Small Wars Journal

Reassessing Jomini on Hybrid Warfare and Counterinsurgency

Tue, 07/12/2022 - 2:34pm

Reassessing Jomini on Hybrid Warfare and Counterinsurgency

By Andreas Foerster


With the rise in popularity of doctrines concerning low-intensity conflicts, especially counterinsurgency (COIN) and hybrid warfare, several theorists have promoted a separation from the older generation of thinkers. Naturally, because of their significant influence upon the development of “conventional warfare”, as these newer theorists understand it, Carl von Clausewitz and Antoine-Henri de Jomini have been zeroed in for criticism. Put simply, a misunderstanding of these theorists has led to this attack on their writings. This failure to see their potential outside of conventional warfare and the historical context of their ideas’ formation, concerning these two giants of military theory, deprives researchers and officers alike of valuable tools for achieving victory. This particular paper will focus on Jomini, because his absence in modern discussion on low-intensity conflicts is far more prominent. This is a shame, because Jomini’s treatise The Art of War, is a rich text that should be necessary reading for every aspiring military officer and civilian analyst. Moreover, recent research has allowed us to access a “restored” text, that combines the original book with recovered notes, additional chapters and appendixes by Jomini that provide us with a far more wide-ranging body of work. In order to overthrow this incorrect understanding of Jomini haunting the study of warfare today, this paper will present its evidence in the following format: First, a summary of the misunderstandings of Jomini will be laid out; Second, a short note on Jomini’s call for caution and sound statesmanship when dealing with complex situations; Third, an explanation of Jomini’s theories concerning “irregular” conflicts in general will be provided; Fourth, the same will be done for hybrid warfare; and Lastly, the same will be done COIN, as well as other types of stability operations.


            In his influential work on COIN theory, Learning to Eat Soup with a Knife, John Nagl notes that, despite the fact that low-intensity conflict has been the norm, rather than the exception, throughout history, in-depth study of them is rather new. Moreover, he points to the emerging decentralization of governments, due to nationalism among other factors, as causing these kinds of wars to become even more common – while their actions became more accepted amongst the average person, instead of merely written off as criminals, terrorists or bandits.[1] Nagl argues that before Carl von Clausewitz wrote his famous work, On War, there did not exist a systemization of warfare that realized the fundamental connection between violence and politics.[2] In fact, Nagl states that the popular notion that Clausewitz promotes decisive battles of annihilation is incorrect, and better used to summarize the theories of Jomini. Moreover, Jomini is described as trying to simplify and clarify the principles of warfare through scientific analysis: that is, a mathematical-geometrical model at every level of war for the same purpose, outmaneuvering the enemy so they may be completely destroyed in battle. To this end, a commander must have complete control over their forces, so that this manual for victory may be followed to the letter, quickly and efficiently on the battlefield. Nagl then condemns Jomini for influencing the thinkers that ushered in modern warfare and brought upon the disasters that were the two world wars. Nagl then concludes that this line of thinking further blinded military commanders from better approaching counterinsurgencies and irregular warfare in general, because “conventional” conflicts were equated with large-scale operations of annihilation; thus, Western European militaries developed into institutions capable only of fighting a specific type of campaign, completely unsuited for any kind of low-intensity conflict.[3]


Even more forceful in his criticism of supposedly outdated theorists like Jomini is Martin Van Creveld. Van Creveld declares that from 1648, the end of the Thirty Years War, to the end of the Second World War in 1945, was the Clausewitzian era. Before this, and afterwards, continuing on until today, represents an entirely different era concerning the best way to deploy military power for achieving political ends. By Clausewitzian, Van Creveld means war focused around nation-states and large, professional armies conducting conventional operations involving battles for the purpose of seizing territory. Moreover, this era defined conflict as primarily centered around politics, as determined by the desires and machinations of the state. However, in the ancient and now new way of waging war, this definition of politics is expanded to include matters that go well beyond the confines of borders or bureaucracies: things such as ideology and economics, made more influential in international relations than states due to globalization. Moreover, the development of nuclear weapons makes conflicts designed for total or large-scale attritional warfare irrelevant, as wars that bypass this terrifying outcome are more likely to be sought out. Thus, limited wars and low-intensity conflicts, wholly immune to the previous might of large, disciplined and technologically sophisticated militaries.[4]


