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Unmasking the Devil in the Details- A Comparative Analysis of the Science of Military Strategy 2017 and 2020

  • Published
  • China Aerospace Studies Institute

The textbook series of Science of Military Strategy (战略学/SMS) have long been regarded as a valuable reference for the field of People’s Liberation Army (PLA) studies. Like all textbooks, however, the SMS is not a bible of Chinese strategic thinking. Its influence on current and future PLA leaders is almost impossible to gauge. Despite the difficulties in gauging the influence of this textbook, this piece still merits close examination by PLA researchers mainly for at least two reasons:

First, it provides a unique set of authoritative narratives endorsed by the PLA’s sophisticated censorship system. The narratives are carefully crafted, by designated teams of PLA academics, to reflect political and theoretical correctness of the PLA at the time of publication. As such, it establishes a critical baseline for more advanced PLA analyses.

Second, since the release of its first English edition in 2001, the SMS has likely assumed a more deliberate role to convey messages to a western readership. The framing and pruning of narratives contained in the SMS presumably reflects how the PLA wants to be seen by the outside world. Therefore, the nuances contained in the SMS, particularly changes made by its authors over time, when analyzed in correlation with PLA’s activities in the field, can provide clues to the Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP) strategic intent and aspirations.

This paper provides assessments for ten key themes for readers of the SMS 2020 to take into account when reading its English translation.