In this essay we aim at providing critical analyses to the idea that “The quest for weapons of mass destruction is the affirmation of Clausewitz’ thesis that the defeat of the enemy in war requires the maximum application of force” (UNISA Tutorial Letter 101 for PLS2610, 2011: pp12). This affirmation is fallacious since it relates an event to a reflection developed in a different context and with different aim. In this essay we start by exploring the theory of Clausewitz on war, the relation between war and politics and finally we bring our own conclusion.
Carl von Clausewitz (1780-1831), a distinguished Prussian war philosopher have developed in his dialectic method a theory on war that ended in two distinguished concepts known as absolute war and real war. Clausewitz defines war as an extended duel between two parties in what armed force is used by the involved parties aiming at compelling one party (amongst themselves) to the will of the other.
As for the author, the difference between the two concepts of war rests basically in the sense that one (the absolute war), being philosophical, defined is less likely to happen and the other (the real war) more practical resulting in facts observed within his own experience. While absolute war happens for no particular reason and “…takes place in one near-instantaneous maximum effort by both warring parties…” (UNISA Tutorial Letter 501 for PLS2610, 2011: pp. 19), requiring this use of force to the maximum extent to defeat the opposing party the real war, in the other hand merely takes place as result of threat of force to conflicts which are unlimited in the sense that at least one of opposing parties is not willing to “…accept any outcome other than the complete military and then political overthrow of his adversary” (BASSFORD, 2008). Real war, is unpredictable since the parties involved may change strategies and means applied against the reality encountered in the war field.
Clausewitz situates the origin of war in the political agenda of states governments. As for a citation of his writing by Isaac Deutscher (in his Trotski – The Prophet Armed), in which he states that “…war is an instrument of politics…” and therefore the definition of means to be used in war depends heavily on a clear definition of the political agenda. However, taking the analyses of the concept of war, there is a conflict between this view and the dynamic aspect of war. To that Clausewitz formulated an answer in the following terms: the political aim “…must adapt itself to its chosen means, a process which can readily change it; yet the political aim remains the first consideration” (UNISA Tutorial Letter 501 for PLS2610, 2011: pp. 21). However, this view of war being merely continuation of politics has been contradicted by Hannah Arendt (in her “The Promise of Politics”), with the view that it is politics that represents continuation of war and not the contrary. The argument of Arendt is based exactly on her observation of the use of weapons of mass destruction that go beyond the simple will of dominating the other, in the sense that out of killing the opponent they cause damage far more extended to what a simple political objective would ever aim.
With the above discussion we come to the understanding that Clausewitz gave the condition of application of maximum force in a theoretical ground (absolute war), as in the real he seems to contradict this view. And by bringing the theoretical aspect the author aimed at making the concept of real war much understandable in a dialectic debate. To justify use of mass destruction weapons on ground of Clausewitz sounds illogic since these weapons have effects far from any political agenda. The quest for mass destruction weapons represent “… monstrous catastrophes that may transform the [whole] world into a desert and the planet into matter without life” (ARENDT, 2008).
ARENDT, Hannah.Trans.The Promise of Politics.DIFEL: Rio de Janeiro.2008
DEUTSCHER, Isaac.Trans.Trotski – the Prophet Armed.Civilização Brasileira: Rio de Janeiro.1968
http://www.clausewitz.com/readings/Bassford/Cworks/Works.htm [accessed 08 April 2011]
Tutorial Letter 501/2011serving as Study Guide for PLS2610