War and Chess (La Guerre et l’ Échiquier) – 2021 edition

On October 1th, 2021, Admiral (ret) Pascal Ausseur, Director General of the FMES Institute, will give a lecture at the International Symposium entitled ‘War and Chess’ (La Guerre et l’ Échiquier), organized by the non-profit-making association Dire et Chanter Les Passions (DCLP) in collaboration with Institution de Gestion Sociale des Armées (IGeSA). Find here below Admiral Pascal Ausseur’s thoughts on War and Chess. 

The world’s history is driven by power relations, that is to say the confrontation between human groups (the most classic model being the State) through their ability to influence their environment. This power requires capabilities — economic, demographic, technological, intellectual, military, et cetera — as well as the political and cultural will to accept the balance of power within one’s environment and with one’s competitors. War is the tool of this confrontation when it comes to subjecting to our will an opponent who is an obstacle to the deployment of our power, or to resist his will to submit us. In popular imagination, war involves the use of military means, even though it corresponds only to a particular way of submission, that is carried out by force. War can also use economic, cyber, informational or cultural means: the Chinese call it the ‘unrestricted warfare’ and the Russians ‘hybrid warfare’.

Chess is a very interesting representation of this conflict: first, from a military point of view, by organizing a fight in a limited time and space frame, and by combining different and complementary means. The most subtle use of those means, the room for maneuver and the allocated time to overcome the enemy´s maneuvers are quite similar to some operational situations. The variety of options available, the impact of players´ personality and the inherently interactive nature of chess make it very similar to strategic or tactical theaters. But this similarity could also be found in systemic or “unrestricted” warfare. The right combination of the action of each piece could indeed in a way recall the coordinated use of the means at the disposal of the Head of State at war.

However, we must recognize the limits of this analogy. First of all, it relates to the duality of the confrontation which is only one conflict scenario which often opposes multiple players with varied objectives. The fact that all chess games begin from the exact same position also separates Chess from the real world where everyone has to play with different cards. The latter two features are probably best depicted in a game like Poker which also emphasizes, symbolically, an important feature of military rivalry: bravery, essential to the confrontation of wills. Some other games better illustrate a less direct form of conflict, by reinforcing both network and stifling effect. The game of Go is a case in point as it is very much in line with the strategy currently being developed by Xi Jinping. Many other games, such as Bridge, highlight the challenges of communication within a team to ensure victory.

Thus, these games do not only reveal the strategic modes of thinking of the cultures promoting them–as the Russians illustrate it wonderfully with chess–, they are also a great school of thought, magnifying analysis, psychology and imagination: all essential skills for winning tomorrow’s conflicts. Because ‘all battles are first won or lost in the mind’.  

This is why, in the world to come, where power relations and armed conflicts are unfortunately increasing once again, the diffusion and practice of Chess can be an important asset to learn to checkmate one’s opponents.

Admiral (ret) Pascal Ausseur

Translation by Marjorie Grandis, Talent DCLP


Lauréate 2021 du DCLP Young Talents Program

Diplômée de Master 2 en Langues vivantes étrangères de l’Université d’Angers
Responsable Édition, Publication et Traduction pour La Guerre et l´Échiquier, événement DCLP, Marjorie Grandis, diplômée de Master 2 en Langues vivantes étrangères, est actuellement en poste dans une société d´ingénierie en Allemagne. Ses compétences remarquables se déploient dans plusieurs domaines-clés : Creative Thinking et Communication en environnements multi- et interculturels.  
Elle souhaite concrétiser son intérêt puissant pour le monde maritime et les vieux gréements par une opportunité professionnelle en lien avec la navigation et la mer. D’autre part, sa passion pour l´écriture de fictions et de romans historiques lui font fréquenter les œuvres admirables d’Alexander Kent (Captain Bolitho), Cecil Scott Forester (Horatio Hornblower) et de Dan Simmons (The Terror). Elle développe dans cette continuité artistique et littéraire, un beau projet d´écriture sur la Marine, la mer et l´émotion. 

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