            Therefore, Van Creveld is comfortable putting Jomini in the Clausewitzian era. Van Creveld states that Jomini is at times, helpful, but at other times, unnecessarily complex or even incoherent. This is because, according to Van Creveld, Jomini’s entire “system” of thought revolved around lines of operations (manipulating geography and logistics, mainly “interior” vs “exterior” lines, in order to outmaneuver the enemy). Thus, Jomini tried to manipulate historical case studies to fit with this narrow understanding of military affairs. Van Creveld blames this issue on the context of the time: namely, the Enlightenment. Van Creveld states that Jomini was largely a product of the Enlightenment’s desire to find a scientific or philosophical “system” for clearly explaining everything.[5] Key to this supposed system was distinguishing between strategy, grand tactics and tactics, but uniting them in purpose, the outmaneuvering of the enemy so as to outnumber them at the point of contact, resulting in their destruction in battle. The key differences in these levels of war are merely size, in men, material and geography. Strategy, therefore, was not a subset of politics and the military realization of policy, in the top-down analysis of Clausewitz and most subsequent theorists, but simply the proper accumulation of movement on a map towards the goal of a great, decisive battle. In short, a bottom-up, largely tactical approach to warfare. Warfare then, is simply about concentration, nothing more.[6]


            According to Van Creveld, this way of thinking is unreliable because it comes from a time period so self-contained in its way of conducting war, but also because it is useless today. Since low-intensity conflicts are more or less wars without fronts, strategy cannot be defined as simply the coordination of tactical gains through maneuver towards a decisive battle. Such actions would simply result in an army wandering around seeking a battle, or even a clear line of operation, that will not emerge, because the enemy is fighting indirectly. Hiding amongst the population, these faceless combatants slowly creep towards final victory through attrition of one’s will to fight on. Therefore, as the world becomes more interconnected and consequently, influenced more by decentralized factors such as ideology than centralized ones like technology or wealth, power will reflect these changes. Soft power, rather than hard power, will dominate international relations and conflict.[7]


            In assessing these claims by Nagl and Van Creveld, firstly, it is important to understand the historical context of Jomini’s writings. While it is true that Jomini’s writings were influenced a great deal by the ideas of the Enlightenment, it would be an exaggeration to state that they fit neatly into that mold. Moreover, these authors oversimplify the complex philosophical characteristics that made up Enlightenment thought in general, along with the military writers that came out of it. As pointed out by the noted scholar John Lynn, Western military culture does not fall into clear-cut categories that may be traced with a straight line through history. Nor is it realistic to promote supposedly defining characteristics kept in place across centuries, as well as the vast expanse of land and peoples that make up Western Europe.[8] As for a supposedly “Clausewitzian” era of military theory, there is simply no real evidence to support such a categorization. While Jomini was mainly influenced by the Enlightenment, Clausewitz was mainly influenced by Romanticism,[9] a fact lost on Van Creveld, as he not only describes the two theorists as having the same intellectual foundation, but identifies it as the Enlightenment.[10] Where Clausewitz’s writings initiated a break from the Enlightenment and move towards Romanticism, Jomini wrote at the threshold between these two philosophical traditions.[11] Understanding this is key to setting the stage for any further investigation of Jomini and his ideas.


            Before the French Revolution, conflicts were still mostly dominated by professional armies of small size, reliant on limited maneuver, raids and siege warfare. The means to initiate large-scale operations into the heartland of the enemy were not available. Nor was there any will to do so. Nor any real purpose, given the fact that neither cities nor the population in general had a great deal of strategic significance; the legacy of medieval feudalism was still not yet eroded, meaning “nations” did not exist so much as artificial borders controlled by a monarch and an army completely loyal to them alone (or the generals who paid them). More importantly, the economic lifeblood of the kingdom ran through the monarch’s personal treasury, not cities or ports. Lastly, the lack of massed cavalry units and the “corps system” of Napoleonic armies not yet being developed, meant armies could only advance as far as their supply lines – thus, logistics was key to maneuver, making fortifications key to logistics, therefore maneuver, and victory in war. Therefore, it was only natural for the Military Enlightenment to promote an approach to warfare based on maneuvering along lines of operation.[12]


            Where Jomini differed from this school of thought was exactly where Nagl and Van Creveld state he was most crucially connected to the era: remaining on the offensive, maintaining the initiative and seeking out battle. The Military Enlightenment promoted the defensive and rarely understood battles to be the decisive factor in a war. Also, while Jomini did indeed attempt a scientific and systematic analysis of warfare in line with the Military Enlightenment, his fundamental principles anticipated Clausewitz by leaving the specifics of an army’s maneuvering to the commander and context they inhabit. This is why Jomini says little on the most tactical aspects of warfare, and why the inner workings of logistics are not discussed. Also, the purpose of his works are to provide a manual on the basic principles of war, to be studied by generals commanding troops in the field[13]; therefore, it is strange to criticize Jomini for doing exactly as he intended when writing his books.


