War, the Individual, Strategy and the State
One of the nicest things about ZP is the quality of the commenters. In a post by Charles Cameron, 2083 – Breivik and the Qur’an, deception and warfare, there was this exchange between Joseph Fouche and Seydlitz89 after the latter disputed the utility of looking at the Norwegian mass-murderer Anders Breivik through the lens of strategy:
From Clausewitzian perspective, Breivik’s actions are the conjunction of the three poles of the Trinity, two of which have nothing to with Breivik’s rationality. If CvC can’t be applied to madmen, criminals, mass murderers of children, or men trapped in their own little world, then Van Creveld’s contention that the actions of madmen can’t be considered political (in noted Clausewitzian Christopher Bassford’suse of the word) is correct. War would be “nontrinitarian“.
The words and ideas of murderous stooges have consequences as well as their actions. CvC can shine as much light on them as he can on any other field of human conflict.
Can Breivik’s actions can be considered war? Can an individual wage war? By his own sinister lights, Breivik considered himself at war, the Pied Piper of a host of other Breiviks born and unborn, even if that host only existed in his fevered imagination.
Can an individual have a strategy? Or can an individual only have a strategem? Breivik had a plan that had a tactical expression and apolitical effect (as here we comment on the doings of an otherwise obscure Norwegian). Does the jumbled mass of tissues that connect his evil ends with his evil means rise to the level of strategy?
In her recent book The Evolution of Strategy, noted CvC scholarBeatrice Heuser examines the modern history of the word strategy since Guibert revived it in the mid-eighteenth century. Even the core understanding of the word, the art of connecting political ends with (operational or tactical) military means, has shifted since CvC as the scale and ambitions of campaigns increased. Heuser herself chooses to refer to strategy as understood by Clausewitzians (connecting political ends with military means) with a capital S to differentiate [it] from other current uses.
In that light, was Breivik a Strategist or a strategist? Where do we put the raid on Harpers Ferry or the Beer Hall Putsch, two events that were equally ridiculous and equally consequential? What’s the cutoff point between crime and war? What’s the cutoff point between Strategy and strategy? John Brown’s 21? Herr Hitler’s 100? Or Breivik’s one?
Fouche, who it must be said, is no fan of eminent Dutch-Israeli military historian Martin van Creveld, is referering to MvC’s theory of the decline of the state and “non-trinitarian” warfare of non-state or non-Westphalian entities that van Creveld articulated in The Transformation of War, The Rise and Decline of the State and other books and articles since the 1990’s. The 4GW school adopted van Creveld’s ideas of state decline and to significantly varying degrees, his critical attitude toward Clausewitzian theory (van Creveld’s own assessment of Clausewitz also seems to vary in his works).
Seydlitz89, himself a noted Clausewitzian, responded:
You’re mixing apples and oranges. Clausewitzian strategic theory pertains to collectives, all concepts pertain to collectives – victory, defeat, strategy, tactics . . . and a very particular collective at that – political communities. “War” does not consist of one individual fighting against a political community, that is criminality, and always has been. This is the very definition of what being a criminal, an outcast, or a traitor is all about . . . “War” on the other hand is organized violence within or between political communities which involves once again collectives. These collectives would have to enjoy both moral and material cohesion within them which in turn allows them to use violence as an instrument in their political actions. The Nazis, as repugnant as they were, did gain “legitimacy” (yet another collective concept) over time and formed a political community around them of Germans dissatisfied with the “system” of their time, and their political takeover did constitute a revolution.
ABB is all about ABB and nothing more. Assuming that his “message” or rather mad rant is going to draw an audience and a following is an assumption, based on what exactly? Great knowledge of how “Europeans” feel about immigration? Define “Europeans” and how this act is going to mobilize concerted action against immigrants, draw a political community around it?
Even if he did appeal to a selection of alienated loners who bought his sorry soap, that would not constitute them as a political community nor make their struggle war.
If ABB is a “warrior” fighting a “war”, than so was Charles Manson.
