Skip to comments.CLAUSEWITZ’S CENTER OF GRAVITY [It’s Not What We Thought]
Posted on 02/01/2003 6:25:14 PM PST by VaBthang4
CLAUSEWITZS CENTER OF GRAVITY [Its Not What We Thought]
Over the last two decades, the U.S. military has struggled to understand the center of gravity concept as developed by Carl von Clausewitz and to find practical ways to apply it. In the process, however, each of the servicesshaped as they are by different roles, histories, and traditionshas brought individual perspectives to Clausewitzs expression and redefined it in its respective image.
Thus, the U.S. Marine Corps, a relatively small force designed more for winning battles than fighting campaigns or wars, prefers to strike at enemy weaknesses. Accordingly, it initially equated enemy centers of gravity (CoGs) with key vulnerabilities. Recently, however, Marine Corps doctrine has distinguished between CoGs and critical vulnerabilities, considering them different but complementary concepts; CoGs, for the Marines, are now any important sources of strength.1
By comparison, the U.S. Air Force, which takes a targeting approach to warfare, sees centers of gravity as multiple strategic and operational critical points that it can attack with its bombing assets. Airpower theorists like John Warden, with his notion of concentric rings, have in fact identified so many CoGs as to reduce the concept to absurdity.2
In contrast, the U.S. Army, which has the role of fighting campaigns and winning wars, sees the enemys center of gravity as his source of strength.3 Accordingly, the Army tends to look for a single center of gravity, normally in the principal capability that stands in the way of the accomplishment of its own mission. In short, the Army considers a friendly CoG as that elementa characteristic, capability, or localitythat enables ones own or allied forces to accomplish their objectives. Conversely, an opponents CoG is that element that prevents friendly forces from accomplishing their objectives.
Likewise, the U.S. Navy, as Americas force for winning maritime wars, has a center-of-gravity concept that resembles that of the Army and the Marines. Like the Army, the Navys doctrine states that a center of gravity is something the enemy must have to continue military operationsa source of his strength, but not necessarily strong or a strength in itself. There can only be one center of gravity.4 Like the Marine Corps, the service it supports most, the Navy has made the linkage between CoGs and vulnerabilities more explicit.5
Recently the Joint Staffs Doctrine for Joint Operations (Joint Publication 3-0) attemptedwith only limited successto pull these various perspectives together into a single definition. Joint doctrine currently asserts that the essence of the operational arta term that Clausewitz would not have usedrests in being able to mass effects against the enemys sources of power, or centers of gravity, to gain a decisive advantage.6 The Joint Staff now defines centers of gravity as those characteristics, capabilities, or locations from which a military force derives its freedom of action, physical strength, or will to fight.7 At the strategic level, they can include a military force, an alliance, national will or public support, a set of critical capabilities or functions, or national strategy itself. At the operational level, they are generally the principal sources of combat powersuch as combat forces that are modern, mobile, or armoredthat can ensure, or prevent, accomplishment of the mission. At its core, this definition is capabilities based, despite the presence of terms such as national will and public support. On this view, all elementswhether leadership, national will, or public opiniontend to flow from an opponents capability to resist.
However, this capabilities-based definition differs substantially from Clausewitzs own concept, which is effects based. To be sure, the U.S. military is under no obligation to accept a concept developed nearly two centuries ago by a military theorist who was influenced by a long-disappeared cultural environment and used conceptual tools quite different from those available today. Yet each of the services believes that its definition of the center of gravity derives from Clausewitzs. Presumably the original concept had some special value that attracted each of the services in the first place. That fascination is not misplaced; the concept does have value. Unfortunately, the U.S. militarys misinterpretations of Clausewitzs original idea have obscured it.
