War Never Changes: An Alternative Practical Model Of War – Analysis


By Ryan Kastrukoff*


In his treatise On War, penned in the early-19th Century, the Prussian general and military theorist Carl von Clausewitz commented that the “…degree of force that must be used against the enemy depends on the scale of political demands on either side.”1 This underpins the theory that will be advanced herein. Each belligerent in war exerts themselves to a degree and in a manner defined by their intentions. Furthermore, the motivations that have the greatest effect are those of the soldiers and populace that are called upon to support the war. These motivations can be categorized and placed upon a spectrum, and they define the level of exertion the belligerent is willing to undertake. War never changes because what motivates people to wage war does not change. By understanding these motivations, we can determine the leverage points required to cease hostilities sooner, and in so doing, hopefully reduce the negative consequences of war.

The contemporary spectrum of war keeps changing seemingly with each new conflict, creating new terms to define itself, including gray zone, ambiguous, irregular, hybrid, limited- conventional, and theatre-conventional, among others.2 In 2006, the Oxford historian Hew Strachan asked:

If we are to identify whether war is changing, and – if it is – how those changes affect international relations, we need to know first what war is. One of the central challenges confronting international relations today is that we do not really know what a war is and what it is not. The consequences of our confusion would seem absurd, were they not so profoundly dangerous.3

This article proposes a spectrum of war with three categories of war that can be validated with reference to all military history. The key shift from previous spectrums is defining war not in terms of how it is fought as the current military strategic culture espouses, but instead, by defining war in terms of why it is fought. The ultimate intent of the theory is to provide predictions and directions to those prosecuting current and future wars.

The first category is national resource-driven war common to Imperial expansion efforts placed on the far left of the spectrum (see Figure 1). The second category is placed at the far right of the spectrum and follows an existential mandate to destroy or enslave outsiders, and it is common to ideological, religious, and cultural wars. The third category connects the two extremes, and is a personal resource-driven war common to wars of independence and class. This article will define each category, then will clarify how the categories connect and interact. Finally, an example and some predictions are made with respect to current conflicts.

National Resource War (Military War)

This is conventional war. One state starts a war with another state by a declaration in words or actions. The goal of National Resource Wars is to create a new resource balance. The podcasting historian Mike Duncan highlights how the Roman Empire,4 the Spanish Conquistadors, and other empires have historically expanded with force to control new resources.5

Throughout this category, nations will take as many resources as possible. Extended hostilities however do not profit the state. The ancient strategist Sun Tzu noted: “…there is no instance of a country having benefited from prolonged warfare.”6 Quickly completed wars of conquest can be worth the risk and many rising empires have used this type of war to great economic effect.7 Ultimately, this war will end once a new profit balance has been struck, for better or for worse. As the conflict progresses, the negative economic effects increase quickly and tend to pressure engaged governments for a resolution. Eventually, both sides will have to acknowledge the unprofitability of further conflict, and peace can be struck. The ‘shock and awe’ strategy has value here as it highlights the likelihood of an unprofitable outcome, which may decide the fight itself is unprofitable.

Once these conflicts end, stability between belligerents can be improved by increasing the economic ties between them. Post-Second World War US-Japan relations, and the European Union, both followed this model, ultimately decreasing the likelihood of hostilities, due to the significant economic ties that now bind them.

Each individual soldier in these wars has a minimal level of personal engagement. The soldiers are professionals and their key motivators are the avoidance of death and the acquisition of personal capital in the form of fame, rank, or perhaps, loot. In their more extreme versions, these conflicts use paid mercenaries. Not all soldiers in any conflict have the same motivation. Herein, we are looking at the average motivation of the group. These motivations become most apparent when the army is wet and cold, or when there is insufficient food or pay for extended periods.

In these conflicts, classic manoeuvre warfare is valid, and technology provides force multipliers. These are the conflicts that national militaries are designed to fight. The mindset and processes of militaries have developed over centuries to win these conflicts by parsing war as a matter of attacking and holding ground. It is similar to a game of capture the flag, where once one side has captured the flag, both sides acknowledge that the game is over. This is the type of war that Clausewitz described,8 and for this type of war, his insights have great value. Because these wars are the reason standing militaries were created, we can also categorize them as Military Wars. Since the close of hostilities in the First World War, international conflicts have been farther right on the spectrum than Military Wars.

