Strategy: Fundamentals To ancient Greeks, strategos, from which we derive strategy, meant simply the general's art; a modern definition, however, would generalize the meaning to a reasoned relationship among military means and the ways they might be used to reach the ends of national policy. For the senior commander of a theater of war, the battle tactics of lower echelons blend into operational strategy in which he uses their combat in the conduct of campaigns designed to achieve war's politically defined purposes. The national military headquarters also uses the means‐ways‐ends calculation while devising a national military strategy, establishing campaign objectives, and building armed forces as one of several instruments contributing to grand strategy, often called national security policy.
Dimensions.In On War, Carl von Clausewitz helped push the domain of strategy beyond the battlefield when he acknowledged that the tactical and operational successes sought by military commanders are but means to political ends. At the highest level, therefore, military strategy and national policy overlap, with the latter shaping and directing military operations and force development. As Clausewitz warned, however, political leaders should not ask their generals to pursue goals unattainable through organized violence, beyond their forces' capacity to attain, and either imposing disproportionate costs or requiring methods so destructive as to preclude a satisfactory peace—summarized as the tests of suitability, feasibility, and acceptability. From the French Revolution, Clausewitz concluded that the strategic calculations of the government and armed forces depend not simply on the State and the army, but also on a sound estimate of popular attitudes—the existence of a national will to carry war to a successful conclusion.
The twentieth century's expanded governmental bureaucracies and financial systems—and revolutions in production and transportation—have added new dimensions to strategy. A government able to mobilize overwhelming human and material resources and convey them to the theater of war can, for example, enable its generals to defeat even opponents more skilled in the operational aspects of strategy. As World War I demonstrated, the capacity to mobilize massive military resources includes the danger that modern industrial powers with sound logistical strategies might fall into a mutually destructive war of attrition that continues until even the victors have paid too great a price for victory.
Though technological superiority may enable a belligerent to escape attrition's blind alley, the Cold War demonstrated that two technologically superior powers possessing the means and the will to destroy one another may create a long‐term strategic impasse that precludes fighting—except through proxies—until one of the powers suffers internal collapse. Because the development and production of increasingly sophisticated modern weapons (and training armed forces in their use) takes years, major powers must also devise peacetime force development strategies that economically build forces for wars they can only anticipate.
Strategy also has a psychological dimension, which may enable a power skilled in propaganda or with a reputation for great resolve and military skill to undermine its opponent's will to resist and gain its political ends with a minimum of combat. As Sun Tzu observed more than two millennia ago, the “acme of skill” is overcoming your enemy's resistance “without fighting,” or, failing that, accepting battle only when strategic success makes victory certain. Although that psychological dimension of warfare may lead to great strategic efficiency, a strategist who overrates his nation's military reputation or underrates his opponent's resolve may so miscalculate the means‐ways‐ends relation as to increase the risk of defeat if threats and reputation do not suffice.
Strategic Concepts.Because strategic concepts represent ways that military and other means might be employed in pursuit of political ends, their principal forms deserve brief description.
In the broadest terms, strategies may be either direct or indirect and sequential or cumulative. Military force supplies the paramount element of a direct strategy whose focus is violent, perhaps sequential assaults on the enemy's main strength with the aim of overcoming his forces in decisive battle and thus rendering him vulnerable to coercion. In the extreme, the destruction becomes so complete as to lead to his political overthrow and might be characterized as a strategy of annihilation. Should a decisive victory prove impossible, the direct approach may end in exhausting the enemy's forces or will through attrition.
Indirect strategies, championed by Basil Liddell Hart, often involve less violence and typically include a series of military, economic, diplomatic, or psychological actions completed in no fixed order but aimed at enemy weaknesses, often locations on his periphery. If successful, the cumulative effect of the attacks will so unbalance the enemy as to cause him to yield or, at least, render him vulnerable to direct assault. Though more passive in nature, the containment strategy of the Cold War era represents another form of indirect approach, one leading to an opponent's internal collapse as prelude to victory.
Maritime and airpower strategies also have an indirect character in that they aim to undermine the enemy's will to resist or deny his armed forces the means to make war. Seapower strategy, whose best known advocate is Alfred T. Mahan, seeks those ends by gaining control of the seas—perhaps in a decisive fleet engagement—and imposing an economy‐strangling blockade. To the same end, weaker naval powers raid an enemy's commerce. To avoid costly ground campaigns, airpower strategists, beginning with Giulio Douhet and Billy Mitchell, advocated bombardment of an enemy's military and industrial base, or, by attacking cities, terrorizing citizens into surrender.
Although deterrence, seeking to prevent war by making even victory unacceptably costly, has long been a factor in strategy, nuclear‐tipped intercontinental missiles made it the distinguishing strategic concept of the Cold War. The nuclear powers typically sought deterrence by threatening an enemy's cities (countervalue strategy), but a desire to limit war's costs should deterrence fail led to consideration of counterforce strategies (attacks on military facilities).
Revolutionary strategy, developed in its modern form by Mao Zedong, aims to overthrow an existing government through a long struggle during which the revolutionaries develop a covert political base amongst the population and strengthen it with propaganda, terrorism, and guerrilla attacks (hence the use of guerrilla warfare for this strategy) designed to discredit and demoralize the government before launching assaults by the rebels' conventional troops on its weakened armed forces. In response, the leading Western powers developed equally multifaceted counterinsurgency strategies.
With the collapse of the former Soviet Union, the United States entered a new strategic environment in which it needed to assess the contribution of armed forces to maintaining regional balances and Third World peacekeeping at a time of public reluctance to pay for forces sufficient to either purpose.
[See also Tactics.]
Basil H. Liddell Hart , Strategy. 1954; 2nd rev. ed. 1967.
Andre Beaufre , An Introduction to Strategy, 1965.
Michael Howard , War in European History, 1976.
Peter Paret, ed., Makers of Modern Strategy: From Machiavelli to the Nuclear Age, 1986.
Edward N. Luttwak , Strategy, 1987.
Williamson Murray, MacGregor Knox, and Alvin Bernstein, eds., The Making of Strategy: Rulers, States, and War, 1994.
James L. AbrahamsonStrategy: Historical Development Shielded by broad oceans and neighbors presumptively friendly but certainly weak, the United States has scarcely needed the ingenuities of strategy since it survived a most bloody civil war to acquire the world's richest economy. It is those who fight against the odds, outweighed defenders or overambitious attackers, who must try to circumvent enemy strengths and exploit enemy weaknesses by obeying the paradoxical (seemingly contradictory) logic of strategy, as opposed to commonsense “linear” logic.
