politics. Everything is political.

    Slightly insulting, but it doesnt take much reductionism to prove it true.

    I thought it was accepted that 70-71 was Bismarck's excuse to unify Germany?

    I'd say it worked. Well done Otto.

    1. Some of the Indian wars were aimed at confining them into reservations (=land annexation motive, especially in the 19th century), but the extermination motive appeared as well.

    2. Any idea what the yanks plan is on Turkey? Just keep pushing till it falls over?

      If that is what it is, I'm not sure thats a good idea. Erdogan does have his domestic loyalists, Erdogan does have his domestic opponents.

      All neighbouring spheres have a desire for Turkish stability, but also to avoid any power gaining total control over it.

      The bottom of the barrel could be Turkey looking like Syria in a couple of years. Or am I being too simplistic? Maybe more like when Egypt got rid of Mubarak. Its a more advanced, educated, important country than Syria, so it can't get as bad as Syria?

    3. The Trump administration is lacking the experience, competence and diplomatic staff to handle the dispute with Turkey in the old fashioned low key way. This, coupled with Trump's impulsiveness (lack of diligent judgment) led to the current muscle play as substitute for modern diplomacy.
      I suppose this is not all bad, but it's unfortunate that this happens between two NATO allies.

      It's almost as if Trump was blackmailed and/or bribed into working for Putin to separate Turkey from NATO.
      Erdogan has messed up big time. He's repeated classic economic policy mistakes (he's displaying the opposite of subject matter competence) and he has wrecked his previously successful 'friendly with Muslim neighbours' foreign policy for so far no net gains whatsoever.

      This kind of expensive hostility nonsense happens when two incompetents are in power.

    4. There was bound to be a change of direction from the situation in the '00s. The US was the party that was pushing for Turkish entry in to the EU. The EU was happy to keep that on the table, but never move forwards on it. Avoid trouble with the yanks and the Turks.

      A lot of investment inside Turkey was secured on the assumption that medium term they would be in the EU. That was never going to happen.

      The avoidance of facing reality from all three sides was going to be revealed at some point. The US would need a new 20-50 year plan to keep Turkey engaged in the alliance and Turkey would need a new 20-50 year plan for utopia to sell to its people.

      Could those changes of direction ever have been achieved peacefully? Maybe, if hidden behind a larger global threat or event. Certainly not with any leader like Trump or Erdogan in charge though.

      Turkey is what it is. It has to have a plan for its future and you have to have a plan for its future as well. As you say, the current situation is caused by incompetence. Doesn't matter. The remaining 'thinking people' need to have a solution for moving forwards from here.

      I say they americans will leave it 6 months and go for another coup.