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Reshaping the Future
by Arduino Paniccia
edited by Ennio Savi
RESHAPING THE FUTURE
HANDBOOK FOR A NEW STRATEGY
Edited by Ennio Savi
Copyright © 2014 - ME Publisher -- Mazzanti Libri
First Edition: 2014
All rights reserved. No part of this publication may, in no way, be reproduced or copied without explicit permission by the editor, save for short quotations in reviews, newspaper writings, or literary or historic essays.
«Sun Tzu said: The art of war is of vital importance to the State. It is a matter of life and death, a road either to safety or to ruin. Hence it is a subject of inquiry which can on no account be neglected.»
Sun Tzu, The Art of War1
«There are various Ways. [...] Each man practices as he feels inclined. Few are those that prefer the Way of strategy.»
Musashi Miyamoto, Book of Five Rings2
«Strategy is struggle for liberty of action.»
«War is not merely an act of policy but a true political instrument, a continuation of political intercourse, carried on with other means. What remains peculiar to war is simply the peculiar nature of its means. [...] The political object is the goal, war is the means of reaching it, and means can never be considered in isolation from their purpose.»
Carl von Clausewitz, On War3
Sun Tzu tells us that strategy, for a state, is a real matter of survival: a state without a strategy is a state already dead.
Musashi Miyamoto tells us that strategic talent is a rather rare thing, because it is completely absent in intellects in other ways very fine. The reality of today’s world, trade and global economy see entire industrial branches increasingly dominated by large companies, with few opponents who fight hard each other, and with no holds barred. In this conflictual and competitive environment, nothing is more important that what Beaufre calls «the struggle for liberty of maneuver».
Clausewitz tells us that the political moment is the beginning and the end of any discussion of strategy. Reading this famous phrase as a justification for war is misleading, because his profound sense is precisely the opposite: that war finds its reason and its delimitation not in itself, but in politics.
The priority of the political stage, and war as a means and not as an end in itself, implies that “strategy” is not just something related to military affairs. Precisely because the war is a means, it becomes only one of the options available in the “toolbox” that policy has at its disposal to achieve its purposes.
The distortion of the famous Clausewitzian aphorism is quite applicable to the “grand strategic illusion” generated by the Prussian victory over France in 1870-71, of which Helmuth von Moltke was architect and theorist. A brief but intense war between states would solve international disputes by the victory of the fittest, that it would have been entitled to impose the terms of peace more convenient to him. This strategic illusion, the German myth of the Blitzkrieg, broadly understood as a short and decisive, “Napoleonic” conflict, had as its cost two world wars, which were not short at all (because they were not “war of annihilation” but “wars of attrition”), nor decisive (since they have both left as a legacy the conflicts that succeeded them).
The idea of a “war of annihilation”, namely the rapid destruction of the enemy army with a “decisive battle” that would lead to a “total victory”, was first applied, empirically, by Napoleon Bonaparte. So he created the modern western “paradigm” of strategy, as it is customary to say today. The Napoleonic “war of annihilation” became “industrial war” with the American Civil War. Passing through the fundamental theories of Giulio Douhet on strategic bombing, which eliminated the distinction between combatant and non-combatant people, the “war of annihilation” found his peak in August 1945 with the atomic bombing of Japan. But at the very moment in which the atomic bombs of Hiroshima and Nagasaki did get the Napoleonic paradigm to its “highest stage”, as Lenin would say, they passed and destroyed it. Thus was born the paradox inherent in any strategy after Hiroshima: nuclear weapons are useful when they are not used.
The next strategic confrontation, because of the “mutual assured destruction” guaranteed by the atomic weapon, was a “Cold War”, a conflict that undoubtedly there was, but in a virtual way. Or, more precisely, virtual at the centre, since real war was pushed more and more on the outskirts, with the various “limited wars” and “proxy wars” that were aimed only to maintain the status quo. Due to the simple fact that victory could only be achieved by attacking the real enemy. But it would have meant “to push the button”. The clash between Harry Truman and Douglas MacArthur during the Korean War is emblematic. A true case of “Clausewitzian” superiority of politics over military logic.
“Globalization” has led to a new stage of further marginalization of war as a political tool. World economies are now so integrated with one another, that a military confrontation among great powers would not make sense. But this does not mean that the tendency of hegemony, that is, the alteration of the “balance of power” to one’s advantage, is gone, indeed. The economic policies had become a continuation of war by other means. No need of tanks: it is enough to threaten an increase in the price of oil, or closing the valve of the pipeline. In the distinction established by Joseph Nye4 between “hard power” and “soft power,” the balance is increasingly in favor of the latter.
Wars between states are less and less, and fought more and more in the outskirts: now conflicts usually see an international coalition versus non-state groups, particularly guerrilla’s warriors or terrorists, in a civil war scenario. Western “hard power” seems to show all its limitations, related not only to the complexity of political factors, both international and internal to the states, but also to the tremendous financial cost of military deployments of armies still designed for a conflict between technologically advanced states.
The conflicts in the world seem to focus themselves in an “arc of crisis”, or how would Saul B. Cohen say,5 the “shatterbelt”, represented by the Islamic world from Morocco to Pakistan. The ultimate demise of the last autocracies related to the old Baath Party has led not to democracy, but to anarchy, especially due to the capillary action of the Sunni Islamic jihadist groups, often linked to the network of al-Qaeda, and to the Shiites, the latter under the direction not too concealed of Iran.
The Islamic shatterbelt is the only major element of instability (and unpredictability) in a world that is otherwise configuring itself as a hierarchical “balance of power”, with “power” intended not only as military power, but above all economic, which has increasingly transnational and oligarchic aspects.