CLAUSEWITZS CENTER OF GRAVITY
The quintessential cerebral savage, Clausewitz borrowed a number of intellectual constructs, theories, and concepts from the leading philosophers, scientists, and other thinkers of his day in order to understand and describe what he observed as the various aspects of war.8 Several of his conceptsfriction, polarity, and center of gravityare analogies or metaphors drawn from the mechanical sciences (todays physics). In particular, the original German text of Vom Kriege (On War) reveals that Clausewitz used the center-of-gravity metaphorexpressed primarily as Schwerpunkt (center of gravity, or main point)more than fifty times.9 He appears to have derived his military concept of a center of gravity after hearing a series of lectures by the German physicist Paul Erman, a professor at the University of Berlin and the Prussian Allgemeine Kriegsschule (war college). Clausewitz served as director of the war college from 1818 to 1830; he and Erman knew each other cordially.10
Clausewitzs use of the center of gravity in On War remains essentially consistent with the concepts representation in the mechanical sciences. Most English-language sources that cite his definition of a center of gravity draw primarily from one of two passagespages 48586 in Book VI (Defense), or pages 59596 in Book VIII (War Plans), from the translation of On War by Sir Michael Howard and Peter Paret. Unfortunately, that translation, while perhaps the best available, is somewhat misleading. For one thing, it strips away the physics metaphors that Clausewitz used to describe his military concept, metaphors essential to understanding his basic idea. Furthermore, it creates the false impression that centers of gravity derive from sources of strength, or that they are themselves strengths. Clausewitz never used the word source (Quelle) in this connection, and he never directly equated the center of gravity to a strength or source of strength. Finally, the Howard-Paret translation makes Clausewitzs concept appear static, bereft of the intrinsic dynamism he appears to have envisioned.
This article will offer alternative translations of select passages that come closer to Clausewitzs original sense:
It is against that part of the enemys forces where they are most concentrated that, if a blow were to occur, the effect would emanate the furthest; furthermore, the greater the mass our own forces possess when they deliver the blow, the more certain we can be of the blows success. This simple logic brings us to an analogy that enables us to grasp the idea more clearly, namely, the nature and effect of a center of gravity in the mechanical sciences.
(Excerpt) Read more at nwc.navy.mil ...
Naval War College Review, Winter 2003, Vol. LVI, No. 1
This article will offer alternative translations of select passages that come closer to Clausewitz?s original sense:This article would make more sense if our enemies were all balanced on highwires. Or if they were ducks, i.e. poorly armed ducks with balance issues.
I, personally, had always thought that the 'center of gravity' concept meant, 'lynchpin' or 'keystone', in other words, the enemy's 'center of gravity' is that place in which a single blow would most damage their ability to wage war. The 'primary target', so to speak.
The marines have it closest to right, I think, in that they are focused on striking a blow at the enemy's weakness. The weakness that would cause the most havoc if defeated is the enemy's 'CoG'.
CoG is a combination of 'vulnerability' and 'value to the enemy', in other words.
The Civil War is an interesting application of this theory. Lincoln realized early on that the Southerner's ability to field an army was their COG. That's why he was so apt to fire commanders who were less than aggressive. Meade's failure to pursue the Army of Northern VA after Gettysburg was an example of a commander that failed to recognize the Southern cause was doomed without a viable army. Lee perceived the Norhern COG was their sense of security. That's why the operations around the capital.
With Sherman and Grant, you had 2 commanders who appreciated the role the Rebel Army played in continuing the resistance. Sherman went after the means to resupply it. Grant went after it specifically. Against Grant, it was only a matter of time.
The Cold War is another interesting example I can think of. It took years for an administration to realize that the Soviet's COG was not necessarily their Military arsenal but their means to field it. Reagan's firm stand put the Soviets in a vicious circle where they could not economically keep up.
I think the Gulf War II will not be limited in that the objective properly defined will be the elimination of the Iraqi Ba'athi regime. What is Hussein's COG? I think it's the terror he holds over his own people. Once he is perceived as powerless (The key word is perception) you may have a critical bulk of the Iraqi people and Army who percieve it will be better to put their chips with the US led coalition than Sadaam's institution of terror.
I the CoG is Saudi money, then the Critical Vulnerability the West's tolerance for the Hause of Saud.
Centers of gravity are less single things than constellations of things that support an enemy's ability to wage war. Sometimes they work as you describe; other times, they are not anything you can strike at (for many possible reasons.
In the case of Islamic terrorism, it lies in the ability of religious fundamentalists to recruit young men and maintain their loyalty, even to committing suicide for the cause.
Disclaimer: Opinions posted on Free Republic are those of the individual posters and do not necessarily represent the opinion of Free Republic or its management. All materials posted herein are protected by copyright law and the exemption for fair use of copyrighted works.