The Leavenworth Way of War

History Discussion at CGSC

American Military Leadership: Carl or Antoine?

Jomini and Clausewitz coexist in many modern militaries. Jomini, with his emphasis on principals and application may dominate at the tactical level of war. Clausewitz, with the emphasis on ambiguity, complexity and politics tends to become more important at the more senior leadership levels. The break point logically seems to be at the level of brigade command. Brigade commanders are the military’s senior tacticians. They are involved in the day to day operations and maintenance of the force and have the responsibility to planning, leading, and executing operations. Brigade commanders live in the tactical environment. Cause and effect relationships at the brigade level are more direct and the certainty of factors influencing decisions is higher. Some general officers operate in the tactical environment as well –depending on the operational situation. However, at the general officer level the tendency is for issues to become more complex and for effects to become more separated from causes. Politics, media, and other factors beyond the military’s control begins to intrude on decision making at the general officer level.

Do you agree or disagree with the above analysis?

A challenge facing the effectiveness of general officers is two-fold. First, how does one select the best officer to operate in the Clausewitz world (senior leader) based on the performance of officers who are typically operating in the Jominian world (tactical)? In addition, how does the army train senior leadership (Clausewitzian) thinking before the leader makes the general officer ranks, if there is little or no opportunity to practice it for most of an officer’s career at the tactical level?

Some analysts believe, whether the above described relationship exists or not between Jomini and Clausewitz’s ideas, its irrelevant because American culture demands a demonstrated, positive, scientific approach to all activity and thus the Jominian approach to war dominates the American way of war at all levels. Do you agree?

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September 30, 2011 - Posted by | H100 | , , , , , ,

13 Comments »

  1. Over the past 10 years must of us have been in units that have pushed the Jominian approach. Most of us do not get exposed to Clausewitz until we get into an academic environment. Many Officers have a passion for history and study, I started reading these two great theorist for professional development. I think we need a mixture of both, so we can incorporate the correct practice tailored for the situation.

    Comment by MAJ Carl Mason, 17A | September 30, 2011

  2. The described relationship between Jomini and Clausewitz’s ideas DOES exist! The “Jominian” approach is the most practiced, but to be an effective leader there needs to be a balance. More importantly, the situation and political landscape you find yourself in at any given time will also generally dictate how much you will need to draw from either Jomini or Clausewitz (or both). American culture by itself is not necessarily the best indicator of this — a more tactical-focused, “Jominian” commander may be just what the situation needs, or otherwise expected by the civilian leadership (e.g., Gene Hackman in “Crimson Tide”). However, there is something to be said about the leader/commander who has the ability and intuition to understand the complexity of the entire political, military, and social environment around him or her. Those that can balance both Jomini and Clausewitz are best in tune with (and understand) the strategic objectives (ends) and how to apply the given means for optimal success. These balanced commanders/leaders can also identify the most efficient and effective ways to achieve those ends, while also clearly communicating all of this to lower level commanders/leaders. A “demonstrated, positive, scientific approach to all activity” (Jomini) is essentially only one piece of the puzzle. Would it work? Probably in most cases. But given the complexity of the current operational environment, with multiple actors and interests, the more effective commander/leader is balanced in both (to differing degrees dependant upon the situation).

    Comment by MAJ N. Hummel, SG17B | October 1, 2011

  3. I agree with the analysis that Brigade Commanders operate primarily at the tactical level and at the General Officer level the emphasis begins to shift to the operational level while actions have strategic level implications. However, I also believe that the War on Terror has blurred the once concrete lines between Brigade and Division level concerns. The Army does seem to promote those that excell in the tactical world to flag rank indirectly endorsing the belief that if one can excell at the tactical level then they can excell anywhere. I think most would agree that is not always the case. The Army must begin to single out a larger number of leaders with senior potential at the Major ranks and encourage them to pursue opportunities at SAMS or similar institutions that inculcate Clauswitzian principles. The Army should reward those that pursue additional training and fellowships and not punish them for seeking out assignments that are not directly with troops. Although Americans generally respect and reward those that can operate effectively under the Jominian scientific model, the Army must realize that there is a tipping point where military leadership becomes less of a science, and more of an art that must develop over time.

    Comment by Matthew Wilder, 17D | October 2, 2011

  4. As our world becomes more “complicated” I believe that our leaders, both military and political, need to study Clausewitz and like minded theorists much earlier in their careers. I say this due to the preference of our Western leaders to engage in limited warfare. Modern Western style warfare is indeed influenced by politics and the people’s will equally, if not more so, than a nation’s military’s might. With this in mind our leaders must visualize the means they are willing to use to achieve their ends through a Clausewitz style lens. This is quite difficult to do with many of our leaders having practiced Jomini’s principles throughout the majority of their careers.

