Strategy: The Logic of War and Peace by Edward Luttwak
Strategy: The Logic of War and Peace by Edward Luttwak

Strategy: The Logic of War and Peace

Feb 13, 2002

The use of precision-guided weapons is a "revolution in military affairs," claims Edward Luttwak. They immediately shifted the focus in warfare from "hitting something" to "knowing what to hit" -- thus to military and cultural intelligence.

JOANNE MYERS: On behalf of the Carnegie Council I thank you for joining us this morning for a discussion on Strategy: The Logic of War and Peace.

Edward Luttwak is an internationally recognized authority in the area of military strategy. As he himself has said, strategy has been always his occupation, but it is also his passion, and it is this enthusiasm for the subject which he will share with us this morning.

Ever since Sun Tzu, many strategists, such as Machiavelli, Jomini, Clausewitz, and others, have tried to provide a framework or theory about war and military strategy. In this tradition, Dr. Luttwak defines the inner meaning of military strategy and to uncover the universal logic that governs both war and peace between nations.

In his recently revised, enlarged and widely acclaimed work, he unveils the peculiar logic of strategy level by level, from grand strategy down to combat tactics. He advances the claim that the entire realm of strategy is pervaded by a paradoxical logic which is very different from the ordinary, linear logic by which we live in all other spheres of our life. In other words, if you want peace, prepare for war.

Dr. Luttwak is a long-time Senior Fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. He is best known for his work on foreign policy and military strategy. During his very productive career, he has served as a consultant to the Office of the Secretary of Defense, the National Security Council, and the Department of State. He is a member of the National Security Study Group of the Department of Defense and an Associate of the Japan Finance Ministry's Institute of Fiscal and Monetary Policy. In addition, he is the author of nine books, including Turbo-Capitalism: Winners and Losers in the Global Economy, The Endangered American Dream, and the constantly reprinted Coup d'Etat, which has been published in fourteen languages.

Whether you are a peacemaker or a warmonger, whether you agree or disagree, you are bound to find Dr. Luttwak's writings incisive and provocative.

Join me in giving a very warm welcome to Dr. Luttwak.


EDWARD LUTTWAK:I commend you all for getting up so early in the morning, especially for a subject like strategy. My book was published and had its circulation among people interested in the strange subject of strategy. Then I had to rewrite it because it was written so badly. The theory, the theoretical machinery, the explanation of how war and peace work were so difficult to elaborate in abstract ways that gradually define it, that I was wrestled to the ground by the subject and didn't have the energy to write well. Somebody said that the book seems to read as if it had been written in English, then translated into German, and retranslated into English.

Although the book is about the method, the actual underlying phenomena of war, one does not need to update. If you have done a good job, you should actually be able to write the whole thing in 18th century terms, as far as weapons are concerned. But one updates because it is interesting.

In the strictly military realm, the major innovation that was manifest in the Gulf War was the arrival of routine precision. Throughout history, you threw a spear and it was hard to hit something. Now there is routine, highly reliable precision and it is not even very expensive. That suddenly shifted everything in war from the ability to hit somebody, which is a matter of scale, to knowing what to hit.

In the lead-up to the Gulf War, intelligence would tell you, "there are biological weapons in SalMan-Pak." You looked at the map, SalMan-Pak was an area which was as big as all the boroughs of New York, and you have a weapon that has a miss distance of three feet, so you have to know exactly where to put it. Suddenly, the shift goes from the ability to hit to intelligence in a narrow sense, finding which building to hit; intelligence in a broad sense, understanding the whole country, its culture, its mentality and psychology, to know what you should bomb in order to get them to surrender. So this is a revolution in military affairs.

Readers of my book will find nothing about terrorism, which is not about winning and is not governed by the rules of victory and defeat. You can succeed by large war, by guerrilla, by revolutions, coups d'état, insurrections, rebellions, but never terrorism. Terrorism is a self-expression because the terrorist is weak. He attacks the strong, but, while attacking the strong, he remains weak; and the strong, even if hurt, is strong and turns around and smashes not merely the terrorist that attacked him, but the whole group from which the terrorist comes.

