Clausewitz's philosophy on war has been viewed as the bible of warfare as it provided a distinct approach to analyze the phenomena of war to declassify the politically motivated act of war that results in duel. Undoubtedly, war is not an isolated act, which is why Clausewitz, Prussian general, demystified the philosophical contours of war to relinquish the old testimony of how to wage war and paving the way to understand modern warfare. Modern-day scholars have raised demurrals against Clausewitz's theory since the world has entered a nuclear era, yet the theory finds its relevance to date.
During Cold War, the world observed a nuclear standoff between the US and Russia, yet they kept their political motives at parity by fighting through proxies in Vietnam, Korea, Afghanistan, Cuba, etc. These case studies not only highlighted how the stability-instability paradox has increased the chances of warfare but also how “war is nothing but the continuation of policy with other means,” which for the US was to contain communism and avoid a domino effect. The 45-year period provided a perfect depiction of Clausewitz’s all-inclusive and universal concept of ‘trinity’ composed of primordial passion, government policy, and chance. Both sides kept on compelling the other to do their ‘will’. The most heightened case from the period was indeed the 1960’s nuclear standoff, which, if turned into nuclear friction, could have resulted in duel between the two most civilized nations of the time. Certainly, it is the friction that Clausewitz terms as the “difference between war on paper and war as it actually is.”
Theoretically, Clausewitz’s writings provide a guide on how to view the ends and means in strategy, the factors that accompany the application of the means, and the purpose of war; however, it also provides an in-depth understanding of the theoretical constraints to the formulation of a theory of war. Retrospectively, his concept of strategy is as relevant today as it was during the Napoleonic wars. The use of different engagements for the purpose of war is strategy. Although military strategy in modern times is paying more attention to other domains in warfare, the use of engagement remains the same. Consequently, the fundamental claims of Clausewitz remain relevant.
In modern-day irregular warfare, Clausewitz’s writings find more importance than ever. Clausewitz provided a distinct view since for him, “War is not an act of senseless passion but is controlled by its political object.” It is observable in the contemporary world where states are involved in counter-terrorism and counter-insurgency operations where every single military strategy has a special emphasis on how to extricate terrorists from non-combatants to support the political motive of winning the hearts and minds of people along with extermination of terrorist groups. Some scholars such as Mary Kalder argue that these are new war thinking and are different from Clausewitz’s writings. Nevertheless, counter-insurgency, counter-terrorism, and guerilla warfare are not new concepts, and they existed even in the 18th and 19th centuries. Clausewitz’s lecture on guerilla warfare depicts his understanding of these low-intensity conflicts.
In hindsight, Clausewitz raised pertaining questions for modern armies to understand how to develop military virtue in the Army, Professional pride (Esprit de corps), how to view a military genius, and how to defeat the ‘will’ of the opponent? All of this is observable in the recent Russo-Ukraine conflict that how Russia is aiming to gain hold of psychologically important areas such as Kiev, which is the birthplace of the Russian empire, the destruction of historic monumental and targeting the airfields to leave a psychological impact on the minds of population to whom Clausewitz called “kind-hearted people.”
Moreover, the famous aphorism “war is nothing but the continuation of politics” finds its relevance in Russo-Ukrainian conflict– the most heated conflict in Europe since WW2 – which could result as the coup de grâce in the game of brinksmanship between Russia vs. the West.
Even now or thousand years back in history or thousand years in the future, there will be a consensus on Clausewitz’s assertion that war is clash of wills or moral forces. In any conflict across the globe, despite the intrinsic nature of warfare, there remains a mutual consensus that both sides aim to subdue the other’s will. Many practitioners of war are aiming to find a checklist to conduct war from Clausewitz’s theory, but it is Clausewitz’s saying that rules and regulations, in theory, are useless because, in war, there are no fixed values. War is never an isolated act, and in war, everything is uncertain. This is why Clausewitz’s writings are sometimes too philosophical for practitioners, which even Clausewitz respects by declaring that actual war is different from war in theory.
Conclusively, Clausewitz predicted that the warfare would not remain restricted to regular armies but will include complete nations. Warfare now incorporates military, economic, political, and sociological domains. Factors such as rise in populism and nationalism along with rise in Non-Kinetic aspect of warfare have shaped 21st-century warfare, but the philosophical contours of war remain the same as Clausewitz’s predicted.