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Sun Tzu and IR Theories
김진욱  2009-02-03 16:07:21, 조회 : 25,059, 추천 : 2328

Sun Tzu and IR Theories

Sun Tzu was one of the earliest realists in international relations theory. He is known as the author of Sun Tzu Bing Fa (The Art of War) which is influential ancient Chinese book on military strategy. The work is considered to be a prime example of Taoist strategy.

Sun Tzu, both as an author of the Art of War and a legendary figure, had an immense impact on Chinese and Asian history and culture. During the 19th and 20th centuries, the Art of War gained popularity and saw practical use in Western society. He still remains highly influential in both Asian and Western culture and politics.

Generally speaking Sun Tzu Bing Fa and IR theories are common in both of which are dealing with relations between the states. But both are really different from each other as much as Chinese theory of International Relations is different from Western theories. Some could think while Sun Tzu Bing Fa deals with War, IR theories deals with peace. So, some may say One is for War, the other is for Peace. However it is a misperception.

Sun Tzu emphasize in the very beginning of Sun Tzu Bing Fa that 'Military action is important to the nation which is the ground of death and life, the path of survival and destruction, so it is imperative to examine it and says in Chapter 3 'Mogong' (Planning a Siege) of Bing Fa that 'it is the best way to win without fighting.' He is arguing not war or military action but peaceful arrangement without fighting in the indispensible conflict situations.

Sun Tzu Bing Fa is derived from Taoism. There is the close link between the philosophy in Sun Tzu Bing Fa and Taoism. Without understanding Taoism it is not possible to understand Sun Tzu Bing Fa. How does Taoism see the Nature or the nature of international affairs? Sun Tzu Bing Fa starts from that point. Taoist sees that Competition and Conflicts are just natural in the Nature which is the essential characters for evolving itself.

It is also same among the countries in the international jungle world. Conflicts and hostilities are just natural among the countries for developing themselves. In that situations Taoism is suggesting the way how they could be harmoniously managed. And in that manner Sun Tzu argues how the states could be balanced without projecting their powers.

Sun Tzu and Realism

Morgenthau explains the power pursuit propensity of states is derived from the basic nature of human beings which is the start of classical realism; one of the representative of IR theories. While Morgenthau compares nature of the states with nature of human beings, Sun Tzu compares nature of the states with not only nature of human beings but also the law of nature and the nature of Cosmos. The nature of human beings is derived basically from the nature of Cosmos.

Sun Tzu percepts and admits that phenomenon of the power pursuit propensity of states and power conflicts among international countries and argues that it must not be leaded to War as natures go on quarrels into Zero-Sum game.

Sun Tzu says in the first chapter 'Shi Ji'(Strategic Assessments) of Bing Fa that you should measure in terms of five things for military action, use these assessments to make comparisons and thus find out what the conditions are. The five things are the way, the weather, the terrain, the leadership, and discipline. And he explains about the first thing; the way (Tao) which is the essence of Taoism that 'it means inducing the people to have the same aim as the leadership, so that they will share death and share life, without fear of danger.' In oriental society it is the common sense that the nature of people is the nature of heaven. So Sun Tzu says people's intention referring Tao; the first thing of measurement for military action which literally means the way of Cosmos.

Sun Tzu and Constructivism

Constructivist theory argues that the state of anarchy is a structural condition inherent in the system of states. Sun Tzu as one of the Taoists sees that anarchy itself derived from the chaos of Cosmos. Constructivists argue that Anarchy is the result of a process that constructs the rules or norms that govern the interaction of states. If we substitute the perspectives of Taoism for that situation, we could say that states are processing according to their natures given as a part of Cosmos. Cosmos has setup in order from the Chaos. So Sun Tzu says it is also possible to change the anarchic nature of the system of states into harmonious order. In a sense Sun Tzu is representing Constructivists rather than realists.

Sun Tzu and Critical Social Theorist stance

Sun Tzu Bing Fa is very close to the approach and methodology of Critical Social Theorist stance. Sun Tzu says in the 3rd chapter 'Mo Gong'(Planning a Siege) of Bing Fa that 'If the general cannot overcome his anger and has his army swarm over the citadel, killing a third of his soldiers, and yet the citadel is still not taken, this is a disastrous attack. Therefore one who is good at martial arts overcomes others' forces without battle, conquers others' cities without siege, and destroys others' nations without taking a long time. It is imperative to contest all factions for complete victory, so the army is not garrisoned and the profit can be total. This is the law of strategic siege.'

In Sun Tzu Bing Far he is not explaining about the fact of situations between the states or power relations but criticizing the attitude of power materialization as Critical theorist investigates by providing grounds for the justification and criticism of the institutions, practices and mentalities that make up that reality. Sun Tzu Bing Far is very similar to the Critical theory in which both attempt to bridge between philosophical and substantive concerns, pure and applied theory, explanation and justification.

Sun Tzu says in the 3rd chapter 'Mo Gong'(Planning a Siege) of Bing Fa 'the best victory is when the opponent surrenders of its own accord before there are any showing hostilities... A clever fighter is one who not only wins, but excels in winning with ease. The more you read and learn, the less your adversary will know. What is essential in war is victory, not prolonged operations.'


So far I have researched what commonness and differences found between Sun Tzu Bing Fa and IR theories, what features of Sun Tzu Bing Fa found from the IR theories and how we can apply Sun Tzu Bing Fa to IR theories. It is true Sun Tzu Bing Fa explains much about the tactics about the War. But it says not only the skill or art of the War but also the nature of the War and the nature of the States. In that sense Sun Tzu Bing Fa was a classical IR theory.

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