Book Review: Sun Tzu, The Founding Fathers, The Art of Peace, and America’s Strategic Deficit Disorder
Sun Tzu, The Founding Fathers, The Art of Peace, and America’s Strategic Deficit Disorder
David S. Maxwell
The Art of Peace: Engaging in A Complex World
Author: Dr. Juliana Geron Pilon
Transaction Publishers, 2016
If I could recommend one book to the Trump Transition Team it would be Dr. Juliana Geran Pilon’s The Art of Peace: Engaging in Complex World.
Dr. Pilon is a Senior Fellow at the Alexander Hamilton Institute for the Study of Western Civilization and a renowned scholar who has taught at the National Defense University, George Washington University and has held post-doctoral fellowships at Stanford’s Hoover Institution and the Institute for Humane Letters. He is the author of a number of acclaimed books and over 200 articles.
I am partial to anyone who can write about Sun Tzu and apply the Art of War to contemporary strategy. However most such attempts use Sun Tzu as a gimmick to gain attention. Not so with The Art of Peace. Dr. Pilon masterfully uses Sun Tzu to illustrate the problems we have with strategic thought and reminds us of the timeless elements of strategy that are arguably more relevant today than at any time in history. I am even more partial to anyone who can combine Sun Tzu and the Founding Fathers to discuss national security strategy and Dr. Pilon masterfully incorporates American history and political philosophy into her work.
Dr. Pilon argues that “the basic principles of war and peace are transcendent” throughout history and around the world. What is really unique about this book is that she shows how Sun Tzu’s concepts were applied (admittedly subconsciously) by our Founding Fathers and most importantly that together Sun Tzu and the Founding Fathers still are applicable to the global geo-strategic environment of the 21st Century.
This book is a critique of American strategy and strategic culture and describes the disease from which we suffer – Strategic Deficit Disorder. It shows us how standing true to the principles of both Sun Tzu and our Founding Fathers will make us better national security practitioners who strive to practice the “art of peace” as well as the art of war.
Why are Sun Tzu and the Founding Fathers still relevant? They have one important trait in common. They understood human nature and they devised strategies and built our republic in such a way that took human nature into account. Of course human nature has always been important from Thucydides’ description of realism of fear, honor, and interest, to Clausewitz’ paradoxical trinity of passion, reason, and chance to understanding conflicts in the 21st Century that have been described as a fight for legitimacy among relevant populations. As we seek to be able to protect U.S. interests in the gray zone between war and peace it is as important to understand the art of peace as it is the art of war. In the post- 9-11 world we have recognized the importance of the human domain but we can look to Sun Tzu and our founding fathers to understand human nature.
Her basic premise is summarized here:
“… America can no longer afford to sit on the proverbial three-legged (”military, diplomacy, development) national security stool where one leg is a lot longer than either of the other two. We are so much becoming militarized as decivilianized (with apologies to spell-check).”
Why is this important, especially to the Trump Transition Team? Because according to Congressman Randy Forbes: "I think that with a President Trump, you'll see him coming out literally within the first few days saying that we are going to have an international defense strategy that is driven by the Pentagon and not by the political National Security Council." If this is the case we will have four or more years of a decivilianized foreign policy and national security strategy.
Dr. Pilon argues that we need effective statecraft and policy makers, strategists, and statesmen who can practice political warfare that George Kennan defined as using all means at a nation’s command to achieve its objectives short of war. Our nation’s civilian leadership needs to be well versed in political warfare and the U.S. military, and in particular special operations forces, needs to conduct operations in support of political warfare.
Today’s strategic environment is no longer bi-polar but can be described in terms of the following trinity:
- Revisionist Powers who seek to disrupt and alter the international system to suit their strategic objectives.
- Revolutionary Powers who seek to destroy the international system and replace it with one in which they can dominate.
- Status Quo powers who seek to maintain the strength of the international system by respecting and protecting sovereignty and enforce the rule of law.[i]
To operate in this environment the U.S. needs to be able to conduct political warfare.
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