POLE PAPER SERIES ISSN 1370-4508 Vol. 5, No. 1, January 1999

Comprehensive Security and the European Security Space: Sun Tzu meets Kant(*)

Paper prepared for the ECPR Joint Sessions of Workshops, 26-31 March 1999, Mannheimer Zentrum für Europäische Sozialforschung
Workshop 7. Towards a Stable Peace in Europe: Theoretical and Empirical Investigations
by Prof. Dr. Gustaaf Geeraerts and Men Jing


With his work 'The Art of War', Sun Tzu was not only the first military strategist in the history of mankind, but also the first to develop a comprehensive conception of security.(1) Besides a military dimension, such a concept also contains a non-military or politico-economic one. While most students of Sun Tzu regard the non-military dimension as the focal one, others like Johnston (1995) stress the military aspect of his work. In our view, both the military and non-military security notion have their legitimate place in Sun Tzu's idea of the security of the state. Together they constitute what we nowadays call 'comprehensive security'. One should not favour a priory either notion. In our view Sun Tzu's work is all about the subtle dynamic between power and welfare. Combining Sun Tzu's idea of comprehensive security with Wendt's continuum of security systems, we shall argue that the relative importance of power and welfare at any given moment depends on how the states in the system are disposed towards each other, i.e. whether they identify negatively, indifferently or positively with each other.

The present article has affinities with the work of a small but steadily growing group of Chinese scholars, who attempt to stimulate the scientific study of international relations in China. Contrary to their senior colleagues, these scholars do not focus on 'Chinese characteristics'.(2) Instead they concentrate on applying traditional Chinese ideas to the development and enrichment of a universal theory of international relations. In doing so, they explore the similarities and differences between Chinese and Western philosophical traditions (Song, 1997: 50-51). In the same vain, we think that a close study of Sun Tzu may shed light on current international relations; the more so when combined with insights from Western international relations theory. Following this lead, we attempt to show that Sun Tzu's work can serve as a guide for exploring stability implications of the emerging global and regional structures of international politics. After exploring Su Tzu's comprehensive security concept and linking it to Wendt's continuum of security systems, we apply Sun Tzu's notion of comprehensive security to the unfolding European security space, and in doing so hope to demonstrate his timeliness and universality.

Sun Tzu's Art of War: Two Interpretations

Sun Tzu' work deals with three questions. The first pertains to the role of war in human society; the second deals with the nature of the adversary; the third concerns the role and efficacy of military force. The answers to these questions constitute a paradigm that contains logically connected propositions about how to manage the security of the state. According to Johnston (1995), Sun Tzu's central paradigm, when pushed to the limits, is open to two opposite interpretations:

    One is characterised by assumptions that war is aberrant and preventable; that conflict is variable sum and that the enemy has a price; and that highly coercive strategies are generally the least efficacious and are last resorts (or at least not first resorts). An alternative paradigm assumes war is inevitable or extremely frequent; that war is rooted in an enemy predisposed to challenge one's own interests; and that this threat can best be handled through the application of superior forces (Johnston, 1995: 106).

Scholars preferring the first interpretation consider the concept of 'not fighting and subduing the enemy' as one of the core notions in Sun Tzu's strategic thought. For them this notion indicates Sun Tzu's preference for the use of non-military strategies. As Sun Tzu said:

    The general principle of war is that making the whole state surrender is better than destroying it; subjugating the entire enemy's army is better than destroying it; making a battalion, a company, or a five-man squad surrender is better than destroying them. Therefore, winning one hundred victories in one hundred battles is not real excellence, winning a victory and subduing the enemy without fighting is the highest excellence. Thus, the best policy for the military operations is to gain victory by means of strategy. Next best policy is to disintegrate the enemy's alliances by means of diplomacy; the inferior way is to launch an attack o the enemy; the worst way is to storm cities and seize territory (Luo, 1996, 31-33).

According to Johnston (1995), analysing the secondary literature apparently warrants the conclusion that most students of Sun Tzu regard the first interpretation as the most important one. He, however, argues this to be a misleading conclusion. While he agrees that elements of the latter are present in Sun Tzu's work, he points to elements that 'fits as closely, if not more so' with the second interpretation (Johnston, 1995: 106). In his view, only the key elements of the second interpretation are directly connected causally to the security of the state, whereas the elements of the first interpretation are only indirectly linked through an implied positive causal relationship.

War, then, represents a relatively permanent characteristic of human society. The decision to start a war or not depends on the adversary, whose disposition indicates whether one faces any real security threat. Johnston continues:

    This disposition to war is, by definition, unrighteous, since the moral order requires one not to threaten the security of another. One's own resort to force, therefore, is not only legitimate and necessary, it is not bounded by any a priory moral limits, since the enemy is beyond the pale. The utter defeat of the enemy requires the application of superior force (Johnston, 1995: 106).

