Clausewitz advocates attacking enemy “schwerpunkt” or centers of gravity. How does this compare with Sun Tzu’s prioritization for attacking important elements of national power? Which theorist provides the most useful guidance for determining the object of a strategy or strategies?
Clausewitz’s attack of enemy centers of gravity and Sun Tzu’s prioritization of attack of important elements of national power provide contrasting approaches to the development of effective strategy. These contrasts are reflections of each author’s perspective on how war should be waged, the proper use of force, their definitions of the ideal victory and how best to achieve that victory as well as their methodologies, styles, and levels of analysis (Handel, p. 18-19). The understanding of these varying points of view enable us to better appreciate how each man arrives at his own unique solution to the common problem of identifying and overcoming the enemy’s most critical point.
Clausewitz uses systematic, empirical methods in arriving at his concept of the center of gravity being the critical strategic objective. This approach is both a product of his era, the age of enlightenment, where scientific thought was beginning to exert its primacy, as well as his view of war and how it should be waged. To Clausewitz war is armed conflict. It is “…an act of force to compel the enemy to do our will” and “…equips itself with the inventions of art and science.” (Clausewitz, p.75) Following his logical approach, if war is fighting, then war is waged according to Clausewitz, primarily by military means. All other means, such as diplomacy, are secondary and are not the concern of the military leader. (Handel, p. 19)
This narrow perspective on the waging of war by military means leads Clausewitz to focus his level of analysis on the operational level of war. It is here that the critical strategic objective must be found. Combining this perspective with scientific metaphors, he states that in keeping “…the dominant characteristics of both belligerents in mind. Out of these characteristics a certain center of gravity develops, the hub of all power and movement, on which everything depends. That is the point against which all our energies should be directed.” (Clausewitz, p. 595-596) By disrupting this center of gravity, the enemy is thrown off balance and if not allowed to recover, will, according to Clausewitz, eventually succumb.
Clausewitz’s Center of Gravity
In keeping with his focus on the military aspects of war, Clausewitz defines the enemy’s center of gravity as the enemy army. He supports this with historical reference to such great military commanders as Alexander, Gustavus Adolphus, Charles XII and Frederick the Great. Clausewitz states, “If the army had been destroyed, they would all have gone down in history as failures.” (Clausewitz, p. 596) Though he acknowledges other centers...