Both Sun-Tzu and Clausewitz have something to offer for the serious student of warfare. The biggest distinction between the two seems to be their different approaches to the art of war. Sun-Tzu advocates a more subtle and indirect approach to the art of war while Clausewitz advocates a more direct approach.
The essence of Sun-Tzuâ€™s philosophy seems to be winning through superior generalship. He almost seems to advocate a type of warfare by superior maneuver similar to that practiced in Renaissance Italy. He preaches the avoidance of pitched battles unless the attacker is assured of winning. This view is summed up in chapter III verse 3: “For to win one hundred victories in one hundred battles is not the acme of skill. To subdue the enemy without fighting is the acme of skill.â€
Clausewitz, on the contrary says that in war the combat or battle is everything. He regards armies as tools to be used for their intended purpose, waging war. Clausewitz makes the argument that combat occurs even if the opposing armies donâ€™t meet; if a general forces his opponent out of position through maneuver a combat has still occurred though only potentially. Clausewitz also makes a large distinction between tactics and strategy, a distinction that seems to be somewhat missing in the philosophy of Sun-Tzu.
Personally, I think the Clausewitzean model is more applicable to modern warfare though his theory is more limited to actual warfare than that of Sun-Tzu. Sun-Tzu presents a more unified theory, which takes more account of political and societal factors than Clausewitz does. Â The philosophy of Clausewitz seems truer to me because I believe, as he does, that the objective in war is to dominate your opponent and the only sure way to do that is to force him prostrate. I would say that my views reflect not only my European heritage but also my own combat experience and frustrations with the eastern way of war. It seems to me that the avoidance of combat unless on favorable terms is the weasels way of war, though recent American experiences in Asia over the last forty years have proven its effectiveness. While I think there are compelling lessons to be learned from the study of both philosophers, Clausewitz offers the more cohesive theory with a decisive conclusion.