Cultural War

Next, we will ‘jump to the opposite end of the spectrum.’ Merriam-Webster defines culture as the customary beliefs, social forms, and material traits of a group.9 Our definition therefore includes national, religious, tribal, and other ideologically-defined groups that are at war.

Cultural Wars are the most dangerous type of conflict as they can abandon self-interest. In contrast, Military Wars can literally become a quantitative calculation; a formula that highlights when a war is no longer worth fighting, and a peace is the economical, logical, and best solution for all. Military Wars are a negative-sum game when protracted, but in short bursts, they approach zero-sum. In contrast, Cultural Wars are wars of atrocity. They are, in their extreme, wars of genocide and the only quantitative ‘victory’ is when the opposing belligerent is completely wiped out. This is at least an order of magnitude more than the negative-sum game, and it never approaches zero-sum. Extreme Cultural Wars can, over time, entangle the entire population as combatants, since one side is willing to wipe out the majority of their own side to ensure the other side loses more. This is the anti-logic conflict where one cannot plan for the adversary to make moves in their best interest. This is the conflict of the suicide bomber and the slaughter of non-combatants. Fortunately, there remains an element of predictability, albeit irrational, once motivations are known.

Cultural Wars start with personal ambition, but to gain ‘buy-in’ from the populace, the movement is attached to perceived oppression or historical slight. Unfortunately, the number of people capable of starting a Cultural War is vastly larger than the number of people that can start a Military War. Heads of State, or those with significant political power can push a nation into a Military War. However, anyone with enough charisma, regardless of social position, can start a Cultural War. These wars are based upon the worst aspects of humanity, and they drive people to turn their fear, shame, despair, and all manner of negative emotions into action. ‘Us’ versus ‘Them’… What defines ‘Us’ and what defines ‘Them’ changes as required for the purposes of the sect leaders. Nazis, ISIL, Crusaders, and participants in countless other conflicts were due to the extreme conception of ‘Us’ versus ‘Them.’ These wars are not new, and they are a barometer of the feelings of a public. A downtrodden population is more likely to find solace in a strong group, where they are the ‘Us,’ and there is a definite ‘Them’ to blame for all hardships.

A Military War can devolve into a Cultural War. The oft-quoted political theorist Niccolo Machiavelli noted that: “…however strong you may be in respect of your army, it is essential that in entering a new Province you should have the good will of its inhabitants.”10 When this is the case, a Military War can end and everyone can move on. If, however, a conquering army cannot maintain the good will of its new inhabitants, the necessary negative conditions can develop to produce cultural rifts. If we assume that the First World War was a Military War, then post-war Germany included enough hardship to allow a few charismatic leaders to use the old cultural divisions to start a predominantly Cultural War shortly thereafter. The motivation of the individual soldier in Cultural Wars is an existential mandate to make sure the other side loses. Machiavelli highlights that “when States are acquired in a country differing in language, usages, and laws, difficulties multiply, and great good fortune, as well as address, is needed to overcome them.”11 These wars will not be ‘won’ with standing military forces. If one’s military is strong enough to handle the inevitable shift to a war of attrition, then they may prevent you from losing for a time. However, victory in these battles is not achieved through manoeuvre warfare.

The only way for a military to defeat a culture is to wipe it out completely, but genocide is both immoral and impractical. There is normally no profit gained in these wars. There is simply ‘Us’ and ‘Them.’ And for ‘Us’ to win, then ‘They’ must perish. Religious extremism has been a useful way to convince masses of people to ‘go down this road.’ If, for example, you can convince people that their everlasting soul will be better off dying now for a cause, suddenly, the requirement for selfless sacrifice turns into a requirement for selfishness, and it is much easier to be selfish than to be selfless.

If these wars are so easy to start and so hard to stop, how have we as the human race not utterly destroyed ourselves by now? To simplify the answer, it amounts to a normal distribution of personal opinions where the extreme positions are held by a minority. The Overton window12 theorizes that there is a block of opinions that the public will accept. Generally, extreme positions are outside the window, and they are written off as fringe politics. However, under certain conditions the window can shift far enough for extreme positions to become acceptable to a populace. Extreme political views that are accepted by a populace are an important pre-condition for Cultural Wars to flourish. An alternative solution to genocide therefore is to shift the Overton window away from the extremist position and remove the support it provides. Machiavelli suggests one such method by sending colonies into the new land to provide a stabilizing influence on the region.13 Alternatively, supporting the moderates within an adversary community could shift the window away from extremes. Practically, this implies that sanctioning and isolating of rogue nations, such as North Korea, is counter-productive, and instead, suggests more mixing with the international community. Ultimately, the best way to win this manner of war is to persuade the majority of the adversary populace that the cultures are not sufficiently different to warrant violent actions.

