So, Clausewitz’s ideas, as he himself predicted, continue to bear the brunt of much ‘half-baked criticism’. In a recent article in Foreign Policy, John Arquilla extols a creative design approach to armed conflict, which involves ‘a puzzle to be solved about what kind of force to build’ – a consideration, he argues, that was ignored by even the greatest thinkers on war such as Clausewitz. In my response here, I demonstrate that Arquilla’s depiction of Clausewitz and his understanding of design in war are somewhat mistaken.
At the heart of the problem with Arquilla’s piece is conceptual confusion. As I explain in my book, War, Clausewitz and the Trinity, the great Prussian stated that it is important to ‘clarify concepts and ideas that have become, as it were, confused and entangled.’
The examples presented in Arquilla’s piece appear to cover just about every activity in war and are best explained by terms that already exist and, moreover, which in their modern form were essentially defined by Clausewitz: namely, strategy and tactics. Nevertheless, if design is meant in the narrower sense of the shaping of armed forces, then design as a concept begins to make more sense. But contrary to Arquilla’s claim that design can serve as an independent solution to military problems, Clausewitz would remind us of the multitude of factors that impinge on success in war, and none more so than the political basis of war.