At each level, the paradoxical logic of strategy usually precludes the most efficient action, for the latter is inherently predictable and can therefore be anticipated, blocked, or circumvented. At each level, the paradoxical logic entails risks, possibly catastrophic (e.g., long, thin, deep penetration offensives can be cut off and encircled). But at each level, the high‐risk/high‐payoff methods inspired by the paradoxical logic can allow the weak to prevail over the strong, though never reliably.
At the tactical level, paradoxical action, i.e., the deliberately “bad” move, can be the good move if it yields surprise, thus reducing the enemy to a nonreacting object—if only temporarily, if only partially. Surprise is thus the supreme advantage, for it suspends the entire predicament of warfare, characterized precisely by the presence of a reacting enemy.
At the operational level, the logic favors the disruption of the enemy's physical or mental preparations by maneuver over the systematic destruction of his forces by head‐on combat, for in the latter (“attrition”), sheer strength must prevail.
At the level of theater strategy, narrow‐deep penetrations and outflanking thrusts on the offensive, or elastic maneuvers on the defensive, are likewise favored over broad‐front advances or firm defenses, both of which require a superiority of means to yield victory. In nonterritorial force strategies, there are the aerial, maritime, or space equivalents, where again ingenuity can prevail over sheer strength.
Finally, at the level of grand strategy, the logic favors artful combinations of intelligence, diplomacy (the leveraging of force by threatening or reassuring), material inducements, deception and subversion (undermining the enemy by terror, propaganda, and substitution), as well as concrete military strength, as opposed to strength alone or accompanied by material inducements, whereby the results obtained depend on the military and economic resources expended.
The United States and its armed forces have by contrast generally been able to prevail in modern times by straightforwardly efficient and correspondingly reliable methods, which obey only the “linear” logic of common sense. At every level—tactical, operational, theater strategic, or grand strategic—the sheer strength of U.S. military forces and an abundance of economic means have usually sufficed to yield success at low risk, though not at low cost.
There have been exceptions, of course, as in the case of Gen. Douglas MacArthur's very bold theater‐level outflanking maneuver of September 1950: North Korea's victorious invasion forces were cut off and destroyed by the U.S. forces inserted into their deep rear by the high‐risk/high‐payoff Inchon landing.
In the 1991 Persian Gulf War, by contrast, an overwhelming technical superiority was applied to an enemy virtually incapable of reacting, except by flight. With the paradoxical logic of strategy mostly irrelevant, there was no need to deviate from reliable, efficient, predictable managerial methods. After thirty‐nine days of systematic air bombardment that hollowed out Iraq's entire military structure, there followed a simple, broad‐front 100‐hour ground offensive, neither bold nor quick, yet quite sufficient to induce Iraq's withdrawal from Kuwait (no deep outflanking maneuver to cut off Iraq's army was attempted). As for the one ingenuity later claimed—the non‐landing of U.S. Marine amphibious forces that supposedly pinned down Iraqi troops on the Kuwaiti shore—it was not a planned deception but rather the result of prudence: the Iraqis had scattered sea mines, and losses of ships and landing craft were feared. (In any case, Iraq's forces in Kuwait were already immobilized by the impact of the air campaign.)
Earlier, during the Vietnam War, on the other hand, a vast superiority of means was outmaneuvered by an enemy that stubbornly refused to concentrate into efficiently targetable mass formations—and no strategical remedy was found when sheer firepower was thus frustrated.
The origin of Western strategical thought is unambiguously found in the words attributed to Heracleitus of Ephesus (c. 500 B.C.): “Men do not understand … [the coincidence of opposites]: there is a ‘back‐stretched connection’ like that of the bow….” and “the equilibrium of all things existent is due to the clash of opposing forces.” Deemed obscure by the ancients, Heracleitus has been made transparent by our experience of nuclear deterrence, whereby the peaceful had to be constantly ready to attack, and nuclear weapons could only be useful if unused. That fully uncovered for all the paradoxical logic of strategy, the “back‐stretched” connection that unites opposites. Long before Heracleitus, many a cunning fighter had won by surprising his enemy—something only possible when better ways of attacking, hence expected ways, are deliberately eschewed. In war's coincidence of opposites, the bad move is good because it is bad, and vice versa.
Carl von Clausewitz, the modern strategist, extended the logic beyond the coincidence of opposites, revealing the dynamics of reversal: victory turns into defeat after its culminating point by exhausting the will to fight and/or overstretching the until‐then victorious forces and/or frightening neutrals into enmity and allies into neutrality. War itself is transformed into peace beyond its culminating point, by consuming the means and the will to fight, and/or because the costs of warmaking (human, material) devalue the perceived losses of war termination (thus, the abandonment of South Vietnam was accepted when too many American lives were lost). Again, because the destructive capacity of nuclear weapons exceeded the culminating point of advantageous destruction, they were too effective (militarily) to be effective (politically). Their season of maximum importance was therefore short (1945–69), and their significance in world politics has not ceased to decline since then—only hollow great power pretenders such as India and Pakistan and second‐rate countries of the Iran/Iraq type still strive to acquire them.
Enemies react, therefore straightforward “engineering” methods routinely fail in war. But they are persistently seductive, because war is so much simpler when the enemy is ignored. In World War II, both the British Bomber Command and the U.S. “strategic” air forces (then under the U.S. Army) kept asking for the means (additional thousands of bombers) in order to destroy physically the industrial sources of German and Japanese military power and thus win the war by airpower alone. But, as Prime Minister Winston Churchill kept pointing out, if the bombing did begin to succeed, Germans and Japanese would not passively await defeat, but would instead strengthen their air defenses and disperse their industries, for in war, “all things are always on the move simultaneously.”
Eventually, bombing proved very effective (in part by forcing the diversion of German and Japanese resources to air defense) but quite insufficient on its own. This did not stop Robert S. McNamara from repeating exactly the same error in the 1960s with his Mutual Assured Destruction policy, which was meant to stabilize deterrence and stop the nuclear arms race. McNamara began with the very sound claim that a reliable ability to destroy half the Soviet Union's population and three‐quarters of its industrial capacity was ample to deter, but he ignored the possibility that Soviet leaders might not want what he wanted, the paralysis of mutual deterrence. In fact, they kept aiming for a nuclear superiority that was entirely meaningless according to McNamara—but not according to them. In the end, it was the open‐ended technological challenge of President Ronald Reagan's Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI) that forced the Soviet leadership to give up military accumulation to try domestic reforms instead—with fatal results for their system.
