20 July 2018

Some Thoughts on Diplomacy and War (An Exercise in Literary Chinese - Part 5)

At the end of part 4, we finally managed to cover the Zhanguo Ce chapter in which Yan Lu's diplomatic finesse managed to save Zhou from a Qin invasion and protect the nine-ding. I assume for many people, their first reaction to this story might be a minor nod of interest and then to move on. However, I think there's a bit more to mine from this story on the relationship of diplomacy and war. Or at least, I'm going to over-analyze it so I can fill out this post. So for the conclusion of my 5-part series on literary Chinese, I'll make an argument that to conceive of diplomacy and war as mutually exclusive alternatives to each other is to limit the effectiveness of both.
What really is the "deeper meaning" of this story that I just spent parts 2-4 translating for you? If you recall how I previously described how the Zhanguo Ce can be thought of as a collection of stories demonstrating the feats and philosophy advocated by the School of Diplomacy, you just might think the lesson is to show how a max speech/charisma-build can be just as viable as max-strength build. But is it really Yan Lu's powers of persuasion that saves Zhou in this story? Not at all. I said in part 4 how these precious ceremonial dings could actually be pretty damn heavy, but only a simpleton would accept at face-value Yan Lu's words that one actually needs 810,000 people to move the nine-ding. Qi was one of the leading kingdoms at this time and it was most definitely not led by an idiot. But even if the Qi king truly were naive and believed Yan Lu's exaggerations, he'd still have advisers telling him that Qi doesn't actually need that many people to move the nine-ding. If so, then the true reason for why the Qi king gave up his desire in the end is because how militarily dangerous moving the nine-ding could be. While the Zhou may have lost all its vassals' respect, that does not mean its status symbols like being the "Son of Heaven" or possessing the nine-ding lost power. Thus, whereas 810,000 people being needed to move the nine-ding is an obvious lie/exaggeration, Chu and Liang/Wei coveting the nine-ding is highly plausible enough for the Qi King to ultimately decide that it's not worth the risk, especially since Qi does not share a border with Zhou and has to venture through potentially hostile territory. Not only that, it's quite possible that even if the nine-ding were successfully moved to Qi, it would only provoke the other Chinese states to band against Qi for "getting too uppity."
While I appreciate Turnip Farmers, I really dislike the use of Japanese spellings for Chinese names, like Riboku for Li Mu. I keep imagining a Japanese badly pronouncing Reebok in my head.
Viewing the story through this lens, we can see how Yan Lu's words persuades Qi only because there's an actual military threat backing those words. Of course, this military threat doesn't come from Zhou itself, but rather Qi's neighbours, but my point remains the same: Words alone can only get you so far. In other parts of Zhanguo Ce, we learn about Qin's tried-and-tested tactic of using double agents to spread rumours in enemy states that their talented officers were going to defect or rebel. Although a good strategy, the success of these rumours do not hinge upon the deceitful words of these double agents alone. The fact is, the world of Warring States-era China is one that predated any notions of modern nationalism, meaning that ambitious people had no qualms in serving a state different from the one they had been born into. Not only that, the era was full of infamous cases of coups, assassinations, and usurpations. So if you're one of those people that are too keen to criticize the King of Zhao for distrusting skilled commanders like Li Mu or Lian Po, you should get your 20/20 hindsight-goggles off. Knowing who to trust or distrust is exceedingly hard when you're in a position of power and surrounded by a bunch of kiss-asses and ambitious people only too willing to lie to sabotage their peers.

But to return to my main point... words alone are ineffective and the same applies to diplomacy. As Gandhi used to whisper into the ears of naked young girls he slept with, "Your words must be backed with nuclear weapons." This might seem pretty obvious, especially those who recall Teddy's big dick or the old-school gunboat diplomacy, but it's surprising how many times I hear naive opinions like, "Switzerland was smart for declaring neutrality in both WW1 and WW2." Declaring neutrality doesn't really mean jack shit when push comes to shove. Go look at what happened to Belgium and Netherlands in both those wars. Likewise in both WW1 and WW2, there were plans for foreign armies to occupy or march through Swiss territory. But what helped Switzerland to maintain their neutrality, unlike Belgium and Netherlands was its relatively large army size in proportion to population, a mountainous terrain, and a good state of war-readiness that could not only call up reserves quickly, but also blow up key roads, tunnels, and railways at a moment's notice to make it a pain for any invading army.

