Ending war through politics?

Balancing the civil-military relationship requires an institutional framework for joint policymaking and discussion


Muhammad Ali Ehsan February 16, 2018
The writer is a retired lieutenant colonel of the Pakistan Army and a PhD in civil-military relations

If war, as defined by Carl von Clausewitz, is an ‘extended duel’ then must this duel continue with no end in sight? He also says that ‘it is the policy that creates war’ and war never arises out of nowhere but from a broad political situation, the creators of which are the policymakers themselves. Terming state policy the ‘womb in which war develops’, Clausewitz finds no war ever taking place without its political utility having been determined first. But it’s not the initiation of war but its termination that actually is the great worry of this country which has been fighting this irregular war now for a very long time.

The question that I ask is ‘what becomes of war when it is driven beyond the point of its political utility?’ Have we already surpassed that ‘political utility point’ in the (extended duel) irregular war that we fight? Obviously if we keep fighting we can just continue to keep fighting this war but why, when and how would it terminate? Or would it ever terminate — would it be the ultimate military victory or the end of ‘wars political utilisation’ that will determine its termination? Assuming that Pakistan’s tribal areas adjoining the western frontier have been cleared of ‘militants’, has the political utility of this war not reached its end point? If so, who should this war look up to — politics or the military to seek its end?

Clausewitz identified three sources of power which the world has since come to define as the great trinity — passion, probability and policy which are associated with people, military and government. It is when the policy (government) and the probability (military) stop communicating that a gap starts appearing in the bridge between desire (political end point) and possibility (military actions) which creates an imbalance in the Clausewitz propagated great trinity causing the national passion (the people) to suffer and with it suffers the very objective and purpose for which the war is being fought.

This tripartite concept of war if not conceptualised by politics (politicians) then the irregular war that we fight may spread and perpetuate aimlessly. Military victory in irregular war is only one contributor to a larger concept of success, others include strategic political guidance (or lack of it); the political and military application of all instruments of national power; development initiatives, including improving people’s economic, social and political character to acquire favourable local public opinion; rehabilitation of institutions including introduction of appropriate and suitable education system; introduction and integration of policies and programmes to open up political and social space; and most importantly strengthening the local capacities to eventually handle indigenously peace and security.

All the ‘post-war implementations’ are not military but political in nature, lack of implementing which diffuses the very purpose (political end) for which military force was originally intended and applied.

Politics sells the military mission to the public through political discourse during the war. Accomplishing that mission in a time-barred and space-bound environment remains the job of the military. Irregular war, unlike its regular variety, can only become an instrument of policy if the post-war implementation issues are fixed in time by the politics (government). In irregular warfare if the military’s extended stay and deployment in areas that it has cleared continues then that speaks of lack of a ‘transition strategy’ from the military to the civilian world the responsibility of which is again political.

Balancing the civil-military relationship requires an institutional framework for joint policymaking and discussion. Without the existence of the National Security Council as a policy discussing and policy formulating forum, we will remain as backward in policymaking as we are in practising and conducting politics. The unwillingness and inability of the political leadership to create a coherent platform of civil-military policy debate deprives the civilian leadership of benchmarking and retaining the ownership of a purposeful political end (stated objective) in this war that we fight, the course and character of which including the determination of appropriate moment to seek a negotiated solution must only be dictated by politics (politicians). If the political system is unable to crop up a civilian leadership that is not capable and able to ask the right as well as the most difficult questions to challenge the underlying assumptions from the military — policy (politics) will continue to believe only in the military value of military actions and not the political effect they create.

Utilisation of air power or bombing assets by the military to create a military mass effect of neutralising the enemy at multiple battle fronts in this war is militarily rewarding but does this defeat the enemy’s will and resolves to continue to fight on the political front?

Enhancing civilian leadership’s ability to understand irregular war as an art requires their frequent visits to the war fighting zones. The civilian leadership entrusted with the job of engaging with the military on policy formulating forums must also be exposed to acquiring strategic political and military insight by undergoing short familiarisation courses at National Defence University, Islamabad, where they must be broadly exposed to classical works as On War (Carl Von Clausewitz), Art of War (Sun Tzu), The Republic (Plato) and The Prince (Machiavelli). This will help elected leaders to develop the right perspective and thus enable them to conduct more informed political debate with the generals.

Selling the military mission to the public remains the job of the civilian leadership. Accomplishing that mission in a time-barred and space-bound environment remains the job of the military. Irregular war unlike the regular war can only become an effective instrument of policy if the post-war implementation issues are fixed by the politics (government). If not the military’s extended stay and deployment will continue with no end to war in sight. Irregular warfare has no front lines, it is not winnable in actual sense there never is a ‘mission accomplished’ moment but only the transition of military operations from military actions to law enforcement and eventual peace and reconciliation. There is no other purpose of war but to serve policy and when war is left unchecked by political reason and unguided by the policymakers even the victories on the battlefield become temporary tactical successes that mean little and are devoid of political purpose and end up not serving any political purpose but serving only itself.

Only politics can align the means and methods of war to achieve the political purpose? Fighting any war beyond its political utility is fighting war for only war’s sake which may never terminate. This is no strategy — in fact it is an indicator of absence of one.

Published in The Express Tribune, February 16th, 2018.

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