Once hostilities have ended, it is imperative that voluntary cultural ties be strengthened as quickly as possible. Involuntary cultural assimilation can have the opposite effect, as evidenced by the Canadian case of First Nations residential schooling.14 Cultural ties can take many forms, exemplified by Canadian multi-culturalism, the US melting pot, and certain kinds of colonization. However the method, cultural rapprochement is required to maintain peace following Cultural Wars, just as economic rapprochement is required following Military Wars.

There are many more pieces to explore in this category, and all relate to determining exactly why these conflicts occur. Exactly what are the definitions of ‘Us’ and ‘Them’ being used, and what are the arguments that convince so many people that they are an ‘Us,’ and why they must fight against ‘Them.’ The insights gained from these investigations can provide the tactical direction to successfully engage and win these Cultural Wars.

Personal Resource War (Policy War)

The third category is a transition area between the extremes that can be called Personal Resource Wars, or Policy Wars, although the more common description for these conflicts is Revolution. The average motivation of the soldier is still the key factor in determining where on the spectrum the conflict will rest. During revolutions, the goal is to improve the status quo of the citizen soldiers. This could be due to a desire to abolish slavery, as was the case in the later stages of the Haitian revolution,15 to avoid new taxes or trade restrictions, as in the case of the American, French, and English Revolutions,16 or to remove an occupying force, exemplified by Mao Tse Tung’s Chinese communist revolution. The revolutionary armies of Policy Wars differ from the standing armies of Military Wars in that they are not fought by professional armies. Instead, they are fought with citizen soldiers. Since revolutionaries do not generally have a professional standing army to call upon initially, Policy Wars often begin with one side resorting to variations of guerrilla warfare. Mao Tse Tung states explicitly that there is “…no reason to consider guerrilla warfare separately from national policy.”17 It is important to note that these same tactics can also be used in Cultural Wars, and with respect to action alone, they can be indistinguishable. The distinguishing features between them comes from individual soldier motivation, and it is this motivation that will define the path to victory.

To rally the citizen soldiers to action, high-minded ideals are often brought forward through propaganda, including references to liberty and equality. Machiavelli notes that when these groups rebel:

[I]t can always screen itself under the name of liberty and its ancient laws, which no length of time, nor any benefits conferred will ever cause it to forget; and do what you will, and take what care you may, unless the inhabitants be scattered and dispersed, this name, and the old order of things, will never cease to be remembered, but will at once be turned against you whenever misfortune overtakes you, as when Pisa rose against the Florentines after a hundred years of servitude.18

As Mao Tse Tung noted: “…because guerrilla warfare basically derives from the masses and is supported by them, it can neither exist nor flourish if it separates itself from their sympathies and cooperation.”19 These wars end when the desire of the populace to return to their daily lives outweighs their desire to gain concessions from their government. This lends itself to a strategy that increases the basic non-combat hardships upon the individual soldier, including temperature extremes, lack of food or pay, combined with governmental policy shifts granting some of the desired concessions, either to the revolutionary leadership for short-term gains, or to the populace for long-term gains. Strategically, fighting should be kept to a minimum, since both sides are often from the same nation and the negative impacts of battles are felt two-fold, regardless of who wins. Tactically, the most useful plans include a vigorous information operations campaign intended to highlight concessions made while also creating a rift between the soldiers and their leaders.

Post-conflict management for a Policy War is more of the same. Policy will need to shift and remain shifted to prevent further rebellion. Not all concessions must be granted to the revolutionary leadership, but enough are required to re-balance the scales for the citizen soldiers such that the hardships of daily life are preferable to the hardships of revolutionary fighting.

This category of wars is called Policy Wars to highlight the cause of the conflict and the source of its ultimate conclusion. Ill-conceived policies of governments are what leads to these conflicts, and the rectification of those policies, not the use of arms, is the best solution to this manner of conflict.

Motivation-Based Spectrum of Conflict

The three categories mentioned thus far serve as signposts on a spectrum of conflict. In this section, we will look broadly at how the transitions work from one end-to-end, showing the flow and logic that connect the categories. We will briefly sub-categorize each section and will limit our focus to a few key areas. Figure 1 is a tabular depiction of some key points.

