UnClausewitzian wars

The first principle of war, von Clausewitz says, is not military at all but political: war is politics continued by other means. Every war has a political objective and must be conducted in order to achieve that objective. Once the aim is achieved and is secure, the war is finished.

What can one say about the Fourth Afghan War?

Von Clausewitz cut through the guff and bluster of war. It does not exist on its own in a cloud of brass and trumpets as a natural part of sovereignty fought for its own sake: war exists to further a defined purpose, perhaps for territorial aggrandisement or for defence or to distract the people.

The Romans may have thought differently: for them, war was an act of worship, in devotion to Mars. There was gross barbarity in their civilisation and we have suffered from giving too much acclaim of the Romans.

All this said, technically (Hobbes would remind us) all independent states are in a state of war with each other in a sense:

There Is Alwayes Warre Of Every One Against Every One Hereby it is manifest, that during the time men live without a common Power to keep them all in awe, they are in that condition which is called Warre; and such a warre, as is of every man, against every man. For WARRE, consisteth not in Battell onely, or the act of fighting; but in a tract of time, wherein the Will to contend by Battell is sufficiently known: and therefore the notion of Time, is to be considered in the nature of Warre; as it is in the nature of Weather. For as the nature of Foule weather, lyeth not in a showre or two of rain; but in an inclination thereto of many dayes together: So the nature of War, consisteth not in actuall fighting; but in the known disposition thereto, during all the time there is no assurance to the contrary. All other time is PEACE.

Put more specifically, Hobbes observes:

But though there had never been any time, wherein particular men were in a condition of warre one against another; yet in all times, Kings, and persons of Soveraigne authority, because of their Independency, are in continuall jealousies, and in the state and posture of Gladiators; having their weapons pointing, and their eyes fixed on one another; that is, their Forts, Garrisons, and Guns upon the Frontiers of their Kingdomes; and continuall Spyes upon their neighbours; which is a posture of War. But because they uphold thereby, the Industry of their Subjects; there does not follow from it, that misery, which accompanies the Liberty of particular men.

Popular visions of the glory of war are just means to encourage martial prowess in soldiers and to persuade the population to tolerate the depravations that come from the war effort. The mucky political business of why the war is fought is not to be discussed in polite circles, where the glint of the blade and the honourable death are celebrated. So they must be, and a soldier who fights as a true warrior deserves all the celebration he receives and far more – unless you have been there, you have not an idea of even a fraction of it.

However, politics is at the heart of it, and generals must understand it, for war is directed to an aim. If a prince lusts after the wealth of a neighbouring province and invades to seize it, there is no point in his generals’ conducting their campaign so as to destroy that province.

This point sounds obvious in the cold light of peace, but it is reads as a novel suggestion in On War. In the context of earlier works it looks like as an unwelcome sullying of the purity of the soldier’s craft.

The art of war has been studied intently in all cultures of the world across the ages, and written about in learned theses in various civilisations. In all the great writings until the Nineteenth Century, from Caesar, Sun-Tzu, Bonaparte and others, the emphasis is on how to fight – strategy, logistics, tactics and psychology. It was von Clausewitz who started with why to fight. That is of crucial importance: it shapes the whole thrust of the campaign.

In short, if a state launches an attack because a neighbour is threatening its territory or vital interests, the attack need only destroy the enemy’s offensive capacity and all is achieved. During the Falklands War a journalist asked Mrs Thatcher if Britain was going to invade Argentina – maybe jingoism would think that, but the war aims were quickly concluded on the islands and the seas about them. War must not exist apart from its aims.

Aims may change or develop, and the enemy may be deceived about the true aims of a campaign, but an actual aim is a necessity.

In the four Afghanistan Wars to date, the first was unprincipled foolishness, the second a regrettable perceived necessity, the third purely defensive. The fourth has been defensive, to destroy terrorist establishments threatening Britain and America, but that achieved many years ago, and the fighting seemed to go one just out of its own internal logic.

