Thursday, July 21, 2011

Characteristics of War as a form of armed conflict

What are the distinctive characteristics of War as a form of Armed Conflict?

By Noel Whelan M.A Terrorism and security


This essay will identify the distinct characteristics of war as a form of Armed Conflict. Before we can identify the distinct characteristics of war as a form of armed conflict we must try and understand the definition of war in the first place as this will be the key to understanding And defining the distinctive characteristics i.e. the features typical of war as a form of Armed Conflict. I shall also address this question in relation to the home front and to conduct of Warfare with direct references to Historical events where I believe I can find clear parallels to reinforce my point.
War is the Absence of Peace if a country is not at Peace then it must be preparing or be engaged in Armed Conflict either external or Internal i.e. Civil War.
There are many different types of War but the characteristics are almost all the same historically. Whether it is defensive or Offensive War on Behalf of a Belligerent. The levels of effort, Imagination in Relation to techniques and Tactics and organising of resources. The development of new Weapons & technology to give a belligerent both a tactical& Strategic advantage. The people on the home front must be able to maintain Continual supplies of Water, Food, and Equipment to maintain its army in the Field converting from industrialisation to mass weapons and Equipment production so they can participate in armed conflict, with the intention of a Victorious outcome or just for survival.
In times of Peace all effort within a Society are poured into industry, Economy, Trade. Its place in the world in relation to relationships with its neighbours e.g. the transformation from peace to War is Like a Pendulum swinging from side to side on a clock in Society it swings Between Peace and War. When a threat is perceived by a Society or War is on the Horizon the Pendulum becomes stuck on the side of War. What it takes is great effort to prepare a society for armed conflict as a Way of settling a dispute between Belligerents. All effort is now transferred into a new way of thinking, acting, preparing and behaving to the backdrop of an emotional state of mind, which in itself acts as a great physical motivator. A belligerents Industry transfers from making saleable or domestic Goods for trade or domestic use and engaging in Agriculture to feed its Army and People to Producing Weapons as seen in the United States of Americas transformation to the War effort from Isolationist view to a complete change in Characteristic in World War Two or as according to Admiral Yamamoto of the Imperial; Japanese Navy in reference to Americas industrial and future military capability after the Successful attack on the American fleet at Pearl Harbour. (“I feel all we have done is awoken a sleeping Giant”)

According to Von Clausewitz (“War is nothing but a duel on an extensive scale if we conceive as a unit the countless number of duels which make up a war. War is therefore an act of violence intended to compel our opponent to fulfil our will”) we need to look at the huge level of effort both economically and physical Resources i.e. manpower involved as a distinct characteristic of war as part of armed conflict. We will also need to understand what Leads people to war before as this understanding is needed to appreciate the change of mindset in a society preparing for armed conflict we can define the distinctive characteristics of the affair. According to von Clausewitz ‘there are two as motives, which lead men to War. Instinctive hostilities & Hostile intention.’#
According to Henri de Jomini the art of War consists of six distinct parts. As Von Jomini was not particularly interested in the causation factors of War only in the Practise of War, however Jomini probably unknowing to himself described in his 6 distinct parts of War Some of the distinct characteristics of War as a form of Armed Conflict the Level of Preparation and effort a belligerent must undertake Prior, During and after armed Conflict.
1. Statesmanship in its relationship to war.
2. Strategy, or art of properly directing masses upon the theatre of war, either for defence or for Invasion
3. Grand Tactics
4. Logistics, or the art of moving armies.
5. Engineering, the attack and defence of fortifications.6.Minor Tactics. (The Art of War 1815, Greenhill 992:13)                         Other distinct characteristics and qualities which are absolutely required in People involved in the organisation or conduct of War Both Military and Civilian i.e. Leaders and followers and the particular qualities typical of an economy, Ideology and effectiveness of armed forces are effective Leadership