According to Johnston, Sun Tzu's work appears to suggest that when the chips are down, organised violence is highly effective, if applied skilfully that is. In similar conditions non-violent strategies in general do not lead to the submission of the enemy. They are at best a sustaining element for the successful application of overwhelming force. All this leads Johnston to conclude that the answers provided by his cognitive mapping and symbolic analysis of the three major questions in Sun Tzu's Art of War closely parallel the para bellum hypothesis, which is so typical of Western traditions of realpolitik.(3)

The para bellum hypothesis belongs to the so-called realist paradigm in Western International Relations Theory. For realists the 'deep structure'(4) of the international system is anarchical and competitive in nature. Without a central authority capable of enforcing agreements or guaranteeing security, states face a security dilemma. Therefore, they must rely on self-help to maintain their independence and protect their interests. Ultimately, states in anarchy are preoccupied with power and security, and, therewith, are predisposed toward conflict and competition. In such an environment enduring international co-operation is problematic as states constantly worry about relative gains because of fears of cheating and dependence (Waltz, 1979 [1983]; Grieco, 1988; 1993). Johnston summarises the para bellum hypothesis in a similar manner:

The environment is highly conflictual due to the 'fact' that the adversary is constantly prepared to use force if given the opportunity. From A's perspective, then, the adversary is dispositionally given to challenge A's security. The relationship is, therefore, perceived to be zero sum. The threats from B are best held in abeyance by preparations for war, demonstrations of resolve, and bargaining strategies that are highly coercive, aimed at demonstrating the capacity and willingness to use force, thus denying the enemy the chance to act dispositionally. The assumption is that the more capabilities one has both relatively and absolutely, the more secure one is (Johnston, 1995: 108).

For Johnston, Sun Tzu's view regarding the structure of international politics is close, if not identical to the assumption of international politics as an anarchical realm, which is the core of realist international relations theory. His thesis is a very important one as it clarifies the limitations of the 'non-military' interpretation. However, in doing so, he may have gone a bridge too far in his own 'military' or para bellum interpretation. In our view, both interpretations are essential elements within Sun Tzu's comprehensive conception of the state's security.

Sun Tzu and Comprehensive Security

Comprehensive security means that a 'broader' category of non-military or economic security exists alongside the 'narrow' and more traditional definition of security (see e.g. Hocking and Smith, 1995: 148-149).(5) Perusing 'The Art Of War' reveals that both aspects of security are dealt with by Sun Tzu (Gao, 1996: 885; Tao, 1996: 921).

Military security

The presence of the military or power dimension already appears at the onset of 'The Art of War'.

What is war? It may be described as one of the most important affairs of the state. It is the ground of death or life of both soldiers and people, and the way that governs the survival or the ruin of the state. So we must deliberately examine and study it (Luo, 1996: 3).

Clearly, Sun Tzu considers war as an essential feature of the human condition. For him preparations for warfare and the ability to conduct war successfully are critical determinants of the state's survival or security. Although he cherishes the notion of 'not fighting and subduing the enemy', the major part of the text tells a strategist what to do if he is out to win, and thus secure the state. More specifically, the last eight of the thirteen chapters explore the principles of mobile warfare, that is the principles of 'attacking, defending, and invading other states under maximal geographic, logistic, and tactical conditions' (Johnston, 1995: 101-102). Chapters four and five present a more abstract discussion on how to control the strategic relationship with the adversary, prior to the sudden and decisive application of violence. At no time, Sun Tzu appears to downplay warfare or violence on a priori moral, political, or military grounds. His approach is one of pragmatism. War should not be started if the conditions do not allow for success. For example, if there is a hegemon in the system, all the others will be inferior in terms of power and, consequently, building up a defensive war against the hegemon will be senseless:(6)

If a hegemon's army attacks another power in the system, the latter cannot collect enough strength to resist. Whenever such an army goes, it overawes its enemy and prevents the latter's allies from joining him. Hence, a state with such an invincible army does not need to seek alliances with other states, nor does it need to establish its power over these states. It only relies on its own actual strength to overawe the enemy, and so it will be able to capture the enemy's cities and destroy his state (Luo, 1996; 185).

In Sun Tzu's view states should not fight unless they are in the most advantageous, successful, or dangerous situation:

If it is not advantageous, never send your troops; if it does not yield success, never use your men; if it is not a dangerous situation, never fight a hasty battle (Luo, 1996; 197).

Obviously, war is too serious an enterprise to be dealt with in any light manner:

A sovereign should not wage a war simply out of anger, nor should a general dispatch his troops to fight simply out of indignation… Generally speaking, a man who is indignant will again become pleased, but a state that has perished can never revive, nor can a man who has died be brought back to life (Luo, 1996; 197).

Non-military or politico-economic security

Sun Tzu's pragmatism, inclines him to take also into consideration the non-military or welfare aspects of security. His general attitude of prudence makes him keenly aware of the drain of resources and internal morale that the extended projection of force may entail (Luo, 1996: 17, 21-22, 199; Tao, 1996: 921).

For one, he attaches great importance to political legitimacy, that is the conduct of policies enjoying popular support:

    He who is adept in military operations always understands the principles of war and adopts the correct policies, so that victory is entirely in his hands (Luo, 1996: 48).

Put differently, for Sun Tzu, the first requirement for the state to achieve success is 'which ruler is the one who is popular with the people' (Luo, 1996: 7). The ruler should master the way which 'may make the people in complete accord with their ruler in their goals and cause them to share weal and woe fearlessly during the war' (Luo, 1996: 5; compare with Tao, 1996; 921). And he continues: 'The state that can fight with one heart and mind wins the war' (Luo, 1996: 41).