Historically, the long-term strategy has been associated almost exclusively to military strategy. The father of modern strategic studies, General Carl von Clausewitz, defined strategy as «the use of combat for the purposes of war.»6 Marshal Helmuth Carl Graf von Moltke argued that strategy is «the ability to adapt the resources made available to a general for the achievement of a good.»7 Basil Liddell Hart, great detractor of Clausewitz, argued instead that strategy was the art of distributing and applying military means to fulfill the policy. He claimed that the political objectives are the ends to be pursued by military means, rather than Clausewitz’s thought, who said, according to Liddell Hart, that war is not a mere act of policy but a true political instrument, a continuation of politics by other means.
Subsequently, to the present day strategy scholars extended the definition of the term well beyond the military field and took them in areas such as trade or foreign and security policies. The Merriam-Webster English language dictionary provides two definitions of strategy: first, «the art and science of employing political, economic, psychological and military of a nation or group of nations in order to allow maximum support the adoption of policies in peace and in war»; second, «the art of devising a careful plan or method toward a specific goal.»8 Both definitions, however, seem to miss the mark. In the simplest of terms, strategy is the integrated application of the means available to achieve the desired goals. The emphasis, therefore, is placed on the word “integrated”.
Strategy must be understood as the integrated application of available tools of national power (political and diplomatic, psychological, economic, informational, and military) to pursue the interests of the state. It is absolutely reductive to translate strategy with a single term. Such casual use, to describe anything more than what we would do in the near future, is inappropriate and belies the complexity of the real strategy and strategic thinking. This also results in confusion between strategy and planning, limiting in this way the possibilities of strategic planning and the flexibility of strategic thinking.
When we are talking about strategy, we refer to a multiplicity of actions taken to achieve a specific purpose. It is not strictly neither art nor science, and yet, somehow, it’s both. As an art, it is the ability to think “strategically,” skill that can be acquired through experience, observation and study. As a science, strategic thinking involves the systematic pursuit of knowledge, recognition and formulation of a problem, gathering information, developing analysis, and testing of alternative hypotheses. Strategy is predominantly a mind activity, with a strong theoretical component.
As Clausewitz stated, strategy is an act of human relationships, with the purpose of influencing the behavior of others to bend them to our will. And even before Clausewitz, Sun Tzu wrote: «Hence to fight and conquer in all your battles is not supreme excellence; supreme excellence consists in breaking the enemy’s resistance without fighting.»9
Tu Mu, between 619 and 905 AD, commented on the sentence by saying «who excels at resolving difficulties does so before they arise. One who excels in conquering the enemy does before threats materialize.»10 All these statements are to understand that developing a good strategy could produce the desired political outcome without conflict.
Confrontation and containment strategy, based on open warfare but only in secondary geographical areas (Afghanistan, Iraq, Somalia, Yemen, Libya), further highlighting the phenomenon of “secondarisation” of war and the consequent decay of military strategic thinking, seems to be outdated. But they are not absolutely clear what are the future new lines, especially for the United States and their reluctant European allies.
Strategic ways developed in the nineteenth century — from Napoleon to Clausewitz and Moltke — to drive total wars between national armies is no longer a valid method, but this vision still inspires general staffs, governments and alliances such as NATO. If the principles of strategy are closely bounded with those of war, in the future strategic thinking linked to the conflict will be marginal in the development of global society. Strategy blessed by Moltke, who said «you grow up fighting», is doomed to find definitive refutation. Conflicts are no longer the classic post-Westphalian wars, that is to say a system of relations between nations, but are instead limited clashes, civil or tribal wars, asymmetric warfare. The legacy of Clausewitz must be reviewed and updated at this point, because it is becoming increasingly clear that war is no longer a decisive step, but only a simple and transitive phase of a conflict.
Just this becomes the key issue.
The strategy itself is not so much linked to the military instrument, already identified by Clausewitz just as a “tool” for politics, and therefore to her, at least in theory, not essential. As long as there will be a problem called “security”, and this problem will be crucial to any state or non-state international actor, there will always be a strategy. At the limit, a non-military strategy, or rather post-military strategy.
If the military instrument tends to become marginal, strategy cannot become marginal. Strategy therefore is not going away. In fact, the interdisciplinary approach of the Western strategy may serve new targets and new fields of action. Economic pressures, cyberwar and other types of intervention are replacing the pure military force, which is more and more threatened than used, and seen as a negotiating and diplomatic tool. The strategy of the future will rely much less on the actual use of brute force. Strategy was born with war and with it has been evolved, but today is not strategy to change, but the concept and size of war and, therefore, it must adapt itself to new parameters (globalization, immigration, virtual market), which make much broader boundaries of reasoning and make much more complex the job of the strategist.
The world today is characterized by threats that are both widespread and uncertain, where the conflict is by its nature unpredictable and our ability to defend and promote our national interests may be limited by political, diplomatic and economic restrictions. In short, it is an environment characterized by volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity. It is now, again using the words of Clausewitz, times in which strategists could and should thrive.
The role of strategy is to exert an influence on the volatility, manage uncertainty, simplify the complexity and resolve the ambiguity, the whole in favorable terms to the interests of State. It has an intrinsic logic that can be understood and applied.
A good strategy is founded on a correct analysis and understanding of the context in which we live, of national interests and politics. Strategy accepts that the future cannot be divined but believes that we can model it in our favor. Strategy aims to produce specific effects in the environment in which it is located to act in order to promote positive outcomes and preclude unfavorable ones, understanding that the strategic environment consists of the internal and external environment both influenced by reports, problems, threats, opportunities and their interactions with a State.
Strategy must also respond to emerging needs and new events. Pandemics, environment, resource scarcity, economic and financial crises are likely to be more important of armed conflicts - or they will provoke new armed conflicts. And in face of problems such as climate, environment, water, disease (although climate-related disasters involving Europe very little compared to what happens instead in Asia and the United States), we need a global strategic contribution toward these problems.
