Carl von Clausewitz is regarded as one of the most influential strategic thinkers of the 19th. Century. His work has provided us with a sound theory in regard to the nature of war and the various elements that shape it.
“War is the continuation of policy by other means” is perhaps the most famous quote that politicians, security specialists, and practitioners repeat every time they try to explain Clausewitz’ theory.
Yet “On War” is such a complex body of historical revisionism and dialectical analysis that one can’t reduce it to a single phrase.
In my opinion -and I could be wrong on this- the very essence of Clausewitz’ treaty can be found in his description of the three variables that explain war: passion, reason, and chance.
All of Clausewitz’ work can be explained or analyzed through the lens of his Trinity.
According to the Prussian thinker, war is…
“…composed of primordial violence, hatred, and enmity, which are to be regarded as a blind natural force [passion]; of the play of chance and probability within which the creative spirit is free to roam [strategic opportunity]; and of its element of subordination, as an instrument of policy, which makes it subject to reason [strategic calculus] …”
The first element of the Trinity, that is Passion, is related to the public or community. Chance refers to a country’s military/security apparatus, whereas Reason is associated to the Government or a political ruler.
For instance, if war is to be properly waged (even if not successfully), the Government should effectively define its political objectives, the military should correctly assess its capabilities and the people might give all of their support to the enterprise.
If one or more of these elements fails, the entire war effort crumbles.
It is not my intention to analyze all of Clausewitz’ theory here, but I do believe that his Trinity might just shed some light on why Mexico’s ongoing strategy to tackle fuel theft is failing.
First of all, we should stop calling this a “Strategy”, for it lacks a comprehensive definition and articulation of ends, ways and means. As of January 25th, the Government has failed to explain what the main political goals of its anti-fuel theft actions are.
As Ana Maria Salazar pointed out, no one really knows what the Federal Authorities visualize as a “win state” for the present situation. Does it aspire to reduce fuel theft to zero? Does it mean that a given percentage of organized crime groups have been detained?
So far, no one really knows.
For instance, the “Government/Reason” component of the entire “strategy” is almost absent, to say the least, unclear.
This takes us to the second component of the Trinity: Military/Chance.
When the Government doesn’t clarify what political objectives it is pursuing, the security/military apparatus might just don’t know how to align its capabilities to the entire effort.
This creates an operational gap that every police/military commander fears the most: while the political ends are not defined and the tactical situation keeps evolving, the strategy can’t be adapted to an ever-changing environment.
Finally, since almost 70% of Mexicans support the Government’s actions, it appears that the third component of the Trinity –People/Passion– is perhaps the only one properly aligned to the effort.
From a Clausewitzian perspective, Mexico’s anti-fuel theft strategy is full of passion, but lacks political reason and military chance.
At least so far.
As Clausewitz stressed almost 200 years ago, politicians should never ask what is militarily impossible. In that regard, as long as the Government does not define its political goals, the security/military apparatus will keep improvising and the people’s passion might fade away any time soon.
And that -I’m afraid- is a recipe for disaster.