The Art of War

In conflict and war, there are both strategies and grand strategies, in addition to operations and tactics. Sir Basel Liddle Hart defined the term “strategy” as the employment of battles, energies, and efforts aimed at the achievement of a goal. On the other hand, “grand strategy” is the employment of a nation’s energies and resources aimed at achieving a peace that is better than the peace that was had before. Tactics are essentially actions within the chain of battles that are employed towards the achievement of a goal. And operations are essentially logistical endeavors that connect one’s ends or goals to the means.

Thomas Schelling, who was perhaps the world’s most famous game theorist and nuclear strategist during the Cold War, argued that conflict is not necessarily defined by two sides seeking to destroy one another. Rather, Schelling argued that in most cases, conflicts have a “mutual dependence” element that is involved between two conflicting sides. As a result of this “mutual dependence” element between two sides of a conflict, it follows that conflict is actually a bargaining process that brings two conflicting sides together with the aim of accommodating one another’s interests. In turn, bargaining has a lot to do with observing what the other side does, and thus one’s decision to enter into a bargain ultimately depends on the actions of the other side. Thus, in Schelling’s view, the “non-zero-sum nature” of conflict outweighs the “zero-sum” nature of conflict, which came as a surprise to lots of students like myself as well as scholars and theorists who studied the “trinity” of the social sciences – namely, economics, politics, and sociology – with the assumption that economics, politics, and sociology are defined largely by a zero-sum paradigm.

Napoleon also defined war wholly as an art that is defined by defensive movements which are followed up by a surprise attack that defines the entirety of the war. But both Western and Eastern strategists have agreed in the past that the best strategies in conflict and war are those which achieve a goal or render an outcome without the use of force. As Sun Tzu argued, the best strategist wins a war without even fighting. The best strategies in conflict and war involve deceit, movement, and surprise as psychological tools aimed at paralyzing the opposing side’s course of action rather than the annihilation of the opposing side. Rather than slashing, one is better off pricking at the other side in order to wear them down psychologically.

As mentioned before, the potential for the use of force may actually render favorable outcomes without even having to use force. And if it is actually employed, force should be fluid and scattered rather than concentrated and rigid in order to scatter the focus of the other side. Also, the best plans and strategies have “branches” to borrow from Liddle Hart, rather than an insistence and stubbornness over one particular outcome.

            Thus, if conflict and war are actually seen as an art and a bargaining process rather than a guaranteed pathway towards annihilation and destruction, we can then understand why conflict and war have been integral to the human experience ever since the beginning of human history. Rather than living an idyllic life in the doldrums, human beings as well as human genius were borne out of conflict and war. And as Heraclitus said, war is the father of all things. The aforementioned points are just some of the complexities behind conflict and war that I have mentioned in the totality of my blog, with some of the others such as the “Balance of Power” principle and “Game Theory” having been mentioned in previous blog posts.

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