Since its emergence in the early 19th century, the term “strategy” has been widely and commonly used in management science. Although the concept of firm strategy has been strongly developed in Europe, encompassing both military and management, a historical perspective reveals that the notion of “strategy” originated in the military context. It was first mentioned in the book “The Art of War” of Sun Tzu around 512 B.C.
1. Eastern military strategy
Sun Tzu (544–496 BC) is widely acknowledged as the father of Eastern military strategy, exerting a profound influence on historical and contemporary war tactics in China, Japan, Korea, and Vietnam. Despite his noble lineage in the state of Qi, when war erupted, Sun Tzu relocated to and forged his military career in the state of Wu. His work The Art of War, compiled around 512 BCE, not only gained widespread recognition in the East but also found practical application in Western society. The enduring popularity of Sun Tzu’s teachings extends beyond military domains, shaping diverse aspects of culture, politics, and business across Asia, Europe, and America. Additionally, his principles continue to leave an indelible mark on modern warfare, illustrating the enduring relevance of his strategic insights.
The distinction between Eastern and Western military strategies lies in the emphasis placed by the former on asymmetric warfare and deception. In The Art of War, Sun Tzu emphasizes the crucial importance of “positioning” in military strategy. Decisions regarding troop deployment must be based in (i) objective conditions such as the natural environment and (ii) the subjective beliefs of the involved parties. Military strategy is not about executing a predetermined list of activities; instead, it involves quick and adaptive reactions to changes in the context. Planning occurs in a controlled environment, but in a dynamic and evolving situation, real battles inevitably give rise to unexpected scenarios.
The Art of War consists of 13 chapters, each addressing a crucial aspect of warfare and regarded as the quintessence of the arts of military strategy and tactics. Specifically, these chapters cover: planning, waging war, attack by stratagem, tactical dispositions, use of energy, illusion and reality, military combat, variation of tactics, army on the march, configurations of terrain, nine situations, attack by fire, and use of spies.
The principles of The Art of War were often applied during the Warring States period following the Spring and Autumn period. These military tactics spread from the Tang Dynasty, to Japan and Korea in the 7th century, and reached Europe in the early 18th century by influencing countries such as England, France, and Germany. For more than two thousand years, The Art of War has been the most respected military theoretical framework in Asia, and also significantly shaping Western strategic and tactical thinking.
Not only in the military, but also the principles of Sun Tzu’s The Art of War were widely applied in management science, especially in Japan and the United States, specifically in human resource management, organizational leadership, competition …
2. Western military strategy
“Strategy”, a concept originating from ancient Greece and deeply rooted in military contexts, is a sophisticated plan to achieve one or more objectives in unstable and dynamic conditions. During ancient Roman period, strategy was defined as “the art of military command”, encompassing various skills such as tactics, logistics, sieges, defense, etc. This concept was adopted in the 6th century and transitioned into contemporary Western languages in the 18th century. Carl von Clausewitz defined the military strategy as “the employment of battles to gain the end of war”. Approaching it differently, prioritizing political objectives over military ones, Liddell Hard defines strategy as “the art of distributing and applying military means to fulfill the ends of policy” (1967). In general, military strategy is .. “a comprehensive way to try to pursue political ends, including the threat or actual use of force, in a dialectic of wills” in a military conflict, in which both adversaries interact (Lawrence, 2013).
As the father of the modern Western military science, Carl Philipp Gottfried von Clausewitz (1792-1831) was a senior officer in the army of Prussia Kingdom (present-day Germany). He directly commanded Prussian forces against Napoleon’s army at Waterloo. He was also a historian and military theorist with significant influence, studying the principles of war of the Prussian and Italian kings. Military histories of nations served as inspiration for his works On War. He studied over 130 battles, especially on military campaigns of Kings Friedrich II and Napoleon. He wrote many famous works on military history, with the most notable being On War (Vom Kriege in German), which he left unfinished at the time of his death in 1831. His wife completed the editing and published the book in 1832.
In terms of content, On War is one of the earliest modern military strategic theoretical works, in which von Clausewitz (1832) analyzed the combination of the most crucial factors determining the outcome of a war, including political, economic and social issues. He believes that every issue must be considered based on reality, as even the smallest elements could lead to failure. The psychological strength of war and its relationship with physical forces are important. Attack and defense are essential rules. The goal of war is to defeat the enemy, rather than to kill all people of a country.
Since its publication, On War has occupied an important position in the history of the world military thought. World wars have all inherited the military ideas of Clausewitz (1832) and another distinguished military theorist – Antoine Henri Jomini, from the World War I (1914-1918) to the World War II (1939-1945). Clausewitz’s perspectives were synthesized and appreciated by Lenin as among the greatest works in the history of warfare, exerting substantial influence on the Soviet Red Army and the United States military in subsequent years.
Also exerting a significant influence on Western military strategy, Antoine Henri Jomini (1779-1869) was a famous French military officer. He also served in the armies of Switzerland and Russia. Drawing from practical battlefield experience and studying the war campaigns of Alexander the Great, Roman Emperor Julius Caesar, King Frederick II of Prussia and Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte, he formulated crucial and fundamental perspectives on warfare in two notable works: Treatise on Grand Military Operations in 1805 and The Art of War in 1838. Jomini emphasized minimizing casualties to the utmost extent, viewing war policy as the synthesis of diplomacy and warfare. The perspective that “War in its ensemble is NOT a science, but an art” permeates his works. His presented strategy is the art of directing combat, focusing on gaining advantages at decisive moments. Another significant contribution by Jomini consists of distinguishing war zones and operational zones, communication channels and logistics.
Stemming from these military studies, the concept of firm strategy has been formed, developed, and applied in management science since the 19th century.