BLUF (if only the book gave us one):

Efficacy – “the pursuit of success in a particular field of action” (8), which is enabled by metis, “a kind of cunning intelligence that knows how to adapt to difficulties” (7)

“To summarize the difference between Western and Chinese thought: on constructs a model that is then projected onto the situation, which implies that the situation is momentarily ‘frozen’. The other relies on the situation as on a disposition that is known to be constantly evolving”. (189)

In other words, in the western way of war generals try to deliberately impose their will on the operational environment via brute force applied though a plan (based on “the model” of the OE referred to above) , but in the Chinese way “Whoever is skilled in warfare seeks success from the potential of the situation ‘instead of demanding it from the men under his command.’ His art is ‘to rely on the potential’ and he ‘chooses his men’ accordingly. (189)

Here’s the best example of the Eastern approach triumphing over the Western approach I could find (and it’s a little tough to find good examples).

To achieve “efficacy”, the eastern general senses both the “situation and configuration” and also the “potential” in the environment, and then seeks to maneuver his foe into a position that allows that potential to defeat him with minimal effort. Success comes not so much from one’s active efforts, but rather from the situation enfolding: “For what counts no longer so much what we personally invest in the situation, which imposes itself on the world thanks to our efforts, but rather the objective conditioning that results from the situation: this is what I must exploit and count on, for it is enough, on its own, to determine success. All I have to do is allow it to play its part.” (17) The general taps recognizes and patterns his actions (or inaction) to take advantage of three different potentials: moral potential, topographic potential, and potential of adaptation. It’s this third aspect of potential that includes the maneuver of military forces. The potential of the situation cannot be anticipated, as it “proceeds from continuous adaptation” (23)

The not so good stuff

This sounds familiar, right? Know your enemy and know yourself, and you can’t lose. Fight only at the time and place of your choosing. Where the enemy is weak, I attack. Where the enemy is strong….you get it, Sun Tzu. But when you take the extreme positions of Eastern Efficacy, it sounds about as glib as Booger’s advice for skiing the K12 to John Cusack in Better Off Dead - “Go real fast. If something gets in your way, turn…” A little overly simplistic…

Here’s the most egregious example I could find:

“In this domain [court politics, advisors winning over leaders], as in that of military strategy [generals getting their opponents to do what they want so they can win with minimal fighting], there is no need to make a plan or to fix a norm to guide your behavior. In order to have the whip hand over another and make use of him as you please, the only way forward, after assessing him carefully, is to adapt yourself to him; whatever his personal characteristics may be, they can be used to your advantage” 25

The defect of the extreme position of eastern “efficacy” is the same defect we hear from Network Centric Warfare zealots: a belief in a predictable universe that can be accurately measured:

“Calculation of the relation between the forces in play thus involves a series of factors, that, as before, are designed to reveal the situation clearly in all its aspects” (24)

…and if you can “see” the environment well enough, you can get inside your opponent’s decision cycle and make him respond in ways favorable to you

“ In this way…you always act openly, without risk, neither planning nor forcing anything in advance, but always adapting so closely to the circumstances that, on the contrary, it is they that at every turn offer you a measure of control from which you can profit.” (26)

This might work if you could truly measure and discern all of the relevant environmental factors and causal connections, anticipate your opponents reaction to those things and your actions, and use your superior intel and wits so maneuver your opponent into a position of disadvantage at every turn. But unless your opponent is Wile E. Coyote, it’s probably not gonna be that easy…

The biggest flaw of Eastern efficacy: if you always wait to exploit the “potential” in the system, and attempt to achieve this with the minimum amount of effort, someone else’s kinetic is gonna kick your ass. Sure, sometimes bending is stronger than remaining brittle and breaking, but if you’re relying on the potential of the mountain stream water to wash your enemies away (who you, through your own cleverness, managed to get into the valley below), you’re not gonna be prepared when someone dams your river from upstream by blowing up the cliff above and creating a dam. The western way of war often creates its own potentials where you least expect them….ask the North Koreans and Chinese at Inchon. If you’re constantly waiting for the right conditions to use the potential of the system, you either have to be good enough to sucker in your enemies everytime, you’re gonna eventually get rolled up by the potential someone else creates from kinetic activity. In my eyes, excessive dependence on eastern efficacy helps to explain China’s “100 years of shame” pretty well:

The importance of sovereignty and independence of action in Chinese foreign policy since 1949 has been closely related to Chinese nationalism. Just as Chinese national pride has been a natural outgrowth of China's long and rich historical tradition, the nationalism of Chinese leaders also has derived from the injustices China suffered in more recent history, in particular, China's domination by foreign powers from the nineteenth century until the end of World War II. During this time, which China refers to as "The century of shame and humiliation," the formerly powerful imperial government devolved to what China calls "semicolonial" status, as it was forced to sign unequal treaties and grant foreigners special privileges of extraterritoriality. Foreign powers divided China into spheres of influence. Most debilitating and humiliating was the foreign military threat that overpowered China, culminating in Japan's invasion and occupation of parts of China in the late 1930s. The bitter recollection of China's suffering at the hands of foreign powers has continued to be a source of Chinese nationalistic sentiment since 1949.

The good stuff

OK, so you can’t have perfect information, predict outcomes with certainty, understand your enemy’s rationality, or fool him into “losing without fighting” everytime. But there is wisdom in understanding as much as you can about how the system works, and using the unchangeable and even unpredictable tendencies of the system to your own advantage. Seeing yourself as a part of an interconnected system is a valuable insight – here’s the tie to modern complexity and systems theories. If you can recognize patterns in nature (the op environment), you can plan your activities to “assist whatever happens naturally” (90), something any Marine studying a tide table or pilot fighter pilot attacking from out of the sun understands . There is also wisdom in recognizing that the complex environment is constantly adapting itself to system feedback, which lends itself to the flexible, decentralized responses that Eastern Efficacy advises as described by the metaphor of formless water adapting itself to the environment it finds itself flowing through while still retaining its strength. Some conditions definitely create potential that can be exploited with little effort – PRC anti access strategies RE Taiwan are a great example.

Efficacy also has some good advice for selling your ideas: “rather than push yourself forward, you should act in such a way that others do the pushing for you. If others push you forward, they will not later question your advancement. (115) Pretty clever – like getting the boss to think that your idea was his….

The sophisticated view of system interconnectivities that eastern efficacy depends on also allows one to identify points of leverage where one might be able to “get the enemy to ‘give in’ in advance and to do so discreetly, by intervening upstream before a conflict unfolds and thus without having to join battle subsequently. Intervening upstream makes it possible to obtain an effect from a distance.”(127) Thus, eastern efficacy is in violent agreement with sound concepts of effects based operations, and actually endorses them (makes sense, it shares EBOs limitations as well).

Also, acting in complex environments is ultimately, as efficacy recognizes, to manipulate the system in your favor by either “nudging” the key nodes that influence it, or going with the “gravitational pulls” of nodes you can’t effect in your favor, like an Apollo spacecraft using a lunar gravitation to create the slingshot effect needed to return to Earth. You might be able to overthrow parts of the system through overwhelming acts of force, but it’s usually much more effective, and efficient, to use a smaller one that takes advantage of the potential of the environment.

On the “Go” article

If you mix Julien’s treatise with these concepts, the Chinese “String of Pearls” engagement/ economic strategy makes a lot of sense, as does the way the PRC has quietly invested in US debt for years.

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