Limited and Absolute war

In Vom Kriege, Clausewitz describes “Absolute War” a kind of war without limits. Yet in Book 8 he contrasts this theoretical “Absolute War” with “Real War” suggesting that “Absolute War” is not often or perhaps ever the war we actually fight. “Once this influence of the political objective on war is admitted, as it must be, there is no stopping it; consequently we must also be willing to wage such minimal wars, which consist of merely threatening the enemy, with negotiations held in reserve.”

He goes on to describe something not unlike the conflict in Korea, “The art of war will shrivel into prudence, and its main concern will be to make sure the delicate balance is not suddenly upset in the enemy’s favor and the half-hearted war does not become a real war after all.”

Moltke, an avid follower of Clausewitz, presents us with two contrasting examples. The Austro-Prussian war of 1866 was short and limited in its objectives. Bismarck prevented Moltke from taking Vienna and prevented the intervention of other powers. The Franco-Prussian war of 1870 is a contrasting example of a successful limited war. The results were similar to Clausewitz’ absolute war—the destruction of the enemy’s army and their government. However, what followed was problematic, there was no longer a legitimate government to negotiate and capitulate. If you want to gain territory and indemnity there has to be someone to agree to it. The Third Republic, which followed Napoleon III, had not lost a war; they had not even fought a war and did not seem interested in the disgrace of surrender and indemnity. The German Federation no longer had to convince a state with an army to surrender, they had to convince a nation of armed civilians to surrender and were stuck occupying a nation on the verge of civil war. It seems very similar to the difference between Gulf War of 1991, a short war with limited objectives that left the government intact, and the Iraq War of 2003 with the complete destruction of a state and its army.


~ by severalfourmany on September 20, 2007.

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