Now what's less obvious than the fact that diplomacy doesn't work so well without war (or at least, the threat of war) is the inverse of that statement: war doesn't work so well without diplomacy. Often, war is imagined as what happens when diplomacy breaks down and opposing parties see no other solution but armed conflict. But I would argue that diplomacy becomes even more important when wars break out. This is because when you look through the history of war across the globe, how many wars end as complete victories where there is no need for tactful diplomacy and one side can dictate whatever terms it wishes? Decisive wars, I would argue, are so famous precisely because of their rarity. Most of the time, even for wars where there is one clear winner, the victor has to conduct diplomacy in such a way that the loser can accept the peace. As I previously touched upon in mpost on Japanese naval strategy, what is decisiveness in war, really? I know quoting your own self isn't exactly modest, but hey, in honour of eminent psychologist Robert Sternberg who cited himself 161 times out of a total 351 references in the 7 papers he published in the last two years, I'ma go ahead here:
[...] turning to the assumption of a decisive battle, consider this: If you completely annihilate an enemy army in battle, is that decisive in settling the war? If you answer yes, then I say to you what if the enemy's capacity to build a new army is still intact? Clearly not, right? Next, consider this: If you completely annihilate an enemy's capacity to wage war, is that decisive? If you answer yes, then I say to you what if the enemy's will to fight is still intact? Now if we're dealing with a context in which genocide is completely acceptable, then sure, the answer is still a yes without a doubt. But if mass genocide isn't a politically viable solution, then the answer is more complex. It's decisive for that specific war, but in the long-run, you're stuck with a defeated enemy that can't wage war only as long as you suppress him. And the moment your will to suppress him starts to erode, your once-defeated enemy will come back with a vengeance, fuelled by his bitter memory of the past. In any case, achieving "real decisiveness" must take into account both the capacity and the will to fight.
So a successful war might destroy an enemy's temporary capacity for war but not necessarily his will, and this is precisely why diplomacy is needed for an actually decisive war. The goal of diplomacy in war is all about getting the enemy to recognize and admit that he's beaten, but also not to fuck him over too hard so that you only trigger his will to plot revenge. When you look at examples of long, drawn-out conflicts, you typically see these conditions being violated. For instance, despite all the famous so-called "decisive battles" the English won in the Hundred Years' War such as the Battle of Crecy or Battle of Agincourt, it was difficult for these military successes to be converted to lasting political gains because the stakes were simply far too high (throne of the largest kingdom in Western Europe) for the Valois dynasty of France to just give up. Moreover, Plantagenet England was nowhere near powerful enough to completely exterminate the Valois dynasty nor make the Valois-supporters submit to its will by force alone.
Now contrast this century of conflict between England and France to the century of peace between the Liao and Song, established by the Chanyuan Covenant. This was certainly no peace brought about by some sort of pre-existing friendship between Liao and Song. If anything, the hatred the Han Chinese of Song harboured against the Khitan steppe nomads of Liao was likely greater than the hatred between the English and the French during the Hundred Years' War. Typically, the Song is thought of as a militarily incapable Chinese dynasty and this martial weakness is attributed as the reason for how the Chanyuan Covenant came to be in the first place and why it was held for 100 years. But reading Peter Lorge's account of the Zhou-Song reunification of China (see above pic) will surprise you in more ways than one just how competent the early Song armies were in terms of combat and logistical capabilities. What particularly surprised me in reading his book was that the Chanyuan campaign, which resulted in the Chanyuan Covenant, wasn't exactly a string of decisive military victories for the Liao as I expected from a campaign that led to the establishment of a long peace favouring the Liao. The cavalry-heavy Liao armies had the edge on the field but it was difficult for them to siege all the Song forts. They could of course bypass many of these forts and conduct a deep raid as they eventually did during the campaign, but this was a risky strategy that was hard logistically, especially in winter. And so, as with not only the Hundred Years' War but probably the vast majority of wars, the Liao and Song realized that neither side really had the strength to bulldoze the other side.
The Liao were pretty cool, but there seriously needs to be more written on the fucking Jurchens, who went from literal-who status to fucking BTFO'ing the Liao and the Song. If it weren't for the Mongols, they would have received far more attention.
