The phrase, The enemy of my enemy is my friend
is usually considered a foreign policy doctrine that is commonly used to confront a significant enemy through an intermediary in order to undermine the enemy and in a "cold" manner, as opposed to a "hot", direct confrontation.
It's an ancient proverb that means that solely because two parties have a common enemy, they are friends. Often described as an Arab proverb, there is also an identical Chinese proverb and both may be an extension of another Chinese proverb that says, "It is good to strike the serpent's head with your enemy's hand.
" A historical example of this policy occurred when the Greeks were attacked by the Persians at Thermopylae; the Greek city states put aside their differences and fought the common enemy.
In Exodus, chapter 23:22, it's said, "I will be an enemy to your enemies and will oppose those who oppose you.
In the Bible, Matthew chapter 22, the Pharisees and the Herodians united against Jesus. Even though they hated each other, they had a common enemy. This simply means the hatred between two parties can easily spread to a third party.
In foreign policy
In Kautilya's Arthashastra: Book VI, "The Source of Sovereign States" he wrote:
- The king who is situated anywhere immediately on the circumference of the conqueror's territory is termed the enemy.
- The king who is likewise situated close to the enemy, but separated from the conqueror only by the enemy, is termed the friend (of the conqueror).
The doctrine was used extensively during the Cold War between the United States and the Soviet Union. Some possible examples of this doctrine playing itself out is the Korean War, the Vietnam War, the Soviet war in Afghanistan, and the backing of Saddam Hussein by the United States.
"The enemy of my enemy is my friend" is also thought to be the reasoning behind Albania's alignment with the Soviet Union after the Socialist Federal Republic of Yugoslavia was expelled by the Soviet Union from Cominform in 1948.
The doctrine can also be seen in the business partnerships formed over the years. One example might be in the speculated purchase of Yahoo! by Microsoft in an attempt to gain marketshare from Google in the online search engine market.
Humans are not the only species to employ the doctrine. Some creatures have evolved to take advantage of the fact that some creatures have natural enemies and benefit can be gained by in turn "making friends" with one or the other. An example that might illustrate this is the Pilot fish
that cleans parasites off larger predators like sharks
. These smaller fish swim freely around the sharks and even inside the mouths of the sharks that could easily eat the small fish. Since the shark's enemy is the parasite and the parasite's enemy is the smaller fish, the shark considers the Pilot fish a "friend" and accommodates an otherwise potential food source.
Using a common enemy as the basis for an allegiance is problematic because there are probably very few other areas for common ground, and absent the common enemy, the friends might otherwise be enemies themselves. If the common enemy disappears, the friends might turn on each other. This has been shown before, such as when US - backed militia in Afghanistan
fighting the occupying Soviet Union are now one of its greatest enemies. Going further back the same situation happened at the end of the Second World War: without a common enemy, the differences between the USA
, the United Kingdom
and their ally the USSR
were no longer accepted because the threat they shared was absent. In many respects, the USSR and the USA posed far greater threats to each other than Nazi Germany ever did. Cartoonist Howard Taylor
, using humor toward social critique, condenses the concept into 'Rule 29', "The enemy of my enemy is my enemy's enemy. No more. No less."
The enemy of my enemy is my friend is one of four rules in the rule of triadic interaction. The others are: "the friend of my friend is my friend", "the friend of my enemy is my enemy" and "the enemy of my friend is my enemy" .