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Thursday, September 13, 2007

Clausewitz reversed

The Prussian military theorist Von Clausewitz said that war was the continuation of politics by other means; some have since substituted the word "economics" for "politics".

But such is the complexity of modern industrial society, and the horrific potential of modern military technology, that we may invert the relationship: economic ownership and infrastructure may be the new weapons with which to wage war.

It is not hard to see the power potential in China's increasing stake in the US economy - not only US government bonds, but increasingly, other assets such as equities. Already, the bond market feels the jerk of the chain, and within the last couple of years Britain has stepped in to provide some much-needed slack to America. But the growth of "sovereign wealth funds" could see future governments using their investments to interfere in the equity markets, too. What price free trade then?

And there are other gaps in the armour. For example, America's recent allegations against China of cyber-warfare have highlighted our daily dependence on electronic technology.

Two Chinese colonels, Qiao Liang and Wang Xiangsui, have produced a book examining such possibilities: "Unrestricted Warfare" (1999). Some translated extracts are available here, and the Wikipedia article is here.

This is not to say that China is actually hostile; only that, like the rest of us, she has her own agenda, and her own contingency plans. Much of warfare is not outright battle, but the use of threats and potential threats to gain strategic advantage. Pushing your opponent into desperation can backfire disastrously. As Sun Tzu said, "To a surrounded enemy, you must leave a way of escape."

But we must recover our economic balance, or risk having the imbalance used against us.

2 comments:

Nick Drew said...

A ve-ery big topic, Sackers. Two short observations:

- The Chinese writers' theme can be seen as an extension of Mao's doctrine for the Millennium

- Always interesting to see how gobsmacked various countries have been by the 1991 Gulf War. The Russians, too, were taken aback by that display of NATO doctrine in action: they'd thought it was too complex to execute.

It really does seem this century will belong to China. Rather this than Russia !

Sackerson said...

I think Putin has more reason to fear China than to fear Europe. His recent homoerotic posing leads me to hope that he has become slightly mad (like our recent PM, aka Milly/Miranda) and ready for replacement.

I think that in future we may find robustness more important than efficiency, in politics and in economic functioning. So we would move from concentration to dispersal; from just-in-time delivery to stock-building; from technological convergence to multiplicity; from specialisation to multi-skilling; from intricate global interdependence to contingency planning for increased self-sufficiency.

To take one example, when Thatcher closed down the mining industry, a skelton staff should have been employed in maintaining access to our coal seams, rather than let the underground workings collapse. We will sometime develop new technology that lets us extract fuel cost-effectively; just as Elizabeth I brought in German mining experts to revive the copper mining industry in the South-West and Cumbria.