So how did the Chanyuan Covenant come about, and how does it relate to my point on the need for diplomacy in war? Rather than setting up a military strategy hinging upon the unlikely outcome of conquering great swathes of land, the Liao settled on a realistic and pragmatic military strategy that would maximize their bargaining power at the diplomatic tables that they envisioned would ultimately end the war. This strategy was a risky advance deep into enemy Song territory, all the way to the outskirts of Chanyuan to make a bluff (though not an unfounded bluff as it was backed by an army) that the war could take a serious turn for the worse since the Yellow River had frozen over and the way to Kaifeng (the Song capital) was theoretically open. But going into the diplomatic tables with the upper hand was just the first step. The Liao could have easily squandered it if they had insisted on peace terms that the Song Emperor could not possibly accept and still maintain his legitimacy as an Emperor with the mandate of Heaven. Instead, they started off with the demand for Song to give up the region of Guannan (which the Liao had formerly lost to Emperor Shizong of Zhou), but since it was militarily difficult region to defend, the Liao were perfectly happy to "compromise" by having Song give annual payments rather than Guannan. Although later Song politicians found the annual payments infuriatingly humiliating, at the time of the peace negotiations, the Song court was only too willing to accept this compromise as Guannan was considered integral to national security and the loss of political capital that would result from conceding Guannan was unacceptable for Emperor Zhenzong of Song.
In case this discussion on medieval conflicts seems too antiquated to be relevant today, let's review a couple recent conflicts on how this understanding of the mutually reinforcing relationship of war and diplomacy may help our judgment. Unless you've been living under a rock or just don't pay attention to any news, one of the hottest topics this year has been the North Korean nuclear threat. Although the US public and media has been more or less only too willing to ignore NK for decades, it seems that it was only quite recently with their latest missile tests that even the average American was starting to take notice. I had a good chuckle in hearing a few anecdotes of some Californians actually freaking about NK-nukes, and generally was quite amused by the American media worrying over North Korean attacks on Guam or perhaps the American West coast, only to then be utterly confused by the opening of possible denuclearization talks and then go on denouncing Trump for meeting with Kim and "normalizing" the NK's crimes against humanity. Now I get that some people are naturally hysterical and that the news has every economic incentive to feed such hysteria, but thinking on it now, I can't help but feel that maybe it's a binary, mutually exclusive conception of war and diplomacy that may partly explain this hysteria. The fact that Clausewitz's famous quote on war has been mistranslated as "war is the continuation of policy by other means" has also not helped at all in preventing this black-and-white conception. But if you're willing to give North Korea the benefit of the doubt and assume that they're not irrational lunatics with a death-wish, then it should make sense that increasing their capacity to make military threats was never about actually going to war, but to gain some benefit that would be settled diplomatically. If this is indeed the case, then it's also difficult to harbour any real hope that NK will simply renounce all nukes forever, as some naive people have also hoped, though one can at least hope they will limit or stop further development.
Gallup Poll of what Americans consider important problems facing their country
Another conflict that I find useful in applying this mutually reinforcing relationship of war and diplomacy is the Syrian Civil War. Every now and then, there's all this talk about the need to send a message to Assad and Putin, or to put boots on the ground, but the issue that gets typically ignored by the media is the utter deficiency in US strategy to use its military capabilities to obtain a diplomatic solution that is conducive to actually establishing peace and stability. It was only just a few years ago that Obama and the mainstream media were all in love with this idea of supporting "moderate rebels" that could overthrow Assad and bring a happily-ever-after-ending to the Syrian Civil War. But since then, it's become clear that if there ever even were moderate rebels, they had all long been pushed out by radical sectarians who would only be too happy to solve the Gordian Knot that is sectarianism in Syria just as Alex the Great did: by the sword. Not wanting to work with Assad is one thing, and even justifiable since he's certainly no Santa Claus. But then what is an alternate viable strategy? I hardly see how pissing away $500 million on training just FIVE fighters is considered a good use of tax-payer money, especially when a recent Gallup poll revealed that Americans consider unemployment, immigration, and dissatisfaction with poor political leadership as some of the most important problems facing the country, while the situation with Russia, Syria, or foreign policy in general is soooo fucking tiny IT BARELY EVEN REGISTERS 1%!!! And don't even get me started on Afghanistan... Remember when both Obama and Trump promised to de-escalate and pull out? Do these political and military leaders actually believe that militarily occupying that country with no end in sight is going to help whatever far-flung objective they're even aiming for? Even after countless commentators, analysts, and think-tanks have pointed out all the ways they've failed diplomatically/politically to build stability? It's a good thing the American army is at least based on an all-volunteer force so that the average citizen can go on ignoring the incredibly drawn-out failure over there.