Let's say you have a left-social revolutionary who tries to kill Lenin. The response is to wipe out not only the left-social revolutionaries, but the whole segment of the political spectrum. In Italy, there was the phenomenon of the Red Brigades, and the answer was a broader repression.

Now what do I write about in the book? What are the phenomena?

The first phenomenon is that strategy is governed by a contradictory, paradoxical, contrarian logic. For example, if you do well in business, you have a good product, you will be successful, and if you work harder and you do it on a bigger scale, you will be more successful. But in strategy, if you have the right formula and you win victories, you just have to continue to do the same thing and you will unfailingly reach a culminating point of success, and then you will collapse, because your very victory evokes reactions. That is why your Napoleons, your Hitlers, their mistake was to overshoot the culminating point of success.

Once McDonald's has 2,730 franchises, getting one more would weaken the company. Not in strategy, because as you become more successful, people who were neutral towards you now become concerned that your power might get to them, so they turn against you. And your enemies that you defeated suddenly find allies and supporters.

Overshooting applies to every level of strategy, right down to the tactical level, and it works in all kinds of ways. Let's say somebody came up with a really magical antitank weapon which cannot be defeated by countermeasures. The effect will be no more tanks. You can overshoot yourself to the point where you annihilate yourself just by your effectiveness.

One of the great challenges of statesmanship, therefore, has always been to sense when you are approaching the culminating point of success and to stop short of it. Why is this such a challenge? Because you are inflamed, empowered and driven by the winds of victory, the sense of success, and everywhere you look people are applauding. It takes enormous, cold, calculating intellect to stop at the very moment when it is easiest to go ahead.

Strategy is logic applied against all the emotions that undermine, subvert, block, sabotage logic. That is the great challenge. That is why it is very difficult to be just modestly successful in the realm of conflict.

When you are engaged in war or in statecraft or power without war, the parties will still act with each other as if there was war because war is possible.

Because strategy is not against an inanimate object, but against humans, live, reacting people, everything in the realm of strategy, even the simplest thing, is actually very difficult.

I said don't overshoot the culminating point of victory, don't overdo it, avoid that fate of being defeated by your own success. This is what history is all about. Attila was doing great as long as he remained in a certain geographic sphere; then he tries to go all the way to France, and he is defeated. This is remarkable because when the Huns under Attila came, their relative effectiveness compared to everybody else was immense. It was something like the United States and Afghanistan, with precision air, called upon by teams of special forces, in conjunction with local allies, who may be ragged and poorly organized, but people who like to fight, plus people to bring them logistics and ammunition by helicopter and air power in front so they can keep fighting. The Huns had tactical superiority because of their weapons, the compound bow that went right through the armor of people who were used to being protected by their operational flexibility because of their cavalry, their strategic flexibility because they were horse nomads. The mare's blood, the mare's milk, the horse's blood, all excellent diet, meant that they could move strategically. Every possible advantage, except the guy went beyond and failed.

But the question is: how do you win your victory?

The paradoxical logic of conflict tells you that the way you win is by doing the unexpected to get surprise. Now, when people say the word "surprise" in war, they say, "Oh well, why did he win? He had the advantage, was better trained, better equipped, he had surprise." They list it along with the other things. Surprise is when the other guy is not reacting, when you have suspended the entire predicament of conflict. You have stepped out of the entire terrible predicament of conflict. To the extent that you do it because it is technical or operational surprise, you hit him, you have suspended the predicament of conflict. But surprise also implies an intellectual advantage in having maneuvered.

The great captains of history were associated with a couple of things: (a) they had an idea that was different; and (b) they moved faster than anybody else. They moved because they thought faster. All the great captains you have heard of were people who introduced some innovation, plus they moved a little bit faster, not terribly faster.

People who are involved in more scientific, accurate, professional things always look at war. Those who have experienced war, all say to themselves: "If we were operating like this running a hardware store, we would go bankrupt." But actually war is the field where people who are 4 percent defective defeat people who are 3 percent defective. It is not like a hardware store, where people who are 80 percent defective defeat people who are 70 percent. This is not because soldiers are stupid, but because you have the adversarial element.

