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The Annotated Art of War (Parts 11.52-55: Alliances)

 

Disciplines > Warfare > The Annotated Art of War > Parts 11.52-55: Alliances

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XI. The Nine Situations

 

Sun Tzu said: Commentary
52. We cannot enter into alliance with neighboring princes until we are acquainted with their designs. We are not fit to lead an army on the march unless we are familiar with the face of the country--its mountains and forests, its pitfalls and precipices, its marshes and swamps. We shall be unable to turn natural advantages to account unless we make use of local guides.

Alliances in warfare can be essential. They both provide assistance in your campaigns and also ensure the ally will not join the other side.

Like business, however, a problem is that those who would be your friend often have an agenda of their own, which does not necessarily agree with yours.

They may want large rewards for helping you, sharing in the spoils of a conquered land. They may want you to defend them from the others side. They may also have deceitful tricks up their sleeves, perhaps to invade your lands when you are gone or suddenly change sides when you are vulnerable.

If you need to cross their lands, then they may help you, providing guides. Support from local people, even without a formal alliance, can be very useful.

53. To be ignored of any one of the following four or five principles does not befit a warlike prince. If you would be a prince or a respected leader then you have to show your dignity and adherence principles that are commonly held as being right for your position.
54. When a warlike prince attacks a powerful state, his generalship shows itself in preventing the concentration of the enemy's forces. He overawes his opponents, and their allies are prevented from joining against him. It is a dangerous thing to attack a country which has many powerful allies. If they can act in coordination, you may quickly become outnumbered. Hence it is important not only to understand the depth of opposing alliances but also their military situations.
55. Hence he does not strive to ally himself with all and sundry, nor does he foster the power of other states. He carries out his own secret designs, keeping his antagonists in awe. Thus he is able to capture their cities and overthrow their kingdoms. Creating easy alliances makes one dependent on allies, who may themselves be quite unpredictable in warfare.

Secrecy is much more difficult when allies are involved. If you cannot be sure with your own people, what hope that allies will keep secrets?

Finally, if a general can succeed without allies, then their reputation will soar and their enemies will quake in fear. 

 

 

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