    In the eyes of Jomini war is easy to win just by following his principles. While his principles of war are timeless for tactical warfare they do little to assist our leaders in winning a complicated strategic focused war. The days of massing force on force on a sterile battlefield are few and far between. Instead our leaders will have to conduct operations that include not only fighting but community meetings, facilitating infrastructure repairs/building, and humanitarian assistance on a more consistent basis. That is why I believe that all of our leaders would benefit from studying Clausewitz and like minded theorists much earlier in their careers instead of when they become “senior leaders”.

    Comment by MAJ Chris Moore, 17A | October 2, 2011

  5. I agree with MAJ Mason that most of us have been pushed towards the Jominian approach. It is practiced more that Clausewitz’s. I believe there needs to be a balance of the two. Situation dictates based upon political views, culture and strategic objectives/goals. It is important that leaders study both Jomini and Clausewitz’s leadership styles because both have advantages as well as disadvantages but are imperative to viewing a varied view of warfare at the tactical level.

    Comment by MAJ LaShaunda Jackson 17A | October 3, 2011

  6. In terms of Jomini and Clausewitz, I would agree with the analysis above. It is clear that Jomini is the main influence at the tactical and operational level. Jomini also had the most influence on early American leaders and strategists. As the scope of leadership grows so does Clausewitz’s influence. One can make a parallel to Clausewitz in this regard. Today’s mid-level leaders have been fighting two wars for almost a decade. As they become the senior leaders of tomorrow, they have borne the sacrifices having experienced firsthand the violent nature of war. It is for this reason that I find it worrying that there isn’t a greater influence placed on Clausewitz (including our civilian political leadership).

    I also agree there is no question that American culture has a preference for “Jominian” thinking leaders. It is the “Alpha male” leader who “gets things done” who more quickly rises through the ranks. “Clausewitzian” type leaders are rejected, even by many in the civilian leadership who view them as appeasers. Gen Colin Powell is a good example of such a leader who even as a Brigadier General had senior military leaders give him below average proficiency reports for being more “Clausewitzian”. The distaste for Gen Powell’s style and thinking is also well documented during both Bush I and Bush II presidencies.

    It is unfortunate that Clausewitz is not brought to the fore sooner in an officer’s career. One of the lessons learned is that tactical and operational level mistakes can have great strategic implications. Since part of officer development requires the larger view of things (the bigger picture), perhaps it is time to seriously consider a broader approach to institutional development at the junior levels of leadership.

    Comment by Efrain Ramos | October 4, 2011

  7. I disagree slightly with the analysis. I believe today’s BCT commander is the impact point between Jomini and Clausewitz, not the break point. No longer is the BCT commander single-mindedly focused on maneuver warfare and solving problems in the tactical realm. Complexity, ambiguity, friction, and fog are all commonly occuring and recurring influences in the decision making process at the BCT level. As we have developed COIN/CAM/WAS skills over the last 10+ years, it is the BCT that has been the catalyst for problem solving, cultural change, and design methodologies. BCT commanders have had to learn the balance between Jomini and Clausewitz as the clarity of the situation changes.

    Comment by MAJ Blue Huber 17B | October 4, 2011

  8. I agree with the analyses method above. However, now know about the bases of human behavior.
    The US Army remains thoroughly grounded in the works of Sun Tzu, Frederick the Great, Napoleon Bonaparte, Carl von Clausewitz, Antoine Jomini, and to a lesser extent Mao Tse Tung. Discernibly, the Napoleonic age has a continued and profound influence. Napoleon would in an instant, or in the Clausewitzian phrase, coup d’oeil, recognize the modular formations of our brigade combat teams since he perfected the concept of combined arms formations. He would also know our fundamental staff organization, because even though we have, in the finest bureaucratic tradition expanded it, it is essentially modeled on the Napoleonic staff.

    FM 3.0 seeks to integrate dynamics on the battlefield that are fairly new including globalization, urbanization, cyberspace, information operations and civilians on the battlefield. While seeking to promulgate an operational approach reflective of the context of 2008 with war amongst the people, trans-regional terrorism, proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, FM 3.0 remains conceptually grounded in Clausewitzian theory. For example, the interesting concept ‘operational maneuver from strategic distance’ describes the global reach of American power, and is derivative of Jominian lines of operation, essentially connecting a fielded force via intermediate staging areas from its base to the objective.