            Finally, it is wrong to condemn Jomini for the misunderstanding of his work by later commanders and theorists. As already noted, Jomini’s principles emphasized maneuver above all else, so to say that a supposedly cultic obsession with seeking the enemy’s annihilation in battle in the industrial age is the direct result of Jominian theory is absurd. In fact, as admitted by John Shy, the closest theorist to Jomini after Clausewitz was B.H. Liddell Hart, who promoted what he called the “indirect method”; that is, seeking victory by attacking the enemy’s “centre of gravity” through the line of least resistance, as well as methods that minimize the consumption of resources.[14] It was this kind of thinking that typified the Second World War, with commanders, even in a total war, desperately trying to avoid the attritional methods of the Great War by engaging in maneuver for the purpose of achieving a decisive battle, or, crossing into the enemy rear areas.[15] This kind of thinking is also reflected in another important theorist of the time, J.F.C. Fuller, who described a state like a human body, controlled by a nervous system, so the quickest and most effective way of killing, or at least disabling them, is to target the brain. Thus, perfection in war is a series of strikes at the nervous system, with the ultimate goal of attacking the brain, avoiding strong offensive and defensive points of the body: that is, command and control (C2). Also, blood flow is essential for life, centered around the heart: that is, logistics and the enemy economy.[16] This analogy is extremely similar to the precepts underpinning Network-Centric Warfare and the supposed advantages of the Revolution in Military Affairs (RMA), which have greatly influenced modern Western military theory.[17]


            With the above misunderstandings addressed, we can move forward in examining Jominian theory for potential use in complex military environments. Firstly, let us consider grand strategy, as it is the first thing that should be consulted before actually fighting the war in question. If there is one fact that has been lost to statesmen in recent decades, it is this: While indecision is almost always fatal in the realm of strategy, when it comes to grand strategy, there is no greater virtue than patience. As Sun Tzu famously said, “War is of vital importance to the State; the province of life and death; the road to survival or ruin. It is mandatory that it be thoroughly studied”.[18] While many have heeded the second part of Sun Tzu’s advice to study how to conduct war, they have neglected the first part: understanding that war is no trivial game, but a serious endeavour that if one does not succeed in, could literally destroy their society. That is, one must be careful about undertaking state violence, as they are not only risking the lives of many people, but also risking the fate of entire regions. This is why grand strategy is essential for both conducting and studying all military affairs.


            John Lewis Gaddis goes as far as to define grand strategy as the cost-benefit analysis and the system of ends, means and ways, as applied to the realm of statesmanship. The formation of a sound grand strategy then, is stopping to consider whether or not one’s “means and ways” can actually achieve the intended “ends”. Rather like an average consumer, the statesman may want all kinds of things, or understand that they would be more secure with their desires purchased, but must realize they only have so much money to spend. Ends may be infinite, or at least extremely ambitious, while means and ways are always limited. Therefore, the art is striking a fine balance so that as many ends may be achieved while the output of benefits clearly outweighs the input.[19] This is exactly the kind of approach to grand strategy, or as Jomini calls it, the combination of Diplomacy or Statesmanship in its Relationship to War and Military Policy. The former is the political origins of a conflict and the policy objectives which the war being waged seeks to achieve[20], while the latter is the preparation for future wars conducted in peacetime.[21] Jomini makes it clear that a state should know exactly why it id going to war, and also what kind of operations correspond to the type of military endeavour it is conducting, with a clear understanding of the resources and methods required to achieve its political objectives. He is especially forceful in the point that wars, and especially those that are ideologically motivated, are evil, meaning they should be conducted solely for the purpose of clear national interests. Moreover, conquest breeds arrogance, often resulting in eventual disaster after a period of success. Therefore, both statesmen and generals should remain aware of the characteristics of themselves, as well as their enemies and the battlefields they may be confronted in.[22]