In order to ensure the army's unanimity in action, Sun Tzu advocates rules of good governance and administration. The leader should be strict and fair in meeting out rewards and punishments. Laws should command respect in the army. For him, 'the law refers to the military establishment, the assignment of officers at all levels, and the allocation and use of military supplies' (Luo, 1996: 5).

Likewise, Sun Tzu stresses the importance of the economic element for a state's capability to win a war and to sustain the peace:

    The size of the land decides its capability of contribution; the capability of contribution decides the amount of the products; the amount of the products decides the number of soldiers; the number of soldiers decides the degree of military strength; the degree of military strength decides the possibility of victory (Fang, 1996: 213).

Therefore, strategists should well preserve the state's economic strength and eschew protracted campaigns since they only exhaust its resources and impoverish its people. In this way domestic unrest and rebellion are to be avoided (Luo, 1996: 21-22). In an article named 'Questions from the King of Wu' Sun Tzu clearly expresses the politico-economic notion of security. Analysing the rise and fall of the six elites in kingdom Jin, he says:

    Those who are rich in national treasuries and maintain a large number of soldiers, whose leaders are extravagant and whose officers are arrogant, who like to go to wars only for the sake of honour, who have small pieces of land but collect heavy duties would be defeated first; those who are poor in national treasuries and maintain a small number of soldiers, whose leaders are modest and whose officers are thrifty, who avoid wars in order to protect their people, who have large pieces of land but collect no duties would hold the final victory (Fang, 1996: 60).

Once more the importance of the politico-economic dimension for the security of the state comes clearly to the fore. The property of a rich state may be squandered through extravagant consumption for warlike purposes, while the poorer state may become powerful owing to the support of its enriched people in increasing the state's general welfare. Therefore, the rise and fall of a state lie in the practice of proper political and economic policies instead of the maintenance of formidable armies.

Furthermore, Sun Tzu emphasises the importance of diplomacy and war avoidance when trying to secure the state: 'A commander who does not understand the plots and schemes of the princes cannot enter into alliances with them' (Luo, 1996; 91). And: 'Ally with the local princes where the highway extends in all directions;…Venture into an enclosed region with shrewdness and stratagem' (Luo, 1996; 103).

Generally speaking, then, Sun Tzu's notion of non-military security consists of three elements. First, it reflects economic security, that is concern over the ability of a state to protect the social and economic fabric of a society. Second, it involves political security, that is the ability of a state to act as an effective ruler and to maintain social integrity. Third, it concerns diplomatic security, that is the ability of a state in co-operation with others to foster through diplomatic means a stable international environment to reduce security dilemma and increase mutual welfare gains of openness.

Comprehensive security

Looking at the two dimensions suggests that Sun Tzu is above all a pragmatist who, although he regards war as an essential element of the human condition, takes a prudent attitude and considers the application of organised violence as a last resort. As pointed out by Johnston (1995) the question whether one faces a security threat or not ultimately depends on the disposition of the opponent. If there is a threat; the strategist must see to it that he is up to the task. Eventually, that may imply preparation for war in order to secure oneself. At the same time, however, Sun Tzu repeatedly stresses the importance of diplomacy and restraint in dealing with emerging security threats.

A commander, who is well versed in military operations makes the enemy surrender without fighting, captures the enemy's city without storming it, and destroys the enemy's state without protracted military operations. He must gain complete victory all-under-heavy. Therefore, the principle of winning victories by way of stratagem is to triumph without wearing out the troops (Luo, 1996; 33).

If a state does not have the full assurance of success, it should not behave recklessly:

    Therefore an enlightened sovereign should handle the matter of war in a prudent way, and a good general treat war with caution. This is the way that keeps the state in peace and security, and the army intact (Luo, 1996; 197).

In that sense his idea of the security of the state parallels Waltz's assumption that survival is the major driving force behind states' behaviour in the international political system (Waltz, 1979 [1983]).

Our main conclusion, then, is that both the military and non-military security notion have their legitimate place in Sun Tzu's work. Together they make up what we nowadays call 'comprehensive security' (See figure 1.). Following Sun Tzu's lead, one should not favour a priori one or the other notion. Put in more aphoristic terms, his work is all about the subtle dynamic between power and welfare. Which of the two is more important at any given moment depends on how the states in the system are disposed towards each other, i.e. whether they identify negatively, indifferently or positively with each other. (7)

Figure 01
Figure 1

Anarchy, International Regimes, and Security Communities: Sun Tzu Meets Western International Relations Theory

In Sun Tzu's period, China was in a process of integration and disintegration.(8) States in the region struggled for power and security. Powerful states coveted the territories and resources of smaller ones, while weaker ones took pains to sustain their sovereignty in this competitive and conflictual environment. Owing to the existence of the expansionist states, which were motivated by aggressive intentions, the interstate relations were characterised by war. The Art of War was designed to instruct the state's leader(s) how to maintain their state's security in such a war-prone system. Translated in Waltzian terms, Sun Tzu deals with the issue of state survival in an anarchic environment.

This notwithstanding, Sun Tzu regards the application of force as the last resort for securing the state. Before resorting to organised violence, political, economic, and diplomatic factors are accounted for as possible ways to ensure a state's security – if at least conditions make for their effectiveness. However, as war is essentially caused by the adverse disposition of the adversary, its occurrence is always possible whenever the national interest of the state is challenged by a revisionist state. If the latter condition obtains, defensive wars are justified, and it is rational for states to make active preparations against imminent wars.