There is already a comeback, with various “think tanks,” to a situation similar to that of the strategists in ancient Greece, where the figures who took care of the strategy of the various city-states were, as well as military, even philosophers, merchants, essays and politicians. Political science, in its case of “international relations”, will tend more and more to understand the strategy itself, and the military art, which in Jomini then tried to understand itself as a technical and specialized knowledge, will return to be what, after all, already said Clausewitz: a means of politics in its most general sense.
The following text aims to describe the evolution of the Western strategic thinking, but also wants to represent his inevitable confrontation with Eastern strategy - particularly Chinese - born with Sun Tzu 2,500 years ago. It will not be just a compendium of the military arts, nor an in-depth analysis of the Eastern strategies. It will trace the long struggle for supremacy among European states, until total war. So there will be a discussion of the contrast (open for centuries moreover) with Islam and the complex current phase, which looms a new and different relationship between Asia and the West.
The world is not going from unipolarism to multilateralism, as many have been saying; probably it goes instead from unipolarism to oligarchy. The Italian economist Paolo Sylos Labini argued that the oligopoly in an economic system was the worst case scenario, even worse than monopoly. And this is true not only in economy but also in politics, whether domestic or international.
As it is well known, the term “strategy” comes from the word that indicated in ancient greek the general (στρατηγός, “strateghós”). Already the term then is a proof that, despite the very general nature of “strategy,” as it is defined today, in the tradition of Western thought it has always been seen as a branch of the so-called “military arts,” namely the part of these that were in charge of the overall management of the armed conflict and its relationship with politics and diplomacy. Strategy was to be the liaison, if we may say so, between politics and diplomacy on the one hand, and tactics of the other. Intending to “tactics” instead the discipline studying the peculiar feats of arms with a limited scope in time and space.
The need to synthesize the rules for war’s organization and conduct was born with the earliest state entities of humanity, like Egypt, Mesopotamia and China. Therefore it can be said that strategy’s treaties are almost as old as writing. Already the ancient world produced a vast literature on the subject of war, which, in the sharper and more brilliant authors, is so profound in its basic concepts to transcend time, so maintaining its validity to this day.
In China there was, in the sixth century BC, the brilliant work of Sun Tzu's “The Art of War,” which was followed by a whole genre of similar works, giving rise to a thousand-year tradition of studies on war strategy that influenced in the twentieth century the theories on guerrilla warfare of Mao Tse-tung and Ho Chi Minh.
About a century later, in Greece, Thucydides (460-397 BC), Athenian general and historian, wrote The Peloponnesian War, an analytical account of the conflict which pitted between 431 BC and 404 BC Sparta and Athens for dominance on Greece, one of the masterpieces of Western military history. Xenophon (430/425-355 BC) was the author of Anabasis, history of the Greek mercenaries retreat after their defeat at the Battle of Cunaxa, the Cyropaedia, in which where are the conquests of Cyrus, first Persian emperor, and Hipparchicus (“On horsemanship”), a manual for cavalry commanders.
The thoughts of Aristotle’s Politics (384/383-322 BC) on the aims of the war followed, with his famous saying «we go to war in order to live in peace,» an implicit consideration of strategy as a fusion between political aims and military objectives. It’s a simple fact that no one makes war for war, but to achieve a favorable peace at the end of the military operations.
Much later, Publius Flavius Vegetius Renatus (second half of the IV century - V century AD), wrote the Epitoma rei militaris (“Summary of military matters”), probably in the first half of the fifth century. It is a compendium of previous works, which aims to remedy the difficulties of the imperial army through the recovery of the Roman military tradition. The work was enormously popular in the Middle Ages, and served as inspiration to Machiavelli's The Art of War. Vegetius’ work was the basis of military education until the eighteenth century.
In the sixteenth century, the failure of the imperial dream of Charles V (1500-1558) and the preaching of Martin Luther (1483-1546) finally brought out Europe from the Middle Ages, putting an end to the dream of the “Christianitas” governed by pope and emperor. The rivalry between France and the Habsburg Empire gave birth to the first period of generalized conflict between modern European states, which found a solution only with the first of the great European peace treaties, signed at Cateau-Cambrésis in 1559. On the one hand, the rebellion against the Church of Rome by Martin Luther and the princes of northern Germany led to the beginning of the cuius regio, eius religio. And on the other, the alliances of the king of France Francis I Valois with the Sultan of Constantinople, that is the alloy of a Christian prince with an infidel against another Christian prince, witness the emergence of a new way of thinking about international politics.
As will happen even after, the period of conflict caused a flourishing of European political and military studies, but until the eighteenth century, “reason of state” and “reason of military” were often confused in a single treatment. So it was also for Niccolò Machiavelli (1496-1527), who was the greatest expression of the cultural and methodological revolution that gave new meaning to political theory, and consequently to strategy. Although it can be traced back to Thucydides, Machiavelli can be considered, along with Thomas Hobbes (1588-1679), the initiator of the “political realism”, namely that line of thought, within the political science, which believes that the achievement of power in and of itself is the primary goal of political practice. It means, in international relations, to put the focus on the interest and national security above any other consideration.
The two Machiavelli’s major works on political theory were The Prince (1532) and Discourses on Livy (1513-1521). In these he pointed to a pragmatic way which considered only the “truth of things”, from which was to emerge a political action based only on the interests and needs of circumstances. Machiavelli rejected the idealism of political philosophies arising from religious dogma, as was for example, in Dante Alighieri.
