What makes a successful grand strategy?

Academic Paper, 2014
11 Pages, Grade: 78.00


What makes a successful grand strategy?

Definitively, explaining the concepts of which constitutes towards grand strategy is notoriously difficult, as indeed there is no universally accepted definition of what is meant by grand strategy (Brands, H: 2012; 2). Carl Von Clausewitz defined grand strategy as "the theory of the use of combat for the object of war", which by anybody's interpretation proves to be ambiguous, and primarily focussed upon military affairs (Bilski & Murray: 2007; 1). Although military affairs are indeed inclusive within most definitions of grand strategy, it is hardly appropriate to solely concentrate on such a context given the many other forms of 'power' a nation can exert and utilise in the contemporary world. Therefore, for the purpose of this essay, the following definition endorsed by Groves (2010: 1) shall prove adequate since it establishes a comprehensive explanation. That is, that the notion of grand strategy is deliberately developed and implemented by nation states so that it is possible to attain their political, economic, social, defence, religious and even moral obligations. Grand strategy is therefore, the art of utilising all the available elements of power as a means to achieve the objectives of a nation. This is however, an extremely complex process with many different factors which may influence the success of a nation's grand strategy (Groves: 2010; 1). There are also numerous complications and difficulties that are associated with formulating grand strategy which may hinder the process. It is the examination of both the complications associated with grand strategy, and the factors which must be considered by strategists in order to formulate a successful grand strategy that contribute to the body of this essay. The prevailing notion throughout is that in order for a nation to have a 'successful' grand strategy, many components and considerations must be thoroughly contemplated. Just what these components and considerations are, shall be examined in due course. It should be noted however, that this question is exceptionally problematic to definitively answer, due to the nature of subjectivity surrounding grand strategy. For this reason, various case studies shall be examined throughout in order to try and articulate an answer.

First and foremost however, let us clearly define what exactly is meant by a 'successful' grand strategy, and why it is important for nations to maintain one. Since in many respects Carl Von Clausewitz is the founding architect of grand strategy, it seems appropriate when trying to establish exactly what is meant by the concept, to lay reference to where the theorising of grand strategy began. Clausewitz argued that "war is merely the continuation of policy by other means" (Groves: 2010; 3), by which he was suggesting that the art of the warfare, is one of many instruments which may be utilised by a nation state in order to achieve their grand strategy. This further means that a nation's political objectives should precede military objectives when in the pursuit of national, or international ambitions. Furthermore, Clausewitz suggested that means must match their ends, and that nations should not seek to achieve ends, by which they do not have the means as this may prove to be counterproductive. It is therefore imperative for a nation to maintain some form of grand strategy, with realistic aims which are achievable given the resources, or means, a state has access to. Grand strategy is therefore, the matching of large ends with means, in order to let a nation advance with its national and international ambitions (Brands, H: 2012; 10-11).

Since the concept of grand strategy is so ambiguous and for the sake of clarity, further elaboration is required with regard to what the purpose of a nation's grand strategy is. Firstly, what it is not, is a foreign policy as a whole, or indeed a single aspect of foreign policy. Where foreign policy envelopes the entirety of a nation's international interactions- and this alone, a grand strategy offers the fundamental procedure to secure a nations core interests, which may well be executed through foreign policy. As Brands (2012: 4) so aptly puts it;

"the task of the strategist is to look ahead, not into the distant future, but beyond the vision of the operating officers caught in the smoke and crisis of current battle; far enough ahead to see the emerging form of things to come and outline what should be done to meet or anticipate them"

Brands' (2012:4) description also signifies the need for grand strategy to not only set medium and long-term objectives for a nation, but also provide the best way to execute the means to an end by utilising what resources the nation can currently afford to use. This is to ensure that grand strategy is indeed productive and achievable within a nations means, rather than unrealistic and potentially counterproductive- for example, having to engage in warfare in search for additional resources, so that grand strategy may be achieved.

Secondly, Brawley (2009: 1-3) argues that although the global balance of power is preserved through states' grand strategy's, grand strategy itself is often too preoccupied with the relationship with a nations foreign policy, and in particular its military power. Brawley (2009: 1-3) suggests that power is in fact multidimensional, since the economy, ideological influence and internal cohesion are equally as important when considering a nations power. If a nation is too fiercely focussed on military strength, he suggests, then it may be perceived internationally as an aggressor and could even lead to unnecessary conflict., which not be the endeavour of any grand strategy. Subsequently, a successful grand strategy must combine all sources of national power so that the nation as a whole may advance, both internally and externally. Brands (2012: 5) reinforces this argument introduced by Brawley (2009), whereby a successful grand strategy must not focus too heavily or, 'overreach' on particular aspects of a nation's power, as then the potential for nation's grand strategy may become 'unbalanced' and lose focus on its long term objectives. By this he means, a nation may become too entangled with aspects such as foreign affairs, whilst in the meantime, the economy is heavily suffering and in need of reform. In order to avoid this Brands (2009) suggests, states must prioritise their interests and national threats whilst deploying their resources accordingly. It is also important for the incumbent government to not get too emotionally or personally attached to certain aspects of grand strategy.

The third and final point which requires of further clarification is that a nation's grand strategy is no less important in peacetime as it is in wartime. Arguably, there is an increased awareness of grand strategy during times of war, since the entire nation is in a state of in heightened threat, with its interests increasingly vulnerable and its resources potentially made scarce (Brawley, M: 2009;117-120). However, the equally important concepts of grand strategy, such as; the need for states to link long term interests to short term policies and the need to prioritise threats, be them social or economical, apply no less during times of war or peace.

Before proceeding on to matters of what constitutes the making of a successful grand strategy, it is first necessary to very briefly identify why grand strategy is so difficult and problematic. This is to provide a comprehensive understanding of all aspects of grand strategy, and to emphasis the point that when considering grand strategy, much of the successes rely on an understanding of the challenges that face strategists.

As previously stated, grand strategy is inherently problematic due to the subjective and abstract nature of which it derives. It requires a national leader to have a complete and holistic perspective with regard to; resources, threats, national and international interests, and finally a coherent understanding of what the nation posses in terms of power (Murray et al: 2011; 8-29). Engaging in grand strategy requires the ability of the government to interpret and recognise the complicated and often confusing nature of international affairs, with an awareness of how other nations response's may complement or contradict specific policies. In short, the complexities of grand strategy can be summarised as an international fight against the complex and dynamic disorders of every other nation. Generally speaking, fighting is an arduous business whereby it is a constant struggle to not be defeated. Similarly, nations are constantly adapting their grand strategy's so that they may maintain power and not succumb to the power of another. Grand strategy is then, at the least, a daunting concept. It requires the ability to be flexible and adaptable, whilst at the same time prove to be resilient and to some degree, constant.


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What makes a successful grand strategy?
University of Nottingham
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William Kealey (Author), 2014, What makes a successful grand strategy?, Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/274665


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