Clausewitz is obsolete: We should know better


Clausewitz and his famous war theory ‘On War‘ is closely related to his experiences during the Napoleonic wars, now more than 200 years ago.

The state is the central actor in his war theory, and Clausewitz, defined war “as the continuation of politics by other means“.

War must be considered an ‘instrument‘ of states – besides for example diplomacy – and must be instrumental in the realization of political objectives.

Until today, Clausewitz his theories and dogmas dominate military (and political) thinking, and focus on the destruction of enemy armies to force the enemy state (and its population) to comply with policies that are imposed.

Territory and the control over territory – because states and their populations are defined by specific well-defined territories – also are of key components in Clausewitz’s theory.

However, Clausewitz and his war theory have become increasingly obsolete: The state no longer is the only actor on the ‘battle fields‘ of the 21st Century: Communities and individuals have become important players. States have lost control – and still loose control – over their monopoly of ‘violence’. Internal and external threats are ‘converging’, and a new ‘domain‘ – cyber space – also is used as a battle ground, and instrument of war.

Communities and individuals have become increasingly empowered: ‘everybody can now start his or her own war‘. The Internet and global mobility have made borders ineffective.

These trends cannot be reversed. The processes of fragmentation and empowerment reinforce each other and have developed their own momentum. It seems that basic requirements of humans – including their well-being and the development of identities – can be better fulfilled by means of communities than through state-structures.

Despite these fundamental changes, wars are still being fought on the basis of ‘Clausewitzian‘ dogmas. The debacles – and resulting destruction and suffering – in for example Afghanistan, but also Syria, show the impotence of military organizations (and the states they represent) to effectively address what they define as security issues: Afghan communities are much stronger than the world’s super power (the United States) and most powerful military alliance (NATO), who are already involved in ‘Afghanistan’ for almost 17 years; and no end is in sight.

destruction Aleppo

This photo shows the destruction of Aleppo: Our understanding of conflict, and our ability to prevent and control conflicts by other means than destruction, are still very limited (Source: Global Research). 


Do not reinforce failure also is a military principle. But obviously is not applied.

War needs to be redefined, as well as the concept of winning: Conflict – war – has become “the continuation of self realization by other means“.

Control over territory, and imposing once will, are no longer useful recipes. The focus must be on finding ‘common ground’ – shared values – where ‘mutual respect’ is a border that should not be crossed.