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Befriend a Distant State While Attacking a Neighbor


Disciplines > Warfare > The 36 Stratagems > Befriend a Distant State While Attacking a Neighbor

Stratagem | History | Discussion | See also

This stratagem number: 23

This group: Stratagems for Confused Situations
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Do not make war in distant places while ignoring those nearby. Rather, make alliances with those further away in order to conquer your neighbors.

Fighting wars on multiple fronts is dangerous, particularly when the fronts are far apart. It is better to fight a close war where you can be dominant and use all your best forces together.

In this way steadily expand your empire. Eventually you will be reach the borders of distant places which you will be able to conquer with the now-great power of your forces.

Always be careful about what alliances are happening, as these can change the balance of power. Seek to disrupt alliances that threaten while creating alliances that offer you power (yet always beware of your allies changing sides).


This is the twenty-third stratagem of thirty-six.

Group name

Stratagems for Confused Situations

Alternative names

Befriend a Distant Enemy to Attack One Nearby

Make Allies at a Distance, Attack Nearby

Befriend a Distant State While Attacking a Neighboring State

Or even:

Keep Your Enemies Close

Use Tactical Alliances 


The king of Qin was considering attacking the distant Qi. Fan Ju advised the king that, as he would have to travel through the nearer Han and Wei, it would be better to ally with Qi and also Chu in defeating Han and Wei. This worked and Fan Ju's was promoted. In time, Qin's conquests allowed it to also conquer Qi.

Fan Ju also warned the king about plots by his mother and uncle. The king jailed them and made Fan Ju prime minister.

History shows that most wars are between adjacent countries. It is only recently that modern transport has allowed distant wars to be waged with relative ease. America, for example has engaged in war in Europe, Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan. One reason it can do so is that its neighbors are not hostile.

Both Napoleon and Hitler made the mistake of fighting on too many fronts and both made the fatal error of taking on the much bigger Russia.

In building Windows, Microsoft would support companies that built useful add-ons, but would then build their own version into the next release of the operating systems, and in doing so destroy previous allies.


If you have to go to war in distant lands you will have to pass over or through countries that are nearby. To do this requires that they are not hostile to you.

Even if your neighbors appear to be friends, they may decide to take advantage when you are away. This is a common cause of romantic issues when one partner is away.

It can be an effective strategy to make alliances with countries which border your target enemy, hence forcing the enemy to fight on multiple fronts.

A fundamental part of planning is to decide on the sequence of activities. If you are building an empire, this includes when to make alliances and when to turn on your 'friends'.

When you are the strongest, then the greatest threat is from the second strongest. If they can easily invade your territory then they may well use alliances to do so. You hence have a major need to prevent alliances against you.

See also

Alliances in war


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