Tag Archives: Sun Tzu

The NSA, the Use of Spies and The Art of War (Sun Tzu)

I reviewed yesterday the book The Art of War (by Sun Tzu) from the point of view teamwork, communication and leadership as that was the interest I had when I have read it this second time. However, there was another chapter that called my attention given the ongoing NSA spying scandal (PRISM surveillance programme) disclosed by The Guardian and The Washington Post in 2013, that was the last on of the book “The Use of Spies“:

Raising a host of a hundred thousand men and marching them great distances entails heavy loss on the people and a drain on the resources of the State. […] There will be commotion at home and abroad, and men will drop down exhausted on the highways. […] Hostile armies may face each other for years, striving for the victory which is decided in a single day. This being so, to remain in ignorance of the enemy’s condition simply because one grudges the outlay of a hundred ounces of silver in honors and emoluments, is the height of inhumanity. One who acts thus is no leader of men, no present help to his sovereign, no master of victory. Thus, what enables the wise sovereign and the good general to strike and conquer, and achieve things beyond the reach of ordinary men, is foreknowledge. Now this foreknowledge cannot be elicited from spirits; it cannot be obtained inductively from experience, nor by any deductive calculation. Knowledge of the enemy’s dispositions can only be obtained from other men.

Hence the use of spies, of whom there are five classes: (1) Local spies; (2) inward spies; (3) converted spies; (4) doomed spies; (5) surviving spies. When these five kinds of spy are all at work, none can discover the secret system. This is called “divine manipulation of the threads.” It is the sovereign’s most precious faculty. Having local spies means employing the services of the inhabitants of a district. Having inward spies, making use of officials of the enemy. Having converted spies, getting hold of the enemy’s spies and using them for our own purposes. Having doomed spies, doing certain things openly for purposes of deception, and allowing our spies to know of them and report them to the enemy. Surviving spies, finally, are those who bring back news from the enemy’s camp.

Hence it is that which none in the whole army are more intimate relations to be maintained than with spies. None should be more liberally rewarded. In no other business should greater secrecy be preserved. Spies cannot be usefully employed without a certain intuitive sagacity. They cannot be properly managed without benevolence and straightforwardness. Without subtle ingenuity of mind, one cannot make certain of the truth of their reports. Be subtle! be subtle! and use your spies for every kind of business. If a secret piece of news is divulged by a spy before the time is ripe, he must be put to death together with the man to whom the secret was told.

Whether the object be to crush an army, to storm a city, or to assassinate an individual, it is always necessary to begin by finding out the names of the attendants, the aides-de-camp, and door-keepers and sentries of the general in command. Our spies must be commissioned to ascertain these. The enemy’s spies who have come to spy on us must be sought out, tempted with bribes, led away and comfortably housed. Thus they will become converted spies and available for our service. It is through the information brought by the converted spy that we are able to acquire and employ local and inward spies. It is owing to his information, again, that we can cause the doomed spy to carry false tidings to the enemy. Lastly, it is by his information that the surviving spy can be used on appointed occasions. The end and aim of spying in all its five varieties is knowledge of the enemy; and this knowledge can only be derived, in the first instance, from the converted spy. Hence it is essential that the converted spy be treated with the utmost liberality.

[…] Hence it is only the enlightened ruler and the wise general who will use the highest intelligence of the army for purposes of spying and thereby they achieve great results. Spies are a most important element in war, because on them depends an army’s ability to move.

And then comes the scandal, the reaction of global leaders subjected to espionage, of private companies, etc.

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The Art of War

The Art of War, by Sun Tzu.

The Art of War, by Sun Tzu.

I recently finished reading The Art of War for a second time. The book in itself verses on tactics, strategies and concepts related to war. However, today it is recommended for and applied to several fields, from politics, to business management and sports.

The first time I read it I was fresh from having completed an MBA and soon joined the strategy department of Airbus Military, the company I work for. I then took an interest to it from the strategy point of view. However, this time I wanted to read it framing myself from the teamwork, communication and leadership point of view. I found it again, a very enjoyable and useful read.