Normally in the international system, status quo powers try their best to maintain the existing order as they are satisfied at what they have achieved. As history reveals, wars seldom break out among status quo powers since they lack the incentive for changing the system. Revisionist powers, however, covet others' gains or want to redress their grievances through the manipulation of force. Consequently, whenever there are one or more revisionist powers in the system, conflict and war become much more likely. In a way then, Sun Tzu's analysis of peace and war eventually depends on the relative presence of status quo powers and revisionist powers in the system, and the intricate relationships of power among them. Much like realists, for Sun Tzu international relations are about the distribution of power and interest in the system. When the vested interest of the status quo powers are challenged by the revisionist powers, order and stability of the system are in jeopardy. In such conditions war becomes a more likely option as power and security issues come to dominate the political agenda, and welfare considerations become inferior to issues of high politics. Under similar conditions the international system is highly competitive in nature.

However, Sun Tzu's writings also allow for the derivation of some liberal elements. As noted earlier, for Sun Tzu war is only a last resort, which should only be applied after all other alternatives have failed. Moreover, depending on the mutual dispositions of the actors, power and welfare will have different weights in different systems. Indeed, when the system is made up of status quo powers, that is when they are not ill disposed towards each other since none of them covets the other's capability, the order is comparatively stable, and peace is maintained either through the monopoly of one or two hegemonies or by a balance of power among several great powers.(9) If stability endures, states may be tempted to establish international regimes (e.g. the security regime between the US and the Soviet Union during the Cold War in the field of arms control), and in the longer run even succeed in constructing ever more co-operative systems such like a security community (e.g. the European Union).(10)

Considering the different possible relationships between the elements of welfare and power in Sun Tzu's concept of comprehensive security reveals some interesting parallels with the three types of security system outlined by Wendt (1992), viz. (1) the competitive or '(neo)realist' security system; (2) the individualistic or 'neoliberal' security system; and (3) the co-operative security system or 'security community'.

Competitive or (neo)realist security system

In a competitive security system states have negative dispositions toward each other so that 'ego's gain is seen as alter's loss' (Wendt, 1992: 400). Negative identification under anarchy makes for systems of realpolitik or power politics, thus creating a realm of security dilemma's and para bellum security policies. Actors in such systems infer intentions from capabilities and constantly worry about relative gains and losses. Under similar conditions collective action is hardly possible since each actor must constantly fear being stabbed in the back (Waltz, 1979 [1983]; Grieco, 1988, 1993). So our first thesis reads:

Thesis 1: Whenever conditions of a competitive security system obtain, Sun Tzu's comprehensive conception of security implies the military dimension to be dominant.

Individualistic or neoliberal security system

Here states are indifferent to the relationship between their own and others' security. Consequently, states pay more attention to absolute gains than relative gains (Keohane, 1993). States will do so only when they do not expect others to be hostile and deceptive, and when their margins of survival are large. States can afford to focus on absolute gains if they expect substantial mutual gains through co-operation and deem threats with force highly unlikely. These expectations depend on the presence and effectiveness of prevailing systems of rules or international (security) regimes. If available and effective, such institutions create and maintain the preconditions for mitigating security dilemmas.

Regimes come into existence to overcome problems of collective action that can only be solved by co-ordinating the behaviours of individual states. Although states continue to seek their own interests, they create frameworks to co-ordinate their actions with those of other states if and when such co-ordination is necessary to realise self-regarding interests in dealing with collective goods problems. Thus, regimes help making co-operation possible – even under conditions of anarchy (Axelrod and Keohane, 1985).

Regimes, then, offer no substitute for the basic calculations of costs and benefits by states; they just open up new possibilities with more favourable cost-benefit ratios. This they do by facilitating co-operation through the functions they perform for states. Most importantly, they alleviate the effects of international anarchy for states by aiding in the decentralised enforcement of agreements. Moreover, regimes improve each side's information about the behaviour of the others – especially about the likelihood of their cheating and actual compliance. Finally, they also change the pattern of transaction costs of co-operating by reducing incentives to violate regime rules and principles (Keohane, 1984). Therefore, regimes reduce states' uncertainty and hence their fears that others will defect and in turn their own propensity to do so. All this tends to create an environment in which the participating states feel less threatened and attach more importance to the benefits they expect to flow from future interactions. In such conditions a high shadow of the future emerges and the security dilemma lessens (Axelrod, 1984; Axelrod and Keohane, 1985; Keohane, 1995). The latter, however, has not disappeared completely and thus still looms in the background. This allows for the formulation of our second thesis:

Thesis 2: Whenever conditions of an individualistic or neoliberal system obtain, Sun Tzu's conception of comprehensive security implies the military and non-military dimension to be equally important.

Co-operative security system or security community

In a co-operative security system states have positive dispositions toward each other so that each state's security is perceived as the responsibility of all other states in the system. Accordingly, states no longer rely on self-help policies in any real sense, since interests are no longer conceived of in self-regarding terms. Instead, they flow from identification with the community (Wendt, 1992: 400). Of course, how far states will identify with the community will vary from more or less integrated arrangements among states to full-blown security communities. And, as Wendt remarks:

    Depending on how well developed the collective self is, it will produce security practices that are in varying degrees altruistic or prosocial. This makes collective action less dependent on the presence of active threats and less prone to free riding. Moreover, it restructures efforts to advance one's objectives, or 'power politics', in terms of norms rather than relative power (Wendt, 1992: 401).