[ Sidebar: Seydlitz has, BTW, previously undertook a formal two-part paper at the old DNI site on this subject, one very much worth reading, that serves as a Clausewitzian rebuttal to van Creveld :The Decline of Strategic Theory – the Influence of The Transformation of War and part II. The Continued Existence of the State: The Clausewitzian Concept of Cohesion ]
The discussion of whether or not an individual can wage “war” is interesting because it takes place largely at the level of fundamentals. Politics, polities, policy, the State, war. All terms with somewhat different meanings depending on the philosophical tradition brought to the table. Or lack thereof. Strategic discussions are frequently impoverished because of the extinction of systematic education in the Western canon in this country, it is almost dead, even at the university level, which means that those interested in matters of strategy and diplomacy need to dedicate themselves to personal programs of professional reading and reflection. Some things need to be read firsthand and more than once to be understood.
Can an individual “wage war”? Can they have ” a strategy”? Some very meandering thoughts from me on the subject [Joseph Fouche and Seydlitz are cordially invited to guest-post here in response, if they so desire]:
Historically, this was usually a moot point. The ability of private individuals to use violence that could have a strategic effect on a whole political community was virtually nil – with one exception – assassination. While seldom fully successful, tyrannicide or regicide was celebrated and feared in the ancient world because in highly personalized polities with absolute rulers, such a decapitation attack could paralyze a society as heirs of the ruler struggled for succession or plunge it into anarchy and civil war. Walter LaQueur devotes the first part of his Voices of Terror to examples of ancient assassination for this reason.
Assassination, it should be said, is still more likely to be associated with personal grievance, mental illness or political protest than strategic intent. Brutus and Cassius and their fellow conspirators had a strategic intent in assassinating Julius Caesar, namely reversing the fortunes of civil war as well as the political intent of ending Caesar’s Dictatorship as a regime and restoring the Republic under the dominance of patrician Optimates. By contrast, Charles Guiteau who assassinated President Garfield was merely insane, while Soghomon Tehlirian’s motive for killing Talaat Pasha was vengeance for the Armenian Genocide.
However, as the potential for using assassination at a strategic level exists, then the possibility that an individual may do so of their own accord, instead of as an agent of a state or out of personal grievance, also exists. It’s just quite rare once a society ascends from the Hobbesian hunter-gatherer stage of development to true chiefdoms or kingdoms because two things change: first, a chiefdom or kingdom is a political community that creates and enforces all kinds of constraints, incentives, rules and specialization of tasks related to warfare on individuals in the tribe. Secondly, the scale of society in a chiefdom or kingdom or state vs. a hunter-gatherer band makes an individual’s one-man war impractical. Society has grown far too large. Even if the head is willing, the reach exceeds the grasp.
Now, this truism of war being a collective endeavor, which Seydlitz rightly identifies as being the case and has been so for thousands of years, is now in jeopardy with the acceleration of technological capabilities and ever cheaper productions costs disseminating them into many hands. This is the theory of the “superempowered individual“, that technology that can permit one person to inflict damage on an enormous scale was becoming too common, as is information about where such technology could be leveraged to best effect. We are not quite there yet, but we have had some serious foreshadowing of SEIs with Ted Kaczynski, the unknown Anthrax mail terrorist and the partially successful WMD terrorist efforts of the Aum Shinrikyo cult. Right now, it is still collectives that are the likeliest culprits for waging a mass casualty attack but those collectives have gotten uncomfortably small in size. Nation-states are far more dangerous and versatile entities, if slow moving and obvious, but they are no longer required if your intent is to inflict strategic damage and eventually, all you will need is one unusually resourceful and intelligent individual.
With individuals and, more commonly, very small substate groups waging war, the nature of warfare will change from the culture of warfare that typified the era of Westphalian nation-states with their centralizing hierarchical bureaucracies, mobilized industrial economies, conventional armed forces and populations bristling with nationalism. Smaller entities that lack the vast resources of states are going to be idiosyncratic in their approach to warfare because their capacity to sustain conflict, what motivates them to stand, fight and die, how they conceive their “Ends” differs from that of states.
Can you use Clausewitz’s general theory to analyze them? Sure, Clausewitz proposed, after all, a general theory of war, but if you operate with the implicit assumption that the non-state adversary will “do strategy”just like a state your analysis is likely to be off. The utility of van Creveld’s theory is his emphasis on their non-Westphalian characteristics of these combatants and their blurring of war with crime, religion, culture and politics which goes to the heart of what might be the nature of warfare in this epoch; where the irregulars are no longer marginal players but represent the new normal and interstate conventional war among great powers is the outlier.