Conflict unfolds at the several distinct levels, which interpenetrate much more easily downward than upward. In World War II, all German tactical‐, operational‐, or even theater‐level victories (notably over France in 1940) were nullified by Adolf Hitler's choice of the wrong allies (Italy, Romania, Hungary, Slovakia) and the wrong enemies (the Anglo‐American‐Soviet coalition) at the level of grand strategy. Even if the D‐Day landing had been repulsed and the Soviet army had ceased to fight, Germany would still have been ultimately defeated—by the fission bomb. As for Japan, given its utter inability to march on Washington to impose a favorable peace, the brilliant success of the surprise attack on Pearl Harbor was worse than useless: had the pilots of the Japanese navy failed miserably, evoking ridicule instead of hatred, American public opinion might not have been so aroused and the United States might have dealt less harshly with Japan.
Different grand strategies can be evaluated by the degree of their reliance on force. It was the high strategic achievement of the United States that it successfully protected numerous allies throughout the Cold War by relying primarily on the “armed suasion” of nuclear deterrence, while having to fight seriously only in Korea and Indochina. That was only possible because an American diplomatic elite that had been very small, and military elites that had been very provincial, were able to develop rapidly an entire culture of multilateral diplomacy and alliance management, notably to create NATO and preserve its unity in the face of constant difficulties and frequent crises. The precondition of that historic success was, however, the extraordinary evolution of American public opinion, from the isolationist presumption that lasted until 7 December 1941 to a remarkably sophisticated understanding of the value of allies—even inconstant, demanding, and deliberately irritating allies.
It was only when the diplomatic and military elites persisted in pursuing diplomatic and military priorities after the Cold War had ended (c. 1990) that American public opinion started to withdraw its consent from their aims and methods. Symptomatic of this divergence, while much of elite opinion still saw Japan as a valuable ally, popular opinion recognized it as a direct economic competitor. But the more obvious change was the collapse of public support for military intervention. Having correctly understood that, in Cold War conditions, any locality could be important once it became the scene of Soviet‐American contention, no matter how worthless economically or lacking in any sort of American presence or connections, public opinion reacted to the end of the Cold War by generally refusing to sanction large “discretionary” military interventions in the absence of immediate and compelling justifications for the same.
[See also Land Warfare; Tactics.]
M. Marcovich, ed., Heraclitus: Greek text with a short commentary, 1967.
Carl von Clausewitz , On War, ed. and trans. by Michael Howard and Peter Paret, 1976.
George T. Dennis (Transl.) Maurice's Strategikon: Handbook of Byzantine military strategy (Philadelphia Pa.: Pennsylvania University Press, 1984).
Edward N. Luttwak , Strategy: The Logic of War and Peace, 1987; 2nd ed. 1992.
Williamson Murray, MacGregor Knox, and Alvin Bernstein, eds., The Making of Strategy: Rulers, States, and War, 1994.
N. P. Milner , Vegetius: Epitome of military science 2nd rev. ed. 1996.
Edward N. LuttwakStrategy: Land Warfare Strategy For almost four centuries, American land warfare has tested nearly the full range of strategies: direct strategies pursuing decisive battles of annihilation to overthrow the enemy army; somewhat less direct efforts to overcome an enemy's forces through attrition and exhaustion; strategies of maneuver seeking, with a minimum of bloodshed, to control important territories; more explicitly indirect approaches and multifaceted strategies such as containment; as well as guerrilla warfare and counterinsurgency. In addition to strategies focused on combat, American strategists have given careful thought in peacetime to defense of the coasts, sizing the army, and fixing its relation to the militia. Until the Cold War, moreover, the United States followed a mobilization strategy, relying on distance and sometimes allies for security while it prepared for war.
Strategies of Annihilation.Beginning with the seventeenth‐century Indian Wars, American strategists have usually preferred to act directly against an enemy's armed forces, somehow bringing them to battle and seeking in a single decisive action or campaign to destroy them so thoroughly as to force terms on a disarmed opponent.
Despite the possibility of an armed European descent on their ports, the first colonists principally feared the normally hospitable Indians. Aware of the defensive inadequacies of militia and blockhouses in an age when both messages and men moved slowly, colonials favored short offensives that quickly returned them to farms and families. Indians, however, refused to fight in the European manner, and militiamen generally lacked the skill and patience for tribal warfare. The colonists therefore overcame their foes by attacking, usually in winter, their food supplies and villages in order to force a decisive battle that would annihilate the hostile tribe as an independent polity, as in the Tidewater Wars, the Pequot War, and King Philip's War—a strategy also used in the Plains Indians Wars.
Facing European opponents, colonists applied strategies of annihilation in a regional context. During the imperial conflicts culminating in the French and Indian War, Americans displayed little strategic variation as they held to a single goal: permanent security by driving France off the continent. With the aid of the British army and navy, they finally achieved this in 1763.
Early in the Revolutionary War, George Washington made similar efforts to drive Great Britain from the continent. He threatened its forces with destruction if they did not evacuate Boston, and later dispatched forces under Richard Montgomery and Benedict Arnold in an unsuccessful attempt to seize Québec. Washington even attempted to turn back the British invasion of New York, until a series of lost battles around Manhattan convinced him to abandon so direct a strategy in favor of exhausting the British and exploiting the revolutionary role of the militia.
In the War of 1812, similarly unable, except through commerce raiding, to strike at the sources of British power, the United States chose to invade Canada, which if successful might add new territory and eradicate British power in North America. Due to antiwar sentiment in New England, the army unwisely failed to concentrate in northern New York for an overwhelming descent on Montréal and Québec. Until forced on the defensive by Napoleon's 1814 defeat, the army instead launched a series of indecisive offensives in the West.
During the Civil War, Robert E. Lee, commander of the Army of Northern Virginia, and Union commanders George B. McClellan and George Gordon Meade pursued decisive battlefield victories in the Napoleonic manner—victories so complete as to break an opponent's will to continue. With the introduction of rifled weapons to armies that still moved on foot and by horse, battles became more bloody even as decisive victory became less likely.
Considering the Confederacy's vast land and maritime frontier, lack of a navy, small population, and industrial inferiority, Lee wisely rejected the strategy of perimeter defense initially employed in the western theater. But the Confederacy proved unable to replace the losses resulting from an aggressive strategy in which his army sought to break the Union's will through the defeat of its armies or victories on its soil, which eluded Lee at Antietam and Gettysburg.