            This wisdom is lost on us in the West today. Our doctrines assume that a universal system can be established to confront all types of opponents (such as RMA, AirLand Battle, Full Spectrum Superiority, etc.). Or, that all warfare today can explained through a single analytical framework (such as Low-Intensity Conflict, COIN, Hybrid Warfare, Unrestricted Warfare, Fourth Generational Warfare, etc.). The question of whether we can win, or even whether a war is worth fighting, is not really an issue anymore: it is only a matter of which analytical framework provides us with the tools for winning anywhere and everywhere, or understanding every conflict through the same narrow lens. I remember attending a seminar course on COIN at the Royal Military College of Canada, in Kingston, Ontario, Canada, when I was a senior officer cadet there. After spending most of the two hours discussing the Vietnam War, the professor asked us why we though the Americans failed to achieve victory. Most of the class gave different variations of the same answer: not enough COIN. I was incredulous: when it was my turn, I said that the war was probably unwinnable, and was not even worth so many resources from the Americans. Everyone, including the professor, dismissed my opinion out of hand. It was then that I realized that the Western military culture has become poisoned with a terrible arrogance, despite the fact that we keep losing wars!


            Contributing largely to the West’s move away from Jominian thinking on grand strategy is the philosophy we embraced after victory in the Cold War was achieved in 1991. The West, led by the United States, abandoned realism for liberalism, as these terms are understood in the field of international relations theory. Realism understands that the anarchy of the international system necessitates prioritizes security, and therefore gaining, maintaining, as well as wielding power solely for that purpose. Whether humans are inherently good or bad, cooperative or uncooperative, the only way to be sure of one’s survival is to be too strong to be bullied around. Moreover, while expansion can at times be useful in order to gain resources, or create distance between one’s heartland and any potential threat, restraint must always be exercised; this is because no empire can ever hope to control or dictate to the entire world, meaning any military endeavours outside of one’s regional sphere of influence is simply a waste of resources. Liberalism, on the other hand, argues that people are naturally good and cooperative. It also argues that the protection of human rights, and the spread of liberal values such as capitalism, democracy, secularism and international norms (if not laws), reduces the chances of war, poverty and overall human suffering in the world. Therefore, a liberal state has an obligation to enforce this system upon the world. With victory over communism in the 90s, the West was quick to embrace the idea of its own superiority, and the inevitability of their victory spreading to the entire world. This had disastrous consequences, as NATO and the UN were drawn into dozens of long, expensive, pointless and utterly futile conflicts across the entire globe.[23]


            Jomini condemns this simplistic approach to strategy and grand strategy. While Jomini is often criticized for declaring that all wars are the same and victory may be achieved through the same universal principles, is has already been noted, the actual content of his writings hardly fits this description. In fact, the first subject covered by Jomini is “Statesmanship in Relation to War”, and in this section he stresses above all the notion that states go to war for many different reasons, with these political objectives determining the strategic course of action.[24] Moreover, he makes it clear that warfare exists in six distinct levels, flowing downward in the following order of importance: “Statesmanship in its relation to war; Strategy, or the art of properly directing masses upon the theater of war, either for defence or for invasion; Grand Tactics; Logistics, or the art of moving armies; Engineering – the attack and defence of fortifications; Minor Tactics”.[25] When it comes to both statesmanship and strategy in regards to any kind of “war of intervention”, Jomini stresses restraint. Jomin notes that a state is obligated to support its allies and assert its authority over its sphere of influence, otherwise it will leave itself open to attack or influence from rivals. However, interventions, especially concerning internal affairs, are best conducted swiftly and as a partner within an alliance; that way, one avoids getting bogged down. Jomini also advise against interventions far from one’s base of strength, because: 1. The threat of destruction or annexation is not as great; 2. The logistics of maintaining an invasion or occupation are much more difficult; and 3. One is reliant on too many uncontrollable factors, such as the efficiency and level of support of one’s allies. For similar reasons, Jomini cautions statesmen against wars for the purpose of conquest when they are not absolutely necessary. Like a gambler, a conqueror continues to risk greater and greater disaster for gains that continuously decrease in odds of success.[26] For these reasons, Jomini preaches restraint and diplomacy in dealing with such complex situations:


