The Second Version

15/02/08

Laws Of Military Science

A discussion that occurred recently at Winds of Change touched - albeit peripherally - one old issue of military science: what counts more between quality and quantity of enemy armed forces.

The situation is complex because there isn't much of a clear trend in history: sometimes quality triumphed and sometimes quantity did. Usually, a much bigger numerical advantage is required to offset a wider quality gap. If the technological level of the two parties is hugely different, the less adavanced party will stand no chance of victory - unless the other side does something monumentally stupid, or does not want to fight to the end.

A factor that many military geeks tend to overlook is logistics. If one army has vastly superior hardware, but cannot keep the supplies of ammunition, fuel, food - and these days batteries and cells - flowing, it will succumb. This can happen to numerically superior armies too - in fact, a bigger army needs more supplies just to survive, let alone fight. That is one reason that makes keeping a large army deployed without actually fighting sustainable only for a short term.

As a side note, numerical and technological advantage are always relative to the enemy being fought, and especially the numerical advantage is not homogeneous in time and space - meaning, some parts of a vast army may still be outnumbered in certain places and times.

Quality of armed forces also includes the training of soldiers, but this does not impact in any significative way what said above.

There are four elements of warfare, which in order of scale are objectives, logistics, strategy, and tactics; Clausewitz did not discuss logistics in depth in his tome, because in his age logistics was not so determinant for the outcome of a war. The fifth element is morale, and it is by no means a secondary one - in fact, morale is enormously important: an army, any, without the will to fight is useless.

So the conclusion is that the discussion about quality and quantity in itself is pretty much pointless. The outcome of a war is dictated by the imbalance of all elements, and an advantage in one can be nullified or even overturned by a disadvantage in another.

War is one hell of endeavour to undertake in fact. There's no certain, simplistic rule to victory - except sticking to it to the end, whatever it is. That alone is not enough, but without enough morale there can be no victory.

As an aside, I don't think that today's war against radical Islam is "non-Clausewitzian". Sure, it's very different from war as the Master intended it, but Clausewitz's genius was to discover some fundamental elements which are part of all conflicts, including this one.

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