Gun Fire

Monday, August 01, 2016

Do-It-Yourself Strategic Analysis: Sun Tzu and the South China Sea

Here's your chance to see if you can play strategist - a "do-it-yourself" strategic analysis, if you will.

The question before you is, "What is the applicability, if any, of Sun Tzu's The Art of War to the events unfolding in the South China Sea?"

The link contained in the question will take you to a good translation of Sun Tzu's work.

Of some interest to you might be the following, but there may be others that you may find more interesting to discuss:

[2.08] ". . . I have heard of military campaigns that were clumsy but swift, but I have never seen military campaigns that were skilled but protracted. No nation has ever benefited from protracted warfare.
[03.02] Therefore, to achieve a hundred victories in a hundred battles is not the highest excellence; to subjugate the enemy's army without doing battle is the highest of excellence.

[03.03] Therefore, the best warfare strategy is to attack the enemy's plans, next is to attack alliances, next is to attack the army, and the worst is to attack a walled city.
[04.04] One takes on sufficiency defending, one takes on deficiency attacking."
[05.14] Therefore, those skilled in moving the enemy use formation that makes the enemy respond.

[05.15] They offer bait that which the enemy must take, manipulating the enemy to move while they wait in ambush.
[05.14] Therefore, those skilled in moving the enemy use formation that makes the enemy respond.

[05.15] They offer bait that which the enemy must take, manipulating the enemy to move while they wait in ambush.
[06.01] Generally the one who first occupies the battlefield awaiting the enemy is at ease; the one who comes later and rushes into battle is fatigued.

[06.02] Therefore those skilled warfare move the enemy, and are not moved by the enemy.

[06.03] Getting the enemy to approach on his own accord is a matter of showing him advantage; stopping him from approaching is a matter of showing him harm.
[06.12] Therefore, if we want to do battle, even if the enemy is protected by high walls and deep moats, he cannot but do battle, because we attack what he must rescue. If we do not want to do battle, even if we merely draw a line on the ground, he will not do battle, because we divert his movements.
[06.17] If the enemy prepares to defend many places, then his forces will be few in number.

[06.18] Therefore, if the enemy prepares to defend the front, the back will be weak. If he prepares to defend the back, the front will be weak. If he prepares to defend the left, the right will be weak. If he prepares to defend the right, the left will be weak. If he prepares to defend everywhere, everywhere will be weak.

[06.19] The few are those preparing to defend against others, the many are those who make others prepare to defend against them.

[06.20] Therefore, if one knows the place of battle and the day of battle, he can march a thousand kilometers and do battle.

[06.21] If one does not know the place of battle and the day of battle, then his left cannot aid his right, his right cannot aid his left, his front cannot aid his back, and his back cannot aid his front.

[06.22] How much less so if he is separated by tens of kilometers, or even a few kilometers.
08.09] Therefore, subjugate the neighboring rulers with potential disadvantages, labor the neighboring rulers with constant matters, and have the neighboring rulers rush after advantages.
[11.17] Ask: If the enemy is large in number and advances, what should be the response? I say: Seize what he values, and he will do what you wish.
Another useful short version of this advice at Eric Jackson's Sun Tzu's 31 Best Pieces Of Leadership Advice:
When strong, avoid them. If of high morale, depress them. Seem humble to fill them with conceit. If at ease, exhaust them. If united, separate them. Attack their weaknesses. Emerge to their surprise.

All warfare is based on deception. Hence, when able to attack, we must seem unable; when using our forces, we must seem inactive; when we are near, we must make the enemy believe we are far away; when far away, we must make him believe we are near.
You might also consider how the development of anti-ship ballistic missiles (ASBM)("carrier killers") affects strategy. Are they like mine warfare? Along the lines of, "How many mines does it take to close a port? Answer: Perhaps none because the threat of a mined port may be enough to delay or deny its use." How much time, money and planning is required to counter the threat of ASBMs? Is that a strategic weakness?

Other possible questions: Alliances and allies? What about the strength of the Chinese economy in the region? What are the limitations of China's resources both in food and fuel? Who has greater issues with time and distance?

Just some things worth pondering. Have fun with it.


  1. Anonymous3:19 PM

    Worth pondering with stories like these in the news:

    Seems like China has boxed themselves in a corner, gotten everybody in the area working against them. Saving face is certainly possible, but probably not easy. Bad situation for an accident to happen and blow it all up.

  2. In my opinion, [2.08] makes a modern case for what Sun Tzu could hardly contemplate: an "EMP" attack on the U.S. How long before a proxy (e.g. DPRK, Cuba) could launch an EMP attack?

    Thereafter the enemy would benefit from low U.S. morale, civil disruptions, and any protracted U.S. delays to declare war, or not, determine legal methods of economic and militaristic retaliations and still (depending upon the administration) successfully repel the inevitable border invasions to follow.

    By then, as even the Chinese are aware, a goodly number of our congress would be availing their elite reservations in bombproof, government shelters.