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The Asia Times Online review of The Art of Victory ...

After the battle is won

The Art of Victory by Gregory R Copley

Reviewed by Yoel Sano

What constitutes "victory", and how do nation-states and corporations achieve this? Which societies are actively seeking victory, and which are best placed to reach this goal? And how can they hold on to victory once it has been won?

These are the questions raised in The Art of Victory: Strategies for Personal Success and Global Survival in a Changing World, by historian Gregory R Copley. Copley, who is president of the Washington-based International Strategic Studies Association and has advised numerous governments, answers these questions through 28 chapters, or rather maxims, starting with the definition of "victory".

According to Copley, "Victory is the result of the comprehensive strengths of a society, a corporation, or an individual. In geopolitical terms, for a society, this takes into account its strategic industrial depth, its access to resources, the ability to mobilize the national (and transnational) will of its members and allies, its economic and political complexities, and so on." (p 73)

Ultimately, "Victory is the sustained survival, growth, and dominance of a society through history ... This embraces economic wealth; it embraces the dominance of a society's beliefs, language, and culture; it embraces the strength of the society's structural framework to permit the best possible means of teaming with nature to ensure security of food, health, shelter, and energy; and it embraces the defense of these things - all within a balance appropriate to the challenge of the times." (p 293)

Crucially, victory is by no means the same thing as "winning", which is merely tactical. Rather, victory requires that goals are being continually achieved. Thus countries such as Britain and France that were nominally on the winning side of World War II subsequently went into strategic decline, as their empires crumbled and their industries lost competitiveness, whereas immediate losers such as Japan and Germany were able to recover and increase their power and prosperity, at least at home. Indeed, the US "victory" in World War II was enhanced by bringing its defeated foes into its global economic and alliance systems, thereby allowing them to share the fruits of "victory".

Therefore, the destruction of one's foe alone does not constitute a victory, unless it is followed by construction. "To minimize threats to the victory, the goal of the victor should also be to minimize the motivation toward destructive and hateful reactions among the defeated," Copley states. (p 167)

As an example of victory in the business world (one of many he uses), Copley notes that JVC's Video Home System (VHS) prevailed over Sony's Betamax in the war to dominate the video home-entertainment market in the early 1980s. Yet JVC was ultimately eclipsed by Sony, which later achieved dominance over video production, content distribution, and viewing systems, and thus secured the real "victory".

Whither the West?

Copley, like many macro-historians, sees the West as being in a period of strategic decline after the collapse of the Soviet threat in 1989-91. He warns that although the US-led West emerged victorious, victory is in serious danger of being squandered, because of the absence of a new grand strategy.

The biggest threat to Western revival is "the creeping cancer of the division of society into pockets by apathy, anomie and angst". (p 79) The author also cautions that the Western states must find a way to hang together, lest infighting among themselves weakens the West against its competitors, or even leads to a new Dark Age. Also risky for the developed economies is the practice of outsourcing virtually all manufacturing abroad, since this could leave them dangerously reliant on services at a time when future crises or threats may require industrial depth.

Nonetheless, Copley warns the West against forcing itself to characterize China or Iran as a new enemy to mobilize against. Instead, he sees the terror attacks of September 11, 2001, as presenting a rare opportunity for the US-led West to incorporate China and Russia into its framework as true partners, adding that the rise of China could enhance and complement the victory of the West. Iran, too, has great potential and can join the West once its people have overthrown the clerical regime, which Copley believes is ephemeral.

Furthermore, Copley acknowledges that it may be time to drop the term "West" in favor of the more encompassing "modern world", which includes Japan, South Korea, India and other emerging middle powers.

China actively seeking 'victory'

Unlike the West, Copley believes, China's leaders understand and are actively seeking "victory". Yet while China is competing against the West, it is, perhaps more important, also in a race with itself to achieve wealth and power before the stresses of environmental degradation and rising social disturbances cause immense disruption and political collapse, thus undermining the country's economic and social progress.

India is further behind on the curve, but faces similar stresses, and it remains to be seen whether its governing system, which is characterized by bureaucratic inertia, can handle these challenges better than China's or whether its leaders can spread the newly created wealth.

