Joint Chiefs of Staff J7, Joint Education and Doctrine Division

By Pearce, Edward L. | Joint Force Quarterly, January 2011 | Go to article overview

Joint Chiefs of Staff J7, Joint Education and Doctrine Division


Pearce, Edward L., Joint Force Quarterly


As military professionals charged with the defense of the Nation, joint leaders must be true experts in the conduct of war. They must be individuals both of action and of intellect, skilled at "getting things done," while at the same time conversant in warfare. Every joint leader is expected to have a solid foundation in military theory and philosophy. Most have or should have studied Sun Tzu, Thucydides, Antoine-Henri Jomini, and Carl von Clausewitz. However, when asked, most would give differing definitions of war and warfare. The upcoming Joint Publication (JP) 1, Doctrine for the Armed Forces of the United States, will define war and warfare.

War is socially sanctioned violence to achieve a political purpose. History has demonstrated that war is an integral aspect of human culture and that its practice is not linked to any single type of political organization or society. The basic nature of war is immutable, although warfare evolves constantly.

Conflict is the normal state of global human relations. Thomas Hobbes stated that man's nature leads him to fight for personal gain, safety, or reputation. Thucydides said nearly the same thing in a different order, citing fear, honor, and interest as the precipitating causes for interstate conflict.

Nations, cultures, and organizations all have interests. Inevitably, some of those interests conflict with the interests of other nations, cultures, or organizations. Nearly all international and interpersonal relationships are based on power manifest through politics. Power and self-interests control the otherwise anarchic international environment. States exercise their power through diplomatic, informational, military, and economic means--they exercise statecraft. All forms of statecraft are important, but as conflicts approach the requirement for the use of force to achieve the state's interests, military means become predominant and war can result.

As an integral aspect of human culture, war has been defined and discussed in a myriad of contexts. As an element of statecraft, it has groundings in U.S. and international law and treaty. Classic scholars such as Sun Tzu and Clausewitz provide valuable perspectives necessary to a more complete understanding of the nature of war and both directly impact the manner in which the United States understands war.

Clausewitz believed that war is a subset of the larger theory of conflict. He defined war as a "duel on a larger scale," "an act of force to compel our enemy," and a "continuation of policy by other means." Distilled to its essence, war is a violent struggle between two (or more) hostile and independent wills, each trying to impose itself on the other. Simply put, war is a violent clash of wills. Clausewitz believed that war is characterized by the shifting interplay of a trinity of forces (primordial violence, hatred, and enmity) connected by principal actors that comprise a social trinity of the people, military forces, and the government. Clausewitz noted that the conduct of war combines obstacles such as friction, chance, and uncertainty. The cumulative effect of these obstacles is often described as "the fog of war." These observations remain true today and place a burden on the commander to remain responsive, versatile, and adaptive in real time to seize opportunities and reduce vulnerabilities. This is the art of war.

According to Sun Tzu, war is categorized as "a matter vital to the State; the province of life or death; the road to survival or ruin." To assess its essentials, he suggests that we analyze the five fundamental factors of war: moral influence (will), weather (fog of war), terrain (friction), command (leadership), and lastly, doctrine (organization, command and control, and planning). He further posits that "what is of supreme importance in war is to attack the enemy's strategy."

War is a noun. Warfare, however, feels like a verb. It is the mechanism, method, or modality of armed conflict against an enemy. …

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