- By Thomas E. RicksThomas E. Ricks covered the U.S. military from 1991 to 2008 for the Wall Street Journal and then the Washington Post. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
I was thinking about the "ways, ends, means" strategic formulation recently, because it long has seemed to me to be insufficient. I suspect that "ways, ends, means" leaves out a key aspect of warfare — the spiritual aspect. This is not just a matter of faith or morale, but is a key aspect of warfare, because it goes to the question of will.
So, I am beginning to think that "ways, ends, means" doesn’t work for me because it pretends to be a scientific approach. But there is a reason that Clausewitz referred to "the art of war."
This is why I prefer the formulation of strategy as another three questions — much broader ones: "Who are we, what are we trying to do, and how are we going to do it?"
I asked the estimable Chris Mewett about this, and he wrote back:
I think the ends/ways/means construct is just another way of approaching the same set of questions you’ve posed. The intent of both is to require thought: to force the would-be strategist to consider whether the tools he has at his disposal can offer a reasonable chance of accomplishing the desired objectives.
"The spiritual aspect" and matters of will are only left unconsidered if the would-be strategist ignores how those factors inhere in the very nature of war. If we recognize that war’s nature is violent, emotional, and uncertain — if we acknowledge that the basic means of war is fighting, from which all of these tendencies/conditions are inseparable — then how can we say that the ends/ways/means construct fail to take account of moral factors?
This is exactly why I think the debate about war’s enduring nature is important. War is a different phenomenon from not-war. It operates according to the influence of those tendencies that are essential to its nature: instinctive passions born of violence; chance and uncertainty; and its subordination as an instrument of policy. (In Clausewitz’s memorable phrasing, war has its own grammar, but not its own logic.)
Excluding the moral, the "spiritual," and the will can only happen when we lose touch with this uniqueness and imagine that the violent means of war function in precisely the same way as the non-violent means of other forms of political intercourse. This isn’t a flaw in the ends/ways/means construct but in the way we understand what war is.