Therefore, social consructivists argue that the tendency of international relations scholars to view power and institutions as two opposing mechanisms is quite misleading. Anarchy and the distribution of power only have meaning for state action in virtue of the understandings and expectations that make for institutional identities and interests. Following Wendt, 'self-help is one such institution, constituting one kind of anarchy but not the only kind' (Wendt, 1992: 401; Risse, 1999). In other words, anarchy is what states make of it. Through interaction, states may change the meanings in terms of which interaction between them is organised. Therefore, anarchy need not be a permanent feature of the international system. As a pure self-help system, it is but one possible form of recurrent behaviour, and as such, processes of institutionalisation can transcend it, the more likely so in an environment characterised by complex interdependence. According to Buzan et al.

    Institutions greatly facilitate, and even promote, interactions that shared norms and values make possible and desired. (…) Institutions not only provide more opportunities to communicate, but also more obligations and more incentives to do so (Buzan et al., 1993: 70-71).

In other words, by establishing co-operative relations based on mutually positive identification, states can move beyond the security dilemma. If such co-operative security system or security community arises, states no longer regard each other as a threat, and ultimately may develop a collective self. Thus follows our third thesis:

Thesis 3: Whenever conditions of a co-operative security system or security community obtain, Sun Tzu's comprehensive conception of security implies the non-military or politico-economic dimension to be dominant.

Comprehensive Security in Europe: Sun Tzu meets Kant

We shall now apply Sun Tzu's comprehensive security idea to the European security space. For Sun Tzu the decision to prepare for war depends on the disposition of the other state or states in the system. If this disposition is a negative or threatening one, the strategist should prepare for and eventually go to war. As we have previously argued, the states' disposition toward one another changes from one security system to another. In a competitive system states are negatively disposed toward each other, in an individualistic system they are indifferent to each other's security, and finally in a co-operative one they identify positively with each other.

The main question, then, is which of the three systems best describes the evolution of security in Europe. Put differently, is the European security system a competitive one, an individualistic one, or a co-operative one? Following the logic of the previous argument, the answer to this question should tell us something about the dynamic between Sun Tzu's two dimensions of security in Europe. In pushing through this 'thought experiment', we shall combine Sun Tzu's concept with Kant's idea of a pacific union or security community as we now call it (Kant, 1795 [1991]). But before doing so we shall first take a look at some fundamental questions and evolutions regarding the European security order. The two main questions here are: (1) How has the structure of the European security space evolved over time? (2) How are the states in the European Security space disposed towards each other?

War and peace in Europe

Viewed from a historical perspective, no region in the world can stand comparison with Europe as for belligerence. Gleditsch (1995: 539-40), for example, points out that in 25 of 75 interstate wars between 1815 and 1993, the war action took place at least partly in Europe. Moreover, in 31 wars one or more European countries participated on both sides, while in 46 wars at least one European country took part. Of the 31 million battle casualties in all interstate wars since 1815, the 31 wars among European countries accounted for 25 million deaths or 80%. Finally, Europe was the starting point of the two World Wars, which are the most devastating wars in the history of humanity. Since, 1945, however, Europe has been comparatively peaceful. Between 1945 and 1989 the Correlates of War Project notifies only three wars in Europe. Interestingly, they have long time-intervals between them and decrease in size. Although an increase in overall violence in Europe occurred immediately after the end of the Cold War, the number of violent conflicts is again very low (Gleditsch, 1995: 555-63).

How can we explain this comparatively peaceful state of Europe for half a century? With regard to the era of the Cold War, one dominant view holds that the combined effect of bipolarity and nuclear deterrence accounts for the shift from major violence to relative peace in Europe (Gaddis, 1987; Waltz, 1993, Mearsheimer, 1990). With the downfall of the Iron Wall in 1989 and the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, however, there definitely came about a new era in European politics. By that time, it became clear that the certainties of the Cold War were no longer (Snyder, 1993). Indeed, for more than forty years both the form and content of European security politics had been largely determined by the two superpowers, namely the United States of America and the Soviet Union. Through their relationships of power, armament and mutual nuclear deterrence, they had set the parameters of peace and security in Europe all along.

The end of the Cold War made for thorough changes in the European security equation. The Warsaw Pact has disappeared and with it went NATO's post-war reason of existence. In addition, the Soviet Union has fallen apart into several independent republics, some of which have still a close relationship with Russia because of former economic ties and a paper confederation. Likewise, the nations of Central and Eastern Europe are passing through a political and economic transformation, and many of them strive for membership of Western international regimes, particularly NATO, WEU and the EU. Furthermore, Germany is united again and therewith increased her geographical and political significance in Europe. Finally, and more broadly, the ideological enmity that was so typical for the relations among the two post-war blocs gave way to growing ideological conformity and growing amity (Sperling and Kirchner, 1997).

