Martin van Creveld

Martin van Creveld
Martin van Creveld at the House of Commons, London, 26 February 2008

Martin Levi van Creveld (born 5 March 1946) is an Israeli military historian and theorist.

Van Creveld was born in the Netherlands in the city of Rotterdam, and has lived in Israel since shortly after his birth. He holds degrees from the London School of Economics and the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, where he has been on the faculty since 1971. He is the author of seventeen books on military history and strategy, of which Command in War (1985), Supplying War: Logistics from Wallenstein to Patton (1977, 2nd edition 2004), The Transformation of War (1991), The Sword and the Olive (1998) and The Rise and Decline of the State (1999) are among the best known. Van Creveld has lectured or taught at many strategic institutes in the Western world, including the U.S. Naval War College.


The Transformation of War

The 1991 book The Transformation of War (UK: The Future of War) was translated into French, German (New German edition in 2004), Russian, and Spanish. In this treatise of military theory, van Creveld develops what he calls the non-trinitarian theory of warfare, which he juxtaposes to the famous work by Clausewitz, On War [1]

Clausewitz's trinitarian model of war (a term of van Creveld's) distinguishes between the affairs of the population, the army, and the government.[2] Van Creveld criticizes this philosophy as too narrow and state-focused, thus inapplicable to the study of those conflicts involving one or more non-state actors. Instead, he proposes five key issues of war:

  1. By whom war is fought — whether by states or by non-state actors
  2. What is war all about — the relationships between the actors, and between them and the non-combatants
  3. How war is fought — issues of strategy and tactics
  4. What war is fought for — whether to enhance national power, or as an end to itself
  5. Why war is fought — the motivations of the individual soldier.

Van Creveld notes that many of the wars fought after 1945 were low-intensity conflicts (LICs) which powerful states ended up losing. The book argues that we are seeing a decline of the nation-state, without a comparable decline in organized violence. Moreover, in his view, armies consistently train and equip to fight a conventional war, rather than the LICs they are likely to face. Consequently, it is imperative that nation states change the training of their armed forces and rethink their weapon procurement programs.

The book's significance is attested to by the fact that until the middle of 2008, it was included on the list of required reading for United States Army officers, and (with Sun Tzu and Clausewitz) the third non-American entry on the list.[3] Van Creveld's Supplying War: Logistics from Wallenstein to Patton is now included on the list as well.

Views on current affairs

In addition to writing on military history, van Creveld also comments, often pointedly, on contemporary societies and politics.

In a TV interview in 2002, he expressed doubts as to the ability of the Israeli army to defeat the Palestinians:

They [Israeli soldiers] are very brave people... they are idealists... they want to serve their country and they want to prove themselves. The problem is that you cannot prove yourself against someone who is much weaker than yourself. They are in a lose-lose situation. If you are strong and fighting the weak, then if you kill your opponent then you are a scoundrel... if you let him kill you, then you are an idiot. So here is a dilemma which others have suffered before us, and for which as far as I can see there is simply no escape. Now the Israeli army has not by any means been the worst of the lot. It has not done what for instance the Americans did in Vietnam... it did not use napalm, it did not kill millions of people. So everything is relative, but by definition, to return to what I said earlier, if you are strong and you are fighting the weak, then anything you do is criminal.[4]

In a September 2003 interview in Elsevier, a Dutch weekly, on Israel and the dangers it faces from Iran, the Palestinians and world opinion van Creveld stated:

We possess several hundred atomic warheads and rockets and can launch them at targets in all directions, perhaps even at Rome. Most European capitals are targets for our air force…. We have the capability to take the world down with us. And I can assure you that that will happen before Israel goes under.[5]

In the August 21, 2004 edition of the International Herald Tribune van Creveld wrote, "Had the Iranians not tried to build nuclear weapons, they would be crazy."[6]

In 2005, van Creveld made headlines when he said in an interview that the 2003 Invasion of Iraq was "the most foolish war since Emperor Augustus in 9 BC sent his legions into Germany and lost them", a reference to the Battle of the Teutoburg Forest (which actually took place in AD 9). His analysis included harsh criticism of the Bush Administration, comparing the war to the Vietnam war. Moreover, he said that "Bush deserves to be impeached and, once he has been removed from office, put on trial." [7]

In 2007, van Creveld commented that

Iran is the real victor in Iraq, and the world must now learn to live with a nuclear Iran the way we learned to live with a nuclear Soviet Union and a nuclear China.... We Israelis have what it takes to deter an Iranian attack. We are in no danger at all of having an Iranian nuclear weapon dropped on us.... thanks to the Iranian threat, we are getting weapons from the U.S. and Germany.[8]

