Clausewitz’s Trinity of War and the Operational Art of War

Currently, I’m reading Clausewitz’s “On War” from the beginning. After hearing so many lectures on the book as well as multiple concepts being taught from the book AND having quote the book several times myself, I find it impossible to go on without at least reading it through once. I have not even gotten to the first book, when I got a “Ah-ha!” moment. I am also currently doing a project on analyzing the operational art of war, dividing the line between strategic, operational and tactics. So here’s the “Ah-ha!”


Clausewitz divided the elements of war between the three elements, mainly passion, chance and reason. “a fascinating trinity—composed of primordial violence, hatred, and enmity, which are to be regarded as a blind natural force; the play of chance and probability, within which the creative spirit is free to roam; and its element of subordination, as an instrument of policy, which makes it subject to pure reason.” A secondary interpretation to the trinity is to look at them as the people, military and the government. While I can go on a little more about this, I am obliged to finish this thought quickly and get back to my project.

On my project, I’m still struggling to divide the line between operational level and tactical level concepts. My instructors claim it is an art and that it takes practice. I suppose that it is true and that it also depends on the level of details a commander is willing to take.

Combining these two fuzzy concepts, what if the trinity correspond to the three levels of strategy, operational and tactics as follows. That at strategic level, one is concerned about national interests and attainment of certain “strategic objectives” may further national interest, ie nuclear power, education, etc. Priorities of national interest, I can argue, depends much on the interests of its people, especially in this day and age of social media and democratization. Often, we have seen governments, especially unstable ones, give in the the immediate interests of its people, rearranging its national priorities to suit the mood in order to maintain legitimacy. Thus, I can place the strategic level of thinking next to the primordial passion.

Operational concepts deal with attainment of strategic objectives through balance of policies with time and space, i.e. building of schools or education standards, conducting research on nuclear feasibility or bargaining of nuclear materials, etc. A discipline of sorts, it requires clarity of mind to determine the intent of the strategic interests and translate it into actionable plans. Easily, it slides next to the reason element of the trinity.

Finally, the tactical concepts concern the details of the execution. While considered the lowest level of the three, a flawed tactical execution tumbles the whole pyramid. Tactical success is required for  the operational achievement of strategic objectives. On the flip side, a successful tactical execution can be rendered ineffectual if the operational  plan does not make sense or the strategic objectives are muddled and do not mean its real intent. Tactics can be simple ie the teacher engaging her students effectively, or handling of nuclear waste, can be just as deadly important. Tactics, I place next to the chance element of the trinity.

What are the implications? It does seems that while as important technical and tactical expertise occupy most of our time, we need to spend more time making sure that our operational and strategic means are in place as well. It also means, frighteningly, that our goals and ideals are driven by passion and not logic. More to ponder on…


2 thoughts on “Clausewitz’s Trinity of War and the Operational Art of War

  1. Pingback: Hybrid Warfare | Allan's Armoury

  2. Pingback: Trinity of the Adversary | Allan's Armoury

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