July 31st, 2011 at 11:31 am
Nice post. Yes, I would like to put together a guest post in response . . .
July 31st, 2011 at 1:29 pm
Excellent! Let me know when you are ready and you can either send me a word doc or I’ll give you a password and you can blog it yourself, if you are comfortable with that.
July 31st, 2011 at 10:00 pm
This is an excellent post, so I’m looking forward to Seydlitz’s response. Many thanks, Zen!
August 1st, 2011 at 4:07 am
BTW both SECDEF Mel Laird and Thomas Schelling invoke the term "polycentrism" in a book titled The Nixon Doctrine published by AEI in 1972. book was developed from a "town hall meeting" and includes a transcript of the discussion.
August 1st, 2011 at 5:06 am
Thanks for the pointers to Seydlitz‘ two-part essay, which I hadn’t seen before, Zen:
I am fascinated by the degree to which von Clausewitz attends to what I’d call the "undertows" — as in his sentence "The passions that are to be kindled in war must already be inherent in the people"…
If they are "inherent" but "yet to be kindled", it will take an acute ear to the ground to sense that they are coming… and lacking that kind of sensibility, we are liable to be blindsided by them.
An old refrain of mine, I know.
And that "play of chance and probability within which the creative spirit is free to roam" – perhaps a keen sense of those currents is part of what allows the "creative spirit" to ride those waves of "chance and probability"?
I see here once again, Zen, the strong convergence of your interests in creativity (the Eides, eg) and strategy (Boyd, Clausewitz, Sun Tzu, van Creveld).
Fascinating, such a rich cross-weaving.
As to the quality and variety of our commentators — on ZP just in the last few days we’ve had comments from David Ronfeldt, John Hall, Kevin Slaughter and Massimo Introvigne. I too look forward to Seydlitz‘ guest post, and hope M. Fouche too will chime in shortly.
August 1st, 2011 at 5:20 am
Ronfeldt, Hall, Slaughter, Introvigne… And, I hasten to add, Madhu — how could I leave out the irrepressible Madhu?
August 1st, 2011 at 2:29 pm
Strange segue to be sure, but I’ve spent the last week or so reviewing Polanyi’s ideas of polycentric order (the dissertation I posted via email is the best non-Polanyi treatment I’ve read—at least the first three chapters). FA Hayek pointed to Polanyi’s polycentrism when he was developing his ideas on spontaneous order. Both of these concepts are consistent with Boyd’s idea of "harmony." Been a fascinating week, but not enough writing…
August 1st, 2011 at 2:42 pm
"And that "play of chance and probability within which the creative spirit is free to roam" – perhaps a keen sense of those currents is part of what allows the "creative spirit" to ride those waves of "chance and probability"?
I think CvC with that passage was at once quite correct, humble about anyone’s ability to predict the future and giving himself quite a lot of room to account for what happens at the intersection and unity of statesmanship (diplomacy, policy, politics) with supreme military command.
"If they are "inherent" but "yet to be kindled", it will take an acute ear to the ground to sense that they are coming… and lacking that kind of sensibility, we are liable to be blindsided by them."
Things can smolder for so long they cease being noticed until they erupt.
I need to read Polanyi, don’t think I will get to him soon unfortunately 🙁
August 1st, 2011 at 4:40 pm
Mark i find this post and conversation very interesting and fitting especially in todays climate where individuals can commit acts that have a profound effect on a nation. Fort Hood, Columbine, Virginia Tech, the latest incident in Oslo. Ed Luttwak states; " To be sure grand strategy also exists outside international politics, for it includes the highest level of interaction between any parties capable of using force against eachother, including criminal and terrorist groups. The same paradoxical logic is manifest at the level of grand strategy in domestic settings as well, as long as the states manopoly of force is incomplete, whether in civil wars or in criminal activity." I tend to agree. Your thoughts.
