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Subject: "The Art of Exhaustion:" Serious Thoughts on War from War On The Rocks rss

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David Dixon
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I'll leave this here--a great discussion of strategic "exhasution" as a method in modern warfare. It is germaine to recent discussions of attrition and maneuver, and offers some very real insight into what future "low intensity" conflicts may look like in a media-saturated, conflict-not-war future.

This is the most thought provoking piece I've read on anything in a long while.

http://warontherocks.com/2015/08/ukraine-and-the-art-of-exha...

Diis
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Lance McMillan
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An insightful discussion of what my professors at Naval War College would have called "War Termination Theory." Unfortunately, I though the article (like some of the lectures I sat through) fails to consider a key point which I feel is becoming increasingly common in the current age: that leaders often enter into wars for purposes of domestic political policy (e.g. the government is far less concerned with the outcome of the conflict against the "enemy" than it is with the perception of their own population that they're acting in the best interests of the state).

You can see this, for example, with the way Putin is using the Ukrainian crisis to convince the Russian people that he's not just a strong and effective leader, but that all the failures of the Russian economic and political system are the result of the actions of an external enemy and not the failure of his corrupt policies. Basically, he has no incentive for the crisis to end because it serves his interests (from a domestic political standpoint) to keep the conflict going.
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Brian Train
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Excellent piece, thank you both.

Brian
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Robert Stuart
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Excellent article. I can't help noticing, however, what to me is the false dichotomy between 'attrition theory' and 'maneuver theory', with the claim that Liddell Hart was one of its modern exponents. Liddell Hart was the exponent of what he called 'the indirect approach'. In broad terms this can be characterized, using the words of Freedman in the above essay, as "deliberate measures to change the opponent’s mental state".
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Wendell
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Very interesting, thanks for posting.

One other reason for Russia wanting to deny the presence of Russian troops - to minimize embarrassment/loss of prestige should the "separatists" fail.
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But Putin still has a failing economy and sanctions, while the war continues won't help.EU states meantime will continue to source Gas supplies elsewhere in order to reduce dependency which further worsens the crisis for Russia.

How long will Russians put up with economic hardship with no end in sight.

 
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Jason Cawley
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Indecisive non strategy isn't a clever new strategy.

Maneuver strategy is a real thing, but also a limited one, and not any be-all or end-all. It is in fact a very narrow view, and its proponents are systematically the blindest to other viable strategies of all of the major schools of strategic thought. Maneuver is fundamentally aimed at the coordination of the enemy forces; it seeks dislocation and expects other effects from such dislocation.

Attrition strategy is a real strategy and not some default of mindlessness. It depends on entirely different factors of military affairs than the previous. It is entirely sound and can be entirely decisive. It can also sometimes have things to learn from the previous about efficiency or the smartest way to implement, tactically, some of the things it is trying to do, operationally or strategically. It seeks decision by setting the fielded forces ratio moving inexorable in favor of the friendly side, and expects decision through physical destruction of enemy forces.

Guerrilla strategy is neither of those, but a true third. Of course it shares some elements of the others and uses them as means, but it has a fundamentally different aspect of military power it is aimed at and stresses, and it holds together logically by subordinating all questions of technique to that other "target". That target is force generation capability, including the political power necessary to recruit, organize, and command forces in the field, and to sustain them there. Note that many don't "get" this and think guerrilla strategy is just about PR or resolve - not even remotely true. It is a true military strategy that seeks to expand one's side forces while cutting off the recruitment, replacement, or commitment of the other side's. All military actions occur in furtherance of those goals, with both maneuver and attrition techniques applied for those purposes.

Blockade strategy is rarely discussed as a true strategy, often being confused for a minor supplement to one of the first two above. But it can rise from this subordinate, mere means position into a true overall strategy of warfighting, one that is focused on *reducing the enemy's moves*, not conducting your own best ones (like the first) or the enemy's forces (like the second) or his force-generation ability (like the third). He is allowed to generate forces, to keep them alive, and to try to maneuver them, and is granted an initiative, even. He is just deprived, systematically, of all means of turning any of those things to strategic account.

