The Napoleonic Wars in the 18th and 19th century not only produced one of the greatest military geniuses of all but also revolutionized warfare. Napoleon is regarded as a great strategist who made use of the existing military strategies. During this period, two great thinkers, Carl von Clausewitz and Antoine Henri Jomini, recorded and interpreted the military strategies being employed by Napoleon. Clausewitz and Jomini are probably the greatest military thinkers to emerge from the Napoleonic era. After the Napoleonic wars ended, Clausewitz and Jomini sought to explain the emerging warfare by writing new doctrines and truth about war. Many European nations employed the concepts put forth by Clausewitz and Jomini as they prepared for the World War 1. The strategies of the two theorists were similar in so many ways although their varied approaches often times do not coincide. A number of thinkers today have treated Jomini as being the opposite of Clausewitz while some have found the differences between their strategies to be inconsequential. Jomini and Clausewitz offered significant contributions to military theory and continue to influence operational strategy today.
Clausewitz military strategy mainly focused on the nature and the spirit of the war. Clausewitz never attempted to develop a new system to wage war, even though he recognized some of the common principles of war. The basic premise underlying Clausewitz treatise as he pointed out in his essay “On War” is “war is nothing but the continuation of policy with other means” (Clausewitz, 1976). Clausewitz explained further that war not only an act of policy, but also an instrument of politics that could be used in the continuation of political activities. Clausewitz believed that war was a means to an end and that the state could greatly employ war to achieve particular ends. He believed that war belonged to the social life domain. He defined war as a forceful act done to compel the enemy to do our will. To accomplish this, Clausewitz believed that the enemy must be disarmed using all means. He emphasized the idea that the overriding principle of war was the destruction of the enemy. In his treatise, he described that the first task in war was to identify the enemies’ center of gravity (center of power) which included its army, capital city or its allies (Clausewitz, 1976). The second task is to ensure that the forces to be used to carry out the offence to be concentrated for strength. Clausewitz also believed that numbers mattered a great deal in the war. He noted the fact that superiority in numbers was one of the ways by which wars could be won. He was also a strong proponent of the defensive strategy. Clausewitz explained that when wars had been won, it was time to prepare for counter-attacks rather than engage in passive defense. Another popular idea that Clausewitz advocated for in the strategy was that of friction in war. He explained that friction in war included the countless minor incidents such as weather, mechanical breakdowns and other unknown factors that could play a very important role in slowing down the enemy (Clausewitz, 1976).
Jomini’s art of war, on the other hand, was mainly concerned with the tangible aspects of warfare. His strategy mainly focused on the art and the mechanics of battle tactics. Jomini’s treatise was more prescriptive as he offered a more formulaic approach in engaging in warfare. He claimed that military strategy was more of a science rather than an art. Jomini’s art of war consists of five parts (strategy, grand tactics, logistics, tactics of the different arms and lastly the art of the engineer) which he considered crucial in warfare (Jomini, 2008). Jomini explained that strategy gives a description of where to act while the logistics will bring the armies to the point of action. Grand tactics, as he explained, refer to the execution manner and how to employ the troops. The tactics of the different arms refer to the various means of dealing with the different arms while the art of the engineer involve the attack and defense mechanisms (Jomini, 2008). Jomini emphasized on the importance of engaging in an offensive operational strategy. He greatly believed in an army taking the initiative rather than taking a defensive role. Jomini claimed that an offensive strategy offered more political and moral advantages such as saving the assailant’s country from devastation, improving morale of the troops, depressing the enemy and acquisition of more resources (Jomini, 2008).. Despite the advantage of the defensive strategy in draining the strengths and resources of the opponents, Jomini opposed it greatly. In cases where the army was inferior to that of the opponents, he proposed a defensive-offensive strategy as it combines the advantages of both strategies. Jomini also supported the element of surprise strategy as it confuses the enemy. His strategy also focused greatly on supplies. He explained that a sufficient supply of installations contributed to a successful warfare. Generally, Jomini’s art of war was thought in geometric terms and had absolute rules of how to approach the war.
As it can be seen, there are many striking similarities between the two military strategists. Given the fact that they had devoted most of their time interpreting Napoleon’s military strategies, it is not surprising that their ideas are similar. The first similarity is the fact that both strategists used similar definitions of tactics and strategy. Jomini and Clausewitz agreed that total victory could be achieved through an attack. They both agreed on the concentration of the army to ensure strength and effectiveness. The two strategies also agreed on the economization of military personnel to ensure effectiveness in war. Clausewitz and Jomini also agreed on the culminating point concept. The strategists agreed on a strategy involving both offensive and defensive strategies. It is also clear from the two strategies that the two thinkers agreed on the use of military force to achieve political goals.
Despite the similarities, the strategies of Jomini and Clausewitz have subtle differences. Many have referred to the differences as being inconsequential. The major difference is the fact that Clausewitz mainly concentrated on the psychological and philosophical aspects of the war while Jomini focused on the physical aspects of warfare. Clausewitz touched on the intangible aspects of the war while Jomini tacked the physical aspects of the war. On categorization of war, Clausewitz used the level of intensity of warfare while Jomini using the different reasons for war as a basis for his categorization. Another difference between the two strategies is the fact that Clausewitz favored a defensive strategy while Jomini favored the offensive operational strategy. Clausewitz encouraged winning and then preparing for counter-attacks from the enemy while Jomini emphasized on taking the fight to the enemy as it offered a number of advantages such as strengthening the assailant troops and demoralizing the enemy among others. The object of war is another subject that the strategists differed on. While Clausewitz believed that the main aim of warfare was the disarmament of the enemy so as to force him to do one’s will, Jomini saw territorial acquisition as the main aim of the war. Clausewitz also faulted Jomini for thinking warfare in terms of absolute rule and in geometric terms.
Clausewitz strategy’s main strength is the fact that much of its ideas have been able to withstand the test of time. The culmination point of victory is still relevant today as militaries are careful not to overextend during attacks. Friction is another relevant idea given the fact that a number of factors such as weaknesses of the enemy and weather conditions play an important role in the war today. Clausewitz ideas on the purpose of war, objectives and the means employed are still relevant today as they were during the Napoleonic era (Herberg-Rothe, 2008). Political reasons account for major wars today (purpose), territorial advantage, enemy destruction, economic and ideological advantages are some objectives of war today and a number of means are being used today to fight wars. The Cold War and Vietnam War are classic examples of the Clausewitz strategy (Summers, 1995; Herberg-Rothe, 2008). However, despite many elements of Clausewitz being used today, its lack of ethical considerations is being faulted. Clausewitz view of ethics as a political question is a subject of controversy to date. Another fault of the strategy is its lack of focus on the logistics of war. Jomini’s strategy left an indelible mark with regards to strategic planning. The strategy has served as a basis for tactical and strategic education for armies all over the world including US Army. Jomini’s ideas have also formed the basis of deployment in many armies all over the world. Much criticism of Jomini’s strategy is the fact that it appears to be a simplification of military ideas and appears to be a handbook for warfare.
Clausewitz, C. V. (1976). On War. (M. H. Paret, Ed.) Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press.
Herberg-Rothe, H. S. (2007). Clausewitz in the Twenty-First Century. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Jomini, A. H. (2008). Art of War: Restored Edition. (G. Mendall, Trans.) Kingston, Ontario: Legacy Books Press.
Summers, H. (1995). On Strategy: A Critical Analysis of the Vietnam War. New York: Presidio Press.