August 1st, 2011 at 5:10 pm
I found this today at open democracy http://www.opendemocracy.net/mattias-gardell/roots-of-breiviks-ideology-where-does-romantic-male-warrior-ideal-come-from-today?utm_source=feedblitz&utm_medium=FeedBlitzEmail&utm_content=201210&utm_campaign=Nightly_%272011-08-01%2005%3a30%3a00%27
"The self-appointed knight gave himself the stage name Sigurd – the Crusader, and had in preparation distributed his manifesto to thousands of recipients in the far-right Islamophobic milieu, posted a summary of its content on YouTube, and provided the world’s journalists with promotional pictures of himself in captivating poses, sporting formal uniform or designed combat gear with the insignia “Marxist Hunter”.
August 1st, 2011 at 5:22 pm
Former FBI Agent Joe Navarro has a piece "Lessons from Oslo" has an interesting perspective on Breivik I think may help further this discussion http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/spycatcher/201107/lessons-the-oslo-terrorist-attack
August 1st, 2011 at 9:22 pm
Thx! You wrote:
"Ed Luttwak states; " To be sure grand strategy also exists outside international politics, for it includes the highest level of interaction between any parties capable of using force against eachother, including criminal and terrorist groups. The same paradoxical logic is manifest at the level of grand strategy in domestic settings as well, as long as the states monopoly of force is incomplete, whether in civil wars or in criminal activity"
Luttwak is a sharp and provocative strategist – I am also more or less in agreement. Here’s why:
When force is used to acheive political ends, that should involve using strategy but the a priori question is – what are the politics of the entity? The fundamental values and moral premises of their worldview and the scope to which they believe it applies or should apply? Some groups espouse politics (used here in the sense of ideology) that are radically universalistic in their claims (ex. Christianity, Islam, Communism, Liberalism, Neoconservatism) others are militantly and violently exclusionary (ex. Nazism, Fascism, cults, secret societies, tribalism) and yet others are pragmatically utilitarian (ex. transnational organized crime, guilds, Realists).
It will be the nature of some groups who begin with a complex and closed philosophical system – such as the old Communist movement – to have and to follow a grand strategy, while other groups will never consciously formulate one or only acquire it as a tool of survival due to an ongoing conflict and the need to attract allies and win the sympathy of neutrals
August 1st, 2011 at 9:52 pm
Wondering what your current definition of THE SUPER EMPOWERED INDIVIDUAL is? Has it changed?
August 2nd, 2011 at 12:28 am
Good question. I hadn’t thought of revisiting the definition. Maybe I should. I used two similar ones:
"A super empowered individual, in my view, is autonomously capable of creating a cascading event that grand strategist Dr. Thomas P.M. Barnett has termed a " system perturbation"; a disruption of system function and invalidation of existing rule sets to at least the national but more likely the global scale. The key requirements to become "superempowered" are comprehension of a complex system’s connectivty and operation; access to critical network hubs; possession of a force that can be leveraged against the structure of the system and a wilingness to use it."
"To qualify as a superempowered individual, the actor must be able to initiate a destructive event, fundamentally with their own resources, that cascades systemically on a national, regional or global scale. They must be able to credibly, "declare war on the world"."
I think of the two, the second is better by virtue of being simpler, more open-ended and therefore likely to come to pass. Right now SEI’s in my view are a near-medium term probability, not a reality. I suspect there will need to be desktop DIY microbiology tech where you can whip up something nasty in a petri dish and genetically modify it in your garage or basement ( having talked to some medical researchers, what lab supplies are available with minimal background checks is bad enough now, I’m not looking forward to biohacking being as common as computer hacking) and weaponize it to get the world’s first SEI. That isn’t the only possibility but it is one that potentially involves mass casualties and a reasonable chance for the perpetrator to strike more than once, assuming they do not die from their own handiwork.
Could be wrong though, there’s lots of things that are "systems" and making a complex attack in a group is always going to be easier (with a trade-off on less operational security as the group increases in size) than trying to pull everything off by one’s self.
August 2nd, 2011 at 11:35 am
For me its simple, if we are dealing with individuals, or small groups who are isolated within society, cults, criminal gangs, or people like the kids in the columbine massacre,
the proper response is police work. That is not war, no matter how empowered they may be. Sure there actions may be destructive, but that does not lend them any broad legitimacy within the community. It is my strong feeling that this kind of debate is an American phenomenon, only in a society that places such strong emphasis on the individual/ and the primacy of individual rights, could violent action by the individual be considered warfare. Its a conceit to my mind.
