By understanding "Go" ... a board game (left) said to have been invented in China around 3,000 years ago ... the United States can better craft its national security strategy with China and avoid war, said William "Trey" Braun (right).
Braun, a retired Army colonel and research professor at the U.S. Army War College's Strategic Institute, led a discussion on U.S.-China strategy at the National Press Club, May 24, 2016.
With him were some of the 10 U.S. and international students from the USAWC, who participated in a nine-month study of that strategy. Braun was project lead, with support from fellow USAWC research professor David Lai.
THE GRAY ZONE
Before understanding Go, however, one needs to understand the tense relationship China and the U.S. have, Braun said, describing it as "the gray zone."
Basically, both countries are operating in the gray zone, where neither war nor peace is present. And, "the U.S. is not doing well in that competitive space," he said.
When Beijing hosted the summer Olympics, that marked China's emergence into a stage of power transition marked by growing assertiveness, he said. It was at that time that China -- a rapidly rising military and economic power -- began to flex its muscles in the region. At the same time, the U.S. went into the so-called "Great Recession" and was focused in Southwest Asia.
By flexing its muscle, Braun said he meant China occupying reefs in the South China Sea inside an arc of territory they felt was taken from them after World War II. China also began challenging air and nautical passage of other countries with its own air and naval fleet, sometimes using its fishing vessels as proxies.
Braun said his group's study predicted that future aggressive acts could result in a miscalculation that triggers war. In fact, he noted, 16 countries from other parts of the world at one time went through their own gray zones with competitor nations; and, of those 16, 12 resulted in miscalculations leading to war.
The goal of the study, he said, was to find a way for the U.S. and its partner nations in that area to navigate smoothly through the gray zone competition, so China's rise to eventual U.S. equality of power in the region will transition peacefully. Both countries, he noted, share this desire to resolve differences without using force.
MORE THAN A GAME
Go is much more than a game, Braun said. It's the prism through which China views the world and the way it thinks and operates. And, if America wants to be successful in the gray zone, it needs to first understand how their game is played.
Braun compared and contrasted Go to the Western game of chess.
In Go, a two-player game, the object is to surround and seize an opponent's terrain. Players use white or black stones as game pieces. The idea is to outmaneuver the other player's arrangement of stones on the board, which is about the size of a chess board but with many more positions that can be played.
While the game of Go produces a winner just as in chess, he explained, the difference is that in Go, the "loser" who played well may have lost overall, but won in various sections of the board and can walk away from the game knowing not all was lost.
This analogy speaks to a range of gray zone competitive interests China and the U.S. have in other parts of the world, in military aspects, cyber, space, policy and economic, he said. There doesn't need to be a clear winner across the board.
He then offered another analogy.
The aim of Go is to win without fighting and an apparent attack doesn't need to occur right away. It more or less unfolds, he said. In chess, the aim is to right away attack, remove opposing pieces and checkmate the other's king, Braun said.
The chess analogy for the U.S. is that when "its interests are threatened" it has a tendency "to break glass, bring out the military and then go back to peace," he said. That's now how the Chinese operate. Their strategy unfolds over time, not in an abrupt manner.
GO-LIKE STRATEGIES OFFERED
The U.S. Army and national strategy policymakers need to understand this Chinese mindset and perspective in order to accommodate China as a co-power in the region, without necessarily compromising partnerships with allies in the region, Braun said.
There are low-cost approaches to accomplishing this, he said.
To sum them up, Braun said, most involve sharing the cost and burden of a regional defense and letting other countries lead when it comes to military training and preparedness. Right now, the countries in that area look to the U.S. to lead and to provide advanced military technology. "We're not allowing our partners to grow."
The other effect that would have, would be to reduce tensions with China, he said. For example, if there's a confrontation with a Chinese fishing vessel by a U.S. Navy ship, it would be much more provocative than if that vessel is from a partner nation. But the vessels from partner nations just aren't there.
Another important approach is to continually engage China in dialog and in peaceful military-to-military engagements, something currently not happening, he said.
By U.S. Army David Vergun
Army News Service
Comment on this article