The Structure of the European Security Space: Realism vs. Liberalism

Considering the transition to the post-Cold War era and the deep changes going along with it, ample reasons exist for recasting the European security condition. Such, however, is not the view of neo-realists scholars. For them, no fundamental changes appear to have occurred. The 'deep structure' of the international system stays anarchical and competitive in nature. Without a central authority capable of enforcing agreements or guarantying security, states face a security dilemma. Therefore, they continue relying on self-help to maintain their independence and protect their interests. Enduring international co-operation remains problematical as states continue to worry about relative gains because of fears of cheating and dependence (Grieco, 1988; 1993). The main expected mutation situates itself on the level of the distributional structure. The political change that started in 1989 is about to give way to a shift in the existing distribution of capabilities within the system. Although at present the latter is still characterised by military bipolarity, in the longer run we are clearly heading for a multipolar system (Waltz, 1993; Layne, 1993). The future of European security, therefore, looks bleak as the continent is gradually returning to multipolarity with its ever-shifting coalitions. Consequently, the future Europe will be fairly unpredictable and unstable. Nationalist and ethnic conflicts will continue to spill over to the international level since they are no longer frozen under the bipolar order (Mearsheimer, 1990).

Others, taking a liberal view, make a more positive forecast and see a Europe 'primed for peace' (van Evera, 1990/91). They are optimistic about the transition of the former Warsaw Pact countries to a market economy and democratic rule. For liberals economic and political liberalisation offers the best guarantee of stability. A Europe of democratic regimes tied together through liberal trade, would be a Europe where war would belong to the past. Therefore, the security dilemma will be substantially reduced (Sperling and Kirchner, 1997: 7-10). The European states will evolve into relationships of 'complex interdependence' (Keohane and Nye, 1977) like those between the states belonging to the OECD world. Complex interdependence, however, does not imply that no conflicts will occur, but that the latter will be solved without the use of force. Such situation, then, comes close to what Deutsch (1957) came to call a 'security community', viz. a more or less integrated group of states that do not regard each other as a military threat and solve their conflicts in non-military ways. Put differently, liberals expect the likelihood of armed conflict in the new European security order to be very low. Consequently, force levels can be drastically reduced.

In predicting this entirely different future of European security, the liberal view starts from a distinct conception of world politics (Keohane and Nye, 1977; Zacher and Matthew, 1995). For them anarchy is not a permanent feature of the international system. As a pure self-help system, it is but one possible form of recurrent behaviour, and as such, processes of institutionalisation can transcend it, the more likely so in an environment characterised by complex interdependence. Hence, liberals regard international co-operation as far more common than realists would like us to believe. Moreover, they claim that domestic political processes and structures account for variances in state behaviour. For liberals recent history shows that democracies interact more co-operatively than non-democracies do. While democracies are clearly not inherently more peaceful than non-democratic regimes, they rarely if ever fight each other. Relationships between democratic regimes seem to evolve peacefully and result in so-called zones of democratic peace (Ullman, 1991). Using different data sets, this conjecture has been by now firmly established (Geeraerts and Stouthuysen, 1999). Probably no other hypothesis has reached a similar level of acceptance among international relations scholars. According to Russett (1990: 245), the proposition that democracies do not fight each other is 'one of the strongest nontrivial or non-tautological statements that can be made about international relations.' Seemingly democracies identify positively with each other and behave in their mutual relations as status quo powers, that is, they don't covet each other's position in the system. In our interpretation of Sun Tzu this implies that the non-military or politico-economic dimension of security will be dominant (Thesis 3).

From Anarchy to Security Community: Democratic Peace in Europe?

The argument that democracy is a strong source of peace goes back to Immanuel Kant. For him, democracies are peaceful primarily because the citizens control them. As rational beings, the latter will not support warlike policies, the economic consequences of which are only detrimental to their welfare. This, however, is no longer regarded as a very strong explanation of peace between democracies since the connection between public opinion and the conduct of foreign policy is much less straightforward and transparent than in Kant's leading expectation (Sorensen, 1993: 99; Risse, 1999). The peaceful nature of the relationships among democracies does not flow contiguously from peace-loving citizens influencing the decision-makers. For a better understanding of the peace among democracies, we need to look for some more fundamental factors.

On closer examination, Kant's general framework seemingly offers the elements for such a deeper understanding. More specifically, he indicates that the peace among democracies depends on the existence of a pacific union sustained by ties of economic interdependence. Kant was well aware that these elements do not materialise automatically as they are part of a process in which early results of co-operation affect subsequent co-operative efforts (Doyle, 1986). Therefore, reversals or even a backsliding into violence may always occur. Ultimately, however, he expects the pacific union to expand and provide perpetual peace among all democratic nations.

Following Sorensen (1993), Kant's pacific union or security community rests on three conditions:

  • The presence of democratic states with their culture of peaceful conflict resolution.
  • The moral bonds that are forged between the democracies on the basis of their common moral foundations.
  • The democracies' economic co-operation toward mutual economic advantage (Sorensen, 1993: 110-111).

All three conditions need to be met for the connection between democracy and peace to hold. Their combined effect makes an end to the security dilemma, and therewith the states' disposition towards each other becomes a positive one. We shall now further explore each of Kant's conditions and examine them in the contemporary European context.