Effective Leadership: is a distinct Characteristic needed in War .The Political Leader as a Political Leader need not be an effective military leader e.g. President Roosevelt had no previous military experience however he still managed to rally his nation behind himself, and sometimes effective Peace Time Leaders may not Possess the Necessary Characteristics of a War time Leader and vice versa in the Case of Winston Churchill whom was replaced by the British Electorate after the Second World War.   Adolph Hitler affectingly known by his more conservative officers within the German high command as Corporal Hitler although with Hitler’s initial success as a Military planner in forcing his commanders to go around the Maginot Line rather than through it. Hitler did in turn become a great asset to the allies as the War progressed. Hitler had distinct War characteristics he was a great motivator and a very Powerful Orator by means of instilling fear, Paranoia and Illusions of Grandeur and the promise of a mighty Germany once again. He did manage to rally his people behind himself with his new Ideology, (National Socialism). Although he may not have had the full support of the Army. Hitler was very effective at rallying his nation to the colours and his Secret Police did the rest for him in maintaining the continued support of the less than enthusiastic citizens. So Adolph Hitler had distinct characteristics of a Leader more suitable for the climate of War but not for the conduct of War.
Another example of Effective Leadership is for a Leader to know when he / she are fighting a loosing battle. As a distinct characteristic of a War Leader involved in Armed Conflict, an example can be found in, General Friedrich Von Paulus of the German 6th Army during the Battle for Stalingrad was accused by some of his officers of being a fatalist during the Campaign .His characteristics as military Leader saved his men from complete Annihilation by refusing to obey Hitler’s orders and Surrendering. Rommel refused to waste any more of his Men’s Lives and withdrew his men from the African Campaign. These Men had strong Leadership Characteristics strong enough to override Military protocol when they had to and this was very fortunate for the soldiers whom were saved perhaps Adolph Hitler was the Fatalist in demanding his officers fight to the Last Man and no Surrendering. Field Marshall Montgomery s Plans for El-Alamain received Criticism prior to the Battle, But his Strong Characteristics and Certainty as a Strong War leader was greater than his Subordinates Uncertainty.  

Propaganda is an absolute characteristic of War: because motivation is needed to rally troops and the rest of society to the colours. As in French revolution en –masse levee all French men can be drafted as long as Frances borders are threatened ‘by 1793 the supply of volunteers had run out, so the Law of August 23rd decreed that from this day until that when our enemies have been chased off the territories of the republic, all Frenchmen are on permanent requisition for military service.’#
The Manchuria incident i.e. the creation of an incident by the Japanese railway troops so its government could go to the League of Nations saying this was an attack on Japanese Interests and in turn was an attack on Japan itself.
Lebensraum or Living space by.” The German Propaganda Machine informing the German people of the need for Living Space and to the armed forces of Germany if you must carry out atrocities against the Russians don’t worry about it they are just Under mention anyway (Subspecies) and these actions will be required of soldiers, again the same was happening with the Japanese Imperial Army in relation to the Chinese.

Collective Ideology creating the motivation to fight, stabilise Manpower, physical resources: This can be seen most vividly from old Posters from the first and Second world Wars showing the enemy of the country doing some atrocious deed. These posters became excellent recruitment tools for armed forces only in today’s Western societies does a Government make Military Life look Glamorous until a War starts .In The United states of America Uncle Sam needs you, again a very clever tool for creating a collective Ideology or buying War bonds to Support the War. Once the Manpower is in place i.e. the Military Leaders are in place to do the bidding of their political masters. The troops are in place stabilised and ready to be mobilised to conduct an offensive or defensive campaign as dictated by circumstances. All of this takes a huge amount of continues effort and is one of the main characteristics of War as a form of armed conflict. Creating a Collective ideology, which the masses will adhere to and remain motivated, are essential factors typically characteristic of War as a form of Armed Conflict.

A Strong Economy: As in most countries the domestic situation may dictate a countries foreign policy as in the case by re armament in Germany before world war two it created jobs and the German people accepted national Socialism & Militarism as a bi product of this new national Successful Ideology perhaps in the case of the German people it was a case of 10% of something is better than 100% of nothing.

Trained effective armed forces: to have effective leadership and effective fighting methods. Another main characteristic of War as form of armed conflict because without effective Leadership Politically and Professional Military Planners whom are trained in effective Tactics, Techniques & Strategy a Belligerent will be dependent on luck as its main tool in an armed conflict, Lock runs out sometime. All this training should really take place prior to any engagement or perceived threat as this seems to be the way in the 21st Centuary almost globally.