The book is attributed to Sun Tzu, a Chinese military general, strategist and philosopher who lived in the ancient China (544-496 BC). The version I read is a Spanish translation (by Alfonso Colodrón) from the English translation by Thomas Cleary. If you’re an avid reader of business literature you’ll probably have found some quotes from the book. The ones I remarked this time from the point of view I approached it (the emphasis and comments between brackets are mine):

The Army on the March

If you are careful of your men, and camp on hard ground, the army will be free from disease of every kind, and this will spell victory.

Peace proposals unaccompanied by a sworn covenant indicate a plot. [think of inter-departament relationships]

If there is disturbance in the camp, the general’s authority is weak. [indecision]

The sight of men whispering together in small knots or speaking in subdued tones points to disaffection amongst the rank and file. [engagement]

Too frequent rewards signify that the enemy is at the end of his resources; too many punishments betray a condition of dire distress. [rewards vs. engagement; purpose; self-realization]

To begin by bluster, but afterwards to take fright at the enemy’s numbers, shows a supreme lack of intelligence.

He who exercises no forethought but makes light of his opponents is sure to be captured by them.

If soldiers are punished before they have grown attached to you, they will not prove submissive; and, unless submissive, then will be practically useless. If, when the soldiers have become attached to you, punishments are not enforced, they will still be useless. [reminded me of Jack Welch and the need to discriminate]

Terrain

Regard your soldiers as your children, and they will follow you into the deepest valleys; look upon them as your own beloved sons, and they will stand by you even unto death. If, however, you are indulgent, but unable to make your authority felt; kind-hearted, but unable to enforce your commands; and incapable, moreover, of quelling disorder: then your soldiers must be likened to spoilt children; they are useless for any practical purpose.

Take a look at the book. It can be read in no more than one afternoon. Depending from what perspective you take you will draw some conclusions or others. Some passages will not relate much to your current situation, but several others will.

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Common Security and Defence Policy (CSDP)

Security and Defence is a topic which only makes it to the front pages of the media when there are actual war operations. Rarely a debate is centered on whether the country needs to foster its capabilities, invest in new defence technologies, or protect a certain industry base. I cannot recall a single electoral programme calling for such initiatives. The defence is not popular in today’s (European) society.

“The supreme art of war is to subdue the enemy without fighting.” Sun Tzu

Despite of that, and even if some Europeans take them today for granted, defence and security are no less crucial than many other public services which we expect States to provide us. As Javier Solana (former EU High Representative for Foreign and Security Policy, Secretary-General of NATO and Foreign Minister of Spain) put it few days ago in an article titled “Globalizing European Security“:

Global security – a safe and peaceful environment free of conflict – is a public good. In other words, all of the world’s citizens and countries benefit from it, regardless of whether they contribute to supplying it. Given this, free riders (those who enjoy the benefits of the good without investing in its provision) are likely to be plentiful. But, when it comes to global stability, the world simply cannot afford a free-riding Europe.

This obviously includes Europe: Europe cannot afford a free-riding Europe. As Anders Fogh Rasmussen (current Secretary-General of NATO and former Prime Minister of Denmark) put it yesterday:

I truly believe that we should do much more to educate society in the importance of peace, security and defence as goods to be protected and spread, so they can be better valued and supported.

EUCO Conclusions Defence, December 19, 2013 [PDF, 118KB]

EUCO conclusions on Defence, December 19, 2013 [PDF, 118KB]

Having said that, yesterday took place the first session of a 2-day EU Council in which one of the main topics to be dealt with was Security and Defence. Apart from the one cited above, there have been plenty of interesting articles in days prior to the meeting calling for decisions and actions to be taken by the council. To name a few:

In this post I just want to bring the European Council conclusions [PDF, 118KB] as already published and outline some of the passages.