But that's enough ranting from me, and I'm sure you're finding my smartass/condescending attitude annoying, especially since I'm not American. Looking back, this has been the longest series of post I've done and I hope it's been an interesting enough read, even if you don't share my political opinions or care to ever learn classical Chinese.

P.S. While I haven't released any scanlations for a while, the translation scripts for v3 of Futago no Teikoku are done and I'll be resuming translations for Kamui-den next week.


  1. >only to then be utterly confused by the opening of possible denuclearization talks and then go on denouncing Trump for meeting with Kim and "normalizing" the NK's crimes against humanity.

    But the media was right about the summit achieving nothing except allowing Kim to run laps around Trump.


    >The outcome of the historic meeting in Singapore was a generic statement, which reaffirmed both sides' commitment to ending the decades-long conflict in the Korean Peninsula.

    >Pyongyang made no specific commitment to denuclearisation, but managed to dampen its isolation and enhance its international standing by holding direct talks with the US leadership.

    >Having prematurely secured major concessions from the US, North Korea has found little incentive to reciprocate and has effectively undermined Trump's "maximum pressure" strategy.

    >With characteristic defiance, North Korea made it crystal clear that it won't give up its nuclear weapons under any circumstances.

    >As a result, Washington is confronting a diplomatic cul-de-sac in the Korean Peninsula. A visibly dejected Pompeo admitted that the "road ahead will be difficult and challenging" since it has now become clear what North Korea's red lines are.

    >The problem is that if Trump were to choose to return to his prior brinkmanship, threatening North Korea with "preemptive war", the US will almost certainly find itself isolated this time. After all, Trump has helped transform the image of the North Korean supreme leader from a mad villain into a young peacemaker.

    1. Yeah, everything you quoted is exactly what I'm talking about with regards to NK trying to win some sort of political gain at the negotiation tables.

      If you're wondering why I found the whole Trump-denouncing funny, it's the fact that they seemed so vehemently against the idea of even meeting Kim, despite just a year before, some of them were denouncing Trump for trying to trigger nuclear war through twitter and not trying to find a diplomatic solution. Also the American disregard for the opinions of its client-state(s) (I mean Korea specifically here, but it can apply to other countries as well) seems like it's really gonna come back to bite then in the ass.

    2. >it's the fact that they seemed so vehemently against the idea of even meeting Kim, despite just a year before, some of them were denouncing Trump for trying to trigger nuclear war through twitter and not trying to find a diplomatic solution.