Like Hobbes, Machiavelli’s thought is dominated by an underlying pessimism, which recognizes the competition and hostility between states (in his days dynastic, not yet national) as conditions inherent to their nature. So war is an inevitable destiny, out of any philosophical or moral issue: war exists and is part of the order of things, you need to face it and fight it so well when necessary.
Therefore for Machiavelli was essential the study of war, to know the art and the laws that govern it: military force provides the power of the state, and therefore not only its grandeur, but also its very survival.
For Machiavelli socio-political structures have a determining influence on military requirements and are, at the same time, affected. While it is true that weapons cannot compensate for the weakness of political and civil state, it is also true that without a strong army there are no strong institutions. Machiavelli said: «with the money it is not said to find good hosts, but they are good soldiers to secure the money.»
The Machiavellian work that most directly involves polemology is the Art of War, written between 1519 and 1520, in order «to honor and reward virtue, not to have contempt for poverty, to esteem the modes and orders of military discipline, to constrain citizens to love one another, to live without factions, to esteem less the private than the public good, and other such things which could easily be added in these times.»11 Machiavelli argues strongly against professional soldiers and mercenary troops, who are a dishonest and dangerous thing for freedom of states. Also standing armies are dangerous, as they can adversely affect the conduct of a state: the Praetorians were in fact the downfall of the Roman Empire.
With regard to recruitment, first thing is to avoid the use of foreign volunteers. Soldiers must be citizens of their country, and while the infantry must be recruited in the countryside, the cavalry must be recruited in the cities. You can choose good soldiers from all walks of life, an assertion which is in direct contrast to the medieval use. Essential for soldiers is the love of country and confidence in their captain, because it is not the individual heroism what makes a brave army, but the army good conduct on the field. After these considerations, Machiavelli, however, becomes more questionable when it enters in a more technical discourse, where his references are the Roman soldiers and Swiss mercenaries. In particular, he argued that the infantry was still superior than the cavalry, and artillery not prevented the use in the field of the ancients’ deployments, because the “schioppi” (rifles) and light artillery procured more damage than heavy artillery.
The importance of the “reformer” Machiavelli, which can be regarded as the Luther of political theory, it became clear after his death, so that the Catholic culture of the Counter-Reformation felt the need to oppose the work of the Florentine a treatise on political theory. So it was that Giovanni Botero (1544-1617), a Jesuit, wrote the treatise Della ragion di stato (“On reason of state”),12 printed in Venice in 1589, with the express purpose of combating “Machiavellianism” in order to emphasize the dependency of any political power from the Catholic Church and religion in general. The explosive secularizing charge of Machiavelli’s idea that religion was a mere instrumentum regni, was clear for Botero. Botero was an important reading for the princes of the Ancien Régime, and in his main work he was largely dealt with the subject of military force and its funding.
European culture was divided between “Machiavellianism” and “anti-Machiavellianism” with a continuing debate that came up to the nineteenth century. Machiavelli’s reflections on the formation of a territorial militia formed by farmers influenced Fichte and Clausewitz in the period in which Prussia was trying to reform its professional army to conscript army to deal with the Napoleonic Grande Armée.13
After the wars of Charles V, the second period of great international instability was that of the European Thirty Years’ War. The Peace of Westphalia in 1648, which ended the war, was a milestone in the history of international relations. The name “Thirty Years’ War” refers to a series of armed conflicts that tore Europe between 1618 and 1648, the worst period of war involving the continent before Napoleon. Started as a religious conflict between Protestants and Catholics, his true character, that is, the struggle for dominance in Europe between the Habsburg and France, became over the years more and more evident.
The passage of the troops, largely armies of mercenaries who drew sustenance from the systematic looting of the places crossed, caused a shortage of food that weakened the inhabitants, making them easy prey for infectious diseases, whose spread was favored by refugee flows and the concentration of displaced persons in the cities. From the economic point of view the war witnessed a general economic downturn in all Central Europe, not only for the indiscriminate looting and destruction, but also for the high costs for the maintenance of mercenary armies. The vastness of the theater of war had in fact produced unsustainable costs for the states and a huge increase in the number of soldiers. The issue of demobilization and the payment of the troops operating in Germany was one of the thorniest issues during the peace negotiations. For this reason the Thirty Years’ War was the most destructive in Germany before the Second World War.
The still hybrid nature of armies, mercenaries and national, led to the appearance of “warlords”, the most famous of which was Albrecht von Wallenstein (1583-1634). The military fortunes of Wallenstein, in addition to the large number of men who could mobilize, were due to the careful and effective use of a supply network operated by its employees, who also provided to the aspects we now call logistics and financial services. The Bohemian leader was involved in a new “capitalism in arms” which marked the Thirty Years’ War. Dozens of “general-entrepreneurs”, following the example of Wallenstein, recruited, paid and kept equipped tens of thousands of soldiers, using the organizational capacity and economic strength as their key of success.
Wealth and political connections allowed Wallenstein, his allies and financial backers to take advantage of this situation by creating a network of different lending to sovereigns, immeasurably enriched them. This “capitalist war” created in European countries not only a significant tax burden, but also a system of violence and exploitation of the territories, which was followed by numerous bloody uprisings - and a strong conditioning of military tactics.
Effectively, if this made it quicker shifts, as there was no need to pull wagons and escort lenses, the troops’ supplies and equipment were often reduced to a minimum indispensable. As the war went on, the logistical problem became more and more stringent, due to the increase in the number of men in the field. Payment of the troops became very problematic the, and the soldiers received wages with large delay, that led to numerous mutinies, especially by the Swedish army. A secondary consequence of the need to pay and equip a large number of troops was the advent of standardization in the uniforms and the armament, to increase the speed of production and reduce costs.
The Thirty Years’ War marked the end of religious conflicts in Western Europe. After 1648, no great European war was justified by sectarian motivation. The Peace of Westphalia is now also considered as one of the cornerstones of the concept of the sovereign state, and the first treaty between states legally considered of equal dignity.
