Small Wars Journal

Looking for the Hedgehog Idea

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Looking for the Hedgehog Idea

by Justin Kelly and Mike Brennan

Download the Full Article: Looking for the Hedgehog Idea

Originally published in Australian Army Journal, and republished here with permission of the Journal, this article examines the limitations of traditional strategic approaches to the resolution of contemporary conflicts. It proposes control as the unifying idea for military action.

Download the Full Article: Looking for the Hedgehog Idea

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Thu, 10/14/2010 - 5:48pm

The Kelly/Brennan article is cleverly written and makes many good points on its broader subject. Its characterization of Clausewitz, however, is absurd. Yes, if Clausewitz had understood only "one big idea," i.e., the conduct of warfare with the aim of disarming one's opponent in order to "render him politically or militarily impotent"--an idea he certainly explored and elucidated--he might qualify as a "hedgehog" (though why bother with such useless caricatures in the first place?). But Clausewitz also explored and elucidated other very big ideas, including that of military operations aimed at limited military and/or political objectives. Neither of these ideas were original to Clausewitz. The pursuit of limited objectives characterized most of the military thought of the Enlightenment, and there were plenty of examples of the opposite approach that Napoleon so forcefully revived. In the American Civil War both Lee and Grant pursued the "Napoleonic battle of annihilation" though neither had ever heard of Clausewitz. Jomini, too, was quite a fan of annihilative battles. Rather, what makes Clausewitz's approach unique is that he understands BOTH concepts AND the interrelationships between them; he deals with BOTH "annihilation" and "exhaustion" (Hans Delbrück's terms, not Clausewitz's). Unfortunately, few of Clausewitz's readers seem to be interested in grasping BOTH poles of this concept. If you go into ON WAR looking for the one, it is easy to view his discussions of the other as simply noise. Thus Robert Osgood was able to characterize Clausewitz as "The preeminent military and political strategist of limited war in modern times," while Liddell Hart always called him "the Apostle of Total War"--even though Clausewitz did not use the term "total war" and Liddell Hart's enthusiasm for limited war was based on ideas lifted directly out of Clausewitz.

I really do not know why otherwise sensible people like to misrepresent Clausewitz in this manner. It does not bother me so much that this habit is dishonest and shallow. But it does bother me that the result is so USELESS. The conduct of war varies dramatically in accordance with the political context. We (should) know that. And Clausewitz definitely DID know that and SAY that. What is the value of pretending otherwise?

Bill C. (not verified)

Thu, 10/14/2010 - 11:05am

"Because of the effort to build good governance, law and order, democracy and a market economy trading in acceptable commodities, over time, the target population experiences a better standard of living and becomes more like us. The implicit assumption is that they are less likely to present a threat in the future."

In order to be more in-line with one of the author's guiding positions (the market-states exist to provide opportunities for its citizens), I might change the last sentence of this quote a little, as follows:

"Thus transformed, the implicit assumption is that these outlier states and societies will become less of an obstacle to and more of a conduit for the market-states' agenda."

(These states and societies -- who are not so much like us -- primary presenting themselves as a "threat" in the sense that they are obsticles to and ill-configured for the continuity and expansion of global trade and, thus, the achievement of the market-states' objective: greater opportunities for its citizens and corporations.)?

Bill C. (not verified)

Thu, 10/14/2010 - 1:07am

"Only a military can establish control and until it is established, democracy, economy, the rule of law, policing and social progress must wait."

Thus, while the ends sought by the market-states is to provide ever-greater opportunities for its citizens,

The manner by which this is to be achieved (in the arena of foreign affairs) is via transformation of those aberrant/outlier societies who, as yet, are not ordered and organized (democracy, economy, rule of law, etc.) so as meet the the needs of the market-states' citizens.

In this regard, the military of the market-states are to be organized, equipped, trained and employed so as to (1) establish control over these inadequately configured states and societies and to (2) maintain this control until such time as other "inducements" can (a) be applied and (b) achieve the desired results (see above).

Thus, states and societes whose ways-of-life are still somewhat varied and unique (less dependent on market forces for their vigor and cohesivenness),

These "archaic" states and societies must give way to and "transform" for better service and support of the global economy.

Such an approach, which seems to be more at home in the 19th rather than the 21st Century, may, indeed, cause various moral (and practical) qualms and questions.

Bill C. (not verified)

Wed, 10/13/2010 - 7:25pm

"In the advanced market-states of the West, the state exists to provide opportunities for its citizens. It does this by nurturing the market, privatizing many of its functions, encouraging the growth of multinational corporations, and through international cooperation."

If one were to add "And, in support of these endeavors, by seeking to 'induce' aberrant nations and societies to transform themselves so as to meet our citizens' needs," then might one have a better understanding of both the basis for and the difficulties of present-day war?

In seeking to provide the necessary opportuities for its citizens, the West finds that certain outlier individuals, groups, states and societies are adversely -- and/or inadequately -- organized, configured and ordered to embrace globalization and, thereby, meet the needs of our citizens and those of the other market states.

Thus, the West has determined to devote its energy and resources, and to deploy its instruments of power, toward addressing this problem.

We do this via "our" installed and/or supported local governments; who we employ to make the changes within their societies that we require.

(Resistance to these endeavors manifesting themselves in terrorism towards the West and insurgencies directed at "our" local governments.)

Is this the context that we should refer to when considering these ideas of "inducement" and "control?"