In these terms, "exhaustion" is not a strategy. All but the first may include elements of exhaustion of the enemy, but are using them in fundamentally different ways. And if a side is just hoping for "exhaustion" of the adversary without pursuing any of the above, then it hardly deserves the name of "strategy".

It is certainly true that any side can win a conflict if the other side voluntarily surrenders and runs away. That doesn't make "hope they run away" a strategy. A strategy is a set of coherent actions one can follow that promise a favorable decision in a full on, whole war, if those actions succeed in their subordinate aims, because their artful combination will destroy the enemy's *ability* to win that war.

Of course moral and will effects are expected to follow the removal of that ability; the enemy is expected to react to the accomplished fact of that destruction. But in that, the destruction is the decisive thing, not the reaction. If you've disarmed the opponent, his will in the matter becomes almost a matter of indifference; something for the diplomats tidying up afterward to argue about, at most.

The whole point of strategy is to remove the enemy's will from the equation determining what happens. If one is just asking him for things, it isn't strategy, its diplomacy. If one isn't even asking him for things, just hoping he will or won't do this or that, it isn't much more than prayer.
 
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Robert Stuart
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JasonC wrote:
The whole point of strategy is to remove the enemy's will from the equation determining what happens.

Precisely. Or as Freedman might put it, "deliberate measures to change the opponent’s mental state".
 
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Robert Stuart
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bob_santafe wrote:
JasonC wrote:
The whole point of strategy is to remove the enemy's will from the equation determining what happens.

Precisely. Or as Freedman might put it, "deliberate measures to change the opponent’s mental state".

Sorry, I missed your point. Your point, as I now read it, is to so destroy the enemy's ability to fight, that his will is irrelevant. Rather than trying to undermine his will to fight, you render him completely powerless so that his will is no longer part of the equation.

I see what you mean. The problem with that, however, is (1) more often than not, you just can't do it, and (2) it is only in rare cases that you will be forced into doing it.

World War II was the exception in the history of war. For both Hitler and 'Hirohito' (Hirohito or the Japanese ruling elite), the only option was total conquest. And because they were so very bad, it was possible to put together a massive coalition to destroy them. Otherwise -- had they not been so evil -- it couldn't have been done.

The Age of Colonialism was another exception -- the colonized peoples had no chance of resisting the colonizing powers militarily, and just as telling, didn't live in nations and possess the level of internal cohesion which comes with the nation-state.

World War I, on the other hand, was typical of most wars in that the countries that surrendered -- Russia, the Ottoman Empire, Austria and Germany -- still had fighting armies in the field, and very large parts of their areas intact and unoccupied. It would not have been possible to have forced unconditional surrender on any of these countries.

Regarding the current situation in the Ukraine, neither side has the power to destroy the other. Ukraine's primary concern, I would think, is to build up their country while maintaining a low level of activity against the 'rebels'. Eventually they will get back the occupied regions and the Crimea. Russia is in a bind; for a number of reasons it cannot afford an all-out invasion of Ukraine. Despite its overwhelming military superiority, it would not be able to destroy the Ukrainian army without other nations rushing in to drastically change the equation. All ready, for instance, it has reignited and given new hope to Chechen opposition, something which it can ill afford.
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Jason Cawley
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Robert - no. If you depend on the enemy's permission to win, you have already handed him the keys to victory. Again, the point of strategy is to make the enemy's will *irrelevant* to the outcome of events. It is not a negotiation.
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CJ
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macedon wrote:
How long will Russians put up with economic hardship with no end in sight.

When haven't they?
 
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CJ
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Interesting article but fundamentally flawed. When do wars end for any reason but the mental exhaustion of one or multiple sides leading to an unwillingness to continue the fight?

edit: At the end of the article there is a commentary link to an article titled 'Dealing with Putin's Strategic Incompetence'. Also very interesting.
 
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Jason Cawley
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CJ - how about when the losing side is dead?

Choices to give up are not the same thing as being physically unabke to stop the enemy from killing what's left of your forces to the last man. Giving up rather than dying, after that is the choice, isn't the same as just choosing not to fight on. The alternate choice doesn't change the outcome - that's why the "choice" was made. In other words, some "moves" are simply forced. It is an illusion to pretend all war is just a negotiation.
 
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