Gustavus II Adolphus of Sweden (1594-1632), attempting to make Sweden the hegemonic power in the Baltic, became one of the great protagonists of the Thirty Years' War and especially went down in history for having deeply reformed armies and battle tactics. Improving tactical innovations already being used in the War of Flanders against Spain by Maurice of Nassau, Stadtholder of Netherlands, Gustavus Adolphus transformed the Swedish army by a host of violent and unruly mercenaries to what would become the national armies.
Gustavus Adolphus set a twenty-year compulsory military service for all Swedes capable of bearing arms, which imposed a strict discipline, but also taking care to always provide them with adequate supplies of victuals and clothes. It was during the Thirty Years’ War indeed that was imposed for the first time the need to standardize the clothing of the soldiers, giving birth to the first uniforms.
At the beginning of the war the dominant tactic was the Spanish Tercio, a square formation of infantry armed with pikes, protected at the corners by musketeers. These combat tactics dating back to the sixteenth century. The most important role was given to the pikemen, while the musketeers were essentially subordinate, because of the low rate of fire. Gustavus Adolphus was convinced instead that the weapon to be favored on the battlefield was the musket instead of the pike. The musketeers became much more lethal with new weapons that they did not need tripods, but the true revolution was the new tactic of “barrage”, with which the musketeers fired in groups rather than individually, coordinating the file to have a shot himself while the other reloaded. This greatly increased the firepower. The pike then disappeared altogether at the end of the seventeenth century after the invention of the bayonet, which gave the musketeer able to defend himself with sidearms. From then on, the infantry will be composed exclusively of riflemen.
Even the artillery, until then relatively minor, was greatly developed, with a substantial lightening of the pieces, which allowed them to be handled in the battlefield, that is before nearly impossible, making it possible to support the infantry formations.
Thanks to all these effective innovations the Army of Gustavus Adolphus became undoubtedly at the time the most modern military machine in Europe.
With Wallenstein before and then Montecuccoli, the rational and empirical ideas that were imposing in the seventeenth century led to a new conception of the military, for which the conflict is no longer only won by courage and heroism, but by a strategy that leads to a proper organization of soldiers, armaments and financial resources. This “scientific” conception of strategy will be carried out in the western world, for all the centuries that followed.
Considered the first thinker to have provided a philosophical framework for modern science, then at the beginning of its development, René Descartes (1596-1650) was the founder of modern philosophical rationalism. In 1637 Descartes published his Discourse on Method, his most important work, with which he wanted to give a epistemological interpretation to the new Galilean science. Founder of modern analytic geometry, as Galilei also Descartes was convinced that science was always mathematizable, indeed, that mathematization was necessary to achieve real science. Furthermore, real science is systematic: it gives a comprehensive outlook of the topic discussed. You cannot deal with a single argument of a subject without examining its entire whole, and this can be deductively derived from a few simple principles. For this deduction, you need a “method” to get to the truth, that goes beyond the errors caused by human nature, as he had already said Francis Bacon (1561-1626). This method must arrive to question everything but the indubitable.
In this way Descartes arrived at his famous «Cogito ergo sum», according to him, the only thing that presented itself «with such clarity and distinction they have no reason to doubt it.»14 The great contribution of Descartes to modern philosophy is given from having place thinking between subject and object: you do not know things directly, but your ideas on things. Therefore, the subject cannot know the object directly, the existence of things and the way they appear to us may become a problem. You can exchange our thoughts, today we would call our model of the object, for the reality of the object itself. The method is a useful tool to constantly adjust our model to reality. A reality that is still conceived by Descartes in mechanistic terms: once established the first laws of science, everything can be deductively derived from these laws, without any room for free will and creativity. Even human activities, therefore, undergo a complete geometrization.
«All sciences are nothing more than human wisdom, which remains always one and the same for how many different are the objects that it is applied [...] All sciences are so interlinked that it is much easier to learn them together rather than separating one from the other,»15says Descartes. In this way, every possible part of human knowledge could be treated by the method of Descartes, even tactics and strategy. The first major “Cartesian” military theorist was Montecuccoli, who studied the art of war as if it were a science, with its own laws and general rules, that the leaders have to meet if they want to achieve victory.
Raimondo, Count of Montecuccoli (1609-1680), was certainly one of the greatest Italian men at arms. Enlisted in the Habsburg’s army, he participated in all the European military campaigns from 1625 to 1675, especially the Thirty Years’ War (1618-1648), and was head of the Christian Coalition in the victorious imperial “war with the Turkish” (1663-1664). He also participated in the War of the Netherlands (1672-1675), where he found himself against the equally famous Marshal Turenne.
Montecuccoli taken by Wallenstein a rational and empirical strategic thinking, based on the permanent need for resources to organize first and then support the war machine, rather than on personal military virtues. Thus, a method and a pragmatic view of things, lay experimental. Lucidity, resources, organization and alliances, ability to grasp the right time and the control of territory play a key role in strategy developing. Montecuccoli became so “scientist of the method”, recasting the theory in practical form.
Montecuccoli admired Wallenstein, as well as his innate ability to recognize the land, “the ability of premonition,” namely the greatest gift for a great strategist: guess in advance the enemy’s intentions. This quality could be refined through personal experience, careful search for information and meticulous analysis of the events. Psychological and cultural aspects related to the mentality of the opponent are also fundamental data. Prudence and virtue are the antidote to fate and luck, «for luck is all-powerful and unjust and inconstant, so we do not be dismayed for shots that it leads.»
He repeatedly said that war is subject to politics and the military is one of the foundations of state power. So, Montecuccoli was an heir of Machiavelli and a forerunner of Clausewitz. The “science of war” is one of the disciplines with which we make the wishes of policy, never confusing “reason of state” with religion.
