Quotes by Famous Strategic Thinkers

Speed & Numerical Superiority

The decision can never be reached too soon to suit the winner or delayed long enough to suit the loser .

Clausewitz, On War

The second principle is the rapid use of our forces. Any unnecessary expenditure of time, every unnecessary detour, is a waste of strength and thus abhorrent to strategic thought. It is still more important to remember that almost the only advantage of the attack rests on its initial surprise. Speed and impetus are its strongest elements and are usually indispensable if we are to defeat the enemy. Thus theory demands the shortest roads to the goal.

Clausewitz, On War

The destruction of the army is the key to his defeat.

Clausewitz, On War

The immediate object of an attack is victory.

Clausewitz, On War

We do claim, however, that the direct annihilation of the enemy's forces must always be the dominant consideration.

Clausewitz, On War

In tactics as in strategy, superiority of numbers is the most common element in victory.

Clausewitz, On War

Superiority of numbers admittedly is the most important factor in the outcome of an engagement... It thus follows that as many troops as possible should be brought into the engagement at the decisive point... This is the first principle of strategy.

Clausewitz, On War

The first rule, therefore, should be: put the largest possible army into the field. This may sound a platitude but i reality it is not.

Clausewitz, On War

The best strategy is always to be very strong: first in general and then at the decisive point... There is no higher and simpler law of strategy than that of keeping one's forces concentrated.

Clausewitz, On War

Since in strategy casualties do not increase with the size of the forces used, and may even be reduced, and since obviously greater force is more likely to lead to success , it naturally follows that we can never use too great a force, and further, that all available force must be used simultaneously.

Clausewitz, On War

An impartial student of modern war must admit that superior numbers are becoming more decisive with each passing day. The principle of bringing the maximum possible strength to the decisive engagement must therefore rank rather higher than it did in the past.

Clausewitz, On War

In a minor engagement it is not too difficult to judge approximately how much force is needed to achieve substantial success, and what would be superfluous. In strategy, this is practically impossible, because strategic success cannot be defined and delineated with the same precision.

Clausewitz, On War

Consequently, the forces available must be employed with such skill that even in the absence of absolute superiority, relative superiority is attained at the decisive point.

Clausewitz, On War

We repeat then that the defense is the stronger form of war, the one that makes the enemy's defeat more certain.

Clausewitz, On War

If defense is the stronger form of war, yet has a negative object, it follows that it should be used only so long as weakness compels, and be abandoned as soon as we are strong enough to pursue a positive object. When one has used defensive measures successfully, a more favorable balance of strength is usually created; thus, the natural course in war is to begin defensively and end by attacking. It would therefore contradict the very idea of war to regard defense as its final purpose...

Clausewitz, On War

A sudden powerful transition to the offensive - the flashing sword of vengeance - is the greatest moment for the defense.

Clausewitz, On War

So long as the defender's strength increases every day while the attacker's diminishes, the absence of decision is in the former's best interest; but if only because the effects of the general losses to which the defender has continually exposed himself are finally catching up with him, the point of culmination will necessarily be reached when the defender must make up his mind and act, when the advantages of waiting have been completely exhausted.

Clausewitz, On War

Superior numbers, far from contributing everything, or even a substantial part, to victory, may actually be contributing very little, depending on the circumstances.

Clausewitz, On War

It would be seriously misunderstanding our argument to consider numerical superiority as indispensable to victory; we merely wished to stress the relative importance.

Clausewitz, On War

To accept superiority of numbers as the one and only rule, and to reduce the whole secret of the art of war to the formula of numerical superiority at a certain time in a certain place was an oversimplification that would not have stood up for a moment against the realities of life.

Clausewitz, On War

If you want to overcome your enemy you must match your effort against his power of resistance, which can be expressed as the product of two inseparable factors, viz., the total means at his disposal and the strength of his will. The extent of the means at his disposal is a matter - though not exclusively - of figures, and should be measurable. But the strength of his will is much less easy to determine and can only be gauged approximately by the strength of the motive animating it.

Clausewitz, On War

Victory is the main object in war. If this is long delayed, weapons are blunted and morale depressed. When troops attack cities, their strength will be exhausted. ... Thus while we have heard of blundering swiftness in war, we have not yet seen a clever operation that was prolonged.

Sun Tzu, The Art of War

When you see the correct course, act,. do not wait for orders.

Sun Tzu, The Art of War

Therefore at first be shy as a maiden. When the enemy gives you an opening be swift as a hare and he will be unable to withstand you.

Sun Tzu, The Art of War

If I am able to determine the enemy's dispositions while at the same time I conceal my own, then I can concentrate and he must divide. And if I concentrate while he divides, I can use my entire strength to attack a fraction of his. There, I will be numerically superior. Then if I am able to use many to strike few at the selected point, those I deal with will be in dire straits.

Sun Tzu, The Art of War

Consequently, the art of using troops is this:
When ten to the enemy's one, surround him...
When five times his strength, attack him...
If double his strength, divide him...
If equally matched, you may engage him...
If weaker numerically, be capable of withdrawing...

Sun Tzu, The Art of War

Other conditions being equal, if a force attacks one ten times its size, the result is flight.

Sun Tzu, The Art of War

Invincibility lies in the defence: the possibility ofvictory in the attack. One defends when his strength is inadequate; he attacks when it is abundant.

Sun Tzu, The Art of War

In war, numbers alone confer no advantage. Do not advance relying on sheer military power.

Sun Tzu, The Art of War

There are circumstances in war when many cannot attack few, and others when the weak can master the strong. One able to manipulate such circumstances will be victorious.

Sun Tzu, The Art of War

The aspiration 'to wipe out the enemy before breakfast' is admirable, but it is a bad way to make concrete plans to do so.

Mao Tse-tung, Selected Military Writings

Quick decision is sought in campaigns and battles, and this is true at all times and in all countries. In a war as a whole, too. quick decision is sought at all times and in all countries, and a long drawn-out war is considered harmful.

Mao Tse-tung, Selected Military Writings

2. Principle of War: To maneuver to engage fractions of the hostile army with the bulk of one's forces.

Jomini, The Art of War