    Comment by Wayne | October 7, 2011

  9. I agree that we should have a mix of Clausewitz and Jominian approach at all levels of operations. In our environment today, we have to be careful trying to segregate the Operational and strategic levels of operations. In the vast information environment we operate in today, leaders at all levels have to have an understanding of both operational and strategic impacts. If Leaders at the operational (and even tactical levels to some degree) can’t see or understand their impacts on strategic objectives it is a recipe for disaster. Meeting operational objectives through means that don’t support strategic objectives can cause strategic failure (or, more likely major setbacks).

    I agree that we see elements of the Jominian approach as a dominating factor in the American way of war at all levels, because we all start at the tactical levels and work our way up. I do not agree that the Clausewitz approach is irrelevant, it is just not known because we don’t really see it in any detail until we are Field Grade Officers. Although I will submit that that is a flawed approach based on my first response above.

    Comment by MAJ Chittenden SG17A | October 10, 2011

  10. Jomini was right on the money when he discussed his “Fundamental” principle of war; namely to “throw by strategic movements the mass of an army, successively, upon the decisive points of a theater of war”. He later admits, though, that it is the IDENTIFICATION of those points which is most challenging. We have to identify the RIGHT decisive point in order to properly affect the end state we’re looking for. Hmmmmmmm ……… kind of sounds surge-like to me. For years in Iraq we were doing the wrong thing until one smart General came along and pinpointed that we weren’t winning because our focus was all wrong. Even though Jomini’s concepts stayed more in the tactical world, this fundamental principle sure sems to me to be in a more STRATEGIC world. The application of many of his principles are timeless, though sometmes they need a little tweaking to fit the times. That sort of sounds like what we do with Clausewitz’s theories also!

    Comment by Daniel T. Rempfer, SG 17D | October 19, 2011

  11. Clausewitz and Jomini wrote their books after experiencing over 10 years of war. Some of the comments above suggested teaching both theories to our Junior Officers. It is only now, after having experienced 10 years of conflict myself, do I begin to understand the complexities of war. As a new LT, following the “cookbook” steps of Jomini was difficult enough, let alone trying to understand the ambiguous writings of Clausewitz. Jomini’s principles of war are taught through our doctrine to every Cadet entering ROTC or West Point. Not until ILE does the Army teach a 2 hour block on Clausewitz. Complete immersion is not taught until the Senior Service College. My answer to the question above; Battalions and below should focus on the basic war fighting skills. “To seize, retain, and exploit the initiative, Army forces strike the enemy, both lethally and nonlethally, in time, places or manners for which the enemy is not prepared.”
    Referring to Wilder’s comments above: the Army does select Officers with the greatest potential at the rank of CPT by promoting them BZ. However, getting promoted BZ decreasing the amount of time an Officer has to seek out broadening assignments such as SAMS, Joint Positions, Fellowships. BZ Officers go straight to ILE and then back into tactical KD assignments.

    Comment by Ryan D. Barnett, SG 17D | November 2, 2011

  12. I would agree that Jomini is more dominate from 2LT through MAJ/LTC for most officers. There is always the exception where a junior officer may get more exposed to the operational or strategic level due to particular assignment experience of through mentorship. However, the transformation of the BCT and the pure nature of the current fight in Afghanistan I have personally experienced more exposure to the operational and strategic objectives. At time this has caused some friction with the CPTs in the plans shop and required much more personal involvement by myself (BN XO) the BN S3 and the BN CDR in order to ensure the planners understood the intent and how a particular mission must be planned IOT not degrade or negatively impact strategic goals. I do agree that prior to ILE, exposure to these two theorists has been minimal and required self-study and ad hoc FG OPDs to get up to the very novice level of understanding. The shift at SSC seems appropriate especially given how BCTs are now taking on more of the operational fight.

    Comment by MAJ Rick Onderko, SG11C | October 9, 2012

  13. I agree with now LTC Mason. Wether or not we realized it at the time Jomini’s approach to war was been pushed at us during the early parts of our careers. I also believe that most of us don’t ever analyze the tactics we are executing because we are only concerned with the mission and if we were lucky enough, we had a commander that allowed us the flexibility to be innovative in our approach to mission accomplishment. Even though we now operate under the modular brigade concept, and it could be stated that the brigade operate at a strategic level. they are still mostly operating in a tactical execution mode. Jomini’s writings are much easier to understand while to digest Clausawitz you almost have to develop a philisophical mindset to understand his writings.

    Comment by LTC Mark L. Allen | May 19, 2013


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