In the end, Lee could not withstand Ulysses S. Grant's use (in 1864–65) of unremitting pressure, campaigns of constant battles rather than a few decisive engagements. Driven back on Petersburg, Virginia, Lee accepted a siege he knew to be fatal before being overwhelmed by Union forces as he attempted escape. In the western theater, Grant sent William Tecumseh Sherman in similar grim pursuit of the Army of the Tennessee, which Sherman destroyed. Those Union victories, historian Russell Weigley has asserted, established annihilation as the army's preferred strategy.
In World War II, though initially forced by the British and lack of resources to follow a peripheral strategy, American forces in Europe finally launched their preferred cross‐Channel attack in June 1944, and in conjunction with British forces and (on the eastern front) the Red Army, commenced a concentrated mass assault on German forces, aimed at their annihilation and imposition of unconditional surrender.
In the Korean War, annihilation of the enemy's forces, following an envelopment, also influenced Douglas MacArthur's Inchon landing—though attrition became the strategy following Chinese intervention and increasing American fear of a Soviet attack in Europe.
During the Persian Gulf War, the army planned a campaign of annihilation calling on airpower to isolate the battlefield and weaken Iraqi forces in Kuwait, which only an early armistice saved from being enveloped and destroyed by ground and air attack. That campaign also benefited from recent American preparations for the defense of Western Europe without relying on the early use of nuclear weapons. Aiming to win, though fighting outnumbered, the U.S. Army intended to annihilate the Red Army not through the unremitting direct pressure of superior force (in the manner of Grant) but by increasing the pace of combat beyond what the Soviets could match, using violent maneuver that would send American forces into rear areas, disrupting Soviet command and control, service support, and reserves.
Strategies of Attrition and Exhaustion.When unwilling or unable to win through annihilation, U.S. strategists have sometimes resorted to gradual and often indirect efforts to wear down their opponent's military forces or exhaust his will to resist.
The superiority of British regulars led Washington to alter his initial strategy in 1777, keeping his Continental army largely concentrated and employing it principally to shadow and harass the British. His forces sought battle only when they could safely retreat from failure or overwhelm detachments from their opponent's main body—as at Trenton and Princeton, Saratoga, Monmouth, and, during 1781, in the Carolinas and at Yorktown. That strategy wore down British forces, and when combined with French forces, also Britain's will to continue the war. With American militia units retaining control of most of the countryside and the population—as in a revolutionary strategy—Britain had little to show for its expensive military efforts.
Confederate President Jefferson Davis favored a similar defensive strategy in the Civil War, concentrating Confederate forces in a few large armies that would avoid decisive battles, maintain Southern independence, and exhaust Union will. That meant, however, leaving more areas of the Confederacy vulnerable to occupation than Davis could tolerate politically—opening the door for Lee's offensives in the East. Only Joseph E. Johnston—too late in the war and with too little room for maneuver—skillfully employed that strategy against Sherman's advance on Atlanta.
Early on, Abraham Lincoln, preferring the more rapid results seemingly promised by direct methods, rejected Winfield Scott's “Anaconda” Plan for undermining Confederate will through naval blockades and army‐navy riverine assaults to isolate major sections of its territory. In the last twelve months of the war, however, Grant encouraged Sherman to exhaust Confederate will by marching his army across Georgia and through the Carolinas, destroying the supplies and lines of communication upon which Lee depended and making Confederates feel war's “hard hand.” Drained by combat losses, suffering naval blockade, and terrorized by Sherman's capacity to ravage rear areas, Confederate will collapsed, and both Lee and Johnston refused Davis's order to commence guerrilla operations.
Strategies of Maneuver and Indirect Approaches.If American ground forces have most often employed strategies of annihilation and various types of attrition, they have also used traditional maneuver strategies aimed either at forcing an enemy's withdrawal with a minimum of fighting or gaining control of points whose possession might lead to peace. Acting even less directly, they have fought limited battles at weak points along an enemy's periphery and employed economic, political, and psychological methods designed to undermine his strength or will to resist.
In the Mexican War, for example, President James K. Polk directed his generals to seize Mexican territory—the northern tier of provinces bordering Texas, and ultimately the capital itself—in order to pressure Mexico to cede New Mexico and Upper California to the United States. Winfield Scott's seizure of Veracruz and movement on Mexico City, with a minimum of costly combat, represent classic American use of maneuver warfare.
In 1846, Henry W. Halleck and his mentor, Dennis Hart Mahan, published the first American works on strategy. Both rejected Napoleonic offensives in favor of fortification, tactical defense, and maneuver‐oriented strategies characteristic of the eighteenth century and Scott's campaign. Although most (strategically unschooled) Civil War commanders knew only that the great Napoleon had won military fame in decisive but bloody battles, the Union produced one advocate of maneuver who was sympathetic to the need for both speedy victory and minimal casualties: George B. McClellan, unsuccessful commander of the Army of the Potomac.
The Spanish‐American War better illustrates that American land war strategy has taken limited forms. The army initially planned to assist Cuban independence only by providing military assistance to the insurrection, perhaps through some remote port seized by a few regulars. Meanwhile, it would defend coastal cities and carefully raise, arm, and train volunteer units, if necessary, to occupy the island. With the president impatient for victory and the navy leading the way, the army captured Guam en route to occupation of Manila, seized Puerto Rico, and stormed El Caney and the San Juan Heights in order to take Santiago and drive the Spanish fleet into the navy's guns. This tactic forced Spain to recognize the futility of further resistance and eliminated any need directly to overcome its main army in Cuba.
In World War I, initially convinced that neither maneuver nor a single battle could decisively overcome a major power, John J. Pershing expected his American Expeditionary Forces in 1918 to employ frontal assaults, modified by open field tactics, only to penetrate German positions before descending on its objective, the rail center at Metz. That strategic maneuver, Pershing hoped, would force a general German withdrawal from France. Fighting on a front without flanks and as part of a multinational force, however, Pershing had to accept his Allies' reliance on bloody frontal assaults to push German forces back all along the line, a strategy more in keeping with the Grantian tradition.
During the first years of World War II, the United States, possessing few mobilized, trained military forces, had no alternative but to adopt Winston S. Churchill's peripheral strategy, a classically indirect approach. The British opposed a prompt cross‐Channel invasion and favored weakening Germany with indirect attacks: strategic bombardment, supplying the Soviets, assistance to resistance movements, and seizure of territory on the periphery of the German conquests. But President Franklin D. Roosevelt was eager to involve American forces in the fighting. His planners reluctantly agreed, first, to the invasion of French North Africa, then Sicily, and finally Italy, before insisting, with Soviet support, that Churchill abandon his Balkan schemes and agree to invade northern France in mid‐1944.
