In light of the latest goings-on in Crimea and the Ukraine, and more broadly Russia’s alliances with various proxies hostile to America, we thought it instructive to look at Sun Tzu’s “Art of War.”

The below reflect not only a potential framework for understanding Vladimir Putin’s moves, but the moves of America’s enemies in Asia and the Middle East more broadly. All emphasis is ours.

Art of War

1. “Hence, when able to attack, we must seem unable; when using our forces, we must seem inactive; when we are near, we must make the enemy believe we are far away; when far away, we must make him believe we are near.” [Chapter I.19]

2. “Now the general who wins a battle makes many calculations in his temple ere the battle is fought. The general who loses a battle makes but few calculations beforehand. Thus do many calculations lead to victory, and few calculations to defeat: how much more no calculation at all! It is by attention to this point that I can foresee who is likely to win or lose.” [Chapter I.26]

3. “…In the practical art of war, the best thing of all is to take the enemy’s country whole and intact; to shatter and destroy it is not so good. So, too, it is better to recapture an army entire than to destroy it, to capture a regiment, a detachment or a company entire than to destroy them.” [Chapter III.1]

4. “Therefore the skillful leader subdues the enemy’s troops without any fighting; he captures their cities without laying siege to them; he overthrows their kingdom without lengthy operations in the field. With his forces intact he will dispute the mastery of the Empire, and thus, without losing a man, his triumph will be complete. This is the method of attacking by stratagem.” [Chapter III.6-7]

5. “…If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles. If you know yourself but not the enemy, for every victory gained you will also suffer a defeat. If you know neither the enemy nor yourself, you will succumb in every battle.” [Chapter III.18]

6. “Thus it is that in war the victorious strategist only seeks battle after the victory has been won, whereas he who is destined to defeat first fights and afterwards looks for victory.” [Chapter IV.15]

7. “Therefore the clever combatant imposes his will on the enemy, but does not allow the enemy’s will to be imposed on him.” [Chapter VI.2]

This file photo shows President Barack Obama with Russian President Vladmir Putin in Ireland in June. Photo Credit: Evan Vucci/AP

President Barack Obama pictured with Russian President Vladmir Putin in Ireland in June. Photo Credit: Evan Vucci/AP 

8. “By holding out advantages to him, he can cause the enemy to approach of his own accord; or, by inflicting damage, he can make it impossible for the enemy to draw near.” [Chapter VI.3]

9.You can be sure of succeeding in your attacks if you only attack places which are undefended. You can ensure the safety of your defense if you only hold positions that cannot be attacked. Hence that general is skillful in attack whose opponent does not know what to defend; and he is skillful in defense whose opponent does not know what to attack.” [Chapter VII.7-8]

10. “The spot where we intend to fight must not be made known; for then the enemy will have to prepare against a possible attack at several different points; and his forces being thus distributed in many directions, the numbers we shall have to face at any given point will be proportionately few.” [Chapter VI.16]

11.Though the enemy be stronger in numbers, we may prevent him from fighting. Scheme so as to discover his plans and the likelihood of their success. Rouse him, and learn the principle of his activity or inactivity. Force him to reveal himself, so as to find out his vulnerable spots. Carefully compare the opposing army with your own, so that you may know where strength is superabundant and where it is deficient.” [Chapter VI.22-24]

12. “In making tactical dispositions, the highest pitch you can attain is to conceal them; conceal your dispositions, and you will be safe from the prying of the subtlest spies, from the machinations of the wisest brains. How victory may be produced for them out of the enemy’s own tactics—that is what the multitude cannot comprehend. All men can see the tactics whereby I conquer, but what none can see is the strategy out of which victory is evolved. Do not repeat the tactics which have gained you one victory, but let your methods be regulated by the infinite variety of circumstances. Military tactics are like unto water; for water in its natural course runs away from high places and hastens downwards. So in war, the way is to avoid what is strong and to strike at what is weak.” [Chapter VI.25-30]

Unidentified gunmen guard the gate of an infantry base in Privolnoye, Ukraine, Sunday, March 2, 2014. Hundreds of unidentified gunmen arrived outside Ukraine's infantry base in Privolnoye in its Crimea region. The convoy includes at least 13 troop vehicles each containing 30 soldiers and four armored vehicles with mounted machine guns. The vehicles — which have Russian license plates — have surrounded the base and are blocking Ukrainian soldiers from entering or leaving it. (AP Photo/Darko Vojinovic)

Unidentified gunmen guard the gate of an infantry base in Privolnoye, Ukraine, Sunday, March 2, 2014. Hundreds of unidentified gunmen arrived outside Ukraine’s infantry base in Privolnoye in its Crimea region. The convoy includes at least 13 troop vehicles each containing 30 soldiers and four armored vehicles with mounted machine guns. The vehicles — which have Russian license plates — have surrounded the base and are blocking Ukrainian soldiers from entering or leaving it. (AP Photo/Darko Vojinovic) 

13.When the enemy is close at hand and remains quiet, he is relying on the natural strength of his position. When he keeps aloof and tries to provoke a battle, he is anxious for the other side to advance.” [Chapter IX.18-19]

14. “Those who were called skillful leaders of old knew how to drive a wedge between the enemy’s front and rear; to prevent co-operation between his large and small divisions; to hinder the good troops from rescuing the bad, the officers from rallying their men. When the enemy’s men were united, they managed to keep them in disorder. When it was to their advantage, they made a forward move; when otherwise, they stopped still.” [Chapter XI.15-17]

15.Rapidity is the essence of war: take advantage of the enemy’s unreadiness, make your way by unexpected routes, and attack unguarded spots.” [Chapter XI.19]

16. “Success in warfare is gained by carefully accommodating ourselves to the enemy’s purpose. By persistently hanging on the enemy’s flank, we shall succeed in the long run in killing the commander-in-chief. This is called ability to accomplish a thing by sheer cunning. On the day that you take up your command, block the frontier passes, destroy the official tallies, and stop the passage of all emissaries. Be stern in the council-chamber, so that you may control the situation. If the enemy leaves a door open, you must rush in. Forestall your opponent by seizing what he holds dear, and subtly contrive to time his arrival on the ground. Walk in the path defined by rule, and accommodate yourself to the enemy until you can fight a decisive battle. At first, then, exhibit the coyness of a maiden, until the enemy gives you an opening; afterwards emulate the rapidity of a running hare, and it will be too late for the enemy to oppose you.” [Chapter XI.60-68]

Sun Tzu also leaves us with something to mediate upon, worth considering:

“There are five dangerous faults which may affect a general:

(1) Recklessness, which leads to destruction;
(2) cowardice, which leads to capture;
(3) a hasty temper, which can be provoked by insults;
(4) a delicacy of honor which is sensitive to shame;
(5) over-solicitude for his men, which exposes him to worry and trouble.

These are the five besetting sins of a general, ruinous to the conduct of war.

When an army is overthrown and its leader slain, the cause will surely be found among these five dangerous faults. Let them be a subject of meditation.” [Chapter VIII.12-14]

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