Time is the true remedy for all bad passions and for all anarchical doctrines. A civilized nation may bear the yoke of a factious and unrestrained multitude for a short interval; but these storms soon pass away, and reason resumes her sway. To attempt to restrain such a mob by a foreign force is to attempt to restrain the explosion of a mine when the pounder has already been ignited: it is far better to await the explosion and afterward fill up the crater than to try to prevent it and to perish in the attempt...In a military view these wars are fearful, since the invading force not only is met by armies of the enemy, but is exposed to the attacks of an exasperated people…if the exasperated party possesses all the public resources, the armies, the forts, the arsenals and if it is supported by a large majority of the people, of what avail will be the support of the faction that possesses no such means?[27]


            With this overarching understanding of the grand strategic foundations of complex affairs, we can now look into Jomini’s advise for conducting operations once one has decided to intervene. For simplicity’s sake, we will only consider two types of complex operations: hybrid wars and insurgencies. This is because, conveniently, they not only take up the majority of space in Jomini’s writing on such subjects, but are the strategic situations modern theory is most concerned with (as anyone in the profession knows very well). Of these two, let us first consider hybrid wars. While the systematic study of such conflicts is rather new, hybrid warfare has been around for thousands of years.[28] Again, for the sake of simplicity, and avoiding the scholarly debates on how best to describe “hybridity” in military conflicts, hybrid warfare can be defined as the strategic combination of regular and irregular military units, methods and resources. While it is typical in warfare to see a tactical or even operational use of irregular units, methods and/or resources within a conventional war, or, conventional units, methods and/or resources within an irregular war, the battlespace becomes truly hybrid when this combination reaches the strategic level. That is, one or more combatants has a military strategy that necessitates the use of both conventional and irregular units, methods and/or resources. Usually, the strategic purpose of such a hybrid approach is to attrition the enemy, buy oneself time, or, achieve a superior economy of force. Put simply, the idea is to force the enemy to fight on all fronts, using irregular units, while not sacrificing the ability to seize and hold territory or initiate a decisive battle with the enemy, which can only be achieved with conventional forces.[29]


            A classic example of a hybrid war is the Peninsular War of 1808 to 1814, wherein Napoleon Bonaparte, Emperor of the French, attempted to place his brother Joseph on the Spanish throne and initiate progressive reforms upon the country (and Portugal). This resulted in a widespread insurgency, called La Guerilla, “little war” in Spanish, where we get both the term guerilla warfare and the academic term “small wars”. Simultaneously, there was a conventional military opposition to the French from British, Spanish and Portuguese regular forces.[30] Jomini spends several pages discussing the strategic errors he witnessed firsthand in this terrible war. He notes the impossibility of successfully dealing with this kind of situation in a traditional manner, because the conditions placed every advantage onto the enemy. Firstly, as already discussed, no matter where the army went or maneuvered itself, it always faced the prospect of being surrounded, since the irregular units could take control of the countryside. Moreover, an invading army, especially when intervening in a region with difficult geography like Spain, has little chance in swiftly crushing all the military threats to itself or seizing key strategic targets before their lines of operations become compromised. While modern theorists may deride Jomini’s apparent emphasis on logistics and maneuver, no one can deny the importance of these factors in the realm of conventional operations. Put simply, an army that marches blindly into a hostile enemy nation, expecting quick victories and a direct march to their objective can expect exhaustion, starvation, constant ambushes and a complete lack of intelligence.[31]


            What then is one to do when faced with such complex environments? In fitting with his position between the military enlightenment and the coming of romanticism, Jomini advises against reckless pursuit of battle. Rather, he argues that while campaigns are best conducted for the purpose of orchestrating a strategically effective battle, a commander should be reluctant to engage the enemy unless it is clear it will serve such a purpose.[32] Moreover, Jomini stressed that the importance of cost/benefit analysis and the advantages of interior over exterior lines (i.e. shorter supply lines over longer ones), make it preferable to limit one’s political objectives, then force the enemy’s withdrawal from the area of operations through maneuver, rather than direct engagements. Strategy, then, can best be described as art, focused on the skillful movement of forces to the most crucial position in the battlespace for the achievement of grand strategic objectives. It is grand tactics and tactics that are best described as sciences. While are certain principles within strategy that are scientific in nature, when considered as a whole, like war itself, it is without question an art.[33] Therefore, preparation for war becomes critical in approaching such conflicts: the commander must clearly understand the political objectives they are being ordered to achieve, while given complete freedom from their superiors to accomplish this task. Even more importantly, a disciplined, professional army with high motivation must be used, with emphasis on quality over quantity – Jomini is adamant that, contrary to popular opinions throughout history, a large army can actually be detrimental to a commander.[34]


