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Nothing New Under the Sun Tzu: Timeless Principles of the Operational Art of War

Commander Jacques P. Olivier
Commander Olivier is a naval engineer with over 27 years of military service, currently working as a naval platform systems and strategic change program manager with the Director General Maritime Equipment Program Management (DGMEPM) at National Defence Headquarters in Ottawa
Abstract :

Many authors have professed to understand war and society throughout the ages, with the most celebrated pieces of literature including the crafty Il Principe of Italian political philosopher Nicollo di Machiavelli written in 1513 but published postmortem in 1532; and, of course, the Napoleonic wars grand theories of Prussian-German General Carl Philipp Gottlieb von Clausewitz in his proverbial Vom Kriege, also published postmortem in 1831. Both these scholars of war and others have bearing on the central military treatise of this short article, the timeless The Art of War of Chinese strategist Sun Tzu, written in the Fifth Century BC.

As contemporary military doctrine has now evolved through the transformational theories of the Revolution in Military Affairs (RMA) since the 1970s,1 and flirted with a plethora of epistemological system-of-systems concepts, one must enquire if there has truly been a fundamental change in the nature of the operational art of war over the last two millennia? This brief examination contends not, and will attempt to demonstrate that the principles of war remain robustly anchored in only a few tenets allegedly first recorded by Sun Tzu: to win without fighting; and if fighting one must, avoid strength and attack weaknesses; everything else is subordinate and a means to effectively achieve these canons. To do so, it will be shown that war, the use of violence to impose one’s will, remains a means to achieve political objectives, which necessitates an holistic offensive approach and the selection of the most effective modes of warfare if it is to be victoriously terminated at the lowest possible cost and in the shortest possible time.

This article will first examine the holistic perspective of Sun Tzu compared to other authors, and selected ‘system-of-systems’ theories of RMA. Next, Sun Tzu’s centres of gravity will be elicited, followed by the reasoning behind the proportionality of strength and the types of warfare to use, given the will to fight and the resources available. A common thread throughout the article is the use of intelligence, which yields the ability for deception, and, in turn, surprise.

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Nothing New Under the Sun Tzu: Timeless Principles of the Operational Art of War

Date Deposited : 08 Apr 2015 11:22

Last Modified : 08 Apr 2015 11:22

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Volume 14, Number 1, - 2014

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