Where is the German Rambo?
August 2nd, 2011 at 12:51 pm
Thanks, since the SEI is the essence of this discussion, I’ll use your second definition.
I think you’ll like my coming post . . .
August 2nd, 2011 at 1:04 pm
SEI’s do not require any legitimacy and as a point of fact, many kinds of combatants (rebels, terrorists and even national governments) have none, so legitimacy is not a prerequisite for warfare to take place. If illegitimacy prevented wars, it would be a far more peaceful world, but legitimacy is something that can be acquired over time by being recognized by others (belligerency status) as well as being granted by a political community (consent of the governed/social contract).
August 2nd, 2011 at 3:35 pm
I find it hard to think of an example where a combatant did not have legitimacy, but it was still seen as a war. The invasion of Iraq was a war, Saddam for all his faults still had a degree of legitimacy. Qaddafi, again still commands the alligence of enough Libyans to still have a degree of legitimacy. The Taliban, drawing there legitimacy from the Pashtun tribes, are at war with the Afghan government. The IRA, had enough support to eventually enter into negotiations with the British and Irish governments. They were all, or are wars to my eyes.When you start dealing with entities like Al Qaeda warfare as a designation seems to lose its usefulness. Al Qaeda functions more like a criminal enterprise than a political group.So on one hand I could see the US and the Taliban negotiate an end to fighting in Afghanistan, a similar solution is impossible with Al Qaeda. Who would you talk to?The US was able to calm the violence in Iraq because the groups they were fighting were willing to talk, and they had the political legitimacy to pull there followers along with them..
If a SEI was ever able to hold the world to ransom, or unleash a cataclysmic event, that would not be war. It would be a violent attack on society, destructive yes, but not usefully covered by a designation of war.
It brings to mind the Insane Biologist from 12 Monkeys, are his kind to be folded into a designation of war? Then were does it end? If a man guns down a bunch of school teachers because he doesn’t like public education is he to be said to be at war? At what point does war just become a matter of scale?
August 2nd, 2011 at 4:07 pm
I have a few beginner’s questions, with which I will try to get at the philosophical underpinnings of this discussion.
My mind has been running on Poincare‘s idea, which a friend pointed me to yesterday, that mass and force are "codefinitional" – in Stuart Kaufmann‘s terms, they are:
So I’m wondering, are politics and war codefinitional in Clausewitz‘ celebrated remark? or how do they work together? Because if "politics" is that of which "war is the continuation by other means", and war excludes by previous agreement all individual acts such as assassinations, then what happened in the Ford Theater is politics, what happened in Sarajevo is politics, what happened in Dealey Plaza is politics. On the other hand, if these things are not among the "means" of politics, then they are surely a "continuation of politics by other means" – by violent means, indeed – and thus per CvC "war".
So whether "war" can or cannot include individual acts may depend on how you define the means of politics, no?
And if assassination isn’t warfare…
Okay, you have a sniper: now add a spotter? Has politics become war at this point?
I suspect Wittgenstein might consider "war" was a term like "game" that covers a never quite defined area of activity by reference to a "family resemblance" between various examples of its use…
Or, picking up on Joey‘s last post and running with it in my own direction, not his — is "war" simply the name we give to whatever acts of violence we send the military to attend to, while "crime" covers those acts of violence which we refer to the police?
Again, warfare as such isn’t my usual area of study — "ain’t gonna study war no more" or so I once thought — so please forgive my ignorance if these issues have been raised and settled many times already in the literature.
August 2nd, 2011 at 4:34 pm
Assassination can be a tool that is used in war, but Assassination is in of itself not war.
I think when you see a soldier shooting at a defined enemy you could be forgiven for thinking its war, but in actual fact its a Police action ^^.
If you open the door to logic in this debate we could end up spending the next 20 years trying to avoid the use of axioms!
August 2nd, 2011 at 8:37 pm
Actually, it is *frequently* the case that one or more actors in an armed conflict lacks legitimacy as the term is used diplomatically, legally and by political scientists.