In the century of wars of religion, his rationalism indeed leads him to believe faith as a double edged sword that can give strength to people and troops, but also can lead to anarchy and — very modern concept — to fanaticism. We do not fight for religious belief against the Turks, but «for life, women and stuff before everything.» The first cause of wars is always an economic issue. His thinking is often aimed at the classical antiquity, with a strong critical sense to the baroque culture and courts to which, due of his rationality and simplicity, he was always extremely suspicious.
Montecuccoli always came out victorious from all the campaigns that led as commander in chief. But beyond that leader, he was also a politician and diplomat of the first rank. His considerable talents as a writer can be appreciated in its main works upon the military.
Among his biggest works, the Trattato della Guerra (“Treaty on war”) dates back to the period of captivity in Szczecin during the Thirty Years’ War (1639-1642). Here Montecuccoli reflected on the innovations brought in European armies by Maurice of Nassau and Gustavus Adolphus Vasa. Then go back to 1645 the first version of Delle battaglie (“On battles”), a manual of tactics, and a sketch of the Tavole militari (“Military Tablets”), completed only in 1653, where he demonstrates a deep understanding of the scientific revolution of the seventeenth century, seeking to apply it to strategy.
The idea of writing a book on his victorious war against the Ottomans took him first to complete the Discorso della Guerra contro il Turco (“Speech on the War against Turkish”, 1664),16 and then to write, between 1665 and 1670, what was to become Della guerra col Turco in Ungheria (“On war against Turkish in Hungary”), divided into three parts, of which, however, only the first part, Aforismi dell’arte bellica (“Aphorisms on the art of warfare”), is generally known (it was published posthumously in 1704). A collection of aphorisms was also the short essay of 1673 titled Dell’arte militare (“On Art of Military”). In the same year he completed a second version of Delle battaglie in which his tactical beliefs were even more defined (including his clear preference for flanking maneuvers).
Montecuccoli was a master for European military leaders of the eighteenth century, highlighting the importance of aspects still little explored in the seventeenth century, such as military organization and logistics. The strategy in Montecuccoli had in fact as its mainstay the optimization and management of resources and supplies in war, in a word: logistics. For this specific reason he also insisted on issues not directly related to the art of war (at least up to that historic period), which instead he considered crucial to get victory on the field.
It is basically those economic and political factors that allowed Sweden to triumph in the Thirty Years’ War. According to a vision of early capitalism, it was absolutely necessary to state finances well organized and functional, which allow the state to manage and ensure a timely flow of material supplies to the armies and a regularly payment of the salaries of soldiers. The vision of war by Montecuccoli was so heavily based on the economic point of view: the war was primarily a confrontation based on resources, and such a war is not conductive without a rational organization and a thriving economy. «For waging war you need the money, then money and more money,» was the pragmatic Montecuccoli’s motto.
The italian strategist excelled in the art of fortification and siege, so important in the wars of the seventeenth century, in the theory of march and countermarch, and especially supported the need to cut the enemy lines of communication. Thinking of standing armies, he clearly foresaw future trends in the military. «The purpose of war is to win. You win by being superior and getting advantages over the enemy,» he wrote in his Discorso della Guerra contro il Turco.
The army prefigured by Montecuccoli had to be tactically versatile, thanks to greater mobility in the field and the rational interaction between cavalry, artillery and infantry. Mobility and versatility of armies and supplies materials were in fact for him strategic criteria of primary importance. The Montecuccoli’s military machine was completed by the use of artillery and the art of brilliant maneuver, with continuous and instantaneous changes of position, in order both to deceive the opponent that to lead him on a more unfavorable ground.
He can rightly be considered a procrastinator, since for him the primary evaluation of the enemy forces takes time and the ability to manage information and misinformation (on the field and elsewhere), tools which Montecuccoli was an advocate and forerunner.
In tactics, he asserted the need to take care in a special way of communications between detachments, terrain exploration, and continued monitoring of the enemy’s movements, in order to obtain a good knowledge of the situation on the ground, that is a decisive tactical advantage. He believed in fact counterproductive to give battle without being in advantageous position. In battle, then, the three corps of infantry, cavalry and artillery had to move in a coordinated and disciplined way.
Montecuccoli’s polemology was very refined and varied, including not only the war itself, but also the policy and considerations on history, economy and society. It is no coincidence that Montecuccoli lived in the baroque world, in the so called “Iron Century”: only two years of peace in a hundred. It is the century of wars of religion, the century in which European states and great powers took shape. And at the same time, the concealment of real purposes and objectives in the theater of the royal courts leads to formalism and mannerism in society and army.
The Prince of Montecuccoli was the first leader to understand the causal link between economic resources and conflict, but he said several times that it was not the war to lead states to wealth, first distinguishing between wealth, power, and strength. Ahead of many modern strategists such as Clausewitz himself and those of the Anglo-Saxon school as Fuller and Liddell Hart, Montecuccoli anticipated the importance not only of economic and technological factors in the conduct of the war but also the psychological and moral.
The work of Jean-Baptiste Colbert (1619-1683) is best remembered in the books of economics as one of the greatest exponents of “mercantilism”, but in hindsight it was one of the first examples of “grand strategy” that did not see military power as a thing in itself, but as part of an overall plan that included economic and industrial development, legislative reform, finance reorganization, maritime and colonial expansion, in an all-out effort directed specifically at increasing the wealth of the “country system”.
Colbert’s effort to carry out his plan of grandeur was all over the field. He modernized the French public finances, saving it from bankruptcy and making to achieve a balanced state budget with an aggressive spending review, as we would say today, and the reform of the tax system. This sought to reduce the blatant imbalances in favor of the wealthier classes increasing indirect taxes, the only way to force even the privileged to pay taxes. He began to draw up a budget.
