Year of Graduation


Level of Access

Open Access Thesis

Embargo Period


Department or Program

Government and Legal Studies

First Advisor

Christian P. Potholm


This paper evaluates the validity of three concepts from Carl von Clausewitz’s On War as they relate to contemporary military conflict. Utilizing the Soviet and American Wars in Afghanistan as case studies, the paper also offers a model for comparative conflict analysis by expanding upon Clausewitz’s culminating point concept. It argues that – despite limitations to Clausewitz’s theory of war – his concepts of culminating points in military operations, mass and concentration, and changing war aims provide useful insights into counterinsurgency military failures. Chapter One identifies the Soviet and American culminating points. Concluding that the concept of a culminating point is not applicable to the means and objectives of insurgents, it expands upon Clausewitzian theory by presenting an effectual substitute: the Counterinsurgent Acceptance Point. This is the author’s idea, and it is defined as the moment at which the counterinsurgents first publicly call for negotiations with the enemy. As the first public acknowledgment that the insurgents have denied the counterinsurgents a strictly military resolution to the conflict, it marks a crucial shift in the political framework of the war and is a fitting antithesis to the culminating point. Chapters Two and Three show how an inadequate troop presence and unclear war aims harmed Soviet and American efforts in Afghanistan. The development of insurgencies in both wars are studied to pinpoint when both country’s leaderships failed to adopt a Clausewitzian view of war, despite calls to do so by General Colin Powell in 2001 and Marshal Nikolai Ogarkov in 1979.