Is there an Eastern and Western Strategic Thought?Posted: October 19, 2016
It is very difficult to categorize eastern and western thought. Firstly it is not possible to confine the matter of strategy to a particular geographical location or a certain time period. It follows, therefore that no specific entity can be classified as quintessentially Eastern or Western e.g. Chankya, a master of subterfuge from the Indian subcontinent and Sun Tzu an oracle of oriental strategy may not exactly match in their thinking. On the contrary the Chankyan thought process exemplified in his Mauryan period book Arthshatara quite corresponds to what was propagated by the Italian master of statecraft Niccolò Machiavelli in his Renaissance period book The Prince. Both Chankya and Machiavelli proposed that the ruler should employ cunning, trickery, deviousness and intrigue to keep the citizens under check and to defeat the enemies of the state. There is of course a millennium separating the two royal advisors, who qualify as eminent grise or grey eminence to their respective kings.
Historically each region of the world has produced its own crop of strategic scholars, who produced their own signature theories on strategy and warfare. Ancient Greeks, the Macedonians, the Romans, the Egyptians, the Indians, the Persians, the Arabs, the Mongols, the Central Asians, the Moghuls, the Chinese, the Japanese, the Russians, the Scandinavians, the German, the French and the British have all added their own brand of thoughts on waging war and pursuing diplomacy during various periods of history. The Mongol and his horse was the best fighting machine of time. There were no long logistical trains to retard his movement. The Germans unleashed the power of their panzers and aircraft under the overarching doctrine of blitzkrieg to pulverize the enemy and cause a strategic paralysis. The Americans used shock and awe to similar effects during the Gulf War. All three used speed and mobility to good effect to win wars. Of course the use of firepower grew exponentially with the advance in technology.
This goes to prove that not one single strain of strategic thought was produced in isolation. There were influences particularly from the immediate neighbourhood or the preceding time periods that shaped doctrines and strategies of the dominant powers. Some land mark books on strategy that have now become part of the strategic lore and influenced thought processes of soldiers and statesmen belonging to both the East and the West. Vom Kriege written by the Austrian strategist Clausewitz and the Art of Warfare by the Chinese sage Sun Tzu has influenced many budding strategists. The corpus of literature on strategy keeps growing.
The introduction of the printing press in what the Europeans call the middle ages, led to the wider diffusion of knowledge. More recently the information age and the introduction of the Internet has made it well nigh impossible to produce a pure train of thought that can be termed as eastern or western in content and outlook. During the industrial period the strategic thought became the preserve of the imperial powers and they imposed their thought processes on the countries that found themselves under their tutelage. In recent years the curriculum taught in modern staff colleges and war colleges have tended to propagate separate different kinds of thoughts on warfare and strategy. During the Cold War the Eastern thought process was followed by the Warsaw Pact countries and taught in the Frunze Academy, while the Western thought was followed by NATO countries and countries that were in the western camp including Pakistan. Here the point to note is that East and West during the Cold War both were European powers. The North Americans can be counted as Europeans because they essentially hail from that stock. Asymmetric warfare in recent warfare in recent times has made a new corpus of thought process that is based on strategy of terror. The age of cyber warfare has produced another strain of strategy that is followed by the dominant digital powers. Cyber strategies of the US, Russia and China have their own distinct favours. Militant organizations like the Al Qaeda and the so-called Islamic State (IS) use the Internet to good effect in recruiting, fundraising and proselytising and have developed their own brand of cyber strategy.
The term strategic culture is a legacy of the Cold War and gained currency during the time period. Many western thinkers began to seriously investigate and analyse how the Soviets would behave in a situation where the use of nuclear weapons could become inevitable. A number of factors are considered to determine the strategic culture of a country. These include inter alia aspects such as history, geography, sociology and culture. This method of finding out strategic behaviour of hostile states was picked up by strategic thinkers all over the world. Studying strategic culture of potential enemies has become a favourite pastime of many scholars dabbling in strategy. In the South Asian subcontinent Indian and Pakistani scholars use various angles to examine of the behaviour of a country e.g. the Indian reaction after the recent attack on the Brigade Headquarter in Uri can be studied in detail of how the Indian leadership behave in a certain situation e.g. they threatened to isolate Pakistan internationally, scrap the Indus Water Treaty and conduct so-called surgical strikes, to name a few measures that they took. They of course did not launch their much vaunted Cold Start or the Proactive strategy after the Uri attack. This episode can provide a very good gauge to determine their strategic behaviour.