An Alternative Application

Didact’s Mind explains how the failure to translate and understand Clausewitz makes it difficult for US strategists and analysts to make sense of Russia’s approach to making war:

The fundamental difference between the American and Russian ways of fighting probably comes down to understanding one of the greatest mistranslations in history.

That one quotation from the legendary Prussian general, Carl von Clausewitz, that you probably remember from school – assuming you were misedjoomuhcayted in an American public indoctrination camp school, that is – likely goes something like this:

“War is politics by another means”.

It is an elegant aphorism. And it is wrong.

The true quote is this:

“Der Krieg ist nichts als eine Fortsetzung des politischen Verkehrs mit Einmischung anderer Mittel“.

In Ye Olde Queene’s Englishe, which of course Americans don’t speak, this literally translates as:

“War is nothing but a continuation of political intercourse with the interference of other means”.

Pay close attention to the difference between “BY another means”, and “WITH (the interference of) other means”. In this slight difference in wording lies a vast, yawning gap of understanding.

The Western way of war dates back to the Greek hoplite phalanx formations, and essentially consists of two armies smashing against each other until one or the other is dust, at which point, the victor dictates terms to the vanquished. In that way of thinking, war is almost an all-or-nothing exercise in achieving a very specific end.

The Russian way of war involves using military force in combination with negotiation. They take the Clausewitzian doctrine literally to mean, “use war and violence to force the other guy to the negotiating table and get him to agree to your terms – and if he doesn’t, ratchet up the pressure on him until he does”.

Put simply, the West seeks to decapitate and destabilise. The Russians seek to strangle and supplant.

Or for those who are stronger in military history than military theory, simply compare the maps of Russian offensives in WWII to the maps of the current Ukrainian situation. Note, in particular, the amount of time that separates each offensive. Doing so should dispel any notion that the special military operation isn’t proceeding more or less as the Russians intended.

This also explains why one so often sees the word “cauldron” utilized in translations from Russian sources instead of the Western “envelopment” or “pocket”. It is a fundamental element of their theory, as opposed to a strategical maneuver to be utilized when the opportunity presents itself.

And then, think about what a geostrategic cauldron might look like in terms of global unrestricted warfare.