Militant Islam cannot conquer

Militant Islam is also striving for victory, but Copley believes it will ultimately fail because it has no strength except for willpower, which is not enough to achieve victory.

In essence, while he acknowledges that militant Islam could score the successes of securing territory and creating chaos in the West, he points out that it lacks the fundamentals to achieve "victory" in the sense of maintaining agricultural production and industrial productivity and relieving poverty, and thus would probably fail within a generation or two. Militant Islam is also totally dependent on the technology and structures of its enemies, including the production of weapons.

Even the "moderate" oil-producing Muslim states in the Persian Gulf are at risk of failure, as they have not diversified their economies and remain overly dependent on oil exports. Over the long term, if the rest of the "modern world" is able to develop new energy sources, it will become less dependent on oil, leaving the Middle Eastern producers in serious economic difficulties.

A question of leadership

Unsurprisingly, leadership is essential to achieving victory, and Copley devotes several chapters to this topic. He suggests that the flattening of the traditional hierarchical world has created a situation whereby the process of electing leaders remains intact, but society does not subsequently respect or honor its leaders. Consequently, it is even more difficult now for "true leaders" to rise above the cynicism and short-term self-absorption of society.

Copley states that "the ability of a leader to lead depends on his or her ability to retain intellectual functions separate from those of the crowd, and yet to understand and identify with the crowd". (p 185) A failed leader, however, is one who "merely imposes his desires without understanding either his own society or the historical realities. He will be ignored, misunderstood, and in times of great national threat can be disastrous." (p 214)

A key element of leadership, then, is the ability to mobilize society. However, Copley warns that this must not entail promoting a hatred of one's enemies, since pseudospeciation (demonization through stereotyping) can lead to irrational actions which are damaging to the victors and breed complacency. Indeed, Copley offers several useful insights into the psychological, belief-system, and identity-politics aspects of victory.

One weakness of The Art of Victory is that, because of its sheer scope, it is short on specifics. For example, when it comes to examining the make-up and the strengths and weaknesses of economies such as China, India and the US, or those of the Muslim world, it provides no details.

Elsewhere, although Copley touches on demographics, he does not delve too deeply into the subject. This is surprising, given that many Western and some East Asian countries are aging rapidly or even seeing declining populations, whereas India and the Muslim world are still seeing rapid population growth. How can the West realistically strive for victory if there are no Westerners (or too few) left? Granted, true victory would entail passing Western values on to others and ensuring that the legacy of those values survives, but this will arguably be more difficult if the West's share of the world's population becomes ever smaller.

The author also mentions a number of new technologies that might benefit the West, such as nanotechnologies and alternative fuels, but does not explore them in sufficient detail. On the subject of leadership, he generally (and perhaps wisely) avoids praising or pouring scorn on contemporary leaders, since this would risk getting caught up in partisan debates, but this occasionally leaves the book with a somewhat theoretical air.

Copley is also harsh in criticizing the United States and Europe for lacking grand strategies. Yet the US has been busy promoting the expansion of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, increasing its worldwide military basing into new areas such as former Soviet republics, empowering international institutions such as the International Monetary Fund and the World Trade Organization, and generally consolidating its Cold War victory, while maintaining a dynamic economy. At the same time, the European Union has expanded from 12 to 27 members, has launched its own currency, and has attempted to build its own constitution - all of which can hardly be described as lacking in vision.

He also perhaps underestimates the difficulties that the West faces in trying to absorb China, Russia and Iran into a "super-West", and the extent to which those three countries appear determined to pursue their own destiny independent of the West.

Overall, though, The Art of Victory is highly readable, entertaining and thought-provoking, and full of common-sense wisdom that is often absent from today's political discourse. As such, it offers valuable lessons to today's and tomorrow's would-be leaders.

The Art of Victory: Strategies for Personal Success and Global Survival in a Changing World by Gregory R Copley. Threshold Editions, October 3, 2006. ISBN: 13:978-1416524700. Price US$25, 336 pages.

(Copyright 2007 Asia Times Online Ltd. All rights reserved.)

 



 
Copyright 2007, Gregory R. Copley. All rights reserved.
     
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