Van Creveld viewed the Second Lebanon War as a strategic success for Israel and a Hezbollah defeat. He was also highly critical of the Winograd Commission's report for its failure to note the many successes brought about by Israel’s military campaign. He noted that Hezbollah “had the fight knocked out of it,” lost hundreds of its members and that the organization was “thrown out of South Lebanon,” replaced by “a fairly robust United Nations peacekeeping force.” He also noted that as a result of the war, Israel is experiencing a level of calm on its Lebanon border not seen since the mid-1960s.[9] More recently, in an article published in Infinity Journal in June 2011, titled "The Second Lebanon War: A Reassessment", Martin van Creveld argued that contrary to the common view, and despite "clumsy, heavy-handed, and slow" ground operations, the Second Lebanon War was a great victory for Israel. He states that as a result of the war, "since the middle of August 2006, all over southern Lebanon hardly a shot has been fired."[10]

In an opinion piece published in The Forward in 2010, van Creveld argued that the West Bank, far from being vital to Israel's security, is a territory "that Israel can easily afford to give up." Van Creveld contended that the West Bank offers no defense against ballistic missiles from Israel's two chief enemies, Iran and Syria. Furthermore, provided that it would be demilitarized in any future peace settlement with the Palestinians, the West Bank would act as a natural barrier impeding the advance of any army endeavoring to invade Israel by land from the east. Lastly, Israel could defend itself against terrorism from the West Bank by means of a wall coupled with offensive campaigns the likes of Operation Cast Lead and the Second Lebanon War, which successfully restored Israel's deterrence factor when the level of terrorism exceeded what Israel was willing to tolerate.[11] Stephen Kramer, Israel Correspondent for the Jewish Times of South Jersey, disputed the accuracy and relevance of figures cited by van Creveld in relation to Israel's GDP and arms exports. Kramer, who lives in the Samarian settlement of Alfei Menashe, also argued that the Israeli army plays a crucial role fighting terrorism in the West Bank, whereas its absence could precipitate a Hamas takeover similar to the one that occurred in the wake of Israel's withdrawal from Gaza in 2005.[12]

In an article co-authored with Oxford Arabist Jason Pack addressing the 2011 Libyan civil war, van Creveld challenged the media's tendency to portray the circumstances in Libya as being largely equivalent to those that formed the backdrop to the overthrow of ben-Ali in Tunisia and Mubarak in Egypt earlier in the year. "The remarkable spread of the 2011 Arab revolts across the face of North Africa causes many journalists to portray the current Libyan uprising as fueled by similar factors to those at play in neighboring Tunisia and Egypt. There are more differences than similarities." Van Creveld noted that Tunisia and Egypt "have been coherent nation-states for well over a century," while Libyan society is still pervasively tribalist. He also observed that whereas the armies of Tunisia and Egypt could mediate the transitions between the old regimes and the new, "Libya lacks a professional, non-tribal army" that could function in such a role. Van Creveld blamed Gaddafi's son Saif al-Islam Gaddafi for squandering a crucial opportunity to restore order to the country and confidence – both domestic and international – in the Gaddafi regime.[13]

