Quotes by Famous Strategic Thinkers

The Primacy of Politics

The aim of policy is to unify and reconcile all aspects of internal administration as well as of spiritual values... Policy of course is nothing in itself; it is simply the trustee for all these interests against other states... In no sense can the art of war ever be regarded as the preceptor of policy... We can only treat policy as representative of all interests of the community.

Clausewitz, On War

No major proposal required for war can be worked out of ignorance of political factors; and when people talk, as they often do, about harmful political influence on the management of war, they are not really saying what they mean. Their quarrel should be with the policy itself not with its influence.

Clausewitz, On War

War is no pastime; it is no mere joy in daring and winning, no place for irresponsible enthusiasts. It is a serious means to a serious end...

Clausewitz, On War

When whole communities go to war - whole peoples, and especially civilized peoples - the reason always lies in some political situation, and the occasion is always due to some political object. War, therefore, is an act of policy ... Policy ... will permeate all military operations, and, in so far as their violent nature will admit, it will have a continuous influence on them... War is not a mere act of policy but a true political instrument, a continuation of political activity by other means... The political object is the goal, war is the means of reaching it, and means can never be Considered in isolation from their purpose.

Clausewitz, On War

Politics... is the womb in which war develops - where its outlines already exist in their hidden rudimentary form, like the characteristics of living creatures in their embryos.

Clausewitz, On War

War is only a branch of political activity, that... is in no sense autonomous... The only source of war is politics the intercourse of governments and peoples...

Clausewitz, On War

War cannot be divorced from political life; and whenever this occurs in our thinking about war, the many links that connect the two elements are destroyed and we are left with something pointless and devoid of sense.

Clausewitz, On War

At the highest level the art of war turns into policy - but a policy conducted by fighting battles rather than by sending diplomatic notes... No other possibility exists, then, than to subordinate the military point of view to the political. We can now see that the assertion that a major military development, or a plan for one, should be a matter for purely military opinion is unacceptable and can be damaging.

Clausewitz, On War

War in general, and the commander in any specific instance, is entitled to require that the trend and designs of policy shall not be inconsistent with these means. That, of course, is no small demand; but however much it may affect political aims in a given case, it will never do more than modify them.

Clausewitz, On War

Policy, of course, will not extend its influence to operational details. Political considerations do not determine the posting of guards or the employment of patrols. But they are more influential in the planning of war, of the campaign, and often of the battle.

Clausewitz, On War

Only if statesmen look to certain military moves and actions to produce effects that are foreign to their nature do political decisions influence operations for the worse. In the same way as a man who has not fully mastered a foreign language sometimes fails to express himself correctly, so statesmen often issue orders that defeat the purpose they are meant to serve. Time and again that has happened, which demonstrates that a certain grasp of military affairs is vital for those in charge of general policy.

Clausewitz, On War

Where the tactical results of the engagements are assumed to be the basis of all strategic plans, it is always possible, and a serious risk, that the attacker will proceed on that basis. He will endeavor above all to be tactically superior , in order to upset the enemy's strategic planning. The latter, therefore, can never be considered as something independent: it can only become valid when one has reason to be confident of tactical success. To illustrate briefly what we mean, let us recall that a general such as Bonaparte could ruthlessly cut through all his enemies' strategic plans in search of battle, because he seldom doubted the battle's outcome. So whenever the strategists did not endeavor with all their might to crush him in battle with superior force, whenever they engaged in subtler (and weaker) machinations, their schemes were swept away like cobwebs... Bonaparte was well aware that everything turned on tactical results... That is why we think it is useful to emphasize that all strategic planning rests on tactical success alone and that - whether the solution is arrived at in battle or not - this is in all cases the actual fundamental basis for the decision.

Clausewitz, On War

A general whose genius and hands are tied by an Aulic Council five hundred miles distant cannot be a match for one who has liberty of action, other things being equal.

Jomini, The Art of War

... interfered with and opposed in all his enterprises [he] will be unable to achieve success, even if he have the requisite ability. It may be said that a sovereign might accompany the army and not interfere with his general, but, on the contrary, aid him with all the weight of his influence.