            With these prerequisites met, a commander must determine whether they are fighting a “national war” or a “war of opinion”. The former is when a country is united against an occupation, mostly based on nationalism, while the latter is when a faction of the country is opposed to occupation, mostly based on ideology. Because national wars involved a war to subjugate an entire people, what we would call counterinsurgency today, is required. However, wars of opinion necessitate swift conventional military action with the aim of destroying the centre of this opposition’s power; therefore, while the operation should be quick so as to avoid becoming bogged down in enemy territory, much care should be given to securing and maintaining interior lines in a largely limited campaign, for exactly the same reasons. During and after the conduct of such operations, Jomini stresses the importance of continuing diplomatic action, so as to establish a peace which prevents another such outbreak of hostility towards the new occupation or hegemony.[35]


Now, we can turn our attention to Jomini and COIN. In a statement that is incredibly modern, Jomini describes campaigns against insurgents as more “political operations than military ones”.[36] That is, a counterinsurgency is a battle for the loyalty of the population. This is one of the key points stressed by David Galula in his foundational text, Counterinsurgency Warfare: Theory and Practice:


All wars are theoretically fought for a political purpose…In the conventional war, military action, seconded by diplomacy, propaganda, and economic pressure, is generally the principal way to achieve the goal. Politics as an instrument of war tends to take a back seat and emerges again – as an instrument – when the fighting ends…once political goals have been set…military action becomes foremost…The picture is different in the revolutionary war. The objective being the population itself, the operations designed to win it over (for the insurgent) or to keep it at least submissive (for the counterinsurgent) are essentially of a political nature. In this case, consequently, political action remains foremost throughout the war. It is not enough for the government to set political goals, to determine how much military force is applicable, to enter into alliances or break them; politics becomes an active instrument of operation.[37]


According to Jomini, in order to win in this kind of war, one must take the following course of action: “Make a display of a mass of troops proportional to the obstacles and resistance likely to be encountered, calm the popular masses in every possible way, exhaust them by time and patience, display courtesy and severity united, and particularly, deal justly”.[38] However, “The adoption of the best regulations for the organization of an army would be in vain if the government did not at the same time cultivate a military spirit in its citizens[39]…The first means of encouraging the military spirit is to invest the army with all possible social and public consideration. The second means is to give the preference to those who have rendered services to the state, in the filling any vacancies in the administrative departments of the government, or even to require a certain length of military service as a qualification for certain offices”.[40]


            What Jomini is stating is that a counterinsurgent must have a purpose for the military and police that is twofold: reassure the people of the power of the state (to maintain the monopoly over violence, thus making it either the righteous claimant to authority of the law, or at least too powerful to risk running afoul) and seek out the enemy for destruction. Meanwhile, the state must do everything it can to improve the lives of its citizens and increase patriotic spirit directly connected to the idea of a country envisaged by the counterinsurgents, as opposed to that of the  insurgents; as that is what the whole conflict revolves around – the political makeup of the region   in question. This is why Galula declares that the best way to defeat an insurgency is either to prevent it from gaining its initial strength or starving it of reasons to fuel ideological fervour indefinitely, through government reforms centred on the primary cause behind the unrest. Meanwhile, the military and police must provide security so, because the average person values their life and property more than anything else. Thus, the conflict is fought at the psychological level, which turns the wheels of politics at every level of societal operation.[41] Liddell Hart too agrees, stating:


The mathematical-geographical factors and situation represented in the ratio of space to forces cannot be separated from the psychological-political factors and situation. For the prospects and progress of a guerrilla movement depend on the attitude of the people in the area where the struggle takes place – on their willingness to aid it by providing information and supplies to the guerrillas by withholding information from the occupying force while helping to hide the guerrillas. A prime condition of success is that the enemy must be kept ‘in the dark’ while the guerrillas operate in the light of superior local knowledge combined with reliable news about the enemy’s disposition and movements.[42]


