The Trinity – Clausewitz & Hannibal


“…Hannibal my friend, you have shown to be a great systemic and strategic thinker.

Lets talk about the Trinity of war. War is not only chameleon-like in character, because it changes its color in some degree in each particular case, but it is also, as a whole, in relation to the predominant tendencies which are in it, a wonderful trinity, composed of the original violence of its elements, hatred and animosity, which may be looked upon as blind instinct; of the play of probabilities and chance, which make it a free activity of the soul; and of the subordinate nature of a political instrument, by which it belongs purely to the reason.

The first of these three phases concerns more the people, the second more the General and his Army, the third more the Government. The passions which break forth in War must already have a latent existence in the peoples. The range which the display of courage and talents shall get in the realm of probabilities and of chance depends on the particular characteristics of the General and his Army, but the political objects belong to the Government alone.

How do you see the Clausewitzian Trinity my dear Hannibal?”


“…Conflict is a systemic issue, and therefore the Trinity is as well.

A system is a whole, consisting of two or more interdependent parts, yielding emergent properties generated through interaction and feedback relations.

A person is a system. A team is a system. An organization is a system. A nation is a system. Etc., etc., etc.

A conflict is a system state in which system parts have unaligned goals that cause multiple stabilizing feedback loops to act on a single current state, and by means of force opposing parties try to change the current state to align with their desired state.

Stabilizing feedback works as follows: every time a goal is set, which is different from the current state, a gap is born. That gap sparks activity to close that gap by working on bringing the current state to meet set goals.

A system is made up of system parts, and system parts run on feedback loops that create the “whole”.

Let’s say we have a system in which there are two stabilizing feedback loops, A and B, acting upon a single current state. Let’s imagine that A and B are countries trying to influence some common issue, and that they have interests which are completely opposite. As A is acting to change the current state to fit its desired state, B sees the current state drifting away from its (B’s) desired state and is triggered to action. This causes a similar reaction triggering A, and so on and so forth. The harder both sides push on the current state, the harder the structure pushes back.

As I see it the Trinity is such a feedback loop.

The Trinity contains:

I) A goal component – driven by politics on state level; by personal goals on individual level, and equals the goal in a stabilizing feedback loop.

II) A will component – formed by public opinion on state level; by wants, needs, commitment, motivation, emotion, and other personal traits on individual level, and equals the gap in a stabilizing feedback loop. Although quantifying the gap is subject to calculation, the perception of the importance and weight placed upon the quantifiable numbers is led by will and the emotional component that the size of the gap trigger.

III) A resource component – determined by military-, natural-, industrial- and monetary resources on state level; by personal means on individual level, and equals the activity component of a stabilizing feedback loop.

The components making up the Trinity are dynamic in nature, and by that I mean that the components are not static and constant, but variable and fluid. The components are part of a feedback structure; the parts thus influence each other, and are, through the current state, in a feedback relation with other Trinities – conflicting feedback.

In dealing with conflict, but also Adversarial simulation like Red teaming this has profound implications which are often overlooked…”

Note: the text of von Clausewitz is taken from Project Gutenberg: The Project Gutenberg EBook of On War, by Carl von Clausewitz, BOOK I. ON THE NATURE OF WAR, Chapter I, section 28. RESULT FOR THEORY.

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