The Pacific War was an American war of strategic maneuver, even if for unlimited ends and involving many bloody tactical assaults. In the face of Japan's rapid advance in the winter of 1941–42, the United States and Great Britain sought to secure their lines of communication to Australia and India. Although unconditional surrender seemingly required the annihilation of Japan's armed forces, the United States thereafter bypassed and isolated many Japanese strongholds en route to gaining control of a vast oceanic territory. Using land, sea, and air forces, the U.S. Army pushed north from Australia, while the navy led the drive through the central Pacific, a two‐front advance culminating in the conquest of the Philippines, Okinawa, and Iwo Jima. With its navy sunk, its economy prostrate, and half its army isolated overseas, after the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Japan surrendered before American plans for combined assaults on its home islands could be implemented.
Cold War Strategies.The Cold War and nuclear weapons changed the strategic position of the United States and the emphasis of its land warfare tradition. The country lost the protection offered by European rivalries, and technology undermined the security of vast oceans. Facing an enemy threatening America's very survival, U.S. planners dared not rely on weakened allies to buy time for mobilization.
Although containment emerged in 1947 as America's grand strategy, the next four decades demonstrated great variation in its means (economic, political, and military) and intermediate ends (protecting vital areas or securing all the nations along the Sino‐Soviet perimeter). To overcome the Red Army's numerical superiority in Europe, the United States relied on nuclear deterrence while also employing military assistance, German rearmament, tactical nuclear weapons, and new maneuver strategies later tested, as noted above, in the Persian Gulf.
During periods when containment emphasized perimeter defense, the army engaged in limited conflict in Korea and in revolutionary war in Vietnam. Although not unaware of the nature of the Vietnam War and the elements of successful counterinsurgencies, the army—aided by the marines and the other services' air forces—too often fought in traditional ways. Commanders hoped to bring the enemy's main forces to decisive combat, used firepower lavishly to limit U.S. casualties, and relied on airpower to isolate the battlefield, destroy the enemy's economy, and break his will. Fearful of prompting Chinese intervention, the United States applied its power incrementally—discounting the psychological impact of sustained powerful blows and rejecting direct assault on North Vietnam—and made a negotiated settlement its war aim. All of this meant that its opponent could set the pace and intensity of the war at levels it found endurable. “Vietnamization”—turning the war over to the South Vietnamese—showed initial promise, but without lavish American aid, the strategy could not resist North Vietnam's 1975 cross‐border invasion.
[See also Enemy, Views of the; Land Warfare; Napoleonic Warfare; Native American Wars: Wars Between Native Americans and Europeans and Euro‐Americans; Philippines, U.S. Military Involvement in the; Tactics: Land Warfare Tactics.]
Russell F. Weigley , American Military Thought: From Washington to Marshall, 1962.
Walter Millis, ed., American Military Thought, 1966.
Russell F. Weigley , The American Way of War: A History of United States Military Strategy and Policy, 1973.
John Lewis Gaddis , Strategies of Containment: A Critical Appraisal of Postwar American National Security Policy, 1982.
Allan R. Millett and and Peter Maslowski , For the Common Defense: A Military History of the United States of America, 1984.
Archer Jones , Elements of Military Strategy: An Historical Approach, 1996.
James L. AbrahamsonStrategy: Naval Warfare Strategy On the surface, Alfred T. Mahan embodies American thinking about the uses of a navy and the exploitation of the nation's maritime geography. Captain (later Admiral) Mahan, ship commander, historian, and teacher, explored earlier wars for their lessons about sea power. He wrote and lectured for his fellow naval officers, found an international hearing among navalists, and gathered a large public audience. His ideas guided the generations who built the navies before and after World War I, and his emphasis on the battle fleet still dominates the American naval culture. Mahan, like Carl von Clausewitz, typifies the strategist we expect to instruct us: a military professional whose rigorous thinking illuminates basic truths about war.
In Mahan's formulation, “strategy decides where to act.” Yes, but the American strategic tale transcends the historian's record of admirals and sea fights. With the exception of the pre‐ and post‐World War I decades and part of the Pacific War in World War II, the history of American naval strategy is not Mahanian and only intermittently about full‐scale war. The makers of strategy have often been civilian officials; their regular problem has been how to use the navy day to day in peacetime and in small, distant skirmishes. When planning for war they have worked closely with the army. Invariably, domestic priorities and partisan politics entangle military and naval logic. Why? Because navies are expensive. They take time to build and train. And once built, they last a long time. The fleet cruising on a distant station has been wrestled into place by a struggle among many participants, each favoring a different strategic calculus, few of them ship captains, fewer likely to have foreseen the contingency at hand.
An inattentive strategic culture was visible in our earliest days: “A disposition seems rather to prevail among our citizens to give up all ideas of navigation and naval power and lay themselves consequently on the mercy of foreigners, even for the price of their produce,” wrote John Adams from London to Thomas Jefferson in Paris. Exchanging letters between their ambassadorial posts in 1786, a year before the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia, the two future presidents were discussing ways to resolve the threat to American commerce from the pirates of Algiers. Jefferson—later to lead a political party fiercely opposed to a standing navy—proposed an armed naval force. Adams—later as president to shepherd the bill establishing a small peacetime navy—judged that an attack on the Barbary ports was not likely to eradicate the threat. He held that, however unsavory, discussions and tribute payments were the better modus vivendi. “I agree in opinion of the wisdom and necessity of a navy for other uses,” wrote Adams, “ … [but] I perceive that neither force nor money will be applied.”
His skepticism was sound. It was to be fourteen years before Adams, as president, sailed the USS George Washington with a “peace offering” to the Dey of Algiers. A year later, with Adams defeated for reelection and the situation worsening, newly installed President Jefferson shifted policies. In a show of force, he dispatched America's first “squadron of observation”—half the decaying naval establishment he had been left by Adams—with instructions to “superintend the safety of our commerce there, and to exercise our seamen in their nautical duties.” Jefferson advised the Dey that it was “the first object of our solicitude to cherish peace and friendship with all nations with whom it can be held of terms of equality and reciprocity.”
Thus are evident from our earliest days some durable traits: in the political arena, subtle, foresighted thinking by individual leaders, a shallow reservoir of public support, and party politics that confuse positions and delay action. Also foreshadowed are a perennial preference for influence by peaceful indirection, for sailing fairly large, well‐armed task forces in troubled waters with politically ambiguous instructions to cruise for “observation” and “training,” and a preference for operations mounted far from U.S. coasts. Other inclinations rise from the inevitable gap between the politics which create the fleet and the circumstances demanding its use. The construction of flexible, multi purpose forces is preferred over investment in smaller, single‐use systems; the ability to invent winning tactical combinations with the forces at hand is valued above the rote execution of preplanned doctrine.