Figure 1: Tabular view of motivation-based spectrum of conflict.
Figure 1: Tabular view of motivation-based spectrum of conflict.

The farthest left of the spectrum is sub-categorized as Imperial Mercenary Wars. In these wars, there is no interest desired or required from the population at large, and war is purely a politico-economic contest to increase wealth and power. The soldiers fighting this kind of conflict are professional mercenaries who have no attachment to the side for which they fight. Some recent examples include US-contracted soldiers that operate in the oil-rich areas of the Middle East. These are the wars of the ruling elite that do not raise the passions of the populace. Next to Imperial Mercenary Wars we find Imperial Wars. These are very similar in intent to the Imperial Mercenary Wars, and again, are primarily wars of the ruling elite that do not necessarily resonate with the civilian population. The key difference is that herein they have transitioned from pure mercenaries to the national military doing the fighting, because it is their job to do so. The American side of the war in Vietnam is an example of an Imperial War, since the national military was used. However, the public at large was not particularly convinced of the need for war, and it did not fully support conscription. The farthest right sub-category of Military Wars are wars again fought by the national military, but as suggested earlier, now the populace is sufficiently engaged to support conscription. The start of the war remains heavily influenced by the ruling elite, but there is enough public approval to support national levies. The First World War is a good example of this manner of Conscription War.

When sub-categorizing Policy Wars, we find that the number and dissonance of the policies in question are key factors. On the left of this region are cases when only a few policies need to change, exemplified by the English Revolution of the mid-17th Century.20 In this case, the motivation was only to reform the tax system, and not (initially) to overthrow the monarchy. Slightly farther right of this would reside a group that wants independence, often due to requested tax and trade reforms, as was the case with the American Revolution of the late-18th Century and the Latin-American Revolutions of the early-19th Century.21 Finally, at the far right of Policy Wars we see primarily class conflict, such as the early stages of the French and Haitian Revolutions of the late-18th Century. What distinguishes these conflicts from Cultural Wars is that the conflict ends when the government is replaced, vice when the ideology shifts. The Haitian Revolution rests on the border line of Policy and Cultural Wars, since initially, it was a trade and tax revolt, but throughout the conflict, it slipped into an ideological war against slavery.22 This also demonstrates the inclination of the spectrum towards the right, and how extended conflicts tend to ‘slide right’ over time.

When sub-categorizing Cultural Wars, we find that the desired end state of a belligerent is the key factor. On the left side are the ideological wars where once the adversary is convinced of the ‘error’ of their ways, they can continue normal life. Such cases often present as religious wars, wherein once they have been converted to the ‘proper’ ideology, there is no more conflict. While there are a number of examples of conflicts briefly inhabiting this sub-category, it is a very unstable solution that often degrades farther right on the spectrum, as was the case in the later stages of both the French and Haitian Revolutions.23 The center sub-category is occupied by Enslavement Wars, where once the ‘master’ race has dominated, the conflict ends and the adversaries can/may survive in subjugation. Colonial wars are often Enslavement Wars. Historically, Nazi Germany and some Islamic extremist groups passed through this stage briefly before they ended at the far right of the spectrum in a sub-category called Genocidal Wars. In this extreme region, the goal is to wipe out the adversary at all costs. Google the keywords ‘past genocide’ and you will be inundated with examples of this sub-category of conflict.

The length of the conflict is a major factor in how far it will ‘slide right,’ and where subsequent conflicts will materialize. Clausewitz notes:

If war is an act of force, the emotions cannot fail to be involved. War may not spring from them, but they will still affect it to some degree, and the extent to which they do so will depend not on the level of civilization but on how important the conflicting interests are and how long their conflict lasts.24

Clausewitz also writes:

If the enemy is to be coerced you must put him in a situation that is even more unpleasant than the sacrifice you call on him to make. The hardships of that situation must not of course be merely transient – at least not in appearance. Otherwise the enemy would not give in but would wait for things to improve. Any change that might be brought about by continuing hostilities must then, at least in theory, be of a kind to bring the enemy still greater disadvantages.25

The goal, therefore, is to target the weakness in the motivation of the combatants and shake their resolve. In Military Wars, this resolve is shaken through defeat on the field and through the inability of a belligerent to field an army. In Policy Wars, this resolve is shaken by removing offending policies. In Cultural Wars, this resolve is shaken by isolating the extremists from the population and removing the cultural divide that are a precursor to hostilities.