Published works

  • Hitler's Strategy 1940-1941: the Balkan Clue, Cambridge University Press, 1973, ISBN 0-521-20143-8
  • Military Lessons of the Yom Kippur War: Historical Perspectives, Beverly Hills : Sage Publications, 1975, ISBN 0-8039-0562-9
  • Supplying War: Logistics from Wallenstein to Patton, Cambridge University Press, 1977, ISBN 0-521-21730-X (2nd ed, 2004, ISBN 0-521-54657-5)
  • Fighting Power: German and US Army performance, 1939-1945, Westport, Conn. : Greenwood Press, 1982, ISBN 0-313-23333-0
  • Command in War, Cambridge, Mass. : Harvard University Press, 1985, ISBN 0-674-14440-6
  • Technology and War: From 2000 B.C. to the Present, New York : Free Press, 1989, ISBN 0-02-933151-X (free paperback, 2001, ISBN 0-02-933153-6)
  • The Training of Officers: From Military Professionalism to Irrelevance, New York : Free Press, 1990, ISBN 0-02-933152-8
  • The Transformation of War, New York : Free Press, 1991, ISBN 0-02-933155-2
  • Nuclear Proliferation and the Future of Conflict, New York : Free Press, 1993, ISBN 0-02-933156-0
  • Air Power and Maneuver Warfare, with contributions from Kenneth S. Brower and Steven L. Canby, Alabama : Air University Press, 1994, ISBN 1-58566-050-7
  • The Encyclopedia of Revolutions and Revolutionaries: From Anarchism to Zhou Enlai, New York : Facts on File, 1996, ISBN 0-8160-3236-X
  • The Sword and the Olive: A Critical History of the Israeli Defense Force, New York : Public Affairs, 1998, ISBN 1-891620-05-3
  • The Rise and Decline of the State, Cambridge University Press, 1999, ISBN 0-521-65629-X
  • The Art of War: War and Military Thought, London : Cassell, 2000, ISBN 0-304-35264-0 (also New York : Collins/Smithsonian, 2005, ISBN 0-06-083853-1)
  • Men, Women, and War, London : Cassell & Co., 2001, ISBN 0-304-35959-9
  • Moshe Dayan, London : Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 2004 ISBN 0-297-84669-8
  • Defending Israel: A Controversial Plan Toward Peace, New York : Thomas Dunne Books/St. Martin’s Press, 2004, ISBN 0-312-32866-4
  • Countering Modern Terrorism: History, Current Issues, and Future Threats : Proceedings of the Second International Security Conference, Berlin, 15–17 December 2004, with Katharina von Knop and Heinrich Neisser, Bielefeld : Wbv, W. Bertelsmann Verlag, 2005, ISBN 3-7639-3309-3
  • The Changing Face of War: lessons of combat, from the Marne to Iraq, New York : Presidio Press, 2006, ISBN 978-0-89141-901-3
  • The Culture of War, New York: Presidio Press, 2008, ISBN 978-0-345-50540-8
  • The American Riddle (In Russian), Publisher: Irisen (Russia) 2008[14]
  • The Land of Blood and Honey, New York : St. Martin's Press, 2010, ISBN 978-0-312-59678-1
Selected articles


  1. ^ Major K. M. French United States Marine Corps, "Clausewitz vs. the Scholar: Martin Van Creveld's Expanded Theory Of War".
  2. ^ von Clausewitz, Carl. On War (1832-5). Book 1, Chapter 1, Paragraph 28.
  3. ^ Brian Whitaker, "Nowhere to run", November 29, The Guardian, 2005
  4. ^ Jennifer Byrne, "Interview with Martin van Creveld" March 20, ABC, 2002
  5. ^ Quoted in The Observer Guardian, The War Game, a controversial view of the current crisis in the Middle East, 21 September 2003; the original interview appeared in the Dutch weekly magazine: Elsevier, 2002, no. 17, p. 52-53 (April 27th, 2002).
  6. ^ Martin van Creveld writes in the International Herald Tribune, "Sharon on the Warpath: Is Israel planning to attack Iran?"
  7. ^ Brian Whitaker, "Nowhere to run", November 29, The Guardian, 2005
  8. ^ UPI, COMMENTARY: ISLAMIC DEJA VU analysis of Islam in the Middle East May 21, 2007
  9. ^ Israel’s War With Hezbollah Was Not A Failure
  10. ^ "The Second Lebanon War: A Reassessment", June 2011, Infinity Journal, 2011
  11. ^ van Creveld, Martin (15 December 2010). "Israel Doesn't Need the West Bank To Be Secure". The Forward. Retrieved 25 February 2011. 
  12. ^ Kramer, Stephen (4 February 2011). "Israel Needs the West Bank to be Secure". Jewish Times of South Jersey. Retrieved 25 February 2011. 
  13. ^ van Creveld, Martin; Pack, Jason (23 February 2011). "Upheaval in Qaddafi's Libya isn't just another Arab uprising". Christian Science Monitor. Retrieved 25 February 2011. "Arguably, the decisive event that forever modified the dynamics was a speech by Qaddafi's son, Saif al-Islam Qaddafi, broadcast late on Feb. 21 on Libyan national TV. Mr. Islam might have rolled out new reforms, blamed the reactionary conservatives like Prime Minister Baghdadi al-Mahmudi for the situation in the country, and promised that he would use his weight with his father to stop the violence against the protesters. Instead, he played the Mubarak card – if you don’t stick with me, you'll get Islamism, separatism, Western intervention, and total chaos." 
  14. ^ The book seems to have been published first in Russian translation. See: (21 January 2009).

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