The phrase ‘Something must be done” is not an aim nor any reason for war.

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The Fourth Afghan War

If I were to give an analysis of the failures in Afghanistan, what credibility would I have? I have never fought there, never been there, I know few Afghans. I prefer to listen to generals who commanded and soldiers who were on the ground, and to Afghans.

The result of the Fourth Afghan War has been much like all the others: the army went in, defeated the enemy, drove them from Kabul and put down rebellions relentlessly, then went home, and left the crazies to reassert themselves.

The previous Afghan Wars were to keep the Afghans from troubling India , maintain a buffer to keep the Russians away from India and ensure future compliance from the Emir, without interfering with his treatment of his own people.

This time round the objectives were outwardly similar. Firstly it was to stop Afghans and their ‘guests’ from pouring out of their valleys to attack the West. Secondly, unspokenly, the Russians were to be kept out (though they  were not likely to try it: they still have their hands burnt from the Soviet occupation in the 1980s). A friendly Emir or whatever other ruler might be installed was more difficult.

The commentaries keep coming in from those who were there. A repeated theme is that the soldiers were there to keep down an insurgency that could just slip into the next valley and wait for years, and to assist the Afghan Army, while leaving a native government to work without guidance. Unguided as it was, the Americans expected the Afghan government to work like a Western central government. It could never be that though: a country with no culture of democracy or limited government could not become a model liberal democracy, and a country with no tradition of centralised rule could not abide one nor know how to run one.

A theme from many commentators has been that the Taliban never retreated – they ran their own local governments, and very effectively (and very brutally) by all accounts. If the writ of central government could not run beyond Kabul, then ordinary Afghans can be forgiven for calling on the Taliban to assist them.

An accusation made by the rebels against the Kabul government was that it was an American puppet – but it was never that. The government was a harsh, Islamist government; just not as harsh as some wished. It would have been better for the Afghans if their government had been a puppet, just as ordinary Indians in past days were thankful if their brutal rajah was guided and moderated by a British Resident. Instead of just holding strongpoints by rifle and bayonet and deferring to Kabul, It would have been better if the Western allies had nurtured traditional governors in the villages and valleys. Without effective local chieftains or councils people will go to the nearest alternative. Where a farmer has a dispute with his neighbour, it would once have been resolved locally, not relying on a distant, impotent and corrupt national government. It is no wonder if they went off instead and paid the local Taliban.

The Americans can always be accused.  Their army went in having watched Rambo films: the British army in contrast had read Kipling. The Americans might have assumed, as they did in Iraq, that with an old government swept away, the people would spontaneously choose a benevolent, liberal government of selfless politicians. As in Iraq, that is shown to be criminally naïve.

On the planners’ desks should have been Thomas Hobbes, not De Tocqueville.

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Despoticall Dominion, How Attained

Dominion acquired by Conquest, or Victory in war, is that which some Writers call DESPOTICALL, from Despotes, which signifieth a Lord, or Master; and is the Dominion of the Master over his Servant. And this Dominion is then acquired to the Victor, when the Vanquished, to avoyd the present stroke of death, covenanteth either in expresse words, or by other sufficient signes of the Will, that so long as his life, and the liberty of his body is allowed him, the Victor shall have the use thereof, at his pleasure.

And after such Covenant made, the Vanquished is a SERVANT, and not before: for by the word Servant (whether it be derived from Servire, to Serve, or from Servare, to Save, which I leave to Grammarians to dispute) is not meant a Captive, which is kept in prison, or bonds, till the owner of him that took him, or bought him of one that did, shall consider what to do with him: (for such men, (commonly called Slaves,) have no obligation at all; but may break their bonds, or the prison; and kill, or carry away captive their Master, justly:) but one, that being taken, hath corporall liberty allowed him; and upon promise not to run away, nor to do violence to his Master, is trusted by him.