Cross-Category Conflict

Multiple factions can fight different kinds of wars simultaneously. To clarify this point, we will use a mildly-hypothetical scenario. Nation Alpha has recently been ceded from Empire Bravo. Nation Alpha’s geographical boundaries include a number of tribal groups that historically are not friends. The region is of strategic international interest, due to its natural resources and trade routes. One day, Empire Bravo invades and annexes part of Nation Alpha and conflict begins.

Clausewitz states:

[T]he political object – the original motive for the war – will thus determine both the military objective to be reached and the amount of effort it requires… The same political object can elicit differing reactions from different peoples, and even from the same people at different times… The nature of those forces therefore calls for study… Between two peoples and two states there can be such tensions, such a mass of inflammable material, that the slightest quarrel can produce a wholly disproportionate effect – a real explosion.26

Additionally, there can be more than two belligerents and they need not be states. Nation Alpha is fighting a Policy War to maintain local control of tax and trade, in effect, a war of independence. Empire Bravo is fighting a Military War for control of resources. But it does not stop there… Allies of Nation Alpha will come to their defence fighting an Imperialist Military War. Meanwhile, segments of Nation Alpha who prefer Empire Bravo are fighting a Policy War against their own Nation Alpha. Yet other segments are fighting a Cultural War also against parts of Nation Alpha, due to the historical conflicts between the regional tribes. Therefore, at the outset of this one conflict, we see all categories of wars being fought simultaneously. This begs the question, if one single conflict can include all categories of war, then of what practical value is this categorization of wars?

When conflicts are not in the same category, one side may declare victory while the other side has barely begun to fight. As Clausewitz writes: “…the defeated state often considers the outcome merely as a transitory evil, for which a remedy may still be found in political conditions at some later date.”27 These battles at cross purposes can easily confuse the ‘victor,’ and over time, drag them into defeat. Generally, whoever is farther right on the spectrum defines the conflict and controls the declaration of victory. This highlights why it is easier to drag conflicts towards the right of the spectrum. For those who will not admit defeat but are unable to maintain an army in the field, they can simply ‘slide right down the spectrum,’ such that having an army in the field is no longer required. Mao Tse Tung noted: “…guerrilla warfare has qualities and objectives peculiar to itself. It is a weapon that a nation inferior in arms and military equipment may employ against a more powerful aggressor nation.”28 He also highlights the motivation of the soldiers as an important factor in the prosecution of war, saying: “…the antiwar feeling now manifested by the Japanese people, a feeling that is shared by the junior officers and, more extensively, by the soldiers of the invading army…[makes Japan] inadequate and insufficient to maintain her in protracted warfare.”29 The US diplomat Henry Kissinger furthered the point, stating: “…the conventional army loses if it does not win. The guerrilla wins if he does not lose.”30 Thus again, we are vexed by the question, if one conflict can include so many categories of war, what is the point of the spectrum? The answer is that armed with this knowledge of motivations, we can ‘divide and conquer.’

Sun Tzu writes:

If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles. If you know yourselves, but not the enemy, for every victory gained you will also suffer a defeat. If you know neither the enemy nor yourself, you will succumb in every battle.31

We can directly relate this to our example. If you know neither the enemy nor yourself, then you as an ally of Nation Alpha, will move your own forces into the region, occupy vital points, and skirmish with all those who fight alongside Empire Bravo. By fighting all adversaries in the same manner, you are making martyrs of those fighting a Cultural War, you are becoming the oppressor to those fighting a Policy War, and as soon as the transition from field armies to guerrillas occur, you will be harassed indefinitely and will lose the support of your own populace. In this way, you will (probably) succumb in every battle. If, however, you know yourself, and that your populace is only interested in supporting a short-term military action, then you will have an exit plan and will maintain your own nation’s support. In such cases, however, you are still making martyrs and becoming an oppressor. Therefore, with every victory gained, you will also suffer a defeat later at the hands of insurgents. Finally, if you know the enemy and know yourself, then you can plan out your actions early in the hostilities, as will be described below.