            One will naturally ask why any of this matters. Is it not possible to simply find the enemy, destroy them, and seize territory, then hold onto it? Once this is done, supposedly, the guerrilla movement will be defeated, or at least crippled. Why treat a military like a police force? Noted COIN theorist David Kilcullen sheds light on this. He states that guerrillas have a “low defeat threshold” and counterinsurgents a “high defeat threshold” due to differences in ability, experience, technology, size, etc. Therefore, guerrillas will always follow the process of “avoidance behaviour”. This involves melting into the local populace and only fighting when it best suits them, while seeking to cause as much chaos as possible. The guerrillas are thus keeping to their strengths while forcing their enemy into their weaknesses. If the counterinsurgent continues their ways, they fall into the trap of the enemy, and precious time will elapse before anything will come out of this traditional strategy, while the local population will quickly turn against the perceived lack of ability in the counterinsurgents, resulting only in more resources for the guerrillas to use to continue these same methods.[43]


            Moreover, the home-front and the battle-front are melded in modern warfare and especially in counterinsurgencies. This is because, as stated earlier, the ability of the media to bring the war to the homes of the counterinsurgent population a world away makes negative connotations of the campaigns inevitable: wars are not usually popular with the masses, especially those that do not involve the issue of a looming threat against the homeland, and there is nothing exciting about easy victories, so the free media will surely focus on the bloodiest details of the conflict in question. Therefore, the counterinsurgent must neutralize the influence of the media, or at least seek to control it. Usually, the best one can hope for is to minimize its effects through an effective use of time, as the longer the war goes on, the more quickly the home-front population will be become tired of it, or even angered by its continuation.[44] Thinking back to Jomini’s advice on grand strategy, it can be seen why he was adamant that such situations be left to resolve themselves, but once military action is taken, it must be decisive: that is, when a counterinsurgent’s influence on a region  is indirect, time is on their side, but once the occupation begins, they are set on a strict timetable.


            Lastly, in a counterinsurgency, it is far more valuable to have a small army that is highly skilled, experienced, talented in irregular warfare and consisting of members with different abilities, then a massive conscript force capable only of conventional tactics and relying on superior technology, firepower or both for victory. These are necessary, because simply containing the enemy with the tactics mentioned above will got one nowhere.[45] It is a fundamental truth of war that one cannot win without seeking battle with the enemy and destroying his forces. In order to do this, one must take the offensive in order to seek the enemy, then close with and destroy them. Jomini bluntly lays out the necessity of seizing the initiative and taking the fight to the enemy: “In a moral and political view, the offensive is nearly always advantageous: it carries the war upon foreign soil, saves the assailant’s territory from devastation, increases its resources and diminishes those of his enemy, elevates the morale of his army and generally depresses the adversary”.[46] Jomini is also firm in the belief that professional, disciplined and patriotic soldiers in minimal, largely self-contained units are the most effective type of military forces.[47] These kinds of forces are also far more effective for areas with difficult geographies, where insurgencies thrive,[48] which has been made apparent in modern times with operations in Vietnam and Afghanistan.


            In conclusion, when John Shy states that “The social scientists who have dominated modern strategic studies do not read Jomini, except perhaps as a historical curiosity, and none would admit to being influenced by work so obviously antiquated”,[49] military theorists should be outraged. This is because, as demonstrated in this paper, Jomini still has much to offer the academic study of warfare and the conduct of military operations in the 21st century. Jomini provides valuable insight into not just the basis principles of conventional operations in the field, but also the conceptual foundations for the understanding of all types of war. From these principles, as well as short, but intellectually rich statements on complex conflicts such as hybrid warfare and counterinsurgency, one can learn much. For this reason, the initial research conducted by this paper, and the scholarship from which it draws, should be used as a springboard for further examination into Jomini’s utility in modern war studies. Perhaps, in time, this will allow Jomini to once again stand beside Clausewitz and Sun Tzu as essential reading for all those seeking to master the art of war.





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Mearsheimer, John J. “Bound to Fail: The Rise and Fall of the Liberal International Order”.  International Security. Vol. 43, No. 4 (2019), 7-50.

Mearsheimer, John J. The Great Delusion: Liberal Dreams and International Realities. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2018.

Nagl, John. Learning to Eat Soup with a Knife: Counterinsurgency Lessons from Malaya and Vietnam. Chicago: Chicago University Press, 2005.

Paret, Peter. Makers of Modern Strategy: From Machiavelli to the Nuclear Age. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1986.

Parker, Geoffrey. The Cambridge History of Warfare: Second Edition. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2020.

Strachan, Hew. European Armies and the Conduct of War. London: Routledge, 1983.

