Friday, January 20, 2006

War Termination

War is the continuation politics (or policy) by other means
Major General Carl von Clausewitz

The mission of the Army is to close with and destroy the enemy by means of fire and maneuver.
US Army

Should Deterrence Fail: War Termination in Campaign Planning
Lieutenant Colonel James W Reed
Parameters 1993

Wars end. Preferably they end on favorable terms and accomplish the ends for which they were fought. But how do we get there? This 1993 article from Parameters, the Journal of the U. S. Army War Collage, by James W Reed addresses the question of war termination especially from the point of view of the operational commander. While the operational commander is primarily fighting the battle his actions should be pointed not just to the battlefield defeat of the enemy forces, but also seeing that the enemy’s defeat helps accomplish the political goals of the war.

First Reed asks if there is a military role in conflict termination. His general comments are that since war is a continuation of policy by other means the military should plan their operations not simply to defeat the enemy but to end the war with the policy accomplished. Military action can support diplomatic action by creating an incentive for the enemy to accept or negotiate terms before a defeat. The way in which the enemy was defeated can have bearing on post war dealings with the former enemy or his successors. He also sees the transition from war to peace as not simply an end to the shooting but a requirement to support reestablishment of civil government, take care of refugees, repair war damage etc which would require coordination with outside agencies, national and international, that are experts in these items.

Next he looks at the state of the war termination in the Defense Departments doctrinal literature. He finds the issue is addressed as a general statement as something that should be done. But there is virtually no discussion of how it should be done. (I found that these subjects were addressed supplemental Student Texts in service schools with reproduced articles by distinguished scholars and discussion seminars, but never anything giving an “Official US Army” position on a political subject.)

He sees the major cause for this is the separation in western thought between the military and civilian (political) spheres. War termination is tied with the political goals, and the military is reluctant to intrude on political questions. Political leaders often see their role as beginning at the peace conference table and thus are not overly interested in the military operational practice. He addresses briefly in the footnotes the fact that left and right leaning politicians are likely to have very different ideas on war goals, making any discussion by the military a virtual minefield.

Most of the discussion is directed toward situations where the enemy power would continue to exist after the war, not régime change policies. But the importance he places on the transition from war to peace implies that if there is a régime change policy, coordination between the operational military commander and civilian agencies is even more important than usual. The military must assume roles no longer performed by the enemy government. Writing from a US perspective he does not address how the commander in a losing situation might use his forces to mitigate or frustrate the enemies accomplishment of his goals despite military victory.

He has a long example form the Korean War where US objectives changed several times and how the military interacted with political leadership, and several other lesser examples.


He recommends several guidelines for campaign planners.

1. Identify a distinct war termination phase in the campaign planning process

2. Emphasize a regressive (i.e. backward-planning) approach to campaign development

3. Define the operational conditions to be produced during the terminal phase of the campaign in explicit, unambiguous terms.

These first three recommendations are really the “backward planning process” taught in any management class or workshop. In a more traditional military terms the first principle of war is the Objective know what you are supposed to and focus on it. In war termination planning the political leadership needs to know and state clearly what it wants to accomplish, the operational commander must plan his operations so that the battlefield defeat of the enemy accomplishes these objectives.

4. Consider how efforts to eliminate or degrade your opponent's command and control may affect, positively or negatively, your efforts to achieve particular objectives

This comment is unusual. Normally destroying the enemies’ ability to command and control is a very desirable goal. But the point is well taken, in some situations leaving the enemy the ability to issue a cease fire or surrender order could be desirable. A cease fire/surrender order would carry more weight when issued by ones own superiors especially to units that are not yet in tactical difficulty. In my reading, at the end of a campaign it is common for units not to get cease fire/surrender orders in time, sometimes with very tragic consequences..

