Clausewitz at Armageddon: A 19th Century Perspective on Nuclear Risk Reduction   [open pdf - 724KB]

Colin Powell describes the writings of Prussian military theorist Carl Von Clausewitz as "like a beam of light from the past, still illuminating present-day military quandaries." The hi-frequency with which modern commentators quote Von Clausewitz suggests that General Powell is not alone in his assessment. Two factors have helped Von Clausewitz's writings to withstand the test of time. First, he approached the study of war from a broad, theoretical perspective, giving emphasis to motivational factors and other fundamental themes that operate across the full spectrum of human conflict. Second, while the stunning rate of technological advance since the early 19th century has changed the shape and size of the battlefield, technological advances have, with possibly one significant exception, left the fundamental nature of war and human conflict unchanged. That exception, the development of nuclear and other weapons of mass destruction (WMD), has for the first time given military and political leaders the capacity to bring about the annihilation of their enemy through execution of a single decision. This paper reexamines some of Von Clausewitz's observations about the nature of war and human conflict in light of the development of nuclear weapons and asks two questions: to what extent are Von Clausewitz's insights still valid, and, if they are still valid, how are they, or might they be, reflected in efforts to reduce the risk of nuclear war between two nuclear powers?

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