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War by Other Means: The Legacy of Byzantium

Michael Antonucci discerns Byzantine origins in today's international power politics.

The conventional view of diplomacy is one of negotiation and compromise leading to a settlement of differences. However, history often shatters this view. The conduct of international relations is also a struggle between competing national interests... and diplomacy can be as potent a weapon as any army. To alter Clausewitz's maxim, international relations can often be war conducted by other means. The Serbian government arms ethnic Serbs in Bosnia. The United States supports Kurds seeking the ousting of Saddam Hussein. The Soviets persuade Cubans to go to Angola while setting up nuclear freeze groups in Western Europe. The Chinese support the Khmer Rouge to nullify Vietnamese authority in Cambodia. Measures such as these are efforts to defeat an enemy's intentions without the risk and costs of overt military force. These international actions have become so commonplace they are considered legitimate tools in the foreign policy repertoire.

No nation-state did more to advance the cause of activist foreign policy than the Byzantine empire. For over 1,100 years it survived and expanded by skilfully manipulating opponents through its intricate diplomacy. Hundreds of years before Machiavelli, Byzantine historian, John Kinnamos, wrote: 'Since many and various matters lead toward one end, victory, it is a matter of indifference which one uses to reach it'. An examination of Byzantine diplomatic tactics could help today's diplomats understand the motivations of their counterparts at the negotiating table.

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