5. Consider the manner in which the tempo of the terminal phase of an operational campaign affects the ability to achieve established policy objectives

Early in a war the operational commander is likely to be concerned with the survival of his force and getting into a decisive position and does not have to worry about war termination except to prevent it from happening on the enemies terms. But at the end of the war he has to be concerned with obtaining the terrain needed for political reasons, capture of war criminals, restoration of government and many other things besides simply defeating the enemy. While the overall enemy may be defeated, individual enemy units may retain considerable capability; he needs to be sure that these cannot frustrate political goals. This is often a very fast moving situation; there may not be time to consult as to what needs to be done.

6. View war termination not as the end of hostilities but as the transition to a new post-conflict phase characterized by both civil and military problems.

Even if there is a clean end of the fighting, there is much that needs to be done to restore effective public services and a normal society. The nature of military operations breaks down normal civil life especially law enforcement. Often, at first the military is the only thing present that can start the recovery process. At the very least the military is the only force present that can provide law enforcement services. While the military role should diminish it is most usually impossible to a have an on/off change.

The quotes that begin this post bring up a dilemma; the proper role of the military "Closing with and destroying" does not address the whole problem "a continuation of politics (or policy) ." Quite properly the military should be subordinate to civilian leadership.

The military services are properly unwilling to intrude on the role of the civilian leadership. The elected/appointed civilian leadership comes to office, often for reasons that have nothing to do with military knowledge, and sometimes, without using too much hyperbole, with no more a background than watching “The Sands of Iwo Jima” and/or “Apocalypse Now” on the late show. Usually they bring in some academic experts for advice and they have the advice of the career diplomats for assistance, but there will always be an opportunity for misunderstanding and miscommunication.

Because the military should not intrude on what are properly civilian functions, it is incumbent on the civilian leadership to initiate process of translating the national goals in to military requirements. Keeping within the proper bounds of a proper civilian/military relationship, the operational commander has to determine what his superiors want to accomplish and how and discuss with them the implications and opportunities. If he gets a clear understanding of what is desired he will often have the flexibility to shape his operations to be of greater assistance to the national goals than simply destroying the enemy.

This article is especially interesting in view of recent actions by the US. The Afghanistan and Iraq invasions, the insurgency in Iraq, and possible action against Iran would make interesting case studies. In the first two at least it seems that the political leadership in the Defense Department had definite ideas on the role of field commanders relative to post war operations – this is not the business of the field commander and the only instructions were that others would take it over after the fighting. - Case studies in how not to do it.


Anonymous said...

Hank, I am just in the process of grappling with that very problem , as enunciated in a fascinating , but hard-going, book by Raymond Aron called "Clausewitz - Philosopher of War". (First published in English in 1983 by Routledge & Keegan Paul)

Aron is fairly clear but Clausewitz is an enigma. It is no wonder that von Schlieffen and the German General Staff misunderstood him so badly. In fact, his metaphysical style of writing and the apparent contradictions in nis text make me wonder exactly how useful he is as a guide.

As to Iraq, I'm afraid that I never had much faith in the neo-con's concept of nation-building' for all sorts of reasons too manifold to go into here. In my view, they should have used old, tried and tested methods and put a bastard in charge whilst making it clear that he was *their* bastard! The British empire ran very smoothly under that system!

hank_F_M said...

One always grapples with Clausewitz, as many people have tactfully said he was a much better solider than a writer. And except for the Howard translation the same could be said about his translators into English.

I haven’t read Aron’s book but it sounds like the right approach. Clausewitz wrote a philosophy not a cookbook. Look for the broad principles that would apply across time not the technique that would have been perfect for Austerlitz or Waterloo. Looked at from that point of view he makes a good bit of sense.

Probably one of the most unrecognized results of his writing comes from the fact that Frederick Engles was an amateur military history person, and picked up from Clausewitz that it is possible for a revolution to be successful. But he turned it around – politics is the continuation of class war by other means. I’m not sure what are friend Andrew would say about that.

The interface between the professional politician and the professional solider is where things often break down, not to criticize either (though often both should be), their ways of seeing the world are to different.

I am considering using this linkfor a case study. But rather than throw something at the screen at the stupidity of things I am letting it sit for a while.

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