- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Some current transformations of strategy, tactics and weapons technology would have been unimaginable only a few years ago. Still, certain ancient and medieval principles of warfare remain valid. The same can surely be said for the more modern ideas of Carl von Clausewitz, B.H. Liddell Hart and Antoine Jomini.

These principles and ideas can be ignored now only at substantial risk. Consider, especially, Sun Tzu. Chinese military thought originated amid Neolithic village conflicts almost 5,000 years ago. But it was Sun Tzu’s “The Art of War,” written in the fifth century, that synthesized a set of principles for victory. At best, the full corpus of Sun Tzu’s works and those of the other great strategists should now be studied by our leaders. Indeed, the timeless principles of war apply even more to today’s global conflicts than they did to past historic conflicts.

The United States now needs to re-evaluate the very meanings of power in world politics, with particular reference to principles that seek victory in warfare that is not prolonged. The first principle, “Objective,” states: When undertaking any mission, commanders should have a clear understanding of the expected outcome and its impact. Today we call it the “endgame.” Following Clausewitz and Sun Tzu, commanders at every level need to identify tangible political ends and to understand precisely how military application can best achieve these goals. Another principle, “Offensive,” states: Offensive operations are essential to maintain the freedom of action necessary for success, exploit vulnerabilities and react to rapidly changing situation and unexpected developments.

America’s leaders should also apply Sun Tzu’s principles concerning certain alternatives to war. The primary objective of every state should be to weaken enemy states (today, states that support terror, e.g. Iran and Syria) without actually engaging in armed combat. This objective links the ideal of “complete victory” to a “strategy for planning offensives.” “One who cannot be victorious assumes a defensive posture; one who can be victorious, attacks.”

The principle of “Mass” outlines that commanders at all levels aggregate the effects of combat power in time and space to overwhelm enemies or to gain control of the situation. Time in warfare applies the elements of combat power against multiple targets simultaneously, and space concentrates the effects of different elements of combat power against a single target.

There is another section of “The Art of War” that can especially help the United States. This is Sun Tzu’s repeated emphasis on the “unorthodox” or, as we prefer to call it today, unconventional warfare. We must, from a high-level strategic view, look at this current global war as combating an enemy who fights in a completely unorthodox manner, and we must fight him the very same way, but more cleverly and more effectively. We must use our full military and intellectual arsenal as a super power to bring victory sooner rather than later. This can be done only with a specific endgame in mind and with a corollary commitment to victory.

Drawn from Taoism, the ancient strategist observes: “[I]n battle, one engages with the orthodox and gains victory through the unorthodox.” In an especially complex passage, Sun Tzu discusses how the orthodox may be used in unorthodox ways, while an orthodox attack may be unorthodox when it is unexpected. Taken seriously by our strategic planners, this passage could represent a subtle tool for strategic and tactical implementation.

For the United States, the unorthodox should now be fashioned not only on the battlefield, but also long before the battle. For now, every enemy state knows almost exactly how the United States will initiate and conduct major military action, and how it will respond to armed attack and armed conflict. If, however, the United States did not always signal perfect rationality to its enemies, it could significantly enhance both its overall deterrence posture and its essential capacity to carry out certain pre-emption options.

This same lesson applies to U.S. diplomacy and politics, which are also too often mired in complete predictability.

Louis Rene Beres is the author of many books and articles on nuclear strategy and nuclear war. Maj. Gen. Paul E. Vallely, retired, is an author and talk-radio host of “Stand Up America.”


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