Jomini, The Art of War

In my opinion, councils of war are a deplorable resource, and can be useful only when concurring in opinion with the commander, in which case they may give him more confidence in his own judgment, and, in addition, may assure him that his lieutenants, being of his opinion, will use every means to insure the success of the movement. This is the only advantage of a council of war, which, moreover should be simply consultative and have no further authority; but if, instead of this harmony, there should be difference of opinion, it can only produce unfortunate results.

Jomini, The Art of War

War is a matter of vital importance to the State; the province of life and death; the road to survival or ruin. It is mandatory that it be thoroughly studied.

Sun Tzu, The Art of War

If not in the interests of the state, do not act. If you cannot succeed, do not use troops. If you are not in danger, do not fight.

Sun Tzu, The Art of War

A sovereign cannot raise an army because he is enraged, nor can a general fight because he is resentful. For while an angered man may again be happy, and a resentful man again be pleased, a state that has perished cannot be restored, nor can the dead be brought back to life.

Sun Tzu, The Art of War

Therefore, the enlightened ruler is prudent and the good generaI is warned against rash action. Thus the state is kept secure and the army preserved.

Sun Tzu, The Art of War

... The general who understands war is the Minister of the people's fate and arbiter of the nation's destiny.

Sun Tzu, The Art of War

And therefore it is said that enlightened rulers deliberate upon the plans, and good generals execute them.

Sun Tzu, The Art of War

Normally, when the army is employed, the general first receives his command, from the sovereign ... He receives the sovereign's mandate and in compliance with the victorious deliberations of the temple councils reverently executes the punishments ordained by Heaven.

Sun Tzu, The Art of War

If a general who heeds my strategy is employed he is certain to win. Retain him! When one who refuses to listen to my strategy is employed, he is certain to be defeated. Dismiss him!

Sun Tzu, The Art of War

And therefore the general who in advancing does not seek personal fame, and in withdrawing is not concerned with avoiding punishment, but whose only purpose is to protect the people and promote the best interests o.f his sovereign, is the precious jewel of the state... [Tu Mu] ... Few such are to be had.

Sun Tzu, The Art of War

[Chia Lin] No evil is greater than commands of the sovereign from the court.

Sun Tzu, The Art of War

He whose generals are able and not interfered with by the sovereign will be victorious.

Sun Tzu, The Art of War

[Tu Yu] To make appointments is the province of the Sovereign, to decide on battle, that of the general.

Sun Tzu, The Art of War

[Ho Yen-hsi] To say that the general must await the commands of the sovereign in such circumstances is like informing a superior that you wish to put out a fire. Before the order to do so arrives, the ashes are cold.

[Ho Yen-hsi] To put a rein on an able general while at the same time asking him to suppress a cunning enemy is like tying up the Black Hound of Han and then ordering him to catch elusive hares.

Sun Tzu, The Art of War

There are occasions when the commands of the sovereign need not be obeyed.

[Ts'ao Ts'ao] When it is expedient in operations the general need not be restricted by the commands of the sovereign. When you see the correct course, act, do not wait for orders.

[Chia Lin] ... a general prizes opportune changes in circumstances. The orders of a sovereign, although they should be followed, are not to be followed if the general knows they contain the danger of harmful superintendence of affairs from the capital.

Sun Tzu, The Art of War

If the situation is one of victory but the sovereign has issued orders not to engage, the general may decide to fight. If the situahon is such that he cannot win, but the sovereign has issued orders to engage, he need not do so.

Sun Tzu, The Art of War

Since ancient times there has never been a war that did not have a political character... war cannot for a single moment be separated from politics.

Mao Tse-tung, On Protracted War

The authority of Rome's field commanders... was of the most unlimited character, so that the Senate reserved to itself no other power than that of declaring of new wars and ratifying treaties of peace, all other matters being remitted to the arbitrament and power of the consul... All the details of the campaign were left to the discretion and authority of the consul, who could bring on a battle or not, and lay siege to this or that place, as seemed to him proper... It was eminently wise... for although there were many of the senators who had great experience in war, yet not being on the spot, and not knowing the endless particulars which it is necessary to know to counsel wisely, they would have been liable to commit the most serious errors in attempting to instruct the consul.

Machiavelli, Discourses

When these indolent princes or effeminate republics send a general with an army into the field, the wisest order they think they can give him is never to risk a battle and above all things to avoid a general action... Such orders as much as say to him, 'Give battle at your enemy's convenience but not at your own. ,

Machiavelli, Discourses