Commerce exists entirely within the law. If there is no law, there is no commerce, because if you show up on your donkey with your goods and there is no law, I will not buy your goods, I will take them with my strength. So commerce exists within law. Strategy exists in a state of lawlessness. Because commerce exists within law, two hamburger chains can do all kinds of terrible things to each other, but they cannot start burning each other's outlets. Yet, war is all about, breaking the rules.

War is terrible, war is hard to do, but it is tremendous fun, and that is one reason why we have quite a lot of it. But, even though war is enjoyable, it is very painful for people who don't enjoy it.

So the issue is: Why war? Because war is the only way to lead to peace. Strategy is governed by the paradoxical logic where everything turns into its opposite. War brings peace by literally burning, destroying the resources needed to make war to some extent; much more importantly, by destroying the hopes, the ambitions, the expectations that drive war.

If you don't like war, you can say, "Oh, war is horrible." Even then, you must recognize it has a virtue. It is not self-perpetuating; it is self-destroying. War brings peace by destroying the ideas in people's minds that lead to war and, if necessary, even their means to make war.

If you look at the Middle East, for example, the Arab-Israeli conflict, what you have in 1947 is that instead of war leading to peace, you have the U.N. intervening to stop it. Just as the war is beginning to do its work of bringing peace by forcing people to accept the realities of power, out comes a cease-fire, constant interruptions and interventions.

About half the population of Sweden has served as mediators to the Arab-Israeli conflict. You had unemployed and underemployed diplomats organizing conferences, meetings, special missions, envoys. All of these are interruptions in the processes of war.

If you had this machinery, if we were living in a multi-planetary system and all of us were small powers and there were greater powers outside the Earth, the second World War would still be continuing because it kept being interrupted by imposed cease-fires, armistices.

Today we have the era of international intervention, and that is why we have the era of war suspended, which means war endless. In Kashmir, in Arab-Israeli contexts, and others, these wars simply do not resolve themselves because they are not allowed to do so.

Thank you very much.

Question & Answer

QUESTION:Two questions. One regards the use of terrorism as an element of guerrilla warfare in a broader strategy. The second is the dangers of undershooting, as the United States is said to have done in Iraq.

EDWARD LUTTWAK:Even in cases where you think terrorism was successful or productive, it wasn't. In Algeria, for example, the original intent was to do it through terrorism. The outcome was the Battle of Algiers. Terrorism was defeated. The lesson was learned that to win the country you have to mobilize the population. They build up armies with the support of Morocco and Tunisia. Egypt was a huge provider of Russian weapons. When the opponents in Algeria, through the OAS, wanted to persuade the French by using terrorism not to give up Algeria, they simply persuaded them to give it up faster. So terrorism always fails. And even, as an adjunct, if you have a good guerrilla war, terrorism will undermine your guerrillas, because guerrilla war is a lot of people doing a lot of things in a lot of areas over a lot of time, not three guys who think that they can change history by putting bombs. That is the permanent illusion. On the question about underdoing, I want to answer directly. When the decision was made to stop fighting in Iraq, leaving Saddam still there, I was working in the Pentagon in the humble capacity of selecting targets for the strategic bombing. Nobody complained. Some people did not want to be serving in a U.S. Army of Mesopotamia against Iran. We all had a chance to say, "No, Mr. President, let's move on." Nobody did. It was our sense that it was the moment to stop.

QUESTION:Yesterday I met with Senator Hart and some other people to talk about terrorism, and I raised a question that I would like to put to you in the context of your talk, because you have been talking about strategy. In Congress, unless you are on the Armed Services Committee or the Defense Appropriations Subcommittee, you have a very foggy idea of how the defense budget was made. We have a new budget which will ask for a huge increase both for DOD and for homeland security. I have been struck by the absence of discussion, particularly in the universities of the country, but in general, of how the U.S. DOD budget is made, since it is so big and affects not only our security policy and foreign policy, but our economy, jobs, educational system, scientific research base, race relations.. But there is relatively little serious analytical discussion of how it is all put together. I would like to think that we somehow would relate strategy to how we are devoting the nation's resources. Universities ought to be having some high-powered seminars with military and industrial leaders, economists, historians, sociologists, anthropologists, philosophers, theologians on the process.