2. The EU and its Member States must exercise greater responsibilities in response to those challenges if they want to contribute to maintaining peace and security through CSDP […]. The European Council calls on the Member States to deepen defence cooperation by improving the capacity to conduct missions and operations and by making full use of synergies in order to improve the development and availability of the required civilian and military capabilities, supported by a more integrated, sustainable, innovative and competitive European Defence Technological and Industrial Base (EDTIB). This will also bring benefits in terms of growth, jobs and innovation to the broader European industrial sector.

4. […] the European Council has identified a number of priority actions built around three axes: increasing the effectiveness, visibility and impact of CSDP; enhancing the development of capabilities and strengthening Europe’s defence industry.

5. […] The European Union and its Member States can bring to the international stage the unique ability to combine, in a consistent manner, policies and tools ranging from diplomacy, security and defence to finance, trade, development and justice. […]

8. […] The European Council emphasises the need to improve the EU rapid response capabilities, including through more flexible and deployable EU Battle groups […]

9. New security challenges continue to emerge. […] the European Council calls for:

  • an EU Cyber Defence Policy Framework in 2014 […]
  • an EU Maritime Security Strategy by June 2014 […]
  • increased synergies between CSDP and Freedom/Security/Justice actors […]
  • progress in developing CSDP support for third states and regions […]
  • further strengthening cooperation to tackle energy security challenges.

10. Cooperation in the area of military capability development is crucial to maintaining key capabilities, remedying shortfalls and avoiding redundancies. Pooling demand, consolidating requirements and realising economies of scale will allow Member States to enhance the efficient use of resources and ensure interoperability, […]

11. The European Council remains committed to delivering key capabilities […]. Bearing in mind that the capacities are owned and operated by the Member States, it welcomes:

  • the development of Remotely Piloted Aircraft Systems (RPAS) in the 2020-2025 timeframe: preparations for a programme of a next-generation European Medium Altitude Long Endurance RPAS; the establishment of an RPAS user community among the participating Member States owning and operating these RPAS; close synergies with the European Commission on regulation (for an initial RPAS integration into the European Aviation System by 2016); appropriate funding from 2014 for R&D activities;
  • the development of Air-to-Air refuelling capacity: progress towards increasing overall capacity and reducing fragmentation, especially as regards the establishment of a Multi-Role Tanker Transport capacity, with synergies in the field of certification, qualification, in-service support and training;
  • Satellite Communication […]
  • Cyber: developing a roadmap and concrete projects […]

13. The European Council welcomes the existing cooperative models, such as the European Air Transport Command (EATC), and encourages Member States to explore ways to replicate the EATC model in other areas.
14. […] It encourages the further development of incentives for and innovative approaches to such cooperation, including by investigating non market-distorting fiscal measures in accordance with existing European law. […]

16. Europe needs a more integrated, sustainable, innovative and competitive defence technological and industrial base (EDTIB) to develop and sustain defence capabilities. This can also enhance its strategic autonomy and its ability to act with partners. The EDTIB should be strengthened to ensure operational effectiveness and security of supply, while remaining globally competitive and stimulating jobs, innovation and growth across the EU. These efforts should be inclusive with opportunities for defence industry in the EU, […]

17. A well-functioning defence market based on openness, equal treatment and opportunities, and transparency for all European suppliers is crucial. […] with a view to opening up the market for subcontractors from all over Europe, ensuring economies of scale and allowing a better circulation of defence products.

18. To ensure the long-term competitiveness of the European defence industry and secure the modern capabilities needed, it is essential to retain defence Research & Technology (R&T) expertise, especially in critical defence technologies. The European Council invites the Member States to increase investment in cooperative research programmes, […]. Civilian and defence research reinforce each other, including in key enabling technologies and on energy efficiency technology. The European Council therefore welcomes the Commission’s intention to evaluate how the results under Horizon 2020 could also benefit defence and security industrial capabilities. […] to develop proposals to stimulate further dual use research. […]

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