The enemy of my enemy is my friend

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The enemy of my enemy is my friend is an ancient proverb which suggests that two opposing parties can or should work together against a common enemy. The earliest known expression of this concept is found in a Sanskrit treatise on statecraft dating to around the 4th century BC, while the first recorded use of the current English version came in 1884.[1][2] Some suggest that the proverb is of Arabic origin.[citation needed]

The proverb is sometimes phrased as "the enemy of mine enemy is my friend" or "my enemy's enemy is my friend."[citation needed]

The proverb in Arabic is 'عدو عدوي هو صديقي' ('Adu 'Aduyi Hooweh Ssadikki - My enemy's enemy is my friend).[citation needed] A similar Bedouin Arabic proverb is 'أنا وأخي على ابن عمي وأنا وابن عمي على الغريب' (Anna WaAkhi Al Ibn Ammi, WaAnna WaIbn Ammiya Alla Karib - Me and my brother against my cousin, and [but] me and my cousin against a stranger ).[citation needed]

International policy

In his Arthashastra: Book VI, "The Source of Sovereign States", Kautilya writes:[3]

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).

— Kautilya, Arthasastra

World War II

The idea that "the enemy of my enemy is my friend" functioned in various guises as foreign policy by Allied powers during the Second World War. In Europe, tension was common between the Western Allies and the Soviet Union. Despite their inherent differences, they recognized a need to work together to meet the threat of Nazi aggression under the leadership of Adolf Hitler. Both U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt and British Prime Minister Winston Churchill were wary of the Soviet Union under the leadership of Joseph Stalin. However, both developed policies with an understanding that Soviet cooperation was necessary for the Allied war effort to succeed.[4] There is a quote from Winston Churchill made to his personal secretary John Colville on the eve of Germany's invasion of the Soviet Union (Operation Barbarossa). He was quoted as saying, "if Hitler invaded Hell, I would make at least a favourable reference to the Devil in the House of Commons."[5] The Soviet leader reciprocated these feelings towards his Western allies. He was distrustful and feared that they would negotiate a separate peace with Nazi Germany. However, he also viewed their assistance as critical in resisting the Nazi invasion.[6]

The doctrine of "the enemy of my enemy is my friend" was employed by nation states in regions outside of the European theater as well. In the Second Sino-Japanese War, within the Pacific theater, an alliance was formed between Chinese Communist and Nationalist Chinese Nationalists. Leading up to this, these forces had battling each other through the Chinese Civil War. However, they formed an alliance, the Second United Front in response to the mutual threat of Japanese aggression.[7]

Cold War

The doctrine was also used extensively during the Cold War between Western Bloc nations and the Soviet Union. The Soviets and the Chinese aided North Korea during the Korean War as well as the Viet Cong/North Vietnamese during the Vietnam War to oppose American foreign policy goals.[8][clarification needed] Likewise, the United States and its allies supported the Afghan Mujahideen after the Soviet invasion in the hopes of thwarting the spread of Communism.[9] In the Third World, both superpowers supported regimes whose values were at odds with the ideals espoused by their governments. These ideals were capitalism and democracy in the case of the United States[citation needed], and the Marxist–Leninist interpretation of Communism in the case of the Soviet Union. In order to oppose the spread of Communism, the United States government supported undemocratic regimes, such as Mobutu Sese Seko in Zaire and Augusto Pinochet in Chile.[10][11]

The support provided by the Soviet Union towards nations with overtly anti-Communist governments, such as Gamal Abdul Nasser in Egypt, in order to oppose American influence, is another example of "the enemy of my enemy is my friend" as policy on an international scale.[12] The Soviets also backed India to counter both the pro-American Pakistani government and the People's Republic of China (following the Sino-Soviet split), despite the fact that India had a democratic government.[citation needed] Similarly, China, following the split, lent support to nations and factions that embraced an anti-Soviet, often Maoist form of Communism, but whose governments nonetheless embraced Sinophobic policies at home, such as the Khmer Rouge.[citation needed]

Middle East

In an example of this doctrine at work in Middle Eastern foreign policy, United States backed the Iraqi government under Saddam Hussein during the Iran–Iraq War, as a strategic response to the anti-American Iranian Revolution of 1979.[13] A 2001 study of international relations in the Middle East used the proverb as the basis of its main thesis. The thesis examined how enmity between adverse nations evolve and alliances develop in response to common threats.[14]

See also


  1. The Arthashastra. Retrieved 15 December 2014.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  2. Forrest Wickman (16 May 2013). "Fact-Checking Spock: Was the "Enemy of My Enemy" Guy Really Killed by His "Friend"?". Slate. Retrieved 24 January 2014.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  3. Kautilya "Arthasastra" translated by R. Shamasastry, Third Edition, Weslyan Mission Press 1929 Mysore, p. 296.
  4. Stefan, Charles G.Roosevelt and the Wartime Summit Conferences with Stalin. University of North Carolina.
  5. Sir Winston Churchill: Biographical History Churchill College, Cambridge
  6. Kenez, Peter (2006). A History of the Soviet Union from the Beginning to the End (2nd Ed.). Cambridge University Press.
  7. Chinese Civil War.
  8. Poroskov, Nikolai (April 30, 2005). The USSR was actively involved in the war in Vietnam 30 years ago. Pravda.
  9. No Regrets: Carter, Brzezinski and the Muj.
  10. French, Howard W (September 8, 1997). Mobutu Sese Seko, Longtime Dictator of Zaire. The New York Times.
  11. Kornbluh, Peter (October 24, 1999).Still Hidden: A Full Record Of What the U.S. Did in Chile. The Washington Post.
  12. Anti-Communist Rally. June 23, 1961. Time Magazine.
  13. Dobbs, Michael (December 30, 2002). U.S. Had Key Role in Iraq Buildup. The Washington Post.
  14. What Is the Enemy of My Enemy? Causes and Consequences of Imbalanced International Relations, 1816-2001, Dr. Ilan Talmud et al (Haifa University website)