Tuesday, October 16, 2007

There are more wheels than COGs

In order to sound both appropriately pompous, erudite, and authoritative on things military, it is fashionable to use the term “Center of Gravity” to define that which the power of a belligerent emanates, and “around which” the opponent operates. This concept was described in pompous, erudite, and authoritative terms in the book “On War” by Karl Clauswitz published by his wife in the 1800’s after his death. Likewise, it has become quite the fad to quote Clausewitz in the same manner a fundamentalist religionist quotes Holy Scripture be it Bible, Koran, Torah, or Karl Marx.

Unfortunately for the military professional, that which constitutes the Center of Gravity (COG) isn’t all that obvious. It could be geographic, political, social, economic, technical, and/or personal at multiple levels of interest. Clausewitz’s concept itself shifts throughout his book being quite different at the end of the book than of the beginning. As such, military writings today are filled with differing notions of what it is. Or how many there are.

In order for the concept of a COG to be useful to a combatant, it should be consistently understood by his or her forces, but if it were that obvious to one side, it would be obvious to the other(s). Hard to be deceptive under those circumstances and Sun Tzu, the next most quoted authority, would send a pupil who used COG as a term to the blackboard to write “COG’s aren’t”, ten thousand times.

The very notion that one operates “around” a COG suggests a circular voyage as in staff coordination in the Pentagon. Quite useless in practice and the French would be aghast as it not only doesn’t work in practice (forgivable), it doesn’t even work in theory.

The notion that COGs exist in the RW (Real World) has lead to more tragedy than triumph. Clausewitz was fashionable during and before WW1 which induced combatants of both sides to attack each others strong points as at Verdun while the collapse of the Triple Entente came from inside and their rear as hunger, chaos, and Communism carried by troops from the Eastern Front defeated the Will of the People.

The Japanese perceived the COG as the US battle fleet, the defeat of which would bring the US to a negotiating table. That didn’t work out that way. Likewise, Osama Bin Ladin chose the World Trade Center (WTC) as the Center of Gravity of the Great Satan. Both events were somewhat counter-productive.

If one had the Sword of Damocles suspended by a single horse hair above one’s head, the Clausewitzean would deal with the sword, while students of B H Liddell Hart would step out of the way and cut the thread. Like Yin and Yang, and in Aikido, one uses the weakness against the strength.

COGs are too elusive a concept to be useful for field commanders to guide their actions which, instead should be based on proven concepts of military decision making taking into account the Factors of METT (Mission, Enemy, Terrain, Troops Available), plus Time and Technology available. At the risk of my own pomposity, let me suggest METT-T2.
Likewise the analysis of capabilities, limitations, weaknesses and strengths should take into account that some factors are timeless, some a transitory, and some are illusionary. The closest of factors to consistency is the human will, and geography which we called COCOA in the Pentomic Era. Cover and Concealment, Observation, Critical Terrain, Obstacles, and Avenues of Approach, all of which are used to be able to dominate or deny movement over five kinds of terrain: hills, holes, valleys, ridges, and passes by movement over the high ground, low ground, cross corridors, ridge running or through the pass.

Clausewitz posited that the Will to Resist is a function of the ability to resist, which in Napoleonic times seemed reasonable. But given the stubborn resistance of U-Boot crews, Viet Cong troops, and the Jihadi, it’s just as likely that the reverse is true. The ability to resist is a function of the will to resist, a sort of Triumph of the Will, so to speak.

Gordon S Fowkes

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