Lessons on Government from one Non-State Entity to Another: How the Irish Republican Movement Informs Hezbollah's Attempt at the Clausewitzian Political Arm

By Paul Baumgardner
Cornell International Affairs Review
2012, Vol. 6 No. 1 | pg. 1/2 |


The great nineteenth-century military theorist Carl von Clausewitz changed the art of war forever with his masterwork, “On War.” This text illuminated one of Clausewitz’s greatest contributions to military thought: the Trinity of war. Clausewitz argued that a successful military campaign requires the balanced cooperation of three important levels of society: the political wing (the government), the military wing (the army), and the popular wing (the citizenry). In modern warfare, Clausewitz’s Trinity still remains an important lesson, especially for non-state actors. By examining the Irish Republican Army and Hezbollah, we can better understand how non-state actors balance the three branches of the Trinity and achieve their sociopolitical objectives.

As the threat of Napoleonic power aggrandizement threatened Europe in the late nineteenth century, many nations dedicated their best minds to the task of repelling Napoleon’s French forces. In 1812, Carl von Clausewitz published a piece on warfare that would affect the military landscape generations after Napoleon’s death. In On War, Clausewitz argued that Europe needed thinking officers, who were capable of philosophically grappling with the very nature of warfare.

Clausewitz’s logic was simple: in order to ascertain Napoleon’s military weaknesses, competing European leaders would have to understand the intricacies of the art of war. Clausewitz’s most important contribution to the understanding of war was his theory of the sociopolitical “Trinity.” A successful political agenda, and war strategy, depended upon the relationship of three entities: “The first of these three aspects mainly concerns the people; the second the commander and his army; the third the government.”1 Although the conventions of war, and the global conceptions of sovereignty, have shifted since the early nineteenth century, Clausewitz’s fundamental assertions about maintaining a balanced Trinity seem more applicable than ever to national actors.

However, the modern rise of non-state actors has provided a surprising twist to the history of conflict. Unlike state actors, who rest on institutionalized government and military structures to maintain equilibrium, non-state entities are less institutionalized and more likely to be held together by a central ideology or moral ideals. In this essay, I shall compare the Irish Republican Army (IRA), which has successfully transitioned into a legitimate Clausewitzian government arm, with the Shiite group, Hezbollah. This juxtaposition will prove to contemporary non-state movements that only through a transmogrification of military objectives into political operations will a balanced Clausewitz’s Trinity be achieved and sociopolitical gains be made possible.

Carl von Clausewitz

Carl von Clausewitz

An understanding of the government branch of the Clausewitzian Trinity will inform the comparative relationship between the IRA and Hezbollah. Therefore, a proper assessment of these modern guerrilla actors first requires a thorough investigation into the broader, philosophical fabric of Clausewitz’s On War. Clausewitz does not posit an idealistic or noble conception of war, but a conception depicting the ugliness and unpredictability of conflict.

It is this unpredictability that leads Clausewitz to argue that the three branches of the Trinity are “deep-rooted in their subject and yet variable in their relationship to one another.” 2 Although this essay shall focus on the political arm of Clausewitz’s Trinity theory, it is important to remember that a policy which ignores any one of the three branches, or seeks to fix an arbitrary relationship between them, would be useless. A static model of the balanced Trinity cannot be offered.

A belligerent must be able to oversee the empowerment of one branch, and the circumscription of another, if circumstances change. It is for this reason that the Trinity balance conceived by state entities must be different than the balance conceived by non-state entities.

The ways in which war’s friction affects the public branch of the Trinity differs depending on whether the actor retains the institutionalized support of a government. Additionally, the structural limitations placed upon statesponsored armies are significantly different than the military limitations found in a guerrilla movement. It is for this reason that I researched outside the purview of Middle East nations: to find an equally volatile non-state entity, a comparable non-state movement that had shown a recent acceptance of Trinity verities.

The Origin of Hezbollah

Hezbollah, or “The Party of God”, is a controversial terrorist/political/social worksorganization that sprang into prominence after the Israeli invasion of Lebanon in 1982. For historians, Israel’s invasion and lasting occupation within Lebanon became the most significant factor in the radicalization of the Lebanese Shiites under Hezbollah. Hezbollah leaders rationalize the use of military extremism by appealing to the fact that Israel created the context for Hezbollah’s birth and its continued growth. The presence of a foreign occupying force—which imposes uncomfortable legal, economic, and political changes on the native population—has been the catalyst for many historic guerrilla movements.

