Antoine-Henri Jomini and Carl von Clausewitz are perhaps the most important figures among the classical theorists of strategy and war of the early 19th century. Both men were heavily influenced by the European Enlightenment and the wars of Napoleon and Frederick the Great. They both had a rather different approach to the study of military strategy, inspired by different people. Although both of them lived approximately at the same time, they developed different visions of war and ways to achieve victory in battles. The main task of this essay is to clarify these differences, and which of these two theorists is more relevant today.
Teachings of Carl von Clausewitz
Clausewitz’s distinguishing features are the clarity of presentation, and a well-aimed critical assessment of military events. He gives a wide place to the political element and seeks to find out how much the fate of the armies depends on the strength and weakness of the commanders. This is an undeniable vivid thought because talented commanders could often win the battle in situations where their own forces were inferior to the enemy.
According to Wallace (2016), Clausewitz emphasized two particular contains leading to failure: “fog-of-war” and “friction”. The first term refers to the inevitability of limited intelligence regarding battlefield conditions, and another one to the difficulty of imposing control. In many ways, the essence of his views is set forth in his aphoristic statements, in which he was able to expound the essence of his research.
Clausewitz reduces moral factors that permeate the essence of war to the talent of a commander, the military spirit of an army, and its national spirit. The two-sided type of war is manifested, firstly, in cases where the goal is to completely defeat the enemy, intending to either destroy him politically or only to disarm to force him to accept any conditions of the peace. Secondly, when the goal is limited to certain conquests along its border in order to retain them or use them as an object of exchange in peace negotiations.
According to Waldman (2016), “As Clausewitz states, those who realise ‘how many vitally important matters are involved in war will understand what unusual mental gifts are needed to keep the whole picture steadily in mind’.” (p. 17). Clausewitz gives priority to the first species but considers both species with all their intermediate degrees.
Teachings of Antoine-Henri Jomini
Regarding the theory of strategy, Jomini acknowledges the existence of eternal basic principles of military art, the application of which has always been successful, and deviation from them has led to failure. According to Jomini (2017), “The art of war consists of five purely military branches: Strategy, Grand Tactics, Logistics, Engineering, and Tactics.” (p. 5). Jomini claims that the basic rule for all military operations in general is, firstly, to concentrate the greatest possible forces on the decisive point of the battlefield and, secondly, in the use of these forces in the most skillful way. A defensive war can only be appropriate when not limited to passive defense, and it is accompanied from time to time by a transition to the offensive. This is logical since a war of attrition usually requires a lot of resources.
Jomini deduced all of his basic principles of warfare from considering and comparing the actions of Frederick II and Napoleon I. From the consideration of the actions of the first, he drew the thought of the benefits of internal lines. In the actions of the second, he saw a constant desire to forestall the enemy in the offensive and act with concentrated forces, directing them towards decisive points of the theater of war. Comparing the actions of these commanders, he noticed that both of them were looking for a decisive battle. However, Frederick, following a system of internal lines, divided his forces, and Napoleon acted as a combined force, and Jomini came to the conclusion that concentrated forces should be directed to the decisive points of the theater of war.
Differences between Jomini and Clausewitz
Among the differences between the two theorists should be mentioned, first of all, single out the choice of means of war. Furthermore, Clausewitz argues that for victory, it is necessary to use all the forces that are only available so that there are more chances to win.
Even if it all ends in defeat, it is still a success, since, eventually, the adverse effects will pass faster, which is also a benefit. Jomini does not consider the option of using all possible means at all stages of the war, but only at crucial moments. Moreover, in contrast to Jomini, Clausewitz has a predominantly offensive strategy without delaying the time of the war itself. Clausewitz also saw the inextricable link between war and politics, as he spoke about this more than once.
It is possible to agree that their ideas cannot be fully called relevant in today’s difficult strategic conditions since then much has changed in the technological sphere. Despite this, Jomini’s strategic views had an important influence on the military’s way of thinking and the development of strategy as a science. The drawbacks of Jomini’s writings are that they overlooked many factors that often have a primary influence on the success of the war.
Although Clausewitz revised his works on military strategy throughout his life, they nevertheless partially lost their relevance, again due to technological progress and new methods of warfare. However, his views on how to achieve victory in the war and what means should be used for this can find a response in other fields of activity to this day.
Jomini, A. H. The Art of War. A New Edition, with Appendices and Maps. New York, USA: Aegitas, 2017.
Waldman, T. War, Clausewitz and the Trinity. New York, USA: Routledge, 2016.
Wallace, Rodrick. Carl von Clausewitz, the fog-of-war, and the AI revolution: The real world is not a game of Go. New York, USA: Springer, 2018.