This article argues that the core Clausewitzean proposition that war tends to extremes no longer applies in contemporary wars. Instead an alternative proposition is put forward that war tends to be long lasting and inconclusive. The article adopts the Clausewitzean method and derives this proposition from the logic of a redefinition of war. It also shows the relevance of many of Clausewitz’s central tenets if reinterpreted. Thus contemporary wars are about politics, not policy; they are instrumental and rational but not reasonable (in the sense of being in accordance with universal values); and they bring together a trinity of motivations (reason, chance and passion) but not a trinity of the state, the generals and the people since new wars are fought by a range of nonstate actors. In particular, international missions in crisis zones should take seriously what Clausewitz says about the importance of political control, the character of the commander and the crucial significance of moral forces.
The redefinition of war as organised violence framed in political terms that can be either a mutual enterprise or a contest of wills has profound implications for policy.
If war is a mutual enterprise rather than a contest of wills, then the international policy must aim to damp down violence rather than support one side or another or even find a compromise between the sides.
Policy instruments like international law, creating humanitarian space or involving civil society may be just as or more important than political negotiation.
Morale and leadership are crucial in international missions to crisis zones.