      They were agains tit because it was abvous this meeting would not bring a diplomatic solution. The channel for this were the Join 4-Party Talks that are made with the intention to reach an actual, concrete deal. Instead what we got was a photo-op for Trump and Kim and a domument that didn't force Korea to do anything.


      >Bush’s national security adviser, Steve Hadley, liked to say there was a good reason why you didn’t stage a presidential meeting unless you had already achieved something in the pre-meeting discussions. In addition to wasting the president’s time, a premature presidential meeting would surrender any incentive for concessions.

      >It’s like a diplomatic version of the Art of the Deal, but with war and peace in place of luxury condominiums.

    3. I'm actually a little bit confused now why you're citing all these articles because I personally don't believe Trump is some master negotiator nor that he really won any significant concessions. I was also never one to think that meeting with North Korea would really do all that much for America, though I wasn't against the idea of at least meeting with him.

      My main point in talking about the US-NK negoitations is to think about it from North Korea's perspective.

    4. Oh I'm sorry, I assumed this from your previous "Past and Present" posts where you kept defending Trump's actions. Plus the fact you gradually stopped making those posts the more Trump's white house spirraled out of controlk and proved that the "leftist bubble" was right about the orange conman from the beginning.

    5. -Re-reading your months old posts made me curious to about your opinion on the Muller investigation. Is it a "russophobic" witch hunt even if people keep getting indicted and arrested left and right? If we should listen to the 63 million of people that voted Trump, then you should stop dismissing the 66 million that voted Hillary. Thhen I might believe that you're not a Trump and Russia appologist.

      Sorry if my last posts appeared combatative, but I really resent accusing your opponents of "hysteria" when it comes to Trump's actions, like I've seen you do in the previous blog posts you made.

  2. > It was only just a few years ago that Obama and the mainstream media were all in love with this idea of supporting "moderate rebels" that could overthrow Assad and bring a happily-ever-after-ending to the Syrian Civil War. But since then, it's become clear that if there ever even were moderate rebels, they had all long been pushed out by radical sectarians

    The "everyone opposing me is a jihadist" is something straight out of Assad's mouth. Have we already forgotten about the Kurds?

    1. The Kurds aren't a viable actor that the US can use to reconstruct peace and stability in Syria, which is the main point I'm getting at. They're an ethnic minority that the Turks would never in a million years tolerate getting a dominant position in the Syrian state.

      There's a reason why the U.S. is not into supporting the Kurds, despite many of them being good troops and showcasing the least sectarian attitudes in that region.


    2. Right, so your whole point hinges on the fact that neither the Kurds, not the Free Syrian Army can bring bring eternal peace and harmony to Syria.

      So we should instead help the genocidal dictator Assad, completely ignoring the fact that the entire war was started because of his opression of non-Alawites. Clearly the paththat will bring the least amount of death and suffering is to restore Alawite supremacy in Syria. /s

      FYI, had Gaddafi clinged to power in Libya, the country would be in an even bigger mess than it is currently. Once a civil war erupts, its in the nature tf all paranoid despots and dictators to exterminate everyone who even looks funny at them.

    3. Assad is certainly an oppressive authoritarian leader but that's not the same as a genocidal leader that's going around killing every non-Alawite. The Alawites are an extremely small minority in Syria and his family's method of rule has never been about genociding every non-Alawite as that would be a pretty surefire way to lose power quickly. And this is precisely my point. As unpleasant as it might seem, Assad is probably the solution that will bring the least amount of death just because there isn't a viable alternative at the time unless the West seriously wants to do another costly military occupation. Just look up the estimated casualties of the civil war so far compared to the estimated numbers of people who died when Hafez al-Assad was in charge. Even the infamous incident of the 1982 Hama massacre killed maybe some 20,000 people, which is certainly a lot for a single event, but it wasn't as if there was a Hama massacre going on every year and its casualty numbers pails to what's resulted from the Civil War.