As Adams cautioned, we should not find too much rigor in these instincts for the use of a navy and the exploitation of the nation's maritime geography. Inattention more than ingenuity, politics more than policy have husbanded America's naval resources. Frustrating as this intermittent attention may be to navalists, it accords with the national psyche. Save for the anomalous half‐century of the Cold War, American security strategy has been marked by a preference for other, more domestic concerns and by a parallel bias against the apparatus of standing forces, be they military and naval or latterly aerial and space‐based. That bias has extended to thinking about the use of force. In over two centuries, the United States has seen only a few theoreticians gain a public audience, and they often appeared as propagandists aiming to create popular support for the funding of one kind of military force over another, e.g., Gen. Billy Mitchell's campaign to supplant battleships with bombers. In the assessment of one naval historian, the writings of Mahan himself were “weapons in rough‐and‐tumble debates between proponents and opponents of naval expansionism, colonialism, and aggressive mercantile capitalism.”
Secretaries and assistant secretaries of the navy, occasionally even presidents, have thought about making naval strategy their job. Benjamin Stoddert, Gideon Welles, Theodore Roosevelt, Franklin D. Roosevelt, and Josephus Daniels were among those secretaries or assistants to exercise their office vigorously toward a strategic design. Recently, Secretary John Lehman reprised that role but the Cold War rise of a national security establishment with a strong Secretary of Defense, a primus inter pares Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and the National Security Council staff in the White House have seen the political locus of strategy making shift upward from the Navy Department and the process become more leaderless than ever.
Among naval officers Mahan's emphasis on the primacy of the battle fleet helps fuel an enduring belief that the navy is best used independently, that it must be kept separate from the army. Without minimizing inter‐service rivalry for funding, the record shows much more Army‐Navy—and latterly Air Force‐Navy—cooperation than myth would have it. Joint planning has been common and army generals have sometimes had much useful to say about Navy's employment. Listen to Gen. George Washington during the Revolutionary War: “In any operation, and under all circumstances,” he declared, “a decisive naval superiority is to be considered as a fundamental principle and the basis on which every hope of success must ultimately depend.” This was not mere theory. Though the rebel's navy never rose much above haphazard operations by individual ships, the course of the Revolutionary War hinged repeatedly on the duel between Washington's army and mobile, sea‐borne British forces. Washington climaxed the struggle at the Battle of Yorktown with the timely aid of a French fleet that blocked the threatening British ships. Stranded, Gen. Charles Cornwallis offered the decisive surrender. Army officers ever since have closely attended their naval flanks, giving rise to a lasting struggle between two different visions of U.S. naval power. A requirement for the nation to go to war has usually found the army devising ways for the navy to transport and support land forces while naval officers instinctively incline to blue water schemes to defeat the enemy's navy and interdict his shipping.
Pick up the narrative at the Civil War. President Abraham Lincoln's successful “Anaconda Plan,” by which the navy would help encircle and split the Confederacy, was advanced very early in the war by army Commanding Gen. Winfield Scott. The concept drew on Scott's success during the Mexican War when he and accompanying naval commanders innovated a huge amphibious landing at Vera Cruz. At the end of the nineteenth century, Mahan famously pushed the balance the other way with his arguments drawn from history that the central purpose of a navy was to defeat the enemy's navy. Illustrated by Horatio Nelson's victory over the French fleet at Trafalgar, a successful sea fight led to “sea control,” which delivered a decisive political outcome. Mahan‐inspired battle fleets proliferated, but for the United States the Atlantic battles of World War I and World War II were shaped by the priorities of getting troops and supplies to Europe in the face of German submarine attack. As foreseen in years of prior war gaming at the Naval War College, fleet vs. fleet fighting dominated the naval campaigns of World War II in the Pacific. But even in the Pacific, naval operations were also tied closely to the progress of Gen. Douglas MacArthur's island‐hopping land forces. The Korean War saw the navy back in close support of the land war; the Vietnam War drew naval forces into riverine and coastal operations not seen since the Anaconda campaign a hundred years earlier.
At the height of the Cold War in the early and mid‐1980s these tendencies to favor “ship vs. land” over “ship vs. ship” strategy reached their apotheosis in the “Maritime Strategy.” Devised by naval officers, the Maritime Strategy laid out in considerable detail the expected battles at sea when, at the beginning of a hypothetical World War III, the navy and its allies would attack the Soviet forces defending the seaward approaches to the USSR homeland. The Strategy made it clear, however, that the purpose of the ocean fighting was to clear the way rapidly for direct naval attacks on the Soviet Union. By doing so, the Strategy argued, naval forces operating far forward on several fronts would both diffuse the Soviet focus on Western Europe and forestall Soviet attempts to repeat World War‐style battles for control of the Atlantic logistics lanes. The Strategy delivered two key benefits: extrapolating back from the successful battles it proposed in a future world war, it found its central purpose as a deterrent against the outbreak of that war. And with that portrait of present and future success, the Strategy provided a politically credible template for the budget. Controversial as it was—the army, especially, doubted that the far forward campaign would indeed safeguard its cross‐ocean logistics—the Maritime Strategy was widely influential. U.S. and NATO military planners adopted its concepts until the end of the Cold War rendered it obsolete, closing what some had called a renaissance in naval strategic thinking.
With both the Soviet navy and the specter of World War III dissolved, the machinery of strategy making reverted to its habitual, diffused state. Funding for the fleet derived more from domestic politics and traditional preferences for big, flexible units; forward peace support missions, now labeled “operations other than war,” resumed their central place in fleet tasking. What did not change was the focus of war planning on the battle of the fleet against the shore. Absent any significant high seas competitor, the post‐Cold War naval strategy, titled “ … From the Sea,” could, at least ad interim, tie its offensive capabilities into multi‐service operations ashore and base its defensive requirements on landward threats.