EDWARD LUTTWAK:Let me answer in specific terms. Mr. Rumsfeld is the Secretary of Defense the most personally interested in strategy of any of his predecessors, except Jim Schlesinger, for twenty-five years. This means that as much as 4 percent of the defense budget might be deployed or re-shifted, in accordance with what happened in Afghanistan, the logical strategy and modernity. If you could move 4 percent of the budget from completely useless bases or not-so-useful forces to much more useful things, that is the most you can achieve, because in Congress you have the representation of the day-to-day existence of all of these phenomena. The fellow from Maine is going to talk about the Bath Iron Works and their need to build a ship. The feeling has always been that if you did not have this local support and connection, defense would not be sustained in the years when popular enthusiasm is not sufficient. We have periods when there is popular enthusiasm for defense, like now, tragically enough. In other times, it has to be sustained from these processes. The best strategy in the world will make a 4 percent shift to the budget. And as for bringing in expertise, the rule is: the more important the issue, the greater the gravity, the greater the concern, the narrower is the group of people making the decisions, and therefore the less expertise there is. They are called upon to decide and deliberate. If, after September 11th, Bush had said, this is a very new and difficult challenge, so we are going to go into a three-month seminar, I would have said, "This sounds like the other guy."

QUESTION:First, unfortunately, you are accurate on the budget process. Four or 5 percent is a lot of money when you look at the size of the defense budget. There are an awful lot of things that just have to continue to get done. You have to pay the troops, maintain bases and equipment, which eats up a tremendous amount of money. So if we could shift 5 percent toward reform, I would consider that a tremendous victory.

I have two comments.

First, on strategy, it struck me that your ideas were no different from those that I studied at West Point four decades ago, the principles of war, which predate my study at West Point by centuries. We studied Napoleon, who was an expert on the principle of surprise and on the principle of maneuver, which you called "move faster." This reinforces your point that one should not have to revise strategy with the changing tools of warfare.

Finally, I want to take complete, total, unequivocal, categorical exception to your comment that war is fun. It is not fun for those who practice it. Robert E. Lee said that "It's a good thing war is so terrible, for if it were not we should begin to enjoy it."

EDWARD LUTTWAK:If war were not enjoyed by so many people, it wouldn't be done so much. If it were true that it was not enjoyable, people who do not like war would have much less war to deplore. Conscription has been a great exception in history. Very few countries have forced people to go to war. Most war is a voluntary activity because it gives real satisfactions.

On the budget, one point. In spite of everything I said in response to the congressmen, I am a little upset that we still spend huge amounts of money to maintain the anti-submarine capabilities of the U.S. Navy, which is a couple of hundred ships going around and looking for submarines that ain't there.

QUESTION:I have one question, one comment, and one remark.

The question: Why is it that the Turks didn't take Vienna?

The comment: What you have said comes down to war brings peace and therefore it is good, but peace brings war and therefore it is bad. Or have I missed something?

And the remark: People will know that the way the prisoners-of-war issue has been handled has caused us a lot of heartburn in Canada, but we have decided to turn the Salt Lake City Olympics figure skating judges over to Mr. Rumsfeld.

EDWARD LUTTWAK:It was tough for the Canadians to discover that Canadians are being rough with prisoners. It was a bit of a shock, since they didn't know that Canadian commanders had been functioning in Afghanistan, since Canada is one of the countries that likes to present itself to the world like a beneficent mother, a fairy godmother. It is different from the Australians because the Australian SAS contingent went in from day one, starting, as usual, with the British contingent.

As for the question of peace bringing war, peace only brings war when the conditions of peace cause people to forget how peace was achieved, which was by extinguishing the emotions of war and achieving an equilibrium. Then people ignore that balance. Either they won't maintain their military strength or they will fail to make the diplomatic conciliation.

Even the most powerful must conciliate. Even the weakest must endeavor to have some strength. But then you forget it, and that is how you get to war.

