Trinity of the Adversary

This has probably been mentioned by somebody elsewhere before and perhaps in greater clarity and form. However, I had this original thought yesterday and without much research here it is. I should read more on Clausewitz and researches on him anyway.

In “On War”, one of his more famous theories is on the Trinity of War, comprise of “composed of primordial violence, hatred, and enmity, which are to be regarded as a blind natural force; of the play of chance and probability within which the
creative spirit is free to roam; and of its element of subordination, as an instrument of policy, which makes it subject to reason alone.” (para 28, Book One On the Nature of War). I have previously mentioned this trinity in an earlier post and shall not repeat it. However, suffice to say that there is a lesser and often confused trinity that is of the people, the military and the government, which correspond somewhat with the three forces mentioned above.

One of the skills of the general or his staff officer is the construct of the enemy or adversary’s state of mind. To emerge victorious over the adversary and achieve one’s aim is the desired end state for the military general. To understand the enemy gives options in the ways to defeat him most effectively and efficiently. In Sun Tzu’ Art of War, he mentions, “Thus, to fight a hundred battles and to win a hundred victories is not a reflection of the most supreme strategy. The ability to subdue the enemy without any battle is the ultimate reflection of the most supreme strategy. ” (3.6 and 3.7) (是故百戰百勝,非善之善者也;不戰而屈人之兵,善之善者也)

Thus, the idea is to strike at the enemy in three ways, at his will, at his strategy and at his forces. In targeting an adversary, one must seek to deter his will to compete. Using means at the national disposal, one can imagine using overt means (showcasing one own’s military might, declaring legitimacy and thus international support for one own’s stand and engaging in economical ties such that it costs the adversary if they choose to fight or compete)  or convert means (social media, to accomplish the ways to deter an adversary in completing. Similarly, we can also look at how we should aim our means to reduce the effectiveness of their strategy, by discrediting them or by shifting the focus of their strategy to a false end. Finally, we can reduce their means of achieving their objectives by removing the means or corrupting it. There are multiple means to achieve any objectives that a general or his staff officer can use. We need to be “over-determining” our success by not limiting our strategy to any single way but by utilizing all of it and making sure we achieve the objectives by the most effective and efficient means.

Strategy and Life

I have recently stumbled upon an excellent post by Oliver Emberton recently that stuck with me. It wasn’t just his cute 16 bits cartoons that illustrated his points so succinctly or his use of game theory, his philosophy in life is worth pondering too. While I try not to just summaries his points here, some of his points are worth repeating. I do not consider my self a student of strategy but strategy is about making decisions that that will enable you to gain a advantage and in life you make decisions.

What is strategy? Lawrence Freedman published a history of Strategy in his book, “STRATEGY, a history.” Starting from as ancient as Evolution and Biblical times, he explains the origins of strategy in its basic form of strength and deception, bie and metis in Greek. These two are epitomized by Achilles and Odysseus. Freedman goes on to say how there is a limit to both strength and deception. Strength pits itself against another in a frontal manner, seeking to overthrow through pure superiority in resources. Deception, on the other hand, seeks to undermine the opponent through maneuvers and illusions. Strength is limited by resources and deception is limited by the opponent’s awareness.

However, in his explanation of Sun Tzu’s Art of War, he simplifies the great sage’s deception into “simply a matter of doing the opposite of what was expected.” Freedman goes on to say that deception is limited if both commanders deploys Sun Tzu’s deception and are weary of each other’s tactics. While that was part of the thesis, it oversimplify the issue as a either “have” or “have not”. Strategies employed by Chinese generals who read Sun Tzu have displayed varying understanding of the deceptiveness of tactics and the key to non-defeat is to know the enemy. If the enemy is prepared to counter your deception, sometimes, the most frontal assault will work.