Academic journal article Military Review

Public Opinion: A Center of Gravity Leaders Forget

Academic journal article Military Review

Public Opinion: A Center of Gravity Leaders Forget

Article excerpt

The moral elements are among the most important in war. They constitute the spirit that permeates war as a whole, and at an early stage they establish a close affinity with the will that moves and leads the whole mass of force ... . The effects of physical and psychological factors form an organic whole, which, unlike a metal alloy, is inseparable by chemical processes. In formulating any rule concerning physical factors, the theorist must bear in mind the part that morad factors may play in it.... Hence most of the matters dealt with in this book are composed in equal parts of physical and of moral causes and effects. One might say that the physical seem little more than the wooden hilt, while the moral factors are the precious metal, the real weapon, the finely-honed blade.

--Carl von Clauswitz, On War

The military has long employed the center of gravity (COG) concept as an analytical tool for assessing both enemy and friendly vulnerabilities during strategic and operational planning as well as for the study of past wars and conflicts. The COG concept is attributed to Prussian Gen. Carl Von Clausewitz as described in his theoretical treatise, On War. In that master work, albeit unfinished, Clausewitz described a COG as an emerging confluence of certain key factors from among a complex web of interrelated and interdependent components within an entity at war that, during a certain window of time, forms "the hub of all power and movement, on which everything depends" He goes on to say that it is this hub against which the friendly major offensive effort should be directed in order to upset the coherence and equilibrium of an adversary's war effort. (1)

Though there has been intense and oftentimes emotional debate within the military regarding exactly what Clausewitz had in mind by this description, interpretations of his thoughts on the COG concept (especially since the post-Vietnam era of the late 1970s) have had a deep and lasting influence on U.S. doctrinal thinking. Such influence is on display in Joint Publication 5-0, Joint Operation Planning, which recasts the COG concept in somewhat different language as "a source of power that provides moral or physical strength, freedom of action, or will to act" (2)

The pre-9/11 Army was initially inclined to interpret the COG as primarily a physical attribute or entity (e.g., an army, a key logistical point, a vital political center such as a capital city, or a port, etc.). However, the lingering legacy of the Vietnam War, where public opinion played a decisive role in U.S. moral commitment to the conflict, combined with similar challenges in maintaining national moral commitment to conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq over the last fifteen years, caused Army doctrinal thinkers to revisit Clausewitz's theoretical assertions about COGs. Such deliberation has resulted in increased awareness of the preeminence of moral factors within the context of his overall theory of war. The influence of Clausewitz on U.S. Army thinking is clearly evident in Army Doctrine Reference Publication (ADRP) 3-0, Unified Land Operations, which states that "centers of gravity are not limited to military forces and can be either physical or moral. They are a part of a dynamic perspective of an operational environment" (3)

However, irrespective of having admitted the plausibility of moral factors becoming, in fact, the main hub of power upon which the outcome of an entire conflict may be decided, ADRP 3-0 gives short shrift to stipulating just how a moral COG should be attacked or defended. Instead, the doctrine writers of ADRP 3-0 appear to have contented themselves by merely noting that moral COGs are difficult to identify and influence. (4)

The vague admission and lack of detail begs the question: precisely how does a friendly power or force go about attacking something identified as the moral hub of an adversary's war effort?

Information as a Key Component of the Moral Center of Gravity

Among the most important factors that directly impact moral convictions and commitment on all sides of a conflict is targeted information packaged to be persuasive in content and rapidly disseminated in many venues. …

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