What the theorist has to say here is this: one must keep the dominant characteristic of both belligerents in mind. Out of these characteristics a certain center of gravity develops, the hub of all power and movement, on which everything depends. That is the point against which all our energies should be directed... If the enemy is thrown off balance, he must not be given time to recover. Blow after blow must be aimed in the same direction: the victor, in other words, must strike with all his strength and not just against a fraction of the enemy's. [Only] ... by constantly seeking out the center of his power, by daring all to win all, will one really defeat the enemy.
For Alexander, Gustavus Adolphus, Charles XII, and Frederick the Great, the center of gravity was their army. If the army had been destroyed, they would all have gone down in history as failures.
Our position, then, is that a theater of war, be it large or small, and the forces stationed there, no matter what their size, represent the sort of unity in which a single center of gravity can be identified. That is the place where the decision should be reached; a victory at that point is in its fullest sense identical with the defense of the theater of operations.
In countries subject to domestic strife... the center of gravity is generally the capital... [and] 2. [The] seizure of his capital if it is not only the center of administration but also that of social, professional, and political activity.
In small countries that rely on large ones, it [the center of gravity] is usually the army of their protector. Among alliances, it lies in the community of interest... As a principle... if you can vanquish all your enemies by defeating one of them, that defeat must be the main objective in the war. In this one enemy we strike at the center of gravity of the entire conflict.
3. Delivery of an effective blow against his principal ally if that ally is more powerful than he.
One country may support another's cause, but will never take it so seriously as it takes its own. A moderately-sized force will be sent to its help; but if things go wrong, the operation is pretty well written off, and one tries to withdraw at the smallest possible cost.
There is a decided difference between the cohesion of a single army led into battle under the personal command of a single general, and that of an allied force extending over 250 or 500 miles, or even operating against different fronts. In the one, cohesion is at its strongest and unity at its closest. In the other, unity is remote, frequently found only in mutual political interests, and even then rather precarious and imperfect; cohesion between the parts will usually be very loose, and often completely fictitious.
In the defensive, the objective point, instead of being that which it is desirable to gain possession ot; is that which is to be defended. The capital, being considered the seat of power becomes the principal objective point of the defense.
This employment of the forces should be regulated by two fundamental principles: the first being, to obtain by free and rapid movements the advantage of bringing the mass of the troops against fractions of the enemy; the second, to strike in the most decisive direction, that is to say, in that direction where the consequences of his defeat may be most disastrous to the enemy, while at the same time his success would yield him no great advantages. The whole science of great military combinations is comprised in these two fundamental truths.
Strategy, besides indicating the decisive points of a theater of war, requires two things: 1st, that the principal mass of the force be moved against fractions of the enemy's, to attack them in succession; 2nd, that the best direction of movement be adopted, that is to say, one leading straight to the decisive points already known.
As to the objective points of maneuvers - that is, those which relate particularly to the destruction or decomposition of the hostile forces... this was the most conspicuous merit of Napoleon... He was convinced that the best means of accomplishing great results was to dislodge and destroy the hostile army, since states and provinces fall of themselves when there is no organized force to protect them... Where a party has the means of achieving great success by incurring great dangers, he may attempt the destruction of the hostile army, as did Napoleon .
All capitals are strategic points, for the double reason that they are not only centers of communications, but also the seats of power and government.
In strategy, the object of the campaign determines the objective point. If this aim be offensive, the point will be the possession of the hostile capital, or that of a province whose loss would compel the enemy to make peace. In a war of invasion the capital is, ordinarily, the objective point.
The greatest talent of a general, and the surest hope of success, lie in some degree in the good choice of these points [i.e. objective points and decisive strategic points].
Thus, what is of supreme importance in war is to attack the enemy's strategy.
[Li Ch'uan] ... The supreme excellence in war is to attack the enemy's plans. All the generals said: This is beyond our comprehension.