Nov1

THE PRINCIPLES OF WAR

What are they? How many there are? How do they serve?

A historical analytical tour from the Fighting Kingdoms of the ancient China up to their modern expression for the irregular or asymmetric war

The so called «principles» of the war or advises for good acting in it, which also are permanent, so as are reinterpreted with good sense and flexibility, are the compendium of «what to do on war. Nevertheless, not always were agree the authors or the doctrines to define or to enumerate them, the results being characterized by its extreme diversity before the same phenomenon.

Following their best theoretical experts and skilled users.

Following General André Beaufré, Clausewitz proposed three fundamental principles: the concentration of efforts, the action of the strong on the weak and the decision by the battle in the principal operational theater.

Nevertheless, the reading of his book «On the War» allows to extract at least other eight conclusions, milestones or advices in his great work. And they have the character of principles of the war. These would be: Simplicity in the plans and executions. Concentration on the enemy and relative economy of forces in other sectors, to help to get it. This way, the establishment of a principal effort and enough reserves to guarantee it through time. The surprise, as multiplier of the own military capacities. Superiority of the defense, which must be active, as a fighting form. Need of the offensive, to obtain positive and/or decisive results at the operational and strategic military levels.

Liddell Hart proposes six positive principles: Following a flexible and adaptable plan, to prosecute a constant goal, fitted to the available means, looked for by means of the line of action that offers the less resistance of the enemy and, therefore, the most unexpected for his deployment and following an operational direction that offers us alternatives and, therefore, that disconcerts and disperse the enemy forces. And two negatives: to not throw the forces in an unique blow or attempt, while the enemy is on guard or in conditions to elude or resist that blow and not to repeat in the same form or direction an assault, if it has previously failed. We can synthesize all this saying that: it is necessary to apply our concentration against the enemy weakness, once his forces are dispersed, and if before they were not, by our calculated enticing deployment dispersion .

Though Napoleon commented frequently and wrote very much on the principles of the war, he did not enumerate them anywhere. In presence of the marshal Saint Cyr he once commented: «If some day I have time, I will write a book describing so precise form the principles of the war, they will be understood by all the soldiers, being able to study the war as easily as any another science». The general John Frederick Charles Fuller, from the study of Napoleon’s campaigns, deduces undoubtedly that him used the following ones: Employment of the rapidity, faith in the resolution of the offensive, the surprise, the concentration in the decisive point (not necessarily the weakest in all his battles) and a carefully projected defensive system.

There have been really done diverse collections of the Napoleon’s maxims and military rules. Considered the best and first of all, the published in Paris in 1.827 and which was almost immediately translated to the rest of the principal European languages, certainly the Spanish. It is said that Stonewall Jackson was taking a copy of this opuscule in his rucksack. The colonel G. F. R. Henderson, biographer of Napoleon, considers that this summary «contains a complete enough account, in the Napoleon’s own words, of the great universal principles of the war». In this famous edition there appear 78 maxims, which were extended in other 37 rules in the later editions. But, theMilitary Maxims» of Napoleon constitute rather atactical breviaryof approximately 35 pages, adapted to the technology of his time, similar to the expressly wrote and with bigger extension, already in the epoch of the mechanization of the war, by the Swiss colonel Frick.

For his part, Fuller analyzing Clausewitz and departing from his phrase, «the war only is a duel on a large scale», he is deducing up to seven general principles for the conduction of war, explained through a of box fight paraphrase. Those are: The conservation of the goal. The security. The mobility in the action. The utilization of the offensive. The surprise. The concentration of the forces. The economy of the forces. These Fuller’s principles were accepted and assumed by the North American military doctrine from 1.921, with the due updates in its exhibition and possibilities of application, and adding those of simplicity and unit of control.

The French traditional strategic school represented by the generalissimo Foch, victor of I World War, summarized the strategy in two principles: the economy of forces and the freedom of action. For its generality and abstraction they can be applied to all the tactics and strategies. General Beaufré summarizes them in to reach the decisive point thanks to the freedom of action, obtained by means of a good economy of forces.

The school of the North American great strategy or total strategy represented by the general Maxwell Taylor used, during its confrontation with the U. S. S. R. in the long cold war, two basic principles of performance: the adjustable dissuasion and the flexible response.

Stalin, the great victor of the II World War, whom was asking ironically, «how many divisions has the Pope? « (now we will see the reason), defined the five Soviet principles of the war, which he called «operational permanent factors»: The stability of the national civl rear, the fighting and political moral of the Army, the quantity and quality of the divisions, the armament of the Army and the organizing skill of the cadres, officials and commanders.

These are in contrast with the so calledtransitory factors, of which only one has been specified, the surprise. Surely because it was the only one that Stalin mentioned as such, in the period following its lucky use at the strategic level by the Germans, on having invaded the U. S. S. R. The Soviet exhibition of the mentioned principles, necessarily does not mean that there do not exist other principles, that are so valuable as them in the military Soviet doctrine. But only that are not mentioned as such by her.

In «The Art of the War» of Sun Tzu there are also definite the roots of the principles of the war. They are not stated explicitly as in the West, but they appear expressed with that global sense of the Chinese philosophy. Which seeks to bear in mind everything at the same time, the particular thing and the general. More as an intimate perception and an experience, than as a «check list», a prescription handbook or a vademecum.

On the principle of the offensive SunTzu says:

«The invincibility resides in the defense, the opportunities of victory, in the attack». «When you have enough means, the suitable thing is the defense; when you have more than sufficient means, the assault.» «Those who are expert in the art of defending, hide themselves under the land of the nine folds; those who are expert in the art of attacking, advance as launching from the ninth sky. Thus, they are capable of be protected and insuring themselves the total victory at a time».

(to be continued)


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Enrique Alonso nació en La Habana. Tras el establecimiento del régimen comunista se trasladó a España, licenciándose en Ciencias Químicas en la Universidad de Oviedo.

Es titulado por la Universidad Complutense en Química y Tecnología del Petroleo (dos cursos) y en Logística por la Cámara de Comercio de Madrid (un curso). Ha realizado su labor profesional durante más de 30 años en REPSOL y empresas anteriores, absorbidas posteriormente. Su trabajo se centró en la investigación de lubricantes (Centro de Investigación de la calle Embajadores), el área comercial y la logística de lubricantes (unas 100 mil Tm. al año de productos a granel y envasados, con un presupuesto total de unos 1000 millones de ptas).

Ha sido colaborador en la década de los 80, del diario Pueblo y, a través de la agencia EFE, de diversos diarios españoles e hispanoamericanos en temas de política internacional y militares.

Es autor de la novela “Operación Elefante”, publicada en 1982, que trata minuciosa y extensamente de las operaciones y tácticas de las guerrillas y contraguerrillas en la Angola socialista prosoviética de Agostinho Neto, apoyada desde 1975 por tropas cubanas. 

En 2005 publicó en inglés el ensayo “On the Nature of War”, que es una teoría de la guerra basada en el desarrollo y la aplicación práctica de 10 “sistemas operativos”.

Actualmente es colaborador permanente de la revista española War Heat International.

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