On Vienna, he wants to know why the Ottoman army, with excellent management, failed to take Vienna. The answer is the classic overshooting story. I am willing to give a series of eighteen lectures on this subject, which I have studied in detail, but I will say one thing. If you are Tatar cavalry from the Crimea, the autumn sun doesn't bother you in the least. What does bother you is the lack of grass for your horses. The problem was that the Ottoman Army was the Ottoman Army. That is to say, the Empire had exactly one army, which mobilized the entire population. It was sent to achieve a definite victory.

QUESTION:We have NATO at the moment trying to find its role still, ten years after the fall of the Berlin Wall, and ready to expand further. What is the role, therefore, of alliances during long periods of peace?

Secondly, is George W. Bush overshooting his victory at the moment with the "axis of evil?"

EDWARD LUTTWAK:I have a specific recommendation to all of you involved in these processes, which is that there is an urgent necessity to abolish the Verecunda Conference in Munich, because every year a planeload of people flies from Washington to extemporize, express, emote, all the things that they couldn't make pass in Washington, and act tough, to shock and evoke a reaction from their NATO counterparts. This so-called "harmony and dialogue" conference has become a major source of conflict, and it should be stopped.

The great genius of America after World War II was precisely in maintaining alliance. This is a tradition that begins right with Eisenhower. The United States has the genius of alliance. I can assure you that NATO will not be dropped.

Adolph Hitler had a wonderful army, which won almost every battle. Now, if you choose the Italians and Bulgarians as your allies and you fight the Russians and the Americans, the amount of tactical and operational skill you need to overcome that is unlimited.

George Bush has not overshot any culminating point. The big issue about Iraq is precisely that. The problem is this: if you don't do it, Saddam might pull one in two or three years, because his main motivation is revenge. Revenge is a sufficient motivation for one's conduct.

If this is true about Saddam, it means that not doing Iraq, because of the hesitations of Monsieur Chirac or the noises coming from Saudi Arabia, may make a ship blow up in a port here in Newark, Baltimore, New York.

So the feeling is that to leave things alone is an enormity. Just as knocking him out is a big risk, not doing it is an enormity. And that is the balance, and that is what they are trying to do.

QUESTION:You stressed the importance of information in modern wars. What about disinformation? Should that be also important, and various types of propaganda?

EDWARD LUTTWAK:Disinformation is a tricky one. Just think. There are all these countries around the world having elections, elections where two guys are in there, who don't know enough about politics to win. They don't know enough about their own countries to win the presidency.

You are a foreigner. You don't know that. You are not a political expert. You are psychological warfare officer in some humble battalion, and you are trying to succeed where a professional politician miscalculates in understanding his own country. That's why these things tend to fail.

We attempted to win in Kosovo. The first phase of Kosovo was an attempt to win by what is called "information warfare," namely, doing spring-clean bombing, dropping forty-two bombs and getting Milosovic to surrender because of the overwhelming repression. That didn't succeed.

It is very hard to make disinformation work. You have to have an understanding of a culture which is very deep. Whereas in a bombing campaign you have a theory that if you knock out these targets, they will surrender; if you fail, you bomb, destroy those targets, he doesn't surrender. So if you have done a good job in minimizing collateral damage, you will get another chance and you will go with another theory. Eventually, on the seventh or eighth theory, you will win. But in disinformation you don't have the feedback.

QUESTION:Considering the geography of the neighborhood, how could we do it alone?

EDWARD LUTTWAK:We don't care about the neighborhood, because nobody is going to deploy an army. This is not going to be the Gulf War. The method will be the old-age-home method: You take some Barazanis, some Talibanis, some Iraqi guys, a couple of hundred people. Maybe you will succeed, maybe not, but certainly we are not going to deploy an army which would require a consensus of the entire region.

All you need is the consensus of the Russians by giving them the proper assurances on what happens in post-Saddam Iraq; you need the support of the British - and you notice the British Government has been shifting from explicit opposition to acceptance; and we have the support of the Italians; and, once you have the Russians, then you have the Chinese accepting it by your direct policy; and, of course, the Turks have to be brought into it. Once you have all of these, the supplementary advantage is going to be the pleasure of ignoring the French objections.

The French and German governments will take identical positions. Nobody will say anything about the Germans in Washington, but they will delight in punishing the French. That is what is going to happen if that evolves that way.

