Dr. C. Anthony Pfaff – “Chinese and Western Ways of War and Their Ethics”


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Released 13 April 2022. In this podcast, Pfaff argues understanding the ethical logic available to one’s adversaries will allow US leaders and planners to leverage China’s behavior and optimally shape US policies and actions. Click here to read the article. Episode Transcript: Chinese and Western Ways of War and Their Ethics Stephanie Crider (Host) Welcome to Decisive Point, a US Army War College Press production featuring distinguished authors and contributors who get to the heart of the matter in national security affairs. The guests in speaking order on this episode are: (Guest 1 Anthony Pfaff) (Host) Decisive Point welcomes Dr. Anthony Pfaff, author of “Chinese and Western Ways of War and Their Ethics,” featured in Parameters Spring 2022 issue. Dr. Pfaff is the research professor for strategy, the military profession, and ethics at the Strategic Studies Institute at the US Army War College and a senior nonresident fellow at the Atlantic Council. The views and opinions expressed in this podcast are those of the authors and are not necessarily those of the Department of the Army, the US Army War College, or any other agency of the US government. Welcome, Dr. Pfaff. I’m glad you’re here. Let’s talk about China and the West, war, and ethics. Your thesis for this piece posits how one fights shapes how one governs that fighting. The article relies on traditional and contemporary scholarship from both East and West to describe differences in how each views the practical and ethical aspects of war and how they can interact. Understanding the ethical logic available to one’s adversaries allows one to better understand their behavior as well as how to better shape one’s own actions and policies to avoid misunderstanding. Some people think China is unethical. Let’s just start there. In fact, you note that in December of 2020, then-Director of National Intelligence John Ratcliffe claimed the Chinese government has “no ethical boundaries” in their pursuit of power. Please expand on that. (Pfaff) Yeah. Sure. This is a common refrain. A big theme in it is that the other side—they're unethical. And I wanted to write this because it's not true. Now, they may be doing some things which by our own lights are unethical; they may be doing some things that are unethical by their own lights. What I'm not doing in this paper is adjudicating. And I'm not saying that there is a moral equivalency between the kinds of things China does and the kinds of things the United States does. I'm not saying there's a moral equivalency between the kind of aims that the United States has and China has. I think we can make arguments that a lot of what the Chinese do is in fact unethical. However, it is wrong to say they aren’t considering it. There is a fairly rich conversation even in their own People’s Liberation Army (PLA) journals and think tanks and conferences, and all that, where they do raise these kinds of concerns. So what I wanted to do is kind of map out: How do these concerns arise, and what shapes how they get expressed in Chinese policy in Chinese thinking as well as our own? And I thought it was important to contrast it with how we do it so a reader can understand, “Oh, this is sort of a natural process that all security communities, states—however you want to define it—do.” These are almost unavoidable categories but do affect not how we just think about fighting, but how we think about the norms governing that fighting. To say the other side just doesn’t have any is to oversimplify and to miss a lot. It risks misinterpreting what in fact the other side actually thinks it’s doing and thinks it’s responding to. (Host) Let’s talk about the ways and ethics of war. What do you mean by this, and how are the Western and Eastern ways of war different? (Pfaff) In terms of what I’m talking about here, in terms of what a way of war is and how it relates to the ethics of war,

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