    4. Also, please don't misconstrue my argument as me advocating for the US to welcome Assad with open arms and support him as it did many other authoritarian regimes it did in the past and perhaps still does today. My point is that unless the US has a viable alternative to Assad, then it shouldn't just go around funnelling arms and money to worsen and lengthen what has already been a long, terrible war.

    5. >The Alawites are an extremely small minority in Syria and his family's method of rule has never been about genociding every non-Alawite

      Gassing entire towns is not genocide? After ISIS it was Assad's brutal war campaign that was causing the most suffering to Syrians. The refugee crisis will go into overdrive if Assad is allowed to win.


      >Third, it is critical that Assad is removed from power. The removal of Assad is fundamental to not only stop the violence we see, but because Syrians will only feel safe enough to return home when his poison is gone. Years of war, and years of dictatorship before that, have made Syrians afraid of our own country. We are afraid of arbitrary arrests and the prospect of our children, friends and neighbours being killed as a warning for speaking out against the regime.

      According to the United Nations, human rights violations have been committed by both the government and the rebels, with the "vast majority of the abuses having been committed by the Syrian government". The U.N. commission investigating human rights abuses in Syria confirms at least 9 intentional mass killings in the period 2012 to mid-July 2013, identifying the perpetrator as Syrian government and its supporters in eight cases, and the opposition in one (and this is just one example I can continue listing how Assad ramped up the massacres since then).

      >Assad is probably the solution that will bring the least amount of death

      Assad's opression of the 80% that are non-Alawite's is the reason why the civil war even started, and you want to give him another chance?

      I also find it curious how you're against American presence in the region, but not Russian. This is all the more interesting since Russian mercenaries have already commited multiple atrocities against civilians.

      I hope you won't be insulted by this quiestion, but is your primaru source for the Syrian was Russia Today? That ywould explain why you're treating chemical Assad as the lesser evil and the whole conflict in an extremely simplistic "Assad vs. Juhadist" view.

    6. Like, it's already documented that Assad is leaving conquered cities like Homs to rot as punishment for daring to rebel against him. Your dismissal and painting of all anti-Assad opposition as jihadists is ridiculous. If Assad is alloved to destroy the remainder of non-Alawite, rebel areas, we will see another mass refugee wave hitting Europe.

      (meant to post this comment here, fuck blogspot and fuyck my broken auto-correct)

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  4. Who is this sperg? Take a long walk off the short pier, you moron. Everyone knows that Assad is not fighting jihadists, he is fighting Israel and its mercenary forces (imagine what the United States would be forced to do under different leadership).

    I agree with your analysis on the North Korean dillomatic approach, Hox, the real reason they are building a nucelar arsenal is because it's the only leverage that is taken seriously. There's really no other scenario where Kim stays in power and the West/SK/Japan is OK with this, hence their relatively rapid development at the expense of other sectors.

    I don't know if Trump himself expects North Korea to give up their nukes, but Mike Pompeo certainly does, as does John Bolton (why on Earth did Trump take this moldy piece of dog shit out of the trash? I thought he was old news before he came into the administration). At any rate, I don't think North Korea should have to give them up if rogue states such as Israel can maintain hidden stockpiles and opt out of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and demand that its neighbors face disarmament AND still maintain such a chummy relationship with the USA. Seems like a lot of horse shit to me.

    1. >Who is this sperg? Take a long walk off the short pier, you moron. Everyone knows that Assad is not fighting jihadists, he is fighting Israel and its mercenary forces (imagine what the United States would be forced to do under different leadership).

      Huh. Seeing your vulgar behaviour mixed with anti-semitic conspiracies (Israel isn't behind ALL those opposing Assad, dude), my guess is that you crawled in here from /pol/.

    2. At least I didn't crawl out of your mother's fungus garden, you know what I mean? My guess is that your instant dismissal of me as an anti-Semite must make you a Jew. In that case, I think you should get tested for some kind of congenital disease such as Tay-Sachs syndrome. Coming here to sperg out on a literal anime image page is something even a /pol/ack can laugh at.

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