Clausewitz and Napoleonic wars in changing characters of war

Clausewitz[1] was born in Burg near Mag de burg in 1780. He entered Persian army as lance corporal in 1972. He served in campaigns of Rhine’s and studied scientific branch of profession. He entered military school of Berlin later on was selected as military instructor to the king of Prussia and then crown prince, was also appointed as Aide de camp to general phul and later on became major general  in 1818 and director of military school. In 1830, he was appointed as inspector of artillery at Breslau and was nominated as chief of staff to army of observation under Marshal Breslau.

Clausewitz strategy of war[i] will be applied to the Napoleonic wars and napoleon strategy of war. “In order to assess the way in which Clausewitz understands the relationship between war, peace, and politics in their entirety, it is first crucial to define war by Clausewitzian standards and to distinguish between absolute war and total war, as at least a vague understanding of each is certainly necessary in the interpretation of Vom Kriege. Next, Clausewitz’s theories on war[ii] [2]and peace must be evaluated separately from that of politics. While politics is unquestionably linked to matters of both war and peace, it is imperative that each be understood individually before one can fully grasp the concepts that Clausewitz puts forth and assess the strengths and weaknesses in his arguments. While many critics have argued against the validity of Clausewitz’s theories in the modern world, after assessment of the relationship of war, peace, and politics, it will become clear that Clausewitz’s lessons are still highly relevant in the 21st century.”

Clausewitz defined strategy as “use of engagement to attain the objects of war”. Clausewitz is reduced to his famous dictum that “war is continuation of politics by other mean” while he is not just a war theorist, rather he is a “philosopher of modern nation state”. Strategy involves the use of battles to achieve the end of war.  So it means strategy is the plan of war which involves several actions that are linked together.  Some interpreters of Clausewitz work interpret the strategy as “shortest way to connect means with ends”.  If purpose of strategy is to link the means with the political aim of war, so these means are attached with intermediary aims not to the final political purpose. Strategy is a broad concept. For example, US won many battles in Vietnam but at last, US lost in Vietnam. Napoleon defeated Russia many times but finally lost.

 Independent variable: Clausewitz strategy of war

Clausewitz theory of war and strategy?

 For Clausewitz, war is nothing but a duel on an extensive scale or a dual combat. He further elaborates that in war we are supporting two wrestlers and each of them strives physical force to compel the other and force them to submit his will and render him incapable of further resistance. War is the utmost use of force.


Clausewitz in the description of strategy argues that military must make the engagement costly for the enemy by capturing important territories etc. that the enemy is compelled to give up. He described five elements that can be affected to limit the engagement capabilities of enemy including; moral, physical, geographical, mathematical and statistical. Moral element involves the understanding of one’s own and enemy’s aim along with the sensitivities on enemy’s side that can be exploited to lower the moral of enemy’s forces. Physical element involves the clear understanding of enemy’s strengths, vulnerabilities, battle experiences and synergies etc. Mathematical element involves understanding of way of engagement and direction of operation etc. Geographical element is the analysis of terrain and other geographical hurdles etc.  Statistical element is the understanding of one’s own and the enemy’s storage capacities and service abilities in battle field.

Clausewitz defines strategy as the use of means to achieve political objective. He has divided strategy into five types:-

  1. Moral.
  2. Physical
  3. Statistical
  4. Geographical
  5. Mathematical.


It inculcates how the enemy sees into the account of exploiting the enemy. What are the psychological factors which can be used in order to decrease the morale of the enemy forces, how they can be targeted in the areas which are weakest and vulnerable and they can be easily made to surrender.


It involves the analysis of your strengths, weakness as well as the strength and weaknesses of the enemy forces. It includes physical military strategies of the enemy forces and mobilization of the enemy forces. How physical strategy takes account in the strategy.


It involves the understanding of way of engagement of enemy and their operational direction. It involves sufficient storage of ammunition, rations, clothing, storages and strategic supplies etc. it also ensures supplies of these logistics through a system of these forward displaced dumps and supplies points.


It involves commanding positions, tactical points, rivers, lands, mountains and views them through a lens of defensive point of view. It involves layout of the lands and terrains and road networks and soils and master geographical aspects in the case of strategy. This includes all the geographical structure of the defensive point of view.


It involves disposition of forces and their engagement of the enemy forces. It also involves interior and exterior lines of the operation either the forces are divergent or convergent and their mathematical skills in the strategy.

Dependent variable :- Napoleonic wars

  1. Battle of jena-auerstedt (14 October 1806)
  2. Battle of Russia.

Battle of jena-auerstedt (14 october 1806):

This famous battle is also known as twin battle[3] and this battle was fought on October 14th 1806. This battle was fought in today’s Germany. This battle became huge success for napoleons life. This battle was fought between napoleon and king of Prussia Fredrick Williams III and this battle was won by napoleon and the army of Prussia subjugated their kingdom of Prussia. In total the Prussian army lost 10,000 men killed or wounded, had 15,000 prisoners of war taken as well as 150 guns whereas military engagement of the Napoleonic Wars, fought between 122,000 French troops and 114,000 Prussians and Saxons, at Jena and Auerstädt, in Saxony which is called modern Germany now.

