Clausewitz, On War Book 2: The breath of war is the exhaustion of ideas

As I turn Carl Von Clausewitz over in my mind the writing of a long dead Prussian floats forward in time hopefully to inform decision about future conflict. If, as I have said, the concept that tactics and strategy are independent of technology. If the premise can be proven that technology is always an analogy or metaphor for previous forms and tools then Clausewitz may inform our ideas of future cyber conflict.

Clausewitz in Book two of “On War” stands up and gives us some basic ideas on how something as nebulous as cyber warfare might be discussed. He states (p. 127) that the concept of fighting remains unchanged no matter how it is constituted. This gives some semblance of hope that we might be able to find common threads between a cyber conflict and conventional conflict. If as Clausewitz says “… the art of war is the art of using the given means in combat”, should those means be cyber then they would be tools to wage war. As to the act of combat cyber reflects a new paradigm. Instantaneous engagement and combat. If armies traveled on foot, then became mechanized, then combat was waged even faster from the air, than cyber has become the fastest yet occurring at the speed of light. A true compression of the combat that may be a detrimental effect on “unity of command” (p. 128).

Clausewitz in book two discusses marches and other elements regarding tactics, training, and their relationship to strategy. As he discusses the fact that marches can be integral part of combat, but that they are also a simple part of moving from place to place. The question is conduct of war, or the preparation for war. I am left thinking about intrusion detection systems and other dual use technologies of the network or system administrator. These tools that though they have direct defensive capability they also are used to simply manage the network.

This leads us to ask the question about cyber warfare. Are the activities we have so long associated with cyber warfare actually warfare? As Clausewitz states “We clearly see that the activities characteristic of war may be split into two main categories: those that are merely preparations for war, and war proper” (p. 131). I would suggest that the answer for cyber warfare is “yes”. Those elements of time compression on the activity of conflict in cyber warfare create a unique situation where dual use technologies have both preparatory and active roles in the conduct of conflict. Not much different than marching the speed and span of the conflict necessitating the nature.

Clausewitz identifies another element of siege warfare as being the way war first appears (p. 133). This identifies a key point that should be shouted at each security administrator. First that firewalls are great, but that we know another technique or tactic will follow that makes our self-imposed siege worthless. Network security that responds as a self-imposed siege will fail. Clausewitz identifies that all models break down after time with his identification of formulations of theory (p. 134). In cyber warfare we can not expect to identify all of the elements within the model anymore than conventional war theoreticians can.

Clausewitz says, “ Thus it is easier to use theory to organize, plan, and conduct and engagement than it is to use in determining the engagement’s purpose. Combat is conducted with physical weapons, and although the intellect does play a part, material factors will dominate” (p. 140). This is a key statement to the principles of cyber warfare and the issues of cyber warfare. In the first statement Clausewitz is looking at how combat evolves but makes an issue of purpose. In the second part he reminds us that all conflict and combat is kinetic where many think cyber warfare can not go. The synthesis of the statement for cyber warfare to be a real tool of conflict is to identify how beyond the planning stage the effects of cyber warfare can have physical manifestation. In answering that the Department of Homeland Security has blown up generators, hackers have messed with water systems, and dams have had their control systems exploited. In each case catastrophe real or imagined could have occurred. Cyber warfare can reach out and touch you.