Tzu, Sun. The Art of War. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1963.

Van Creveld, Martin. A History of Strategy: From Sun Tzu to William S. Lind. Kouvola: Castalia House, 2015.

Van Creveld, Martin. The Transformation of War. New York: Free Press, 1991.



[1] John Nagl, Learning to Eat Soup with a Knife: Counterinsurgency Lessons from Malaya and Vietnam (Chicago: Chicago University Press, 2005), 15-16.

[2] Ibid, 16-17.

[3] Ibid, 18-19.

[4] Martin Van Creveld, The Transformation of War (New York: Free Press, 1991), ix-62, 192-225.

[5] Martin Van Creveld, A History of Strategy: From Sun Tzu to William S. Lind (Kouvola: Castalia House, 2015), 52-56.

[6] Van Creveld, The Transformation of War, 92-93, 112-116.

[7] Ibid, 205-212.

[8] John A. Lynn, Battle: A History of Combat and Culture (New York: Basic Books, 2004), xiv-xxv, 15-27.

[9] Ibid, 182-199.

[10] Van Creveld, The Transformation of War, 35.

[11] Lynn, Battle, 181.

[13] Lynn, Battle, 125-131, 194.

[14] Paret, Makers of Modern Strategy, 181-182.

[15].Ibid, 572-702.

[16] Ibid, 600-602. Also see: Lawrence Freedman, Strategy: A History (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013), 130-133.

[17] Freedman, Strategy: A History, 214-236.

[18] Sun Tzu, The Art of War (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1963), 1.

[19] John Lewis Gaddis, On Grand Strategy (New York: Penguin Books, 2019), 21.

[20] Antoine Henri de Jomini, The Art of War: Restored Edition (London: Legacy Books Press Classics, 2008), 1-3.

[21] Ibid, 21.

[22] Ibid, 1-43.

[23] The best works to consult on this argument and subject in general are: John J. Mearsheimer, The Great Delusion: Liberal Dreams and International Realities (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2018); Andrew J. Bacevich Jr., The Age of Illusions: How America Squandered its Cold War Victory (New York: Metropolitan Books, 2020); also Andrew Bacevich Jr., The Limits of Power: The End of American Exceptionalism. New York: Metropolitan Books, 2009. A summary of these concepts and their effects can be read in the following article: John J. Mearsheimer, “Bound to Fail: The Rise and Fall of the Liberal International Order”, International Security, Vol. 43, No. 4 (2019), 10-44.

[24] Jomini, The Art of War, 1-5. Hew Strachan is also bemused by the myth that Jomini did not consider the connection between war and politics. See: Strachan, European Armies and the Conduct of War, 61.

[25] Ibid, 1. Note: Today we the term we use for Grand Tactics is Operations, or Operational Art.

[26] Ibid, 6-17.

[27] Jomini, The Art of War, 11-12.

[28] Peter R. Mansoor; Williamson Murray, Hybrid Warfare: Fighting Complex Opponents from the Ancient World to the Present (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2012), 7-10.

[29] Ibid, 2-17, 289-297, 306-307.

[30] Ibid, 107-121.

[31] Jomini, The Art of War, 12-19, 21-25.

[32] Lynn, Battle, 181.

[33] Strachan, European Armies and the Conduct of War, 61-64.

[34] Ibid, 64-65.

[35] Jomini, The Art of War, 10-15.

[37] David Galula, Counterinsurgency Warfare: Theory and Practice (Westport: Praeger Security International, 2006), 4-5.

[39] Ibid, 39.

[40] Ibid, 40.

[41] Galula, Counterinsurgency Warfare, 7-23.

[42] Liddell Hart, Strategy, 366-367.

[43] David Kilcullen, “Complex Warfighting”. Australian Army Future Land Warfare Branch (April 7, 2004), 7.

[44] Ibid, 9.

[45] Nagl, Learning to Eat Soup with a Knife, 191-207.

[46] Jomini, The Art of War, 49.

[47] Ibid, 18, 24-27, 287-288.

[48] Jomini, The Art of War, 15.

[49] Paret, Makers of Modern Strategy, 183.



About the Author(s)

Andreas Foerster is a graduate student at the Royal Military College of Canada, in Kingston, Ontario, studying for his Masters of Arts in War Studies. He served as Infantry Officer in the Canadian Armed Forces from 2015 to 2020.