Chess vs Go - Strategic Strength, Gamecraft and China
The great power nations at the beginning of this 21st century are engaged in multiple domains and dimensions of both collaboration and competition, and are utilizing a variety of strategies to exercise both strength and restraint.
A clear point of competition, growing strategic capability and global tension is China’s iterative involvement, development and capability in bioscience and biotechnology. China utilizes broader strategic planning horizons than other nations and attempts to combine efforts from government, academic and commercial sectors — also known as the “triple helix” — to accomplish cooperation and centralization of national agendas.
Propelling such progress in China’s rapid “bench to bedside — and beyond” capabilities is an expanding exercise of non-Western ethical guidelines that both broaden the scope of experimentation and provide justificatory bases for China’s intellectual property laws. Through such means, China is affecting international bioscience and technology through research tourism, control of intellectual property, medical tourism, and influence in global scientific thought.
Strategizing for short- and long-term gain and the connections to chess and great power gamesmanship is not new to the groups involved in competition.
Games and rational bargaining theory have considered both quantitative and qualitative approaches to zero-sum and other game structures. To be sure, chess is a game of both near-term tactics and overarching strategy, and as such has been — and arguably can be — used as simile, metaphor and example of applicable modes of thought in larger-scale gamecraft — inclusive of nation-state competition in both local and global settings. But “a game” of chess, strategic as it may be, is timed, and although draws are possible — more frequently results in a clear winner, and thus a finite “end.”
In contrast, the game of Go is one of achieving competitive advantage, with an understanding and anticipation of shifts in circumstance and “lead” in relative influence and superiority. But perhaps more importantly, it is a game of perdurability, rather than timed moves and a defined conclusion.
Thus, it is important to regard these games as reflective and representative of longstanding cultural mindsets that can contribute to and influence the ways that current and emerging resources — inclusive of biotechnology — are employed on the “playing board” of global hegemony.
A 2019 report to the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence on great power strategy and U.S. intelligence, reconnaissance and surveillance, concluded that primary areas of strategic intensity for U.S.-China competition include not only sites and modes of geopolitical engagement, but also non-kinetic domains that exercise and leverage scientific, technologic and economic capability and co-dependence, to incur what the French philosopher Michel Foucault called “bio-power.”
In light of this, it will be important to revisit, reassess, and perhaps revise the gamecraft of contending hegemonies on the current and future global stage. Clearly, tactical perspectives and focus, while necessary, are no longer sufficient. A strategic plan must be developed that is on par with the philosophical — and practical — orientation to current and future balancing of power, so as to enable the United States to remain at least apace with, if not in an advantageous position, to China’s evolving competitive momentum.
Maintaining strategic strength in key areas of competition and potential conflict confirms U.S. and allied commitment to peace and stability.
Critical areas of national interest extend beyond defense, diplomacy and warfighting, to include biotechnology, communications, AI and complex intelligence systems, and competitive presence in the global economy as well as land, sea, air, space and cyber domains.
Gaining and sustaining long-term advantage is a matter of growth planning, longevity, strategic strength and stabilizing potential short-term conflicts while establishing cooperative trust, upholding values that foster international flourishing, and effectively implementing cross-national collaborative initiatives in critical areas of soft — not merely hard — power domains.
Perhaps continued chess maneuvering will be important to balance piece-specific skirmishes with an eye toward influencing certain domains relevant to fortifying strategic control of the global “game board,” in anticipation of possible forced endgames.
But it will take an awareness of a Go board approach when seeking to establish territorial planning, and building technological, soft power, as well as hard power strongholds. The “tools of the trade” are likely to affect the “rules of the game.” Increasing capabilities in AI are such that multi-domain, multi-dimensional and multi-national factors of competitive disposition and exercise of power can be forecasted, and inductive investments in influential domains of capability and power can be engaged and exploited to achieve strategically latent power longevity.
Thus, new rules will be emergent, and it may well be that “the game” itself evolves to be one that is distinct from chess or Go.
In this changing ecology, maintaining advantage will require effective and efficient national and cross-national cooperation, collaboration and creation of complex, networked solutions of people, technological systems and governments. An adherence to a singular, non-flexible pattern of play is unlikely to win — or even achieve advantage — in a highly evolving game.
Timothy J. Demy, Ph.D., is professor of military ethics at the Naval War College. Dr. James Giordano is a professor at the Departments of Neurology and Biochemistry and chief of the Neuroethics Studies Program at the Pellegrino Center for Clinical Bioethics at Georgetown University. He is also a senior research fellow in biosecurity, technology and ethics at the Naval War College. Gina Granados Palmer, Ph.D., is an interdisciplinary scholar and assistant professor in the College of Leadership and Ethics at the Naval War College.
The views and opinions expressed in this essay are the authors’ and do not necessarily reflect those of the Defense Department, U.S. Naval War College, and/or the organizations and institutions funding the authors’ work.