Here is where the spectrum allows us to ‘divide and conquer.’ First, fighting on foreign soil, we know there is a limited window to use our military and we therefore plan to keep our forces in the country for a minimum time with a pre-planned exit strategy. We keep our forces deployed only long enough to defeat the adversary while they remain an army in the field, our military goal in this Military War is not stabilization. As soon as the adversary switches to guerrilla warfare, we remove our military. In this way, we achieve victory in the Military War. But the conflict is not yet over…

Our next goal is to win any Policy Wars. This needs very little in the way of military force and is primarily won through diplomacy and re-engaging disenchanted segments of the population. Since the policies causing the conflict are likely known at the outbreak of hostilities, this resolution can be progressing simultaneously while armies are fighting in the field. Once these policies are modified, the impetus for a Policy War is removed and now victory can be declared and political rapprochement can begin. But again, the conflict is not yet over…

Our last goal is to win any Cultural Wars. This is the most volatile form of warfare, and it requires the most finesse. Some military action may be required. However, these actions should be minimized and handled carefully by the local forces. As Sun Tzu warned: “… [there] are roads which must not be followed, armies which must not be attacked, towns which must not be besieged, positions which must not be contested, commands of the sovereign which must not be obeyed.”32 The specific road to victory now depends upon the specific cultural differences causing the conflict. It is important to highlight a key point in any negotiation; the goals of the adversaries may not be mutually exclusive. In whatever fashion practical, the goal here is to cull out more and more of the radicals, so that the violence decreases over time, allowing for cultural rapprochement. This phase will be time consuming. It requires finesse and the least amount of external physical intervention possible.

In this manner, the spectrum of conflict, along with information with respect to who is fighting and why, provides a roadmap for the practical steps required to prosecute conflict. While all categories of wars can and should be fought at the same time in the manner described earlier, it is worth noting that, in general, the conflicts farthest left on the spectrum will end first, while those on the right will take more time. The extreme right case of genocide is an exception to the largely ‘hands-off’ approach for Cultural Wars. If the geography is sufficient to separate the adversaries with an enforced neutral zone, then genocide could be thwarted in similar fashion to current United Nations processes. If, however an enforceable neutral zone is not possible, then those under threat of genocide must be evacuated and taken in as refugee citizens, providing opportunities for cultural rapprochement globally.

Testable Hypotheses

The scenario advanced developed above has already identified some key factors that apply to the recent conflicts in Ukraine, Syria, Iraq, and Afghanistan. Therefore, the recommended actions are the testable hypotheses.

Another testable hypothesis relates to the ongoing conflict with North Korea. With no militaries in the field, this conflict is not a Military War. What we should do next depends largely upon the unknown motivations of the North Korean populace. Therefore, the solution is to interact with North Korea as much as possible to gauge their motivations and to factor into follow-on actions. This is in opposition to current international sanctions on North Korea (and Iran). It is unknown how much of a Cultural War exists with North Korea, but the Policy War fought with trade embargos is known. To resolve the conflict, we need to alter our policy and allow for economic ties to increase. Then, if it turns out there is also a Cultural War, we have some economic ties that create space for a cultural rapprochement. The relationship between China and the West follows a similar path. However, the Chinese style of government is not considered ideal to many in the West. Nonetheless, the continued economic interaction has allowed both sides to modify their positions and start the political rapprochement, albeit incredibly slowly. Large technological companies, such as Google and Facebook, for a time gained market access to China, permitting Chinese culture to slide [somewhat] towards the West.33 To gain this access however, Western companies have had to modify their procedures permitting Western culture to slide [somewhat] towards that of China. If we allow North Korea to become a member of the international trade community, we open up all manner of opportunities for economic, political, and cultural rapprochement. These connections will create more opportunities for the international community to interact with the populace of North Korea, and will make it increasingly difficult for an extreme political regime to maintain their dominance. In short, economic sanctions and military brinksmanship have not worked against North Korea. The theory presented herein highlights some reasons why these options would not work and also offers an alternative solution, namely, inclusionism.


Mao Tse Tung writes: “…the ancients said, ‘Tai Shan is a great mountain because it does not scorn the merest handful of dirt.’”34 The same concept works in reverse, where to move a mountain we start by moving small stones. By knowing what motivates groups to fight together gives us the knowledge to break them apart, stop them, and create enduring peace.