Not By The Victory, But By The Consent Of The Vanquished

It is not therefore the Victory, that giveth the right of Dominion over the Vanquished, but his own Covenant. Nor is he obliged because he is Conquered; that is to say, beaten, and taken, or put to flight; but because he commeth in, and submitteth to the Victor; Nor is the Victor obliged by an enemies rendring himselfe, (without promise of life,) to spare him for this his yeelding to discretion; which obliges not the Victor longer, than in his own discretion hee shall think fit.

And that men do, when they demand (as it is now called) Quarter, (which the Greeks called Zogria, taking alive,) is to evade the present fury of the Victor, by Submission, and to compound for their life, with Ransome, or Service: and therefore he that hath Quarter, hath not his life given, but deferred till farther deliberation; For it is not an yeelding on condition of life, but to discretion. And then onely is his life in security, and his service due, when the Victor hath trusted him with his corporall liberty. For Slaves that work in Prisons, or Fetters, do it not of duty, but to avoyd the cruelty of their task-masters.

The Master of the Servant, is Master also of all he hath; and may exact the use thereof; that is to say, of his goods, of his labour, of his servants, and of his children, as often as he shall think fit. For he holdeth his life of his Master, by the covenant of obedience; that is, of owning, and authorising whatsoever the Master shall do. And in case the Master, if he refuse, kill him, or cast him into bonds, or otherwise punish him for his disobedience, he is himselfe the author of the same; and cannot accuse him of injury.

In summe the Rights and Consequences of both Paternall and Despoticall Dominion, are the very same with those of a Soveraign by Institution; and for the same reasons: which reasons are set down in the precedent chapter. So that for a man that is Monarch of divers Nations, whereof he hath, in one the Soveraignty by Institution of the people assembled, and in another by Conquest, that is by the Submission of each particular, to avoyd death or bonds; to demand of one Nation more than of the other, from the title of Conquest, as being a Conquered Nation, is an act of ignorance of the Rights of Soveraignty. For the Soveraign is absolute over both alike; or else there is no Soveraignty at all; and so every man may Lawfully protect himselfe, if he can, with his own sword, which is the condition of war.

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War v Terrorism question: the simple answer

They asked: ‘What is the difference between an act of war and an act of terrorism?’ It appears in a list of questions that might be asked at an Oxbridge interview, and it struck me as an odd one because there is a simple, Hobbesian answer. Maybe they do not want Hobbes.

I am glad to forget the interview questions they asked me at Oxford; they are a fiendish and effective way to tease out the character and educated reasoning of a candidate. That is why a question with a short answer does not fit.

War is legal; terrorism is illegal: it is that simple.

War though in a Hobbesian sense is a perpetual state when there is no Common-wealth.

Hereby it is manifest, that during the time men live without a common Power to keep them all in awe, they are in that condition which is called Warre; and such a warre, as is of every man, against every man. For WARRE, consisteth not in Battell onely, or the act of fighting; but in a tract of time, wherein the Will to contend by Battell is sufficiently known: and therefore the notion of Time, is to be considered in the nature of Warre; as it is in the nature of Weather. For as the nature of Foule weather, lyeth not in a showre or two of rain; but in an inclination thereto of many dayes together: So the nature of War, consisteth not in actuall fighting; but in the known disposition thereto, during all the time there is no assurance to the contrary. All other time is PEACE.

Where the Common-wealth (which is to say the state) is established and effective, only the state may use or authorise violence. Therefore authorised violence, whether as simple as arresting a man or as enormous as levying all-out war, belongs to the Sovereign. All private and unauthorised violence offends against the Sovereign and may be punished. Where the Common-wealth is ineffective to keep its subjects in awe then that Warre against every Man is reality.

The legalistic mind in a settled, modern state will argue about whether particular acts by that state are legal or not, drawing on laws established or invented, to condemn or condone acts of war effected by their government. States may have their own constitutional rules and procedures about when head of government may or may not go to war, but those are for the internal laws of the state. International law is not law. The domestic laws of a nation are only as potent as the extent to which the state follows the rule of law in the first place. From the perspective of an outsider faced with an invading army, they are utterly irrelevant. A sovereign may go to war, and that is universal.