From the pure, Mahanian world of fleet‐on‐fleet warfare, the U.S. naval profession has gone deeper and deeper into matters of peace and war ashore. Mahan's canonical world of seamanship, marine technology, and tactical competence, which held sway more in myth than history, has given way to a much more complex professional reality. At century's end profound changes in the international geostrategic climate promise to draw naval strategy still further away from self‐contained battle plans. Ahead is an even more messy world where international political calculations and the civil, humanitarian dimensions of international security policy are added to domestic political and inter‐service dynamics and all is infused with torrents of information. Also ahead is a world of space‐based systems, long‐range aircraft, and remotely controlled devices that invade the navy's traditional sea space. Reliance on strategy by muddling through in the era ahead—however much that might be the national style—seems unlikely to deliver the coherently designed and effectively deployed forces needed if the navy is to continue to be central to American security.
[See also Navy, U.S.; Navy Combat Branches; Sea Warfare; Tactics: Naval Warfare Tactics; Weaponry, Naval.]
Edward L. Beach , The United States Navy: 200 Years, 1986.
Wayne P. Hughes , Fleet Tactics: Theory and Practice, 1986.
J. C. Wylie , Military Strategy: A General Theory of Power Control, 1990.
Edward S. Miller , War Plan Orange: The U.S. strategy to defeat Japan, 1897–1945, 1991.
David Alan Rosenberg , Process: The Realities of Formulating Modern Naval Strategy, James Goldrick and John B. Hattendorf, eds., Mahan is not Enough, 1993.
George W. Baer , One Hundred Years of Sea Power: the U.S. Navy, 1890–1990, 1994.
Colin S. Gray and and Roger W. Barnett , Seapower and Strategy, 1996.
N. A. M. Rodger, ed., Naval Power in the Twentieth Century, 1996.
Jon Tetsuro Sumida , Inventing Grand Strategy and Teaching Command: The Classic Works of Alfred Thayer Mahan Reconsidered, 1997.
Larry SeaquistStrategy: Air Warfare Strategy The military advantages of being able to fly above an enemy were evident from the earliest times, and strategies of aerial warfare had their origins in the musings of such science fiction writers as H. G. Wells. Their apocalyptic visions, however, outstripped the operational capabilities of early aircraft, and the emergence of air strategy had to await the development of flying machines that could carry significant destructive payloads and institutions willing to expend the resources needed to exploit their capabilities. That combination appeared in 1915, when French and German airmen perceived that they could bomb targets whose destruction would affect the enemy's strategic potential directly, rather than indirectly by influencing the outcome of a land or naval battle. This generally meant attacks on industrial targets close behind the front, for example, German munitions factories in the Saar, though the German Naval Air Service proposed to bring Britain to its knees by Zeppelin attacks on London targets such as the Bank of England, the city's gasworks, and the Admiralty radio transmitter.
These schemes were frustrated by the feeble means available—inadequate bombloads and range in the first instance, and the vulnerability of hydrogen‐filled Zeppelins in the second—but aircraft capabilities kept improving. The Italians bombed strategic Austrian targets from 1916, and in the spring of 1917, the German army attempted to destroy London with conventional bombers in a campaign that failed to achieve its primary purpose, but forced the British to shift significant air assets from the western front to home defense. The newly formed Royal Air Force mounted a strategic bombing offensive against German industry in 1918, the first to be formally labeled as such. Ambitious in concept, it achieved little.
While strategic airpower had little impact in World War I, airpower enthusiasts saw promise, notably in the panic sparked by the 1917 German raids on London. The indecisiveness of slaughter in the trenches was evident, as was the stalemate of Dreadnought battleship fleets. It was in this context that in 1921, Italian Lt. Col. Giulio Douhet published Command of the Air, the first formal treatise on air strategy. Douhet received little attention beyond Italy, and his impact on American air strategists is uncertain; he was important mainly in articulating in extreme form ideas current among contemporary airmen. He argued that armies and navies had become irrelevant, and that a nation could be defeated by a single, massive air attack that destroyed its cities and centers of production under a rain of high‐explosive, incendiary, and poison gas bombs, shattering civilian morale and producing victory. There was no defense, he wrote, against such an attack, delivered by a fleet of swift battle planes, and victory would go to the side that got in the first blow. While Douhet's arguments were extreme, heavy emphasis on bombardment was common among early airpower pioneers, notably Gen. Hugh Trenchard, the first head of the Royal Air Force.
Meanwhile, in America, Brig. Gen. Billy Mitchell, drawing on his experience as commander of the American Expeditionary Force's air component in 1917–18, had conceived a more pragmatic theory. While Mitchell, like Douhet, believed that airpower would be decisive in future wars, he considered bombardment as part of a spectrum in which the traditional missions—pursuit, observation, ground attack, and reconnaissance—retained their value, and saw a role for transport aviation and parachute troops. He believed, moreover, that defeat of the enemy air force was an air force's first task. His main contribution was to argue that airpower was indivisible, and that all air assets should be concentrated under a single air commander rather than parceled out to the army and navy. Mitchell's calls for the establishment of an independent air force produced a strongly negative official response, and his predictions and opinions, widely published in popular magazines, became increasingly extreme. He eventually accused senior military leaders of criminal incompetence, leading to his court‐martial in 1925 and dismissal from service in 1926.
Whether because or in spite of Mitchell's activism, the U.S. Army granted its airmen increasing autonomy, and 1920 saw the formation of the Air Corps Tactical School (ACTS) which, its name notwithstanding, became the first formally chartered air warfare strategic planning group. The ACTS approached war as an essentially economic phenomenon, and from the mid‐1920s focused increasingly on the strategic use of heavy bombers. Implicitly rejecting the notion that victory could be achieved with a single, paralyzing blow, the ACTS planners sought ways in which attacks on carefully selected nodes of the industrial network could cause economic collapse. Refining their theories by analyzing the vulnerabilities of America's economy, they concluded by the mid‐1930s that attacks on the appropriate node—electric power generation, for instance, or petroleum refining—could achieve the desired result. They concluded, moreover, that it could be done within the means available. The key caveat was that the requisite accuracy could be achieved only in daylight, which, in turn, meant high‐altitude attacks to minimize the effectiveness of antiaircraft artillery and fighter interception. In retrospect, their assumptions concerning bombing accuracy and, above all, the ability of unescorted bombers to protect themselves against fighter attack, were overoptimistic.
Applied by the U.S. Army Air Forces (USAAF) in mid‐1943 against German ball‐bearing production during World War II, the ACTS concepts produced major operational defeat; more remarkably, they provided a viable intellectual framework that, with the addition of long‐range escort fighters, led to the defeat of the Luftwaffe. Though not strategically decisive in isolation, attacks on two nodes, petroleum production and the rail net, conducted from early 1944 in conjunction with RAF's Bomber Command, were pivotal in the defeat of the Third Reich. The other attempts of note to use airpower “strategically” in World War II were RAF Bomber Command's campaign against German cities and by the Luftwaffe, implicitly in the Battle of Britain and explicitly in 1943 on the eastern front, using a strategy much like that of the ACTS, though with grossly inadequate resources. Airpower proved decisive in the war at sea, but as an adjunct to battle fleets and in the antisubmarine role. Indeed, air superiority was a decisive element of victory in virtually every campaign involving industrialized opponents, vindicating the validity of Mitchell's operational insight.