Hezbollah’s role in Lebanese politics can be traced back to 1984, but its ideological foundation began even earlier in the 1980s. However, it is important to note that Lebanese contempt for the Israeli state probably would have fizzled out as a minor rebellion, and never would have grown into a united populist ideology, unless external political forces had aided in the early resistance movement.

Over the past three decades, Syria and Iran have significantly influenced the ideology and political growth of Hezbollah. Following a successful Islamic revolution over the secular shah, opportunistic Iranian mullahs turned their sights to the rest of the Middle East. Sandra Mackey writes, “For Iran’s revolutionary leaders correctly saw in Lebanon a fertile opportunity to spread the Islamic revolution beyond the borders of Iran.

With a large Shiite population historically and emotionally tied to Iran, Lebanon was chosen as the country in which Iran would demonstrate the power of its revolution.”2 By financing Hezbollah, and providing arms and training to its guerrilla fighters, the Iranian government has been granted a powerful hand in shaping Hezbollah’s future. To this day, Iran’s blandishments have allowed the nation to hold substantial sway over the governing hierarchy of Hezbollah:

Iran has sponsored the creation of a Consultative Council for Lebanon. The council supervises the work of Hezbollah within Lebanon and serves as the nodal connection between Iran and Lebanon. It consists of twelve men, most of whom are clerics, the remainder being military officials. The council subsumes seven committees named as follows: intellectual, financial, political, information, military, social, and legal. The entire operation appears to be wellfinanced from Iran; not only are operating expenses provided, but there is also an extensive system for the payment of pensions to the families of individuals martyred in the cause of Hezbollah.4

A Banner featuring Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah

A Banner featuring Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah

Whereas Iranian influence tends to use Southern Lebanon, and Hezbollah, as a second breeding ground for revolutionary Islamic political thought, the nation of Syria has been more strategic with its marionette strings. After having suffered defeat at the hands of the Israelis in 1973, Syrian foreign policy became keener to the holistic strategy of Arab-Israeli conflict.

In this calculated chess match, Syria began utilizing Hezbollah’s resistance as an invaluable geographic and military weapon. Starting in the early 1980s, Syria pushed weaponry and money into the hands of the Hezbollah campaign, and thereby placed great pressure on Israel, and its controversial control over the Golan.5 At times over the past twenty years, Syrian influence has become so entwined with Hezbollah’s political governance and military decision-making that some political commentators view Hezbollah simply as the radicalized alter ego of Syria, successfully offering leverage for Syrian interests.

In the 1990s, Syria’s strong military presence in southern Lebanon further complicated Hezbollah’s political autonomy: “With 35,000 to 40,000 troops still in Lebanon, Syria was the real power broker in that country, and Hizbullah could not operate with impunity in Lebanon without Syrian assistance and acquiescence.”6

However, although surrounding Arab nations have furnished startup capital and influenced Hezbollah during moments of warring regional interplay, Hezbollah’s malleable political ideology has given the unique part-humanitarian/partterroristic organization the independence necessary to stand on its own two feet in the Middle East.

The Evolution of Hezbollah Ideology

The ideological foundation of Hezbollah arose from a conglomeration of Lebanese resistance efforts. The Israeli occupation, beginning in the 1980s, unified the divided Shiite population under several guiding principles.7 In the nascent years of Hezbollah, militarism and jihadist demands underlay the burgeoning group. Lawrence Pintak depicts how the extremism sweeping Iran, northern Africa, and Palestine at that time also impacted Hezbollah’s initial political ideology: “Among Hezbollah’s demands- ‘America, France, and their allies must leave Lebanon once and for all, and any imperial influence in the country must be terminated.’ It sounded suspiciously like an Islamic Jihad communiqué. With good reason.”8

The religious tinge connected to Hezbollah stood out in the Lebanese community, and became a polarizing factor as the group gained military and social clout. Hezbollah desired that southern Lebanon transition into an Islamic state, thereby coalescing into the broadening Iranian revolution. Although Hezbollah successfully grasped the loyalty of many hard-line Shiite clerics and politicians in the South, the group’s founding platforms proved to be divisive within the whole of Lebanon, and Hezbollah was not able to cut across religious lines in the 1980s and early 1990s.

