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The paradoxical logic of strategy


Strategy: The Logic of War and Peace
(Edward Luttwak)

A brilliant book, not exactly easy to read, and (judging by the reviews on Amazon.com) somewhat easy to misunderstand. Here are my notes:

'the paradoxical logic of strategy' exists apart from the actors in a conflict, and time is a dyanmic element in the working out of strategy. 'In other words, if the passage of time is relevant and the paradoxical logic of strategy assumes a dynamic form, it becomes the coming together, even the reversal, of opposites. In the realm of strategy, therefore, a course of action cannot persist indefinitely. It will tend to evolve into its opposite, unless the logic of strategy is outweighed by some exogenous change in the circumstances of the participants.' (p.18)

'when scarce development resources must be allocated between competing scientific concepts and engineering configurations, it is unwise to rely on scientific and engineering judgment alone.... scientists and engineers are unlikely to see merit in the diversion of resources to develop diverse second-best equipment alongside their optimal counterparts. But that is precisely what prudence demands.' (p.29) An example is the highly maneuverable and comparatively inexpensive F-16, now flown by 25 air forces around the world. The USAF approved the 'lightweight fighter' only because of the prodding of John Boyd and his acolytes; had it not been for them, the Air Force would have stopped with the gold-plated F-15, which few nations can afford to acquire.

Attrition and maneuver in warfare: 'At the other end of the spectrum [from attritional warfare] there is relational maneuver, action related to the specifics of the objective, where instead of seeking to destroy the enemy's physical substance, the goal is to incapacitate by systemic disruption--whether the "system" is the command structure of the enemy's forces, their mode of warfare and combat array ... or even an actual technical system' -- e.g., spoofing radar instead of destroying it. (p.93)

'Instead of seeking out the enemy's concentration of strength, ... the starting point of relational maneuver is the avoidance of the enemy's strengths, followed by the application of some selective superiority against presumed enemy weaknesses, physical or psychological, technical or organizational. While attrition ... cannot yield success without material superiority, the results of relational maneuver depend on the accuracy with which enemy weaknesses are identified, the surprise achieved, and the speed and precision of the action. Some combination of surprise and speed is a precondition of success because the enemy who has time to react can shield those weaknesses against which the effort is unfolding.' (p.94)

In deep-penetration actions, information is all-important, and the commanders in the rear play a comparatively passive role compared to those on the spot. 'Their own commanders, riding at the head of each column, decide on the spot whether to attack resisting forces astride their path or merely by-pass them to continue the rapid advance.... Actually the higher headquarters of the offense need little information and communications are mostly one-way, from the front to the rear, with very few orders going the other way....' (p.109)

'As soon as movement begins, so does the fog of war.' (p. 106)

'Because the Germans had moved so much faster and farther than the British had expected [in North Africa in the spring of 1941], all their forces ... were outmaneuvered, cut off, and forced into a panic retreat during which they left behind much more equipment than the Germans had to begin with, along with large quantities of food, fuel, and ammunition. Again and again, small German task forces ... would emerge unexpectedly out of the desert to surprise and capture, destroy or scatter British truck columns, artillery trains, and infantry units retreating along the coastal road. British armor units, though numerically superior, never seemed to be in the right place at the right time to assist the infantry and artillery; and they would fall prey to German antitank guns when attacking on their own without infantry and artillery support.' (p.213)

'With Rommel leading them in person, the Germans could act must faster than the British could, much as a better fighter pilot with a better machine can turn inside the circle of a more sluggish opponent in a classic dogfight, to fire at his tail with impunity and then turn to fire again, while his opponent is still trying to react to the first turn.' (p.213)