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Strategic leadership and statecraft ( Part – II )

In a talk at the National Defence College, Kissinger likened strategy to a chess game in which each player seeks to control the maximum number of squares on the chess board to retain an advantage over his opponent which either enables him to win the game from a stronger position or at least force a draw from a weaker position which is what Bhutto achieved in Shimla in 1972.

Dr Kissinger is no less lucid and illuminating in his book, ‘On China’, where he contrasts the Western concept of strategy and statecraft with its Chinese counterpart. He writes “a turbulent history has taught Chinese leaders that not every problem has a solution and that too great an emphasis on total mastery over specific events could upset the harmony of the universe.”

Only a civilizational country that sees itself as ‘Chung-wa’, the centre of the universe, could have such a comprehensive concept of strategy and statecraft. He notes that China had too many potential enemies for it to live in total security. Accordingly, it accepted relative security which implied accepting relative insecurity which in turn implied the “need to learn the grammar of over a dozen neighbouring states with significantly different histories and aspirations. Rarely did Chinese statesmen risk the outcome of a conflict in a single all-or-nothing clash; elaborate multi-year manoeuvres were closer to their style.

Where “the Western tradition prized the decisive clash of forces emphasizing feats of heroism”, Kissinger says “the Chinese ideal stressed subtlety, indirection and the patient accumulation of relative advantage.” He contrasts the Chinese strategic board game of ‘Wei-chi’ better known by its Japanese name of ‘Go’ with chess. Wei-chi is “a game of surrounding pieces and it involves strategic encirclement. Whereas the chess player aims for total victory the Wei-chi player seeks relative advantage. Chess produces single-mindedness. Wei-chi generates strategic flexibility. The difference between Wei-chi and chess is also reflected in the differences between Chinese and Western military strategy.”

Carl von Clausewitz, according to Kissinger, treats strategy as an activity in its own right separate from politics and famously says war is a continuation of politics by other means. Sun Tzu, on the contrary, merges politics and strategy and emphasizes the elements of politics and psychology over the purely military in conflict situations.

As major powers, the US and the larger Western European countries were able to rely more or less exclusively on the military element of strategy in their imperialist and colonial heydays. Western Europe today has chosen to be a strategic satellite of the US. The US economy is shrinking because of what Yannis Varoufakis, the famous Greek economist and finance minister, calls the emergence of techno-feudalism and American economist Michael Hudson calls the apartheid nature of the US economy in which a tiny number of super-rich and huge institutional creditors rule over debtors who comprise the overwhelming majority of its population.

As for Pakistan, it cannot successfully mimic Clausewitzian strategies even towards its smaller neighbours because the US, despite its declining economy is still a global power and strategically every country’s neighbour, not to mention India which is larger than all its South Asian neighbours put together. Accordingly, Chinese strategies are far more appropriate for Pakistan. But as an ex-colonial country our national mindset in general, and our military mindset in particular, find it difficult to accept such a conclusion despite our proximity and friendship with China.

When I was in Moscow, the Chinese ambassador, a wise and experienced diplomat, became a good friend. Later when I was in Beijing, he had retired but remained an adviser to the government on foreign policy. He explained to me the essence of Chinese statecraft over 3000 years of history. The Chinese had learnt the rise and fall of dynasties depended on the Mandate of Heaven. When it was bestowed, there was peace and prosperity, the harvests were abundant, enemies were kept at bay, law and order was maintained, the country was united, the dynasty was stable and strong, and it endured. When it was withdrawn there was war, enemies intervened and occupied Chinese territory, there was pestilence and famine, bandits roamed and plundered the countryside, the country was divided and eventually the dynasty fell.

Over the centuries Chinese scholars sought explanations for the bestowal and withdrawal of the Mandate of Heaven. Eventually, they agreed on an explanation. In brief, all the problems and challenges that China faced fell into three broad categories: those that brooked no delay in resolving; those that were more complicated and required time to understand and devise an appropriate set of responses; and finally those that were so challenging and overwhelming that all that could be done was to equip the next generation with the capabilities to deal with and overcome them.

Whenever China’s rulers correctly categorized the challenges before them and responded accordingly, the Mandate of Heaven was bestowed and endured. But when they incorrectly categorized the challenges before them and adopted inappropriate policies to address them the Mandate of Heaven was withdrawn with all its consequences.

He said China did not pretend to teach other people and countries how to govern themselves. All it could do was offer its own experience and it was for its friends to see whether it had any relevance for them. He then suggested as an example that Pakistan – which was more than a friend – might wish to analyze which category the Kashmir dispute belonged to. Did it belong to the first, second, or third category of challenges? What did the experience of Pakistan suggest? What do the needs of Pakistan require? Has Pakistan correctly categorized the Kashmir challenge?

Similarly, with regard to other political, economic, social, regional, educational and health challenges facing Pakistan which may belong to different categories of challenges? In classical Chinese tradition, he left a thought over which I might ponder. I conveyed this conversation to the ministry which was probably highly amused, or bemused, or both. I never got a response.

In Western discussions of statecraft and strategic leadership in the diplomatic and business worlds, one often comes across concepts such as transactional leadership, transformational leadership, visionary leadership, collaborative leadership, etc with the implicit assumption that the best kind involves a combination of these segmented leaderships. Similarly, leaders are expected to demonstrate a variety of qualities such as vision, openness, focus, courage, prudence, balance, execution, curiosity, diligence, learning, etc. All these qualities are considered essential for zero-sum contests with adversaries in which one party wins and the other loses.

Although the concept of mutual benefit certainly exists in Western cultures, it does not constitute a core element of strategic thinking which is often seen as more of a science combining mathematics, engineering, logic, inventiveness, deceit, surprise, etc. Instead, mutual benefit is considered a concept that owes its inspiration to religion, ethics, morality, philosophy, the arts, even music and poetry; in other words, the humanities which contribute to a humane and vibrant culture and civilization despite the inescapably zero-sum quality of the struggle for dominance as a condition for survival.

Ashraf Jehangir Qazi, "Strategic leadership and statecraft ( Part – II )," The News. 2024-03-10.
Keywords: Political science , Political issues , Military strategy , Feudalism , Economics , China , Pakistan