In 1992, Hasan Nasrallah ascended to the seat of Hezbollah secretary-general. As the spokesman for Hezbollah, Nasrallah has had the most pronounced role in moving the ideology of the group towards Clausewitz’s political arm. As the relationship between Syria, Lebanon, and Israel grew tense in the early 1990s, Nasrallah reevaluated the assertive platforms of Hezbollah, and began to strategically shift the group’s interests: “Nasrallah noted that ‘We are serious in our project to bring down the government, but we shall not resort to negative steps… because the country is passing through a delicate stage.’”9

Although Nasrallah maintained a strong link between his military and political ideology, the charismatic leader drew in a larger bloc of believers because of his willingness to moderate goals and galvanize the masses with a novel sense of Lebanese nationalism. Thanks to Nasrallah, Hezbollah began “putting its ‘Islamic state’ on the back burner so it could operate more flexibly in a multi-communal society.”10

Through the use of social works programs and secular grassroots political efforts, Hezbollah has been given the opportunity to gradually deemphasize its religious platforms. This has led to a surge in non-Shiite members to the Hezbollah camp. However, the greatest example of opportunistic ideological movement occurred in 2000:

On March 5, 2000, the Israeli cabinet pledged a withdrawal from Lebanon by July. The Israeli decision surprised and alarmed the Lebanese government and disconcerted its neighboring Arab states. Having established itself as a Shiite resistance movement against the Israeli presence in South Lebanon, Hezbollah’s primary raison d’être would be removed. With Hezbollah’s need for arms reduced, the role of its patrons Syria and Iran would also presumably be diminished.11

Hezbollah’s leadership became existentially trapped: the group was forced to either amend its ideological aims once again or to accept military victory, therein burying any political future. By the late 1990s and early 2000s, Hezbollah had accrued the political, military, and economic support of many Lebanese constituents, and Nasrallah was not ready to sacrifice these political gifts for the sake of honestly confessing that Hezbollah had completed its original mission. So the political objectives of Hezbollah were redirected towards two foci. By promising to rebuild the entire Lebanese state, Hezbollah turned its efforts to the whole Lebanese people, not just southern Lebanese Muslims.

Externally, years of anti-Israeli sentiment morphed Hezbollah’s ideology into a trenchant support for the Palestinian cause; this “altruistic concern” allows Hezbollah to continue sporadic attacks against Israel, whenever the group believes that Palestinian interests are at risk.12 These ideological transformations, compounded by foreign influences, have shaped Hezbollah into a unique Middle Eastern group with a growing number of public supporters.

The Beginning of a Government Arm

As aforementioned, Hasan Nasrallah revised the ideological trajectory of Hezbollah. However, his most important contribution to the group lies in his work to enter Hezbollah into Clausewitz’s government arm. By channeling Hezbollah’s popular support into the political sector, the group has been able to overcome some of the disadvantages attributable to nonstate entities. Although initially opposed to the creation of a political party, Hezbollah—under Nasrallah’s leadership—eventually saw the benefits of joining the political ranks, and the Party of God became an official Lebanese political party in 1992.

Non-state actors are prone to eschew unity and compromise, instead attempting to chip away at the government bureaucracy and undermine the political process. After the end of the Israeli occupation, however, Hezbollah was given the opportunity to put its abstract ideology into political practice: “Immediately following the Israeli withdrawal from Lebanon… Hezbollah began systematically taking over Southern Lebanon and creating a state within a state. It worked towards deepening its control over the population by taking over the social and welfare arenas and managing the civilian services.”13

Carl von Clausewitz

IRA Monument in Dublin, Ireland

Understanding that the current Lebanese government and military were too weak to confront the emergence of a provisional government, the Hezbollah leadership began to legitimize the political arm of Clausewitz’s Trinity through the stimulation of a different branch of the Clauswitzian Trinity: the public arm.

Seeing the vacuum of social and financial support after 2000, the group amplified its social works programs—creating thousands of jobs, schools, houses, and medical operations— in order to rebuild the entire Lebanese state. These efforts, complemented by an enriched propaganda movement, merged the Lebanese people with the internal ideological promises of the Hezbollah party, and gave political standing to the group once known only for its terrorist activities.