Battle of Russia:

The battle of Russia is also known as French invasion of Russia[4]. It is also known as second polish campaigns and also known as patriotic war of 1812. This war was resulted as a blockade put by the United Kingdom and this war was initiated by napoleon and afterwards napoleon lost the war. This war had impacted the human’s life and has affected the massive life of human beings. The battle of Russia was lost by napoleon and this war impacted and effected the napoleon strategy and his life to the core and this was the reason that napoleon later on strategized that he will marry the daughter of Russian king. This was one of the most important wars he lost and he was only left with the armed forces and soldiers of 900 people only. Apart this napoleons [5]whole army was dead and this is termed as the major losses of war he had to face.

Theoretical framework and its relevance:

Clausewitz used the Napoleon in all of his theories. Although, Napoleon lost in the “battle of waterloo”, but for Clausewitz, Napoleon was at the beginning as well as at the end of war. Clausewitz developed the “political theory of warfare” on the basis of three battles which Napoleon lost at Russia, waterloo and Leipzig.

Battles of Jena and Auerstedt

In 1806, Napoleon defeated the Prussia at the “battle of Jena”. Clausewitz concluded it by stating that Prussian military was defeated due to two main reason; weak leadership and the defects of political as well as military institutions. He further argued that the Prussian troops were morally coward as well as intellectually poor which gave superiority to the troops of Napoleon. Clausewitz gave two reasons of the victory of the Napoleon; 1) the revolutionary transformation in warfare brought by Napoleon and the French revolution 2) Prussian military and political leadership was morally coward and could not transform their military and warfare strategies. Further, the role of conscript army was explained by the Clausewitz that the victory of France was made possible by the mobilization of all the people. This mobilization gave them the superiority. Clausewitz talked about the “existential construction of war” which states that war is not only for pursuing “the policy goals” rather it is a mean by which a political entity can be changed, constituted and transformed. He argued that if Prussia desired to resist the Napoleon and French armies then it had to go for transformation of its political identity.

He further commented on the need of “continuous and uninterrupted flight” which causes the enemy to disintegrate. After a march, when soldiers again hear the sound of guns, then this moment according to the Clausewitz is most repugnant. He concluded that Napoleon defeated the Prussian forces because he continuously pursued the fleeing armies of the Prussia which destroyed the Prussian army.

He further contended that not just the moral and political cowardice of Prussia led to their defeat at the hands of Napoleon rather the Napoleon was clever military commander and “military genius”. He talked about the military genius in the Book VIII of his book “ON WAR”.  He argued that Prussia and Austria were not aware that their opponent is the “God of War[6]”. According to Clausewitz, there are several factors that gave the Napoleon an edge over the Prussian and Austrian forces at the Jena and Auerstedt which includes;

  • Boldness and speed of actions.
  • Offensives with unprecedented force
  • Concentration of force at decisive point
  • The planning of the whole campaign in such as way the one battle decides the whole war

According to Clausewitz, being strong is the best strategy and he agrees with the principle of Napoleon that “an army can never be strong at the decisive point”.

In addition to this, Clausewitz criticized the “appeasement policy[7]” of the Prussians toward the Napoleon.  He criticized the public and those in the royal courts who submitted in the hope that “the victors will show mercy”. Clausewitz argued that if he had whip then he would have used it to arouse the Germans and tell them that the “military superiority dominates over the ideals and politics”.

Battle of Russia

In this battle, Napoleon was defeated although his strategy was same as was in the previous campaigns.  He used the same tactics but according to the Clausewitz, the napoleon was defeated because of different way of action of the enemy this time. Russians did not engage in decisive battle. Further, the limitless space of Russia was insurmountable obstacle for the forces of Napoleon.[8] Napoleon was right in all of his strategies such as first destroying the army of Russia, secondly occupying the Moscow and then negotiation with Tsar but Russian actions did not let the napoleon’s strategy to succeed. The tactics of Russian army such as “scorched earth” and the large space of Russian territory meant that the forces of Napoleon would perish here. Clausewitz argued that the factors that could bring success to the French military were ignored. He argues in his book VIII that Russia can only be conquered by internal divisions and the Russian weaknesses.  Clausewitz said that if Napoleon could reach Moscow then he would have shaken the political leaders and public of Russia. Napoleon reached the Moscow but not in a position that could have caused dread in the Russian public and political elite, hence he was defeated. He reached the Moscow with 90,000 troops who were exhausted and little or no ammunition. So instead of dominating in the Moscow, Napoleonic forces became defensive and also they were not prepared for the winters in Moscow. Clausewitz argued that the whole strategy of Napoleon was based on the hope that Tsar will negotiate after he reaches Moscow but this never happened.  Clausewitz argued that the superiority given to the defense and not attack was mistake that Napoleon did and till the time he was attacking, he was on correct path according to the Clausewitz. Clausewitz argued that offensive was the “holies of holy” in all the campaigns of napoleon.  Clausewitz argued that this strategy of defense in the emergency and the defeat must not be focused and the military genius of the Napoleon should not be ignored.  He argued that Napoleon became the master of Europe because he conducted all of his military campaigns in the same manner. Also, the forces of napoleon were not defeated in any battle of the whole Russian campaign rather they lost in the “final reckoning”.

[1] [1] “Carl Von Clausewitz.” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, May 13, 2022.

[2] Pietersen, Willie. “Von Clausewitz on War: Six Lessons for the Modern Strategist.” Ideas & Insights. Ideas at Work, February 12, 2016.,you%20have%20won%20the%20war.

[3] “Battle of Jena–Auerstedt.” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, May 23, 2022.

[4] “The Battle of Russia.” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, May 9, 2022.


Muskan Moazzam
Muskan Moazzam
Student of National Defense University, Islamabad , Pakistan.