Notes on Besieging Wei to Rescue Zhao

Notes on “Besieging Wei to Rescue Zhao: Combining the Indirect Approach with the Centre of Gravity”

Article by Ian Li

  • Focus indirect approach against the enemy center of gravity -> strength vs weakness and not only weakness but that which the enemy holds dear. 
    • Context: Just yesterday I was listening to Boyd on youtube (patterns brief to Marine Corps University) talk about what a center of gravity is and discuss Clausewitz ( for a summary)
    • I like these videos more than the others i have watched because he has more discussion with the marines rather than just briefing
    • Tape 2 Side 2 at 39:45 they discuss the will of the people as a center of gravity
  • Interesting that they say Liddell Hart asserts commanders had misinterpreted Clausewitz whereas Boyd states Clauswitz was flat out wrong and actually advocated for mass against mass because he states the center of gravity is where the enemy is most dense. Boyd had no qualm saying a great strategic thinker like Clauswitz was wrong. Boyd probably said it was because of Clausewitz that WW1 happened in the way it did.
    • “A center of gravity is always found where the mass is concentrated most densely” – Clausewitz  (insert picture of a doughnut to prove him wrong)
    • Boyd prefers vulnerability, paraphrases sun tzu with “seize that which your adversary holds dear or values most highly. Then he will conform to your desires”
      • He repeated that a few times and it got me thinking about how our adversaries are going after what we hold dear and what we could go after that they value most highly..
  • “The basic principle behind this approach was that the adversary’s strength should be circumvented in favour of indirect blows against his more vulnerable points.”
    • This seems painfully obvious…
  • “By also widening the range of objectives away from one single focal point, one was able to hedge the chances of success, allowing for an advantage to be accrued incrementally.”
    • This is basically saying you want to attack multiple centers of gravity, not just one. One of boyds issues with the term is that it indicates there is only one center of gravity when in fact there can be multiple and you want to go after multiple.
  • “an ill-conceived application of the indirect approach could potentially lead to the frittering away of resources chasing vague outcomes.” 
    • I think this is what I am seeing when I have tried to apply these ideas to cyber exercises in the past. I couldn’t quite get it right and am not sure if the efforts had a measurable outcome. 
  • They say “Entente Powers’ plan to break the stalemate on the Western Front by forcing a breakthrough via the Ottoman Empire, one of the weaker members of the Central Powers, would unlikely have any significant impact on the course of the war due to the peripheral nature of that theatre.” for the intent of the operation. Next they say it is wrong because “it was Germany’s war production and manpower and not the Ottomans’ that was central to the overall war effort, no quick resolution to the war could have been brought about that did not include the collapse of German military power”
    • That seems like 2 different centers of gravity to me and they just told us it is beneficial to have multiple. Why is attacking this other center of gravity wrong just because it isn’t what they view as the main center of gravity? It would have still opened up a second front and potentially knocked one of their allies out of the war right? Would that have not met their objectives of forcing a breakthrough and having a significant impact? (Assuming the operation would have been successful..)
  • “While this might, at first glance, seem to contradict Liddell Hart’s tenet of diversifying the range of objectives, it is in actuality a reminder that all efforts must ultimately be contrived with a clear view of what the endpoint is in mind.”
    • I feel like we are starting to have different definitions of what a center of gravity is.
  • Love the concept behind “Besieging Wei to Rescue Zhao”
    • I discussed something like this a bit with the interns when talking about capstone and doing attacks but didn’t have this great concise example to illustrate the point
  • “The choice to attack the capital rather than other lesser targets should also be seen as significant in itself, given Sun Tzu’s (孙子) earlier admonishment to only lay siege to cities as a last resort.”
    • I think the key word here is “lay siege”. I’m sure Sun Tzu would have no problem with attacking centers of gravity in the capital through indirect or irregular means but warns against formal battle. They didn’t fully besiege Wei, it was mainly a feint to get the army off of Zhao. Maj Stamat sent me a great article clarifying the translation of Sun Tzu’s “to win without fighting” where it says it better translates to “to win without battle” or formal battle in this sense where they lined up and charged. Irregular fighting, ambushes, strength against weakness was prefered and the “supreme excellence”.
  • “perhaps because one lacks the options for manoeuvre or the centre of gravity is too well guarded, as was the case with Germany in World War I”
    • Are they trying to say that Germany’s war production/industry was the central powers ONLY center of gravity?
    • Again they seem to say there can only be one center of gravity when there are actually many. If they are heavily protecting one then they are leaving others at risk or worse: “If he sends reinforcements everywhere, he will everywhere be weak”

Key idea: “the indirect approach and the centre of gravity are rich strategic concepts that produce outsized outcomes when considered together”

By Fitz


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