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Clausewitz Applicability To Non-State Actors

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Clausewitz’s theories on war are still relevant today with the revisualization of non-state actors on the world scene. The purpose of this essay is to expand on the applicability of these theories in today’s modern warfare where non-state actors play a larger, more global role. The study of theory, especially translated theory, requires an open mind to determine its applicability to various and ever-changing situations. In the case of Clausewitz, many strategists do not view his theories as relevant to today’s wars involving a Nation State vs. non-state actors. This is not true. The U.S. Army Command and General Staff College teaches that the commander’s intent is the most important part of proper execution. Strategists need to look at the intent of Clausewitz and view within the contextual historic period he wrote it, to demonstrate its relevance today. For the purpose of this essay, a Nation States is a sovereign territory that combines a political and geopolitical entity with a cultural or ethnic entity that was arrived at by self-determination. Non-state actors are groups that operate beyond state control and generally include rebel opposition groups (groups with a stated incompatibly with the government, generally concerning the control of government or the control of territory), local militias and warlords. By reviewing Clausewitz’s definitions of war, his theory of “the remarkable trinity” and the historical examples of non-state actors’ involvement with Nation States in war the relevance of Clausewitz will be apparent.

Non-state actors have played a part in wars or have been an opposing force since before the time of Clausewitz. The first example of non-state actors’ involvement in a war comes from the Bible. The founding of Israel is rooted in non-state actors, led by Moses, waging an insurgency against Egypt; resulting in the formation of the first Jewish state. Since the rebirth of Israel after World War II the reverse of this has been demonstrated by numerous Islamic factions waging a war against the State; this includes the Palestinians and in current events Hezbollah, a surrogate of Iran. War is often thought of as involving one state against another but most wars throughout time have been fought between competing factions within a single state. Examples of this include Civil Wars or Wars of Revolution within a Nation State where a group organizes itself, forms a military or insurgent force and attempts to overthrow or separate from the primary Nation State. Clausewitz briefly refers to non-state actors or as he called them, “people in arms” in his book On War. He saw this as a new phenomenon of warfare that steamed from the French Revolution under Napoleon. Recognizing that Clausewitz was aware of non-state actors, his definition of war can be reviewed in the context of the time it was written.

Clausewitz’s definitions of war are suitable to both State and non-state actors. He defines war as: 1) an act of force to compel our enemy to do our will; 2) a clash between major interests, which are resolved by bloodshed - that is the only way in which it differs from other conflicts; and 3) fighting, for fighting is the only principle in the manifold activities generally designated as war. A Nation State raises a military to deter aggression or to become the implementing force of aggression against its enemies. Similarly, non-state actors create militias or guerrilla bands to inflict their will on others. This act is as much a demonstration of political or military strategy as that of a Nation State. Clausewitz’s definition of war, as it pertains to Nation States, is applicable to non-state actors. Examples of the relationship between non-state actors and Clausewitz’s definition of war include: 1) Non-state actors often use force, insurgencies, to attempt to compel a legitimate Nation State into conforming to their will; such as Texas’s success from Spain. 2) Most clashes involve a fundamental difference that results in conflict and bloodshed; such as the Moro Rebellion in the Philippines following the Philippine-American War. Finally, 3) conflicts involving non-state actors involve some type of fighting or hostilities to gain the required end-state of the movement; such as the French revolution. In modern history, the trend in warfare is sharply moving away from the inter-state conflict and more toward wars of identity, as well as reengaging historic wrongs and not about difference between Nation States. War in not changing, it has been wrapped into globalization and become more visual than ever before in history. Another factor in the increase in non-state actor conflicts is the decline in “super powers” resulting in a belligerent scramble by communities to seize their historic opportunity to achieve the sovereign homeland that they feel they deserve. Not only does Clausewitz’s definition of war apply to non-state actors but also so does “the remarkable trinity.”

Clausewitz’s trinity, which summarizes the environment in which war and strategy are made, applies to conflicts involving non-state actors. Before examining how this trinity applies to non-state actors, we must first understand it. The common explanation of the trinity as presented during the Command and General Staff College history lessons describes it as a relationship between

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