Military Persuasion in War and Policy: The Power of Soft

By Stephen J. Cimbala | Go to book overview

In his classic study, The Art of War, dated between 400 and 320 B.C.E., Sun Tzu called attention to the importance of the use of clever strategy and psychology in order to minimize the need for war or the loss of life and destruction attendant to war:

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.

Thus, what is of supreme importance in war is to attack the enemy's strategy. . . . Next best is to disrupt his alliances. . . . The next best is to attack his army. . . . The worst policy is to attack cities. Attack cities only when there is no alternative. 1

There is some evidence that contemporary Chinese military planners are taking Sun Tzu's perspective very seriously. Chinese military strategists are now considering various means of offsetting the United States's apparent superiority in computers and information system related to combat. For example, a Chinese concept of information-based deterrence suggests a means by which the weaker side can prevent hostile actions on the part of a stronger side: “If one side can effectively weaken the information capability of the other side, even if its capability in other ways is less, the other side will dare not take any ill-considered action.” 2

Sun Tzu also noted that there are five circumstances or conditions in which victory can be expected: (1) He who knows “when he can fight and when he cannot” will be victorious; (2) He who understands how to use both small and large forces will prevail—there are circumstances in war when “the weak can master the strong” and one must “manipulate such circumstances” to win; (3) the commander whose ranks “are united in purpose” will achieve victory; (4) the one who is prudent and “lies in wait for an enemy who is not” will be victorious; and (5) he whose generals are able and “not interfered with by the sovereign” will win. 3 The al-Qaeda terrorists who struck at the World Trade Center and the Pentagon on September 11, 2001, demonstrated several of these principles in action. They manipulated circumstances so that the militarily weaker side could master the stronger side. They prudently lay in wait for an adversary whose preparedness was imprudent. The terrorists knew when to fight and when not to.

For each of these five principles of war according to Sun Tzu we can identify additional and suitable historical examples subsequent to his writing. Successful application of the first principle, knowing when and when not to fight, is shown in Mao Zedong's campaign against Chinese nationalist forces that led to the seizure of power by the Chinese Communists in 1949. 4 North Vietnamese military strategist Vo Nguyen Giap demonstrated mastery of the second principle, the alternation of small and larger forces, during the Second Indochina War in the

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