But no decision has been made, as you know, and that is why there has been a semi-public debate involving members of the Administration.

QUESTION:I was curious about your view of the conditions of obtaining peace. You emphasized the importance of military victory. Do you see ways that peace can be attained stopping short of that? I am particularly thinking about not interstate conflicts, which you seem to be focusing on, but rather conflicts between states and non-state actors, and would-be states.

EDWARD LUTTWAK:I didn't say that you get to peace by victory. You get peace by war. Peace brought about by complete victory on one side is very rare in history. Even in the Second World War, you had the peculiarities of Nazi Germany. In 1943 the Germans are getting very weak, the Russians are now trying to go all the way in Paris, and so now you can have a shift in alliances, and you turn around, and together you get equilibrium.

You do not get to peace by victory. Annihilation is virtually unknown. Peace is a process of mutual exhaustion. War brings peace when there is no victory usually.

People say, "Oh, this is my limit, this is what I can do, I can't do more. I thought I absolutely had to have that, but I discover I don't." That is the process that was interrupted in the Middle East for fifty years by well-meaning or not-well-meaning outsiders, great powers playing for advantage, humanitarians/non-humanitarians, and the refugees.

If you had a U.N. Works and Relief Administration in Europe in the history of Europe, there would be no Europe. There would be great, giant camps for displaced Visigoth, mis-Burgundians, Gallo-Romans, uprooted Gallo-Romans. There would be camps perpetuating refugee nations for ever and ever, in which resentment and hatred are preserved like fresh flowers.

So if you intervene in the realm of conflict with good intentions, the outcome is invariably negative. When you go to a battlefield and you see humanitarians, shoot them. They are the ones who are going to perpetuate that conflict. They are the ones who are going to do the thing that all of us witnessed, in Goma after the Rwandan War. Instead of the natural dispersal of the Hutus around Africa, the arrival of these competing NGOs - well-meaning welfare, distributing food - kept the Hutus there under the control of the murderous inter-Rwandan people so that they would start ranging back into Rwanda again.

War is the realm of conflict. If you go in with good intentions, you will disturb the solution of conflict. Anybody who gives money to an NGO that provides help to the victims of war is perpetuating war in one way or the other. For one thing, when you feed people in that environment, the men with the guns get fed first.

Somalia was perpetuated. If you want to give money to people, you can give it to my World Foundation against Monotheism, but never give it to any humanitarian organization. They are the ones who do the greatest harm.

QUESTION:First, let me comment on what you said about Hitler with the mighty army. That is totally wrong. I have witnessed this myself. When the German forces went into Poland, for logistical purposes they didn't want to use up all of their petrol for their armored forces because the sources were limited, so the tanks were pulled into Poland by horses.

Secondly, this so-called mighty army was fractionalized by different elements that assisted the Allies in their war. Wilhelm Canaris, who was head of German Abwer, the intelligence, was an active enemy of Hitler and took advantage of a lot of things which I won't go into now.

When you speak of your war of consensus, wars build like a tapeworm inside of your body: it's insatiable. Wars can bring peace, yes, it is possible, but only if there is a certain limitation. And because people then advocate further conflict because it is personally advantageous or helps the economy.

Take an example in the United States. Pershing, the commander of the U.S. Expeditionary Forces, was a captain for seventeen years. His only so-called active knowledge was facing a bandit in Mexico.

Now, it develops a psyche that you keep going on and on and on. It helps the economy. It helps expansion of the armed forces. It gives opportunities for higher command. But it becomes something that cannot be stopped. And what happens then to all of the aftereffects?

EDWARD LUTTWAK:You can say that the high development of capitalism, what I call turbo-capitalism, has provided much greater opportunities for enrichment, advancement, even agonistic satisfactions. The persistence of war reflects the persistence of true differences between people. The purpose of war in that higher sense is to persuade people to reconcile their differences because they cannot achieve what they want.

It is the interruption of that, because of the existence of fighting powers and bigger powers. When a big power war is fought, nobody stopped them, so they came to their big power peace. But the little guys stop, so they don't reach their peace.

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