Ancient Rome the offensive defensive Wars.

The ancient Romans conducted War on it neighbours only initially to protect its own borders. Here is just another of the characteristics of War as A form of Armed Conflict. The Roman Army openly displaying it ability to pursue its Enemies simply with awe Inspiring feats of Engineering and Military Prowess initially to prevent Wars, Pre-emptive strikes and the removing of another potential Belligerents ability to wage War both now and in the future. We can see clear parallels in Gulf Wars 1 & 2 in dealing with a perceived threat against a Nation with as according to Von Clausewitz ‘Hostile Intention leads nations to War.’# The ability to carry out a pre- emptive strike is a distinct characteristic of War as form of armed Conflict, we have seen this many times in past conflicts and I wonder how long it will be before Israel strikes at the heart of Iran’s new nuclear capability.

Recruitment of Spies as the need for Intelligence and Counter Intelligence grows. Various other characteristics of War as a form of armed conflict, which develops In a War either prior to during and after a campaign, is over are Espionage, Sabotage, Subversion and Terrorism. Much of the ability of occupying or defending forces can only be effective in these activities by the Quality of the Intelligence they receive from Spies or Information cleaned by captured forces. According to Napoleon (“a Spy in the right place is worth 2000 men in the field”). Adolph Hitler prior to the Second World War was able to make a comparison on the numbers of his Aircraft to that of the Royal Air Force, where did he get this Information which allowed him to work towards parity with the Royal Air force have. Spies as for example the red orchestra which had kept Stalin informed of Hitler’s hostile intention which of course brings us back to von Jomini and the reasons why people go to war in the first place. However this may have been the case in the time of the Napoleonic wars. But the characteristics have not really changed since then. For example the current International War on Terrorism the need for advanced & real-time reliable Information is even greater than ever before. When a country is preparing itself for War or is preparing for defence Intelligence is key to a successful outcome or survival of a Nation, this can be defined as a major characteristic of War as a form of armed conflict.

The opening question of this essay asked what are the distinct characteristics of War as a form of armed conflict. I addressed this question with relation to the home front of a belligerent nation and to the effort needed during the conduct of War either offensive or defensive. Historical events were referenced where clear parallels were used to reinforce my point. According to the Ancient Greeks peace was nothing but an Interruption of War ”Always existing by Nature between every Greek City-State” so said (Plato) of War Most Greeks agreed: War was about the most Important thing we Humans do.
This historical statement goes a long way to understanding the inner psychology and inner working of a civilisation in relation to the preparation and conduct of War .The Technology involved in War has evolved with the Involvement of Science in Weapons development. However some characteristics never change, for example a civilisation must maintain itself in a constant state of preparedness, or in a state of War. This civilisation must maintain the ability to continually defend itself and exploit an enemy when an opportunity presents itself.  

In the 21st Century with the invention of modern equipment i.e. Weapons of mass destruction, Highly advanced conventional Weapons such as Aircraft, Satellite Surveillance Cruise Missiles with the ability to knock out an enemies capability to command and control its forces without having to commit large forces to an engagement has had an Imp active effect on the distinct characteristics of War Leading up to the 21st Century. Before this age of New and ultra modern Weaponry Wars lasted for long periods of time e.g. The Roman system of campaigning by the season and resting the troops for the Winter months or Entrenchment for 4 years on the western front of World War 1.One of the Major characteristics Which has changed as a consequence of these new developments in Weaponry is that large man power resources are no longer required for the conduct of Warfare however as in the case of the French Revolutionary War, nobody can say that en-masse levee did not work. As the reader will see that in Warfare there are distinct characteristics as a form of armed conflict, however many of these characteristics never change as to why and how Belligerents go to and conduct war. What has changed over time is the level of National effort, Commitment of manpower and other resources.  


The Art of War, Baron Antoine Henri de Jomini, Greenhill Military Books London 1992.

Carl Von Clausewitz, On War, (1982) penguin Classics (London, England)

Michael Howard, (2001) War in European History, Oxford University Press (Clarendon street Oxford, England)

Adrian Goldsworthy, (2000) Roman Warfare, (London Wellington House)

Victor Davis Hanson (1999) the Wars of the Ancient Greeks (London Wellington House)

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