The examples you cited, the IRA and the Taliban, are textbook cases of illegitimate combatants in an armed conflict. The Taliban government was recognized by only three other states on the planet and the post-2001 guerrilla movement only by one and are hated and feared by the majority of Afghans, possibly the majority of Pushtuns. The British government (and most states) regarded the IRA as a criminal organization right up until the point where the IRA forced the British at the point of a gun (i.e. terrorism) to recognize them as a negotiating partner through Sinn Fein in the peace process – at which point they became "legitimate" actors. The same can said of the Taliban if they succeed in forcing the US into a peace process, as seems likely, but as of now they are no more legitimate under international law than are the narco-cartels in Mexico or al Qaida.
It is the default position of all sovereign governments that armed resistance to it’s authority is de jure illegitimate. The rebel or terrorist by success of arms and diplomacy can earn belligerency status from neutral states or compel recognition from their state adversary. Legitimacy is not a prerequisite for a war, quite the opposite historically, and legitimacy is not required for a state of armed conflict to be recognized under international law for the very good reason that otherwise all states would seek to deny all armed enemies the protections of the laws of war.
August 2nd, 2011 at 9:02 pm
Will be ready to go tomorrow. Comes to a bit over 7 worddoc pages. Will send to you and you can post . . . which email should I use? You know were to contact me.
August 2nd, 2011 at 9:14 pm
Just pinged you via email with the address I have. If that does not work, zenpundit@hotmail will do just fine. Much appreciated for your taking the time!
August 2nd, 2011 at 9:15 pm
Charles – I will address your comment later this evening – great question!
August 2nd, 2011 at 9:50 pm
Heh, fine by me — which reminds me, I’m very impressed with the way CvC handles his notion of a "paradoxical trinity" of hatred, chance and policy. As a theologian, I was raised to understand our (theological) Trinity as a "mystery", defined as:
The inner working os CvC’s version is similarly hidden, I guess, by the fog of war…
August 2nd, 2011 at 11:31 pm
Thanks Zen — I look forward to your response!
August 3rd, 2011 at 1:22 am
"So I’m wondering, are politics and war codefinitional in Clausewitz‘ celebrated remark? or how do they work together? "
I am not the serious student of Clausewitz that Seydlitz is, so when I look at something by CvC I think along two tracks – what would CvC have intended as a universal context and how would he have originally understood the terms from his own experiences, worldview and study of history before applying them as part of his philosophy of war?
My interpretation is that "politics" used by CvC means 1) "policy" 2) "domestic politics that creates policy" 3) "politics as relations within the society of states between polities (i.e. diplomacy) 4) "the exercise of power" and CvC’s use of "politics" means all of these at the same time. The relationship between "politics" and "war" is both directive and iterative, which is the nature of strategy itself.
Again, I am not a Clausewitzian well versed in the historiography regarding Clausewitz and Clausewitzian theory, so there may or may not be loud objections to what I have just written. 🙂
August 4th, 2011 at 9:52 am
‘Heh, fine by me — which reminds me, I’m very impressed with the way CvC handles his notion of a "paradoxical trinity" of hatred, chance and policy. As a theologian, I was raised to understand our (theological) Trinity as a "mystery", defined as……’
That is a very interesting parallel. I’m sure CvC had a rigorous religious schooling, he was after all the grandson of a Lutheran prof of theology…
August 4th, 2011 at 10:18 am
I think we’re arguing at cross purposes here, surely the only legitimacy that matters here is the legitimacy you draw from the people? The IRA and the Taliban both have support from there host populations, they are a manifestation of the peoples will, that is peoples war in a CvC world. The SEI is a lone actor, his actions do not draw any moral force from the population, but from his own internal convictions.The American revolution had legitimacy due to the fact that the rebels spoke for a signicant number of colonists. It did not need social scientists to bestow anything.
Legitimacy is a key component in deciding when you are fighting rebels who may have the support of the community, or a street gang. One is war, one is criminality. At the end of the day it is not your opponents that give legitimacy.
August 4th, 2011 at 2:48 pm
"At the end of the day it is not your opponents that give legitimacy."
Au contraire, if you want to go from war to peace, and you lack the ability to force unconditional surrender or annihilate them, you do.