This reprioritization of politics over militarism gave Hezbollah political standing in the Middle Eastern community. Lawrence Pintak writes that these protective group efforts, designed to strengthen the Lebanese people, produced an element of international recognition: “Hezbollah, once just an elusive trend, was now negotiating treaties.”14 By virtue of sitting down as a key actor in the Middle Eastern political process, Hezbollah acquired a de facto right to fight, and a legitimization for its anti-Israel political platforms. Most importantly, because Hezbollah has embraced the role of military, social, and governmental protector of the Lebanese people, this political party has become inextricably linked to the political stability of the nation: “As long as Hezbollah was part of the system, we knew there was a good chance for stability to take hold,” said one American diplomat familiar with Lebanon, “but if something drove them out of the process, all bets were off.”15

Through the use of social works programs and secular grassroots political efforts, Hezbollah has been given the opportunity to gradually deemphasize its religious platforms

Although the United States has funneled hundreds of millions of dollars, and great quantities of military equipment, into Lebanon to protect the political integrity of the Lebanese government, Hezbollah continues to use its political power to safeguard its military operations, and to vitiate the work of Lebanon’s official government.16

Following the 2006 conflict with Israel, Hezbollah was pressured by the international community to disarm; because the original political objectives of the organization had been achieved in 2000, multiple nations— along with the United Nations—believed that Hezbollah no longer possessed a need for stockpiled arms, especially if the group was completely dedicated to the political arena.17 Hezbollah resisted these persistent entreaties and became more volatile to the Lebanese, Israeli, and American governments. In this way, Hezbollah has not separated its military activities from its political leadership, but has allowed instead for a terrorist/political/social works amalgamation to continue. Because of this diverse organizational complexion, the same foreign counsel that oversees Hezbollah’s political activities still oversees its economic, military, and social efforts.

Suggested Reading from Inquiries Journal

The Polish populist Law and Justice Party (PiS) overturned the mainstream consensus in Polish politics by returning to power in 2015 with a populist platform, decrying a selfish elite and advancing policies that critics... MORE»
The political history of the Middle East is a complex story wrought with instability, conflict, religious and ethnic cleavages, and artificial imperial and colonial borders. These challenges manifest themselves in varied political systems, norms, and tensions--both domestic and external--in the countries throughout the region. Looking... MORE»
When on September 24th,  2011 Russian prime minister Vladimir Putin announced his bid to run for president in the presidential elections in March 2012, a supposition in Russia's political regime was confirmed that many... MORE»
The creation of western-style government institutions has been unsuccessful in Somalia. This is a direct result of colonial administrations not laying the proper foundation for western government institutions to achieve legitimacy in a culture of clan and kinship based identity. In post conflict Somalia the top down approach to... MORE»
Submit to Inquiries Journal, Get a Decision in 10-Days

Inquiries Journal provides undergraduate and graduate students around the world a platform for the wide dissemination of academic work over a range of core disciplines.

Representing the work of students from hundreds of institutions around the globe, Inquiries Journal's large database of academic articles is completely free. Learn more | Blog | Submit

Follow IJ

Latest in Political Science

2022, Vol. 14 No. 09
This interdisciplinary paper investigates the shortfalls and obstacles to success currently facing the climate movement, examining issues represented by the disconnect between policy and electoral politics, the hypocrisy and blatant indifference... Read Article »
2022, Vol. 14 No. 06
Two of the most prevalent protest movements in recent history were the Black Lives Matter and the #StopTheSteal movements. While there are many differences between the two, one of the most prevalent is their use of violence. Whereas the BLM movement... Read Article »
2022, Vol. 14 No. 05
Strong linkages between autocrats and the military are often seen as a necessary condition for authoritarian regime survival in the face of uprising. The Arab Spring of 2011 supports this contention: the armed forces in Libya and Syria suppressed... Read Article »
2022, Vol. 14 No. 04
During the summer of 2020, two fatal shootings occurred following Black Lives Matter protests. The first event involved Kyle Rittenhouse in Kenosha, Wisconsin, and the second Michael Reinoehl in Portland, Oregon. Two shootings, each committed by... Read Article »
2022, Vol. 14 No. 02
In popular international relations (IR) theory, knowledge production is often dismissed as an objective process between the researcher and the empirical world. This article rejects this notion and contends that the process of knowledge production... Read Article »
2022, Vol. 14 No. 01
This article explores the political relationship between nation-building, ethnicity, and democracy in the context of Ethiopia. It traces Ethiopia's poltical history, explores the consequential role ethnicity has played in the formation of the modern... Read Article »
2022, Vol. 14 No. 01
The study examines the degree to which Xi Jinping has brought about a strategic shift to the Chinese outward investment pattern and how this may present significant political leverage and military advantages for China in the Indian Ocean Region (... Read Article »

What are you looking for?


5 Tips for Publishing Your First Academic Article
7 Big Differences Between College and Graduate School
How to Select a Graduate Research Advisor