The first condition concerns processes whereby democratic regimes promote norms and expectations that further peaceful conflict resolution between democracies – a process affecting both the citizenry and the policy-makers. The decisive factor in the whole process, however, is not the control of elites by the citizens; it is the democratic political culture. Such a culture implies that in democracy citizens hold rights to liberty, and hence the states democratically representing them have the right to exercise political independence. Since democracies are alike in this respect, mutual respect for these rights thus becomes the major criterion of international liberal theory. For Sorensen this

    ... democratic political culture rules out ideological motives for democracies to act in expansionist ways against one another and makes it very difficult for democratic elites to legitimate wars against other democracies (Sorensen, 1993: 99).

In other words, norms of peaceful conflict resolution and norms recognising other people's right to self-determination incite democratic regimes to show restraint and caution in their conduct of foreign policy, especially in their dealings with other democracies.

Regarding the fulfilment of the first condition in Europe, the present predicament is ambivalent. Whereas a democratic culture with norms of peaceful conflict resolution exists in the consolidated democracies of the West, this is not yet the case in the new democracies in Central and Eastern Europe. Going from a non-democratic to a democratic regime is a long and not necessarily tidy process. Only in the consolidation phase, democratic practices become an established part of the political culture. Although in Central and Eastern Europe a civil society is budding, it will still take much time and effort for a fully-fledged democratic culture to establish itself.

The second condition concerns the moral element, which helps founding the environment for peaceful intercourse between democratic states. According to Kant, this moral element resides in the common principles of co-operation, mutual respect, and understanding (Sorensen, 1993: 101). Such moral bonds are present in the relationships among the consolidated democracies of the West. Furthermore, plausible grounds exist for hypothesising that the security community composed of the Western stable democracies can be expanded to embrace the recent democracies in Central and Eastern Europe. Not only are these former communist states going through a political and economic transformation, but most of them also strive for membership of Western international regimes, particularly NATO, WEU and the EU, whose very foundation is the recognition of common moral values of personal freedom, political independence, democracy, and the rule of law. Moreover, within the framework of the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), all the East European countries including Russia have committed themselves to basic democratic values and the peaceful resolution of conflict. If the democratisation process in these countries continues successfully, becoming full members of the security community that has developed in Western Europe turns possible for the latter. Such a development gets even more likely since the end of the Cold War has diminished the force of anarchy in shaping the European security environment and has enhanced the interaction capacity of the European state system (Sperling and Kirchner, 1997: 16). The interaction capacity of an international system not only affects the ability and the willingness of states to interact, but also determines what types and levels of interaction are both possible and desired (Buzan et al., 1993). One feature of the system's interaction capacity is precisely the extent to which states share norms and shape their preferences through common institutions.

In the European security space states increasingly come to share common norms. Moreover, state interaction is increasingly steered by common economic and security institutions. Joint membership of institutions cultivating Kant's common principles of co-operation, mutual respect, and understanding on a pan-European basis has thus made for an improved interaction capacity in the European security space.

Kant's final condition for a pacific union among democracies to develop and maintain itself is economic co-operation. In his view, countries led by the spirit of commerce will develop mutually beneficial ties of trade and investment, which in turn will strengthen the bonds of peace among them (Sorensen, 1993: 107). Such mutually beneficial economic co-operation figures high among the consolidated democracies in the West - that is Western Europe, North America, Japan, Australia and New Zealand. Since these countries also comply with the two other conditions discussed earlier, namely a democratic culture of peaceful conflict resolution and a common moral foundation that flows from it; they make up a true security community. As said earlier, the latter concept boils down to a contemporary interpretation of Kant's pacific union (Deutsch et al., 1957).

The prospects for economic co-operation in Eastern Europe are less certain. Some pessimism subsists regarding the possibilities for rapid economic transformation and world market integration of Eastern Europe. The transitions to the market economy in the East European states and the former Soviet Union are unfinished and flawed. One problem is the burden of debt facing some of those nations, especially Albania, Poland, Hungary, and the Russian Federation. The major obstacle, however, resides in the difficulty of the task itself. The transition to the market economy and democratic rule demands a profound remodelling of society rather than the simple correction of malformed economies. As Sperling and Kirchner (1997: 188) put it: 'The discipline of the market and the ambiguities of democratic politics are neither easily exported nor easily absorbed.' Moreover, the whole process necessitates sustained and vast capital inflows over at least a decade. So far, however the capital inflows into Central and Eastern Europe have been insufficient. This failure to deliver is foremost a political one. Western governments have been very reluctant in their commitment of the necessary resources in support of economic liberalisation and democratisation processes. At a time when the economic instruments of statecraft figure as the most effective and important to the stability in Europe, the major states may be in lack the fiscal means to exploit that opportunity (Sperling and Kirchner, 1997: 191-92). Even though leading decision-makers in the European Union (EU) foresee the admission of at least some East European countries at the turn of the century, the less developed of those countries will clearly have great difficulty in reaching the level of economic development, which would turn membership of the EU into a real possibility. Unfortunately, it is mainly through such membership that they can develop ties of economic co-operation, which in turn will allow them to reinforce their position in a European security community.


