North Korea: Clausewitz meets Sun Tzu. How to win a battle, but loose the war


Clausewitz meets Sun Tzu

Will Sun Tzu defeat the dominant Western war paradigm (without war)?

In the previous article with the title ‘The Forever war: Violating a basic law’, I showed that the finite-time singularity dynamic the anarchistic System (Europe) produced during the period 1495-1945, and that was accompanied by four accelerating war cycles, can be modelled as ‘power plant’. It is then possible to identify the basic energy transfers and transformations in the System.

The First and Second Laws of Thermodynamics also apply to the dynamics of the anarchistic System. The First Law states that the change in the internal energy of the system (U) – the finite-time singularity dynamic – is the sum of the work (W) that is accomplished and the energy that is – by means of collateral damage (Q) – transferred to the system’s environment: Delta U = Q + W.

The work the finite-time singularity dynamic accomplished was dependent on the phase of the war cycle: During relatively stable periods (when an international order is in place), work W consisted of fixing issues in the System, within the framework of the existing order: Work meant maintaining – balancing – the status quo.

During critical periods, work consisted of upgrading the international order; creating a new status quo.

In both cases work was accomplished through interactions between military capabilities (‘armies’) of states; by using kinetic energy.

The patterns that can be observed in the war dynamics of the System, including trends in the development of certain key-properties of the finite-time singularity during the period 1495-1945, show that the anarchistic System was a highly efficient system.

The fact that military capabilities of (about) all major states in the System at the start of the fourth systemic war (the Second World War, 1939) were organised in similar (fractal) structures, with (about) identical military capabilities at the same  levels of organisation (platoon, company, bataljon, regiment, etc.) is indicative for the co-evolutionary development of military capabilities and state-structures in the anarchistic System. The competition of (standardised) states increasingly focused on their ability to develop, produce, mobilise and deploy military capabilities at larger scales.

Fractal military structures are optimal structures, and were designed with the single purpose to fight their counterparts of rival states. The fact that eventually – in 1941 – the organisation of (for example) an US Army Infantry Division and a German Waffen SS division were identical (fractal structures, similar capabilities) is indicative for the optimisation of fighting-abilities of states, and of the kinetic focus of the anarchistic System.

During the period 1495-1945, states in the System increasingly focused on the use of kinetic energy (military capabilities) to solve issues between states. This (also) has become the dominant modus operandi of the now global anarchistic System.

This singular focus on the application of kinetic energy now causes problems. Applying kinetic energy – to accomplish meaningful work (balancing the status quo, implementing upgraded orders) – only works efficiently when armies fight with their counterparts of other states.

Armies – the product of the finite-time singularity dynamic (1495-1945) – were custom-made in – and for – Europe.

These armies are not developed and ‘equipped’ to fight communities and populations as is now the case in for example Afghanistan, where already for 16 years large amounts of kinetic energy are applied with no positive effect at all (and no end is in sight). Energy applied (U) in Afghanistan (or Iraq and Syria for that matter) by the US and NATO does not result in work W (fixing issues, rebalancing), but only in collateral damage Q, that further feeds the insurgency.

Clausewitz’s theory Vom Kriege (On war) is a product of the finite-time singularity dynamic that unfolded in Europe. This theory – promoting the idea that war is a continuation of (state) politics by other means and that force (kinetic energy) must be applied to destroy the enemy – contributed to the further development of the finite-time singularity dynamic, states, their military capabilities and the process of social integration that was taking shape in Europe.

It is a misconception to think that Clausewitz theory ‘On war’ is a universal – ‘fundamental’ – war theory; it ‘just’ is a codification of war-practices during the second systemic war (the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars, 1792-1815), that acquired the status of dogma. The theory is based on and shaped by specific conditions and dynamics in Europe. This theory has serious shortcomings, and now causes problems.

The fact that states with integrated armies were dominant following the fourth systemic war (the Second World War, 1939-1945) and the fact that state-structures were imposed as the standard of organisation in the (now) global international order (including for colonies that acquired independence, during the two decades that followed), make that a kinetic – ‘Clausewitz-ian‘ – approach to ‘statecraft’ and international relations became unavoidable.

The reflex of states to threats to their security is to deploy armies, specialised in the large-scale deployment of kinetic energy, and to enforce compliance by (threatening) destruction. European style (1495-1945). The suitability of such an kinetic Clausewitz-ian approach is until today not questioned, but is at the basis of debacles in Vietnam, Afghanistan and Iraq, etc.

There are fundamentally different approaches to conflict and strategy: Sun Tzu is an important example. Whereas (in Europe) issues were ‘solved’ by means of destruction Sun Tzu developed ‘the art of war‘. According to Sun Tzu, “The supreme art of war is to subdue the enemy without fighting”.

Whereas in the approach of the West (Clausewitz) U is maximised, and Q is disregarded, Sun Tzu tries to achieve the same result (work W) without applying kinetic energy, and minimise collateral damage (Q). Destruction is – and should not be – instrumental in solving conflicts, is the aim.

China’s current approach to international relations is more Sun Tzu, than Clausewitz. This is also evident in the reaction of China to North-Korea’s provocations. Contrary to the United States, China prefers a non-kinetic solution.

But in North-Korea Clausewitz can meet Sun Tzu.

Because we live in a Clausewitz-ian world, and because of the immense kinetic dominance of the United States, the United States will win this battle. But the United States will not necessarily win the war, and the next peace.

The following YouTube video is an interesting metaphor for a fight between Clausewitz and Sun Tzu, and a possible outcome.

In May, MMA fighter Xu challenged Tai-Chi fighter Wei. Not surprisingly, Xu – who can be compared to Clausewitz – won this battle. Wei – ‘Sun Tzu’ – was defeated in just a matter of seconds.

MMA compared to Tai-Chi, uses kinetic energy straightforward, destruction of the opponent is the aim. Tai-Chi, is (much) more than that, it is a philosophy, and also serves other purposes (health, control, etc.). T‘ai-chi ch‘üan theory and practice evolved in agreement with many Chinese philosophical principles, including those of Taoism and Confucianism.

However, there is an interesting catch to this battle: Although Xu – Clausewitz – won this battle (very) convincingly, he lost the war.

Many Chinese were deeply offended by this fight and what they saw as an insult to a cornerstone of traditional Chinese culture; consequently Xu was forced to go into hiding, to avoid the consequences. The fight just doesn’t feel good.