With such a short answer available, an interview question asking what is the difference between war and terrorism suggests there is a moral judgment to be made, beyond ‘legal’ and ‘illegal’.

Theologically one can twist and turn about the subject but it comes down to the necessity of their being a sovereign Prince or Common-wealth to maintain the peace, and it is an attribute of indivisible sovereignty that the Sovereign may levy war and maintain by any means internal peace. Render unto Caesar that which is Caesar’s, and war is indeed Caesar’s. The Romans admittedly though skilled at war, were no good example when it comes to peace and lawfulness of their wars, wracked as they were with rebellion and civil war.

The idea of civil war seems to contradict the idea of war as legal. Hobbes knew all about civil war, having been caught in the turmoil between the King and Parliament. Leviathan must be read in that context, the necessity of civil peace being a thread running through it. Two rival sides able to raise and command armies appear as two states at war.

Terrorism is something very different though. The terrorist strikes, kills, and then may slip back into society. He is not a soldier of a rival society, but is part of the society he attacks. His attack is in fact dependent upon that society for its effect: where there is no settled society there can be no terrorism because murder offends against no law and disrupts nothing. If a half-ton meteor lands in an empty field, it makes a hole but we move on, but if an identical meteor were to fall in a city, it would be a disaster. The shock of a terrorist attack is that it disrupts a society which relies upon its own peace and order to function.

An act of war will cause far more damage than any terrorist attack, if it is done properly, but war is celebrated, and war is, as the action of the Sovereign, the collective act of a nation (whether they like it or not) against an outside foe or an internal foe seeking to destroy that society. The simple answer then remains: war is legal, and terrorism is illegal. Going further, if you must, terrorism must by its nature be the highest of crimes because it is committed by those who are subjects of the laws of a society or who have become part of that society.

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And then there was silence

The guns fell silent at the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month. It has been for our nations, the victors, a sacred moment remembered each year. It might have been for Germany too, but they were caught up in their own revolutions at the time and it seemed a strange sort of peace with the sound of gunfire ever present. For the great concert of Europe though, the unthinkably brutality of this war was over.

The clean forgetfulness of the public imagination has this moment as an end to war, the war to end all wars, until the next one. Would that it had been. It was a long effort to make a peace though and the treaties were still being argued over in 1920: this year Hungary mourned the centenary of its own dismemberment at the hands of the vengeful Entente allies: three quarters of Hungary was torn away and two thirds of its population left in foreign lands, and not a single yard of its border was unencroached. That hurt has not faded in a hundred years, nor Austria’s for loss of South Tyrol. Turkey in 1920 was dissolved, and its rulers today appear vengeful for it. War did not cease: the new Mitteleuropa states fought to reverse their border losses almost from the start, and the murderous Russian Civil War ground on.

In the west the joy of victory would not be spoiled by foreigners’ tussles. It was a new era, and the revolutionary map of Europe cast a revolutionary mood into the air – only by the skin of our teeth and the common sense of the common man did Britain escape a bloody communist tyranny. The febrile atmosphere in which everything was possible and every idea hailed a revelation carried through until those ideas tumbled Europe into a war yet more bloody, more evil than imagination could have furnished even amongst those who had seen the drowned trenches. The first war gave us poetry: the second gave us films of heroism, and real heroism there was in more places than the who canon of literature can supply, and we can cheer, as long as we do not look too far below the surface of those years as that would curdle the feelings.

The remembrance is important. The names are read, the sermons and the familiar verses; we tramp to the village green, we stand silent awaiting the bugle. It is ceremony, old and familiar, and in this we remember, for it has been mercifully many decades since war came to these islands and we forget, or would forget. Politicians still like to play with soldiers, but every November they meet and remember it is not a game, and there are better men who stood what no man among them would bear, or few.

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