What are the main points of the Art of War by Sun Tsu?
Sun Zi Art of War (? ) is the most well-known Chinese military treatise that is known to the Chinese as well as the western world. Written around the 4th to 5th century B.C. And consisting of only 13 chapters, its value in influencing military thinking and war strategies has seldom being questioned. What is more interesting, however, is its relevance to the corporate world of business. Increasingly, military cliches have been used in the business realm. For example, terms like price wars, product wars, battle of the corporate giants, etc. have found increasing acceptance among business writers and analysts (Wee, 2002).
Art of War is taught to students with four general rationales emerged for teaching Sun Zi:
As a tool for strategic analysis
As a potential source of ideas for U.S. military operations
As a way to understand the strategic thinking of Asian allies and facilitate cooperation
As a way to understand the thinking of a potential adversary (INSS, 2009).
Civilian academic experts suggest that PME students should read other Chinese strategic writings and commentaries to gain a proper understanding of Art of War and how it fits into the broader canon of Chinese strategic writings. Faculty at PME institutions observed that time limitations made it difficult to assign additional readings (INSS, 2009). Practitioners noted a lack of student-friendly teaching materials to supplement Art of War as a text. Academic experts agreed that a gap exists in the literature, but noted that there were no professional incentives for academic experts at civilian institutions to produce concise surveys of Chinese military thought or overviews of how Chinese commentaries on Sun Zi have varied over time. These gaps present opportunities for PME faculty and researchers (Mair, 2007).
What basic principles did Sun Tsu contend were vital for success in warfare?
Prior to going to war, among the first comments made by a general will be that of "Who am I fighting against this time?" You can be a giant while the enemy is a one-eyed dwarf. However, there is no cause for rejoicing.
This is because this one-eye dwarf may have a high suicidal and sacrificial tendency. In his quest for heroism, this one-eyed dwarf may have dynamites strapped all over his body and holds two grenades (with the safety pins detached) in his hands. Now, if each time he sees a giant like you, he rushes forward, grabs one of your legs and then releases the two grenades. You will die together with him in the most gruesome manner regardless of how well-prepared and well-armed you are! Thus, knowing involves a thorough understanding and analysis of the opposing side(s).
In fact, this is the strategy adopted by many terrorist bombers. For example, in the conflicts with Israel in March/April 2002, many Palestine suicide bombers, including women, killed themselves together with many of their victims. Thus, in dealing with these terrorists, it is necessary to know them thoroughly, including their motives, psychology, their moral cause, their sacrificial convictions, etc. before developing effective counter strategies.
Simply going after them using sheer brutal force and military domination may not be sufficient. In sum, you may have all the superiority, but you will still face death if you do not understand the one-eye dwarf well enough. Another analogy is that of the tragedy encountered in the attack on the World Trade Centre and the Pentagon of the United States on 11 September 2001. Despite being the strongest and mightiest nation in the modern world, the Americans were shocked and rudely awakened by the senseless and mindless acts of some suicidal terrorists who care nothing about the lives of others. Clearly, the Americans and the rest of the world grossly underestimated the terrorists.
Artillery, the Counterinsurgent's Biggest Stick
One aspect of successful counterinsurgency efforts is the amalgamation of attractive "carrots" and coercive "sticks," even if these sticks are not necessarily lethal combat power (Johnson, 2011). Artillery units provide a counterinsurgency effort with the ability to brandish the stick of massed indirect fires. Since the advent of modern firepower, it has been a key element in warfare as practiced by western cultures (Johnson, 2011). In counterinsurgency warfare, there are few sticks larger than the ability to leverage accurate and predicted indirect lethal fires on an insurgent force among the population. Conversely, there are also few responsibilities higher than the requirement to minimize civilian suffering as a by-product of lethal action. To a certain degree, this is a reflection of the counterinsurgent's imperative to sensibly restore the societal monopoly on violence to the governing power. But refined counterinsurgency approaches are not about the presence of attractive and coercive means, they are about the manner of employing those means with a nuanced understanding of their effects. As such, the employment of artillery units warrants a detailed analysis, especially in an era when the guerrilla and the physicist seemed to conspire to push "normal" warfare into the dustbin of history (Johnson, 2011).
Modern artillery is at a crossroads, but not a crisis. Senior leaders identify both the need to regain the core competencies of indirect fire proficiency after years of service in nonstandard roles, and the need to integrate this institutional experience in other missions (Michael and Jason, 2011; Hollis, 2004). No analyst or strategist can faithfully predict the next war with complete confidence, so the need remains for flexible forces that are rooted in their primary combat functions. This requisite flexibility is found in tactical leaders who are broadly educated, to confidently put their experience and training into context in an amorphous and uncertain environment. It is quite possible that in the next conflict, it will not be the side with the best technology, training, or information that achieves their strategic objectives; it may be the side with the most competent leaders (Moyar, 2011).
How has Sun Tsu's principles been applied, especially in the modern world?
In the context of business competition, to know the other side and to know oneself is tantamount to trying to know the strengths and weaknesses of oneself relative to the competitors. Weather and terrain, on the other hand, refers to the macro environment that a firm operates in. In business, we are usually concerned about the weather or business climate. Similarly, we are concerned about the terrain or the infra-structural factors that can affect business operations. For example, it is very apparent that while the infrastructural factors in Asia have been improving tremendously in the early 1990s with the building of many new airports and harbours (such as in China, Hong Kong, Malaysia and Thailand), the business climate was greatly dampened by the Asian financial crisis that began in July 1997 when Thailand floated its bath. As of early 2001, a few Asian economies have yet to come out of the adverse climate although the infra-structural facilities have not changed.
Understanding the business weather and terrain therefore is an attempt to uncover the opportunities and threats that exist in the environment. Indeed, understanding the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats is typically known as SWOT analysis in modern strategic management. Interestingly, SWOT analysis is very much captured by the saying of Sun Zi.
Knowing the Other Side and Oneself before Weather and Terrain
It is significant to note that Sun Zi apparently placed more emphasis on understanding the other side (the enemy) and oneself4 before understanding weather and terrain. In fact, in the earlier quotation cited from his Chapter 3 on Strategic Attacks (mou gong ), Sun Zi left out weather and terrain completely. The need to place greater emphasis on understanding the other side (the enemy or competitor) and oneself may not be very apparent to many readers. However, on closer reflection and analysis, there is profound logic in the philosophy of Sun Zi. In war, weather and terrain become relevant and important only when there are some chances of victory. However, if the probability of winning is zero or close to zero, weather and terrain will be of little help. In other words, when you are outnumbered, out-gunned, and out equipped by the enemy, weather and terrain cannot help you much.
The same logic applies to many other situations. For example, if the national soccer team of Singapore were to take on the Brazilian national team, it does not matter where the match is played. Regardless of the weather and field conditions, the result would be very obvious to anyone. The same is true if the national basketball team of Singapore were to take on the NBA champion team of the American basketball league. It does not matter where the game is played and the climatic condition of the stadium or playing site. Singapore, given its current standard, is guaranteed to lose. In fact, it is not a case of losing, it is a case of the margin of loss that spectators would be betting on.