Intelligence and War

Much of why we are now in an asymmetrical and defensive posture in today’s “global hybrid war” as opposed to an advantageous and dominant position can also be elucidated and understood by a couple of more points made by Sun Tzu. Most noteworthy is the following:

“Raising a host of a hundred thousand men and marching them great distances entails heavy loss on the people and a drain on the resources of the State. The daily expenditure will amount to a thousand ounces of silver. There will be commotion at home and abroad, and men will drop down exhausted on the highways. As many as seven hundred thousand families will be impeded in their labour.”

Hence, the status quo is a recipe for disaster rather than victory. Sun Tzu followed up the aforementioned with the following: “One who acts thus is no leader of men, no present help to his sovereign, no master of victory.”

In a sense, Sun Tzu’s teachings are an Eastern perspective and an Eastern take on intelligence and war. But it is also worth exploring what Western philosophy states about the art of intelligence and war. One of the most popular and well-known sources for intelligence and warfare and perhaps the foremost of primary sources on the subject of intelligence and war in the Western world is Carl Von Clausewitz. “Intelligence” is defined by Clausewitz in the following manner:

“By “intelligence” we mean every sort of information about the enemy and his country – the basis, in short, of our own plans and operations. If we consider the actual basis of this information, how unreliable and transient it is, we soon realize that war is a flimsy structure that can easily collapse and bury us in its ruins.”

Clausewitz added:

“The textbooks agree, of course, that we should only believe reliable intelligence, and should never cease to be suspicious, but what is the use of such feeble maxims? They belong to that wisdom which for want of anything better scribblers of systems and compendia resort to when they run out of ideas.” 

Hence, the basic parallel between Clausewitz and Sun Tzu and thus the basic parallel between the Western philosophy of intelligence and war and the Eastern philosophy of intelligence and war is that knowledge of the opposite side is key, and there is a hierarchy of information and intelligence which differentiates high-quality and reliable information and intelligence from “flimsy” and unreliable information. It follows that our collective fortunes and our collective outcomes depend on the accurate recognition of what is good and reliable and what is bad and unreliable. As Clausewitz wrote:

“This difficulty of accurate recognition constitutes one of the most serious sources of friction in war, by making things appear entirely different from what one had expected. The senses make a more vivid impression on the mind than systemic thought – so much so that I doubt if a commander ever launched an operation of any magnitude without being forced to repress new misgivings from the start.” 

Clausewitz added that once our judgments actually carry us into the realm of action, it is the realm of action which will “confirm” whether our judgments were correct or not and whether our judgments can overcome the “great chasms” between planning on one hand and “execution” on the other hand. Arguably, the basic parallels between the Eastern philosophy of intelligence and war as epitomized by Sun Tzu and the Western philosophy of intelligence and war as epitomized by Clausewitz are far more significant than the differences. Various streams of information and intelligence go to the top from a variety of sources. And in a sense, the credibility and legitimacy of these various streams depend in large part on whether we are bold enough to assume both responsibility and risk for the information and intelligence that we are giving to the system. 

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