Many of the individual ideas presented herein are not new, and their wisdom has been highlighted throughout the ages by many great political theorists. What is new is defining the spectrum of war, based upon motivations, and also by advancing the practical solutions the theory offers. Sun Tzu concludes:

[T]o fight and conquer in all your battles is not supreme excellence; supreme excellence consists in breaking the enemy’s resistance without fighting…Thus the highest form of generalship is to balk [hinder] the enemy’s plans. The next best is to prevent the junction of the enemy’s forces. The next in order is to attack the enemy’s army in the field. The worst policy of all is to besiege walled cities.35

For us to balk the enemy’s plans we must know what those plans are. To know those plans and the intent behind those plans requires us to understand not how the adversary plans to engage, but why the adversary is engaging at all. Armed with this knowledge, we can determine the how of the conflict to come, and can be appropriately prepared to win. War never changes. But understanding why wars occur will help to minimize the negative effects and, over time, may allow us to succeed in changing war.

About the author:
*Major Ryan Kastrukoff, CD, MAS, a pilot, holds a B.Sc. in Computer Science and Physics from the University of Toronto, a Master of Aeronautical Science from Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, and is presently an instructor in the CT-155 Hawk and Deputy Commanding Officer of the 419 Tactical Fighter Training Squadron in Cold Lake. Additionally, he has flown the CF-188 Hornet in Operation Podium, Operation Noble Eagle, and was also a liaison officer deployed to Operation Athena.

This article was published by the Canadian Military Journal, Volume 18, Number 4, Page 15.


  1. Carl Von Clausewitz, On War (New York: Oxford University Press, Inc., 2008), p. 229.
  2. Frank Hoffman, The Contemporary Spectrum of Conflict; Protracted, Gray Zone, Ambiguous, and Hybrid Modes of War. Retrieved 16 September 2017 from http://index.heritage.org/military/2016/essays/contemporary-spectrum-of-conflict/
  3. Ibid.
  4. Mike Duncan, The History of Rome (Audio podcast, 2010). Retrieved from http://spotify.com
  5. Mike Duncan, Revolutions (Audio podcast, 2013-16). Retrieved from http://spotify.com
  6. Sun Tzu, The Art of War (Mineola, New York: Dover Publications, Inc., 2002), p. 45.
  7. Duncan, History of Rome.
  8. Clausewitz, On War.
  9. Merriam-Webster.com, [definition of culture]. Retrieved 16 September 2017 from https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/culture
  10. Niccolo Machiavelli, The Prince (New York: Dover Publications, Inc., 1992), p. 2.
  11. Ibid., p. 3.
  12. Joseph Lehman, “A Brief Explanation of the Overton Window,” Mackinac Center for Public Policy. Retrieved 16 September 2017 from http://www.mackinac.org/overtonwindow
  13. Machiavelli, The Prince, p. 4.
  14. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada, Honouring the Truth, Reconciling for the Future: Summary of the Final Report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada, (2015), Retrieved 17 September 2017 from http://www.trc.ca/websites/trcinstitution/File/2015/Honouring_the_Truth_Reconciling_
  15. Duncan, Revolutions, 2016.
  16. Ibid., 2013-2015.
  17. Mao Tse-Tung, On Guerrilla Warfare (Mineola, New York: Dover Publications, Inc., 2005), p. 43.
  18. Machiavelli, The Prince, p. 11.
  19. Mao Tse-Tung, On Guerrilla Warfare, p. 44.
  20. Duncan, Revolutions, 2016.
  21. Ibid., 2013.
  22. Ibid., 2014-16.
  23. Ibid., 2014-16.
  24. Clausewitz, On War, p. 15.
  25. Ibid., p. 15.
  26. Ibid., p. 20.
  27. Ibid., p. 19.
  28. Mao Tse-Tung, On Guerrilla Warfare, p. 42.
  29. Ibid., p. 66.
  30. Henry Kissinger, “The Vietnam Negotiations,” in Foreign Affairs, Vol. 48, No. 2, January 1969, p. 214.
  31. Sun Tzu, The Art of War, p. 51.
  32. Ibid., p. 69.
  33. Ryan Bingel and David Kravets, “Only Google Could Leave China,” in Wired, January 2010. Retrieved 16 September 2017 from https://www.wired.com/2010/01/google-china-engagement/
  34. Mao Tse-Tung, On Guerrilla Warfare, p. 76.
  35. Sun Tzu, The Art of War, p. 48.

Canadian Military Journal

Canadian Military Journal is the official professional journal of the Canadian Armed Forces and the Department of National Defence. It is published quarterly under authority of the Minister of National Defence. Opinions expressed or implied in this publication are those of the author, and do not necessarily represent the views of the Department of National Defence, the Canadian Forces, Canadian Military Journal, or any agency of the Government of Canada. Crown copyright is retained.

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