Understanding ‘Chance and Uncertainty’ in Clausewitz’s On War: Reflections on the Balkan Wars (1991-1995)
Title: Understanding ‘Chance and Uncertainty’ in Clausewitz’s On War: Reflections on the Balkan Wars (1991-1995)
Author: FLEMING, Colin M.
Series/Report no.: EUI MWP; 2010/18
In the opening chapter of Carl Von Clausewitz’s On War (1831), he explains to readers that ‘only one more element is needed to make war a gamble 'chance'. No other human activity is so continuously or universally bound up with chance.’ He continues: ‘And through the element chance, guesswork and luck come to play a great part in war’. Yet, how should the reader of On War interpret Clausewitz’s inclusion of chance into his general theory? Why is war so ‘universally’ bound to the pervasive tendencies of chance? In fact, what does Clausewitz actually mean by ‘chance’? Why is it important at all? To answer these questions, this paper explores Clausewitz’s comprehension of chance within his wider ideas regarding the nature of war. Locating the manifestation of chance as a natural part of war fueled by its own reciprocity the article grounds Clausewitz’s idea to the experience of real conflict - the wars of former Yugoslavia 1991-1995.
Subject: Clausewitz; on war; ‘chance’ and the problem with probabilities; Lessons from the Balkan wars
Type of Access: openAccess