Starting from Sun Tzu's idea of comprehensive security, and combining it with Wendt's continuum of security systems as well as Kant's idea of a pacific union, we have explored the European security space. The results are mixed. Whereas a substantial headway is clearly visible on the road to a pan-European security community, none of Kant's three criteria have been fully met until now. Still, the previous argument seems to suggest that, as far as Europe is concerned, we are somewhere between the crystal and the stone. For one, it is clear that Europe has moved beyond raw anarchy, and as such has transcended the stage of the competitive security system. For the time being, the old continent finds itself in between the stage of the individualistic and the co-operative security system. In terms of Sun Tzu's comprehensive security, this means that the military and non-military dimension of security are still subtly balancing each other out. However, there appears to be a tendency for the non-military or politico-economic dimension to become ever more important. Therefore, from Sun Tzu's perspective, Kant's pacific union may be closer than ever before.


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    * Revised version of a paper presented at the 4th International Symposium on Sun Tzu's Art of War, 18-21 October 1998, Beijing. The symposium was organised by The China Research Society of Sun Tzu's Art of War.
  1. The exact date of Sun Tzu's birthday is unknown. However, his 'Art of War' is the oldest and most studied classical military treatise in the history of mankind. The work originated most plausibly in the period of the 'Warring States' (ca. 403-221 BC.), which was a determining phase in the Chinese civilisation. In the previous 'Spring and Autumn' period (ca. 722-481 BC.) a large number of small states got involved in an endless war of survival. From this war resulted some dozen 'central states' (Zhongguo), which is where the name of today's China comes from. Around the 5th Century BC., the warring parties came to realise that there were only two options, viz. survival or decline. In game-theoretic terms this represents a zero-sum situation, and as the rivals for the leadership of a united China became smaller in number, the intensity of the war rose exponentially. During this period war changed from an art into an industry and the number of victims amounted to hundreds of thousands. Travelling philosophers passed through the central states of China offering their advises and services to the warring leading families. Among them figured a new generation of military specialists who were trained in the tactics and strategies of effective warfare. Sun Tzu was one of them.
  2. In the early 1980's, after Deng Xiaoping put forward the concept of 'socialism with Chinese characteristics', senior Chinese scholars in international studies began to talk about creating an International Relations Theory with Chinese characteristics. Such a theory should focus on 'the Chinese opinions of international affairs and the culmination of Chinese understandings of the laws of development of the international community' (Zhang, 1991: 68). Most Chinese scholars, especially those of the younger generations, who have been partly educated in the West, think it is unscientific or unnecessary to emphasise so-called Chinese characteristics. However, few publications argue against building an International Relations Theory with Chinese characteristics because the term 'Chinese characteristics' has too many political implications in China. Therefore, these views are voiced mainly at conferences and seminars. For an overview of the major points of the dissenting voices, see Song (1997: 48-50).
  3. Para bellum stands for the Latin aphorism 'Si vis pacem para bellum', which literally means 'If you want peace, prepare for war'.
  4. Concept initially introduced by Ruggie (1986), and now further elaborated by Buzan et al. (1993: 37-47). It refers to the first two tiers of Waltz's definition of structure, viz. The organising principle of the international system and the functional differentiation of units. For Buzan (1993:38) these two tiers 'identify an element that is deep in the sense of representing a basic pattern that is not only durable (on historical evidence), but also self-reproducing (in that the operation of the balance of power sustains the anarchic arrangement – and in Waltz's view also the like units).'
  5. For an in-depth analysis and also a historical reconstruction of 'comprehensive security' one is referred to Alagappa (1998a, 1998b).
  6. Notice that Sun Tzu's views here run parallel to the so-called Hegemonic Stablity Theory as developed by Gilpin (1981 [1983]).
  7. On closer examination, Sun Tzu's comprehensive security concept represents a (pragmatic) happy medium between the pacifist tradition of Confucianism and Taoism on the one hand, and the realist tradition in ancient China on the other (Song, 1997: 50-51). The first tradition shows a stark resemblance to the Western idealist school of thought in International Relations. Indeed, two core ideas of both Confucianism and Taoism are he-he (integration and peace). Song gives the following clarification: "The first he means combination, integration and equality. The popular saying is tian ren heyi (heaven and humans are combined into one). The second he connotes kindness and gentleness, harmony and peace. One of the sayings is jisuo buyu, wushi yuren (do not do unto others if you don't want the same done to your self). Pacifism is at the core of Confucianism and Taoism, as well as in Yi jing (The Book of Changes). The word-formation of wu (force), which is contrary to peace, in Chinese is zhi ge wei wu (stopping weapon as force). The military strategy that was regarded as the best by ancient Chinese was not one which on how to exterminate an enemy, but rather on how to win a war without resorting to force (buzhan er qu ren zhibing, shan zhi shan zhe ye)." The second, realist tradition in Chinese thought, with the legalists (fa jia) being the most representative, stresses the evil nature of mankind and therewith the necessity of the rule of law; holds that interests, not morality, drive the dynamics of human behaviour; states that evil can only stopped by evil. Clearly, much the same principles as are present in the works of Thucydides, Machiavelli, Hobbes and Morgenthau, who are at the basis of the Western realist school of thought in International Relations.
  8. See footnote 1.
  9. We are referring here to the stability mechanism of unipolar, bipolar, and multipolar systems recpectively.
  10. The term 'security community' was first introduced by Deutsch et al. (1957) and refers to. a more or less integrated group of states that do not regard each other as a military threat and solve their conflicts in non-military ways.

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