During World War II, the enormity of the strategic stakes and the totality of resources committed effectively erased the distinction between civilian and military targets, validating a central point of Douhet's theory. This appeared most dramatically in RAF Bomber Command's area bombing campaign against German cities from 1942 and in the USAAF's 1945 firebombing of Japanese cities; it found its ultimate expression in the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
Influenced by the awesome power of nuclear and thermonuclear weapons, air strategies in the postwar era evolved along two distinct paths: nuclear and conventional. After the Soviet Union ended the United States's nuclear monopoly in 1949, American nuclear strategy revolved around two interlocked concepts: massive retaliation, aimed at deterring Soviet expression, especially in Western Europe; and deterrence, intended to discourage a preemptive nuclear attack on the United States. The latter found definitive, if not final, expression in John F. Kennedy's administration's concept of “Mutual Assured Destruction” (MAD). The manned bomber's monopoly as a nuclear delivery system was broken by intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) in the late 1950s and by submarine‐launched ballistic missiles (SLBMs) in the mid‐1960s, erasing the distinction between nuclear air strategy and nuclear strategy. It is worth noting, however, that the United States was unique in vesting responsibility for the planning and execution of nuclear strategy in its air force, all strategic nuclear weapons coming under the operational control of the Strategic Air Command (SAC) from its inception in 1947 until it was disbanded in 1993.
In conventional air strategy, the USAF has followed the trajectory of Mitchell's ideas, arguing for the indivisibility of airpower and that all air forces should be placed under a single air force commander. That insistence on unity of command and a continued belief in the decisiveness of strategic bombing were hallmarks of the air force's approach to the Korean and Vietnam Wars, with at best uncertain results. The navy and Marine Corps, drawing on their successful experience in World War II, viewed aviation as an extension of naval and land forces, and resisted what they considered air force attempts to usurp their internal unity of command. The air force's insistence on indivisibility has yielded important strategic dividends in airlift and aerial refueling, two areas in which the USAF has been in a class by itself since the 1950s. Both capabilities played a large part in the Cold War and in the 1991 Persian Gulf War. In the latter conflict, newly matured technologies—laser‐guided bombs, electronic warfare, electronic communications, and stealth bombers—prompted adoption of a radical air strategy developed in the late 1970s by Air Force Col. John Warden. Rejecting the attritional gradualism used in the Vietnam War, Warden's strategy was “inside out,” targeting Iraqi command centers, communications, radar, and power generation first, with attacks on traditional military and economic targets coming only after strategic paralysis was achieved. While the strategic decisiveness of the air campaign in the Persian Gulf War is hotly debated, its tactical and technological success is widely acknowledged.
[See also Air Warfare; Tactics: Air Warfare Tactics.]
John F. Guilmartin, Jr.Strategy: Nuclear Warfare Strategy and War Plans Within months of the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki that devastated those two cities in early August 1945, the basic questions that have bedeviled nuclear strategists and war planners ever since became evident in congressional testimony and published treatises. The United States itself would be vulnerable to air attack in future war, Congress was told in November 1945 by Gen. Carl A. Spaatz, head of U.S. Army Air Forces in Europe. Gen. “Hap” Arnold, commanding general of the Army Air Forces, warned Congress that since air attack could arrive without warning, the basic defense against such an attack would have to be the ability to launch a rapid, powerful air offensive against the source of the attack. “But, better still,” Arnold declared, “the actual existence of these weapons … in sufficient quantities and so located that a potential aggressor knows we can use them effectively against him, will have a very deterring effect, particularly if the aggressor does not know the whole story and only knows part of the story.”
Within these assertions lay the roots of U.S. strategic doctrine that were to permeate the Cold War: the concepts of deterrence on one hand and defense by destruction of the enemy's capacity for offensive action on the other; the vulnerability of the United States to surprise attack through the air; the need for extensive forces, variously deployed and capable of rapid action; and the perceived need for secrecy. These initial military concerns were mirrored by two civilian theorists— Bernard Brodie and William Borden.
Brodie, a Yale scholar who had first studied war at sea and now turned his attention to war from the air, wrote a paper in November 1945 entitled “The Atomic Bomb and American Security,” which was later included in expanded form as two chapters of The Absolute Weapon (1946), the first book published on nuclear strategy. In the paper, he staked out deterrence as the dominant concept of nuclear strategy. As he put it famously: “Thus far the chief purpose of our military establishment has been to win wars. From now on its chief purpose must be to avert them. It can have almost no other purpose.” To achieve such deterrence, however, would require the United States “to take measures to guarantee to ourselves in case of attack the possibility of retaliation in kind.” For the next two decades, particularly in 1951–66, while he worked at the RAND Corporation, a newly established national security research institution in Santa Monica, California, Brodie set the pace among civilian theorists of nuclear strategy. His next book, Strategy in the Missile Age (1959), remains even today the only true classic on the essential questions of nuclear force structure (how much is enough? and hence, enough for what?) and force postures (offensive, defensive, retaliatory, preemptive, and air‐, land‐, or sea‐based).
In contrast to Brodie's emphasis on deterrence were the views of a colleague at Yale, William Borden, who wrote There Will Be No Time: The Revolution in Strategy (1946). Borden believed that atomic war was inevitable and would likely be fought by nuclear‐tipped intercontinental‐range rockets based in underground “hedgehogs” located far from cities and “on undersea platforms scattered throughout the world's oceans.” These would be aimed against the enemy's military forces rather than cities. Borden concluded that such a war could be won decisively and with only limited civilian damage. However, because of the secrecy surrounding preparations for such a war and the unprecedented powers the president would be granted in peacetime, Borden surmised that American democracy would be inevitably diminished. As noted by Gregg Herken, “with minor variations, the positions taken by Brodie and Borden endured as the opposite poles of a debate that would rage for the next forty years….”
Thus, even before the end of 1946, most major issues, except those resulting from such unforeseen technological developments as antiballistic missile (ABM) defenses and satellite reconnaissance, were already recognized. These included deterrence as an end in itself; offensive readiness and threatened retaliatory capability (