Colbert created a new kind of centralized state, in which the aristocrats were ousted from the government of the provinces in favor of the Intendants des finances, a new form of bourgeois officials. They were appointed on the basis of merit, and that having their career by the king, they were faithful to the central power.
He established a selective protectionism to the foreign countries, accompanied by a strong effort to overcome at the same time the internal duties, to establish in the French territory a large free trade area and to increase the domestic trade, also taking care of transport infrastructures. As for him the wealth of a state was based on the amount of money (in his time essentially the amount of gold reserves), it was in fact necessary boost exports (bearers of new currency) and decrease imports (which are losing money to competitors), to enrich the country and increase state power. To promote exports, domestic production was to include the highest possible number of sectors and reach quality standards so high that they outperform the competition. The quality standards which were to characterize the French product were controlled by a corps of inspectors specially created, which were to enforce a complex set of regulations governing the various production techniques.
The incentives for the modernization of industrial activities - more correctly defined at the time big handicraft - led to the establishment of the “royal manufactories.” But at this state interventionism Colbert joined measures of liberalization and encouragement of private initiative, in order to overcome the anachronistic corporations system. The royal manufactories were granted various types of aid from the state that could vary from simple tax relief, public subsidies, even to the granting of monopoly in certain sectors. The state intervened heavily encouraging especially the metallurgical and armaments industry.
Colbert was attentive to the development of human resources, technicians and skilled workers. He worried a great deal to prevent “brain drain” from France. He forbade the emigration of skilled craftsmen, at the same time assuming others abroad, as in the case of the Venetian masters experts in the manufacture of mirrors and glass (causing real diplomatic incidents with the Serenissima that, follower of colbertism for centuries, came to murder by hired assassins the Venetian glass masters emigrated to France). Colbert was already aware, for that his times permitting, of the fundamental importance for a country of its technological assets. In 1666 he founded the Academy of Sciences, and called to work in France eminent scientists such as Gian Domenico Cassini and Christian Huygens.
All these innovations were accompanied by a great deal of legislative and legal rationalization, so heavy that influenced the subsequent Napoleonic Code.
In 1669 he created the Ministry of the Navy, of which he was the first holder and that made him the father of modern French Navy. In 1681, he promulgated the Ordonnance de la marine on maritime trade, so as modern to inspire not only the Napoleonic legislators, but also the following codes of navigation. Colbert saw the interaction between navy, merchant marine and colonies in such a way that today it would be called a “system approach”.
Colbert saw as a serious weakness the lack of consistency of the French merchant marine, which forced French to hire foreign vessels, mainly Dutch, with a substantial outlay of money. The new merchant marine would have allowed France continual contact with its new colonies, which would provide both a direct supply, therefore safe and low cost, of raw materials, that commercial outlets protected from foreign competition.
To protect maritime traffic from piracy and in the event of war, it was also needed a powerful navy who could exercise effective sea power. This strengthening of commercial and military fleets led to the great expansion of shipbuilding, for which Colbert appealed the assignment of experts foreign workers, mainly people of the German cities belonging to the Hanseatic League. Even if France failed in regard to supplant Dutch and English competitors in ocean trades, however the age of Colbert saw tremendous developments in the merchant navy, which doubled its total tonnage.
Colbert’s dirigisme was such that he progressively accumulated in their hands almost all the offices of government, apart from the ministries of Foreign Affairs and War. Despite his efforts, many of his initiatives were not successful: over-regulation of the industries hindered entrepreneurial initiative, colonial commercial companies do not never really took off, over the oceans the French navy did not supplant their competitors. Agriculture, which was still the primary activity of the vast majority of the French, was negatively affected by trade policies and the allocation of capital to the benefit of industry and marine. Duties provoked reprisals against the French commerce. The attempts to make more equitable the tax levy met with insurmountable resistance.
But above all, Colbert failed because of the power policies of Louis XIV, the “Sun King,” advocate of a more traditional, autocratic and dynastic policy of magnitude on European soil. The enormous costs of war caused by the king led quickly to the financial difficulties of the state coffers. In addition, the European policy of Louis XVI was not compatible with Colbert’s ideas, who wanted instead that France steered his efforts to an intercontinental, maritime and colonial expansion.
The eighteenth-century dynastic wars were known as “wars of maneuver,” in which the armies leaders with a restricted and limited logistics were trying to earn vantages that could be useful in the peace negotiations. That were part of a “political balance,” a constant game of agreements and diplomatic rivalry between royal houses related to each other, which had as its raison d'être to make sure that no European State could prevail over others, instead of the search of a final and complete victory.
So, the strategic goals of the eighteenth-century wars did not involve the physical destruction of the enemy army, because aside from the fact that the forces at work are roughly equaled, none of the warring parties wanted to risk completely losing its troops, as they would then have occurred years of intense financial effort to replace them. Also, last but not least, the armies were routinely used to maintain public order, so the loss of the army was a big risk even within states, not only outside of them.
Frederick II Hohenzollern, called “Frederick the Great” (1712-1786), was king of Prussia from 1740 to his death, during which he was able to greatly increase, thanks to his skills as a military commander, the territory of his kingdom, constantly clashing with the Habsburg of Austria, who wanted to maintain the hegemony of all the German-speaking territories.
