Salami slicing tactics

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Salami slicing tactics, also known as salami slicing, salami tactics, the salami-slice strategy, or salami attacks,[1] is a divide and conquer process of threats and alliances used to overcome opposition. With it, an aggressor can influence and eventually dominate a landscape, typically political, piece by piece. In this fashion, the opposition is eliminated "slice by slice" until it realizes, usually too late, that it is virtually gone in its entirety. In some cases it includes the creation of several factions within the opposing political party and then dismantling that party from the inside, without causing the "sliced" sides to protest. Salami tactics are most likely to succeed when the perpetrators keep their true long-term motives hidden and maintain a posture of cooperativeness and helpfulness while engaged in the intended gradual subversion.


It was commonly believed that the term salami tactics (Hungarian: szalámitaktika) was coined in the late 1940s by Stalinist dictator Mátyás Rákosi to describe the actions of the Hungarian Communist Party in its ultimately successful drive for complete power in Hungary.[2][3] Rákosi claimed he destroyed the non-Communist parties by "cutting them off like slices of salami."[3] By portraying his opponents as fascists (or at the very least fascist sympathizers), he was able to get the opposition to slice off its right-wing, then its center, then most of its left-wing, so that only fellow travellers willing to collaborate with the Communist Party remained in power.[3][4]

However, no verified source for the origins of the "salami tactics" term has ever been discovered. According to historian Norman Stone, the term might have been invented by the leader of the Hungarian Independence Party Zoltán Pfeiffer, a hardline anti-communist opponent of Rákosi.[5]

Thomas C. Schelling wrote in his 1966 book 'Arms and Influence':[6]

Salami tactics, we can be sure, were invented by a child […] Tell a child not to go in the water and he’ll sit on the bank and submerge his bare feet; he is not yet ‘in’ the water. Acquiesce, and he’ll stand up; no more of him is in the water than before. Think it over, and he’ll start wading, not going any deeper; take a moment to decide whether this is different and he’ll go a little deeper, arguing that since he goes back and forth it all averages out. Pretty soon we are calling to him not to swim out of sight, wondering whatever happened to all our discipline.

Financial fraudsEdit

In Los Angeles, in October 1998, district attorneys charged four men with fraud for allegedly installing computer chips in gasoline pumps that cheated consumers by overstating the amounts pumped.[7]

In 2008, a man was arrested for fraudulently creating 58,000 accounts which he used to collect money through verification deposits from online brokerage firms a few cents at a time.[8]

In 1996, a fare box serviceman in Edmonton, Alberta, was found guilty of stealing from the city's transit agency by stealing coins from the fare box. Over 13 years, he walked away with 37 tonnes of coins with a face value of nearly CA$2.4 million, having used a magnet to lift the coins one at a time out of the fare boxes (all coins of the Canadian dollar at that time being made primarily of steel or nickel). He was sentenced to 4 years in prison and was eligible for parole after 18 months.[9]

In Buffalo, New York, another fare box serviceman stole more than US$200,000 in quarters from the local transit agency over an eight year period (2003 through 2011). Blaming a gambling addiction for his crime, he was sentenced to 2.5 years in prison.[10]

China's salami slice strategyEdit

The European Parliament Think Tank has accused China of using the salami slice strategy to gradually increase its presence in the South China Sea.[11]

India's salami slice strategyEdit

The Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs has accused India of using the salami slice strategy to gradually encroaching Chinese territory along the China-India border.[12][13]

India has made a similar accusation against China.[14]

Cultural referencesEdit


In the 2016 film Arrival, Agent Halpern mentions a Hungarian word meaning to eliminate your enemies one by one. It is thought that this alludes to szalámitaktika.[15][16] Indeed, this is cited in Amazon Prime X-Ray (1:07:50).

Salami slicing has played a key role in the plots of several films, including Hackers, Superman III, and Office Space. In the latter title, the characters reference Superman III as inspiration.[17]


Johnny Cash's "One Piece at a Time" has a similar plot to the M*A*S*H episode, but with a Cadillac having parts from model years 1949 through 1973.[18]


Salami tactics are discussed by the British Chief Scientific Adviser in the Yes, Prime Minister episode, "The Grand Design".[19]

In a 1972 episode of the TV series M*A*S*H, Radar attempts to ship an entire Jeep home from Korea one piece at a time. Hawkeye commented that his mailman "would have a retroactive hernia" if he found out.[20] The 1987 TV movie Perry Mason: The Case of the Murdered Madam features a murder trial involving the transfer of fractional cents by bank employees.

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ Slantchev, Branislav. "Deterrence and Compellence" (PDF). University of California at San Diego. Archived (PDF) from the original on February 9, 2018. Retrieved January 18, 2018.
  2. ^ Bullock, Alan, edited by Alan Bullock and Oliver Stallybrass The Harper dictionary of modern thought Archived 2017-04-19 at the Wayback Machine, Harper & Row, 1977.
  3. ^ a b c Time Magazine. "Hungary: Salami Tactics" Archived 2008-12-01 at the Wayback Machine Time Magazine (April 14, 1952). Retrieved March 15, 2011
  4. ^ Safire, William, Safire's Political Dictionary Archived 2016-12-08 at the Wayback Machine, Oxford University Press, 2008 (revised), p.639, ISBN 0-19-534334-4, ISBN 978-0-19-534334-2.
  5. ^ Stone, Norman (2019). Hungary: A Short History.
  6. ^ Schelling, Thomas C. (2020-03-17). Arms and Influence. Yale University Press. p. 66. ISBN 978-0-300-25348-1.
  7. ^ Salami fraud By M. E. Kabay Network World Security Newsletter, 07/24/02
  8. ^ "Hacker takes $50,000 a few cents at a time". PC Pro. 2008-05-28.
  9. ^ Henton, Darcy (27 Dec 2010). "LRT thief stole nearly $2.4 million, one coin at a time". Edmonton Journal. Retrieved 27 August 2019.
  10. ^ "Convicted parking meter thief amassed $210,000 in stolen cash — all of it in quarters". National Post. Postmedia Network Inc. Associated Press. August 17, 2013. Retrieved 27 August 2019.
  11. ^ China tightens its grip over the South China Sea
  12. ^ LAC deployment meant to foil India ‘land grab’: China
  13. ^ China blames India for border tension
  14. ^ Indian Army’s counter-incursion foils China’s salami-slicing
  15. ^ Béni, Alexandra (20 November 2016). "A Hungarian expression is mentioned in Arrival, the sci-fi movie of the year". Daily News Hungary. Archived from the original on 12 June 2018. Retrieved 10 June 2018.
  16. ^ "Arrival - Trivia". IMDb. Archived from the original on 8 April 2018. Retrieved 10 June 2018.
  17. ^ "The Salami Technique".
  18. ^ "One Step at a Time".
  19. ^ "Yes, Prime Minister - The Grand Design". Retrieved 28 May 2018.
  20. ^ "Season 1 Ep 12". M*A*S*H.

Further readingsEdit