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To what extent is the clausewitzian account of war a political instrument relevant in the twenty-first century ?

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  1. Introduction
  2. The exact meaning of the term 'politics'
  3. The Clausewitzian account of war
  4. The Clausewitzian trinitarian structure of the army
  5. War as an effective instrument of a policy
  6. Conclusion
  7. Bibliography

Clausewitz's description of war as a means to an end or, to use his own formulation, ?the continuation of politics by other means?, must be interpreted against the contemporary intellectual background: the majority of enlightenment writers had regarded war as an aberration, an interruption of political intercourse, the point where human reason came to an end . This view can be said to have influenced the actual conduct of war in as much as most eighteenth-century commanders tried to make war in a cautious, ?civilised? manner while minimising the damage to the environment . Thus, when Clausewitz insisted that war was simply one of the forms taken on by political intercourse, that it was a language of politics that should be formulated on the basis of carefully assessed cost-benefit analysis, he was making a new and important point.

[...] In addition, as has been noted, integral to the Clausewitzian account was the idea of the instrumentality of war that it should necessarily be a controlled, rational, political act. This is hardly applicable when it comes to the informal type of wars in question, which often as was the case in Rwanda, or Somalia, for example, entail the collapse of society and a descent into anarchy, with an indecisive outcome and the absence of regular armies or clear battle lines. [...]


[...] The changes brought about by these can indeed be regarded as political and, since these types of war are the most common and important being fought on the planet today, they could thus be said to represent circumstances under which war as a political instrument is relevant in the twenty-first century. However, although this type of warfare has come to be by far the most important or ?relevant? instrument for bringing about what can be regarded as political change, the term ?political? as conceived by Clausewitz did not, as has been made clear, relate to kind of relationship involving any kind of government in any kind of society?. [...]


[...] To the extent that the Clausewitzian account of war as a political instrument rests on the notion of war as a product of a rational choice a weighing on part of the state of the costs and benefits of the instrumental use of force it is largely irrelevant today. On the whole, twenty-first century conditions work against wars being fought in terms of Clausewitzian calculations. During the last century, the costs of war rose dramatically, while the benefits remained the same or, more often, fell. [...]

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