The name of Frederick II is mainly related to the Seven Years’ War, fought between 1756 and 1763, and described by Winston Churchill as the first real “world war” because it was the first war in history to be fought not only on the European or Mediterranean territory. The two sides in the conflict were the coalition of Austria, France, Russia, Poland and Sweden on the one hand, and the alliance between Britain and Prussia on the other. The Seven Years’ War, in which Britain took possession of most of the French colonies and finally cut down the ambitions of domination over the seas that France had inherited from Colbert, was the beginning of British world hegemony, that lasted until the first half of the twentieth century. In addition, this war marked the beginning of British policy to prevent the rise of a hegemonic power in continental Europe, making fight its wars by proxy, financing continental allies and ensuring their access to sea routes.
Like all the rulers of his dynasty, Frederick II was also a “soldier king”, and always took care of the strengthening of his army. He established a standing army based on Swedish conscription, and tying both the feudal nobility of the Prussian Junker that the population of the army, through the pairs peasant-soldier and noble-official. The caste of the Junkers, transformed into a military aristocracy deeply tied to the crown, will give to Prussia and Germany before then the backbone of the army officer corps from then until the Second World War.
The army in practice was linked throughout the civil society, which was thus de facto militarized, even with the help of a strong bureaucracy. Under the reign of Frederick the population of Prussia was the thirteenth largest in Europe, but his army was the fifth for the number of conscripts: almost a quarter of young Prussians had enlisted in the army.
Which, however, in spite of the military service in the Swedish manner, was still composed mostly of foreigners recruited by force or with the lure of easy loot. At the end of the Seven Years’ War also the Prussian army was on the ropes, and Frederick was forced to replace its strong and trained national troops with increasing rates of foreign mercenaries who could be fighting only thanks to a draconian discipline (as happened then during the Second World War), so that he had to change the battle tactics to prevent desertions. In wartime to maintain such a number of soldiers involved very high costs for the economy and the finances of a relatively small country: military spending absorbed something like 80% of state revenues. This military apparatus was reliable and efficient, and it was absolute values of obedience and discipline. In this way, the troops of Frederick II kept ahead for the duration of the war a coalition formed by virtually all the other major powers of continental Europe.
According to Frederick the Great, the greatest secret in fighting a war was to “starve the enemy”, that is, cut him off from supplies and choose a particularly favorable field to destroy him in a pitched battle. His skill was such that the Seven Years' War began to present a “cyclic” performance: at the beginning of each year, Prussia found himself having to deal with numerically superior forces, while at the end of the year Frederick’s strategy reported with a battle to the stability of the situation.
Frederick II understood the increased importance of mobility on the battlefield. Thanks to the superior discipline of its armed forces, the king was able to carry out quick, and often successful, tactical maneuvers on the ground that other armies would not be able to accomplish. Also he improved the supply system for his troops, which further increased the mobility of the Prussian forces. It is to him that we owe the establishment of horse artillery; for the same reason he made extensive use of light troops of both infantry and cavalry, ahead of the rest of Europe that use this type of mass forces only at the end century. From a tactical point of view Frederick became famous for the so-called “oblique order” maneuver, also known as the “encircling position”: with it he subtracted a flank of his own side to enemy fire making it backward, while the other wing responded to the fire advancing. Implemented in a precise and symmetrical way, this maneuver led to the encirclement of the opponent.
We can definitely consider Frederick II Hohenzollern as the heir of Gustavus Adolphus of Sweden and Prince Montecuccoli. Some decades later, a promising young French artillery officer called the Prussian King his true model and point of reference: Napoleon Bonaparte.
The momentous political upheaval caused by the “Great Revolution” of 1789 reverberated immediately even at the military level. French citizens were enlisted as volunteers before, with the establishment in 1793 of the levée en masse, and then, under the “Jourdan law” of 1798, as real conscripts. Thus the recruiting system transformed a mercenary to a conscript army, which led to a national mass army: the defense of the homeland became a «sacred duty of every citizen.» Conscription was a means already employed by Gustavus Adolphus Vasa and Frederick II of Prussia, but revolutionary France was able to give to this system of recruiting a whole new meaning.
As already said in the eighteenth century armies were generally composed of professional soldiers who also served as for the maintenance of public order. For their difficult recruitment, no one did feel up to risking them in a war taken to the extremes. The destruction of the army would have made the sovereign powerless in the face not only to any territorial claims of an opponent, but also in the face of a popular uprising. For this reason the course of warfare was more marked on the maneuver (from which the definition of “war of maneuver” for the battles fought in eighteenth century) than on an actual battle. So wars are fought with only a partial use of the force available.
The armies of the dynastic “wars at desk” of the eighteenth century could not withstand the impact of a mass of soldiers who filled its inferiority in training with its numbers and political indoctrination. The idea that everyone, from the general to the last of foot soldiers, was doing his part in a collective effort aimed at defending the “Great Nation”, France, gave a new meaning to the sense of duty, galvanizing the morale of the troops. It also allowed to have replacements and therefore also absorb any losses in unlucky battles, for opponents instead miss the army in a battle meant losing the war. The conscript army formed the main resource of France during the revolutionary and Napoleonic wars: it is estimated that between 1800 and 1814 about two million men were called to arms.
This “nationalization of the masses” led also to lessen the principle of distinction between combatants and non-combatants, and began the “democratization of war” which will lead, in a more distant future, to consider the annihilation of the opposing population as a means to obtain the victory together with the occupation of the territory, in what will come to be the total industrial war, culminating in Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
If Carl von Clausewitz will be regarded by posterity the greatest Western theoretician of military, Napoleon Bonaparte (1769-1821) will be instead considered as the most practical genius. The Napoleonic wars constituted the second great “leap forward” in strategy and in the Western conception of war, after the one caused by the Thirty Years’ War.
The story of Napoleon's military and political course is too well known to remember it here, so we will discuss only three highlights of his story, which are significant from the point of view of strategy: the English maritime superiority, the Spanish guerrilla and the Russian campaign. Finally we will discuss the innovations of Napoleon’s military art.
The English sea power.