To what extent have nuclear weapons rendered On War irrelevant?
Prussian general, Carl Von Clausewitz’s doctrine ‘On War’ was first published in 1832 and yet scholars today argue ‘Clausewitz’s theory of war is as timeless as the phenomenon of war’ (ref). Thus, despite the development of nuclear weaponry, Clausewitzian thought remains relevant and hence, timeless. However, 113 years after Clausewitz published his work came the first testing of a nuclear bomb in New Mexico, America. This marked the ‘machine age of warfare’ (Stalin, 1947, 4), followed by the ‘nuclear’ World War 2 and is said to have created a paradigm shift in the theory of war and how international relations is approached (Handel 1986: 12). For this reason, some scholars such as Martin Van Creveld have rendered ‘On War’ irrelevant and ‘out of date’ (van Creveld, 1951, 58). Whilst parts of ‘On War’ can be considered obsolete, ultimately, it is still seen as the most complete and comprehensive work on the theory of war. Fundamentally, the nature of war has not changed for hundreds of years, and thus shows how his work can still be used in modern day warfare and political conflict. This essay will be argued in three parts to determine the relevance of Clausewitz’s ‘On War’; firstly I will analyse Clausewitz’s key war and political theories, including his ‘trinity’ and his theory of war being a ‘continuation of political intercourse’ and consider to what extent such theories hold relevance to political and modern war strategy. Next I will apply such theories to modern warfare case studies such as the Vietnam War and Iraqi war in which nuclear weapons have a presence, in order to assess the true relevance of Clausewitz war theory. Lastly, I will argue for Clausewitz relevance in terms of his writing style, which has led to a variety of interpretations of his theories on the battlefield and in a boardroom. Alongside his writing style, I will judge the extent of relevance through comparing his work to similar theories.
Clausewitz basic concept of war and how it fits into the Nuclear Age
The first theory in Clausewitz’s ‘On War’, which still holds relevance to modern nuclear warfare, is his ‘trinity’ concept. Despite the increasing use of technology such as nuclear weaponry in wars, the fundamental nature of war remains the same as it was when Clausewitz was writing on the Napoleonic wars. In Book 1, chapter 1, Clausewitz frames his concept of trinity to encompass three interlinking components involving violence and passion – taking the form of people and society, uncertainty and chance – regarding the commanders and military, and political policy – which is to do with the government (Clausewitz 1832 30). The significance and vitality of this trinity is emphasised by Clausewitz’s allegation that any theory which ignores one of the three components or attempts to create an ‘arbitrary relationship between them’ would be essentially be worthless and an unsound theory of the...