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Clausewitz and Sun Tzu after the neo-cons

Sep 14, 2011
Clausewitz and Sun Tzu after the neo-cons
By Andreas Herberg-Rothe

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The concepts of Strategic Information Warfare (SIW) and theorists of 4th generation warfare like John Boyd have made wide use of Sun Tzu’s thought to explain and illustrate their position. Some pundits even claimed triumphantly that Sun Tzu had defeated Carl von Clausewitz in this war, because the US army seemed to have conducted the campaign in accordance with principles of Sun Tzu, whereas Russian advisers of the Iraqi army relied on Clausewitz and the Russian defense against Napoleon’s army in his Russian campaign of 1812. That triumphant attitude has long been abandoned.

Those who understand Sun Tzu’s The Art of War just as an instrument of waging war successfully, as well as the theoreticians of Strategic Information Warfare and 4th generation warfare like Boyd, lack the political dimension with respect to the situation after the war. They concentrate too much on purely military success, and undervalue the process of transforming military success into true victory.

The three core elements of Sun Tzu’s strategy, thought to originate in late-sixth century BC China, could not easily be applied in our times: a general attitude to deception of the enemy runs the risk of deceiving one’s own population, which would be problematic for any democracy. An indirect strategy in general would weaken deterrence against an adversary who could act quickly and with determination. Concentration on influencing the will and mind of the enemy may merely enable him to avoid fighting at a disadvantageous time and place and make it possible for him to choose a better opportunity as long as he is in possession of the necessary means – weapons and armed forces.

One might win battles and even campaigns with Sun Tzu, but it is difficult to win a war by following his principles. The mixture of the revolution in military affairs, which promised fairly easy victory over any opponent, the desire of shaping the world by the neo-conservatives and the applying of some principles of Sun Tzu were responsible for the successes of the wars the US Army fought, but likewise for their obvious failure

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