October 03, 2023

To ‘get’ Kim Jong Un, Sun Tzu trumps Clausewitz

In order to deal with dictators, one has to understand what motivates them, to be in their head

At one point in the movie The Godfather, the character Michael Corleone says, “Keep your friends close but keep your enemies closer.” The basis for this is often attributed to Sun Tzu even though there is no published source to confirm this. Nonetheless, Sun Tzu* is quoted as having something remarkably similar in The Art of War: “He who knows his opponent and knows himself will not be imperiled in a hundred battles."

The meaning is the need to understand the enemy. The quotation continues: “He who knows not his opponent but knows himself will win one and lose one. He who knows neither his opponent nor himself will surely be imperiled in every battle.” In looking over what passes for statecraft in the West these days, it sometimes seems that we do not know even ourselves.