Clausewitz and Soviet Strategy

Courtesy Reuters

THERE is in train today a development without parallel in history--a war which has as its frank objective the overthrow of all the parliamentary governments of the world and their replacement by Communist dictatorships centrally controlled in Moscow. The distinguishing characteristic of the campaign is the interchangeability of political and military weapons. A "peace offensive" in Moscow, a cultural conference in Warsaw, a strike in France, an armed insurrection in Czechoslovakia, the invasion of Greece and Korea by fully equipped troops--all are instruments of one war, turned on and turned off from a central tap as a gardener plays a hose up and down a piece of land on which he is nurturing a crop, watering some plants lightly, some heavily.

The theory of a "unified" war directed by a supreme central intelligence, in which political and military instruments are used indifferently to suit a particular object in the pursuit of a gigantic plan, was first and most comprehensively advanced by the German general, Carl von Clausewitz in his book, "On War," in the early nineteenth century. It is not surprising that in an effort to understand the current Soviet campaign and to find a means of thwarting it, Americans have turned to Clausewitz for such illumination as he may offer, and that references to his aphorisms on the relation of war and politics are everywhere heard.

The concept that underlies the whole of Clausewitz' discussion of the nature of war is, quite simply, that "war is an act of social life"--that is to say, that it is not an act performed by military men only, but is an expression of the conflict of ideas, objectives and way of life of an entire society with those of some other society. Conflict by high explosives is thus merely one aspect of a war, and is resorted to when and if it helps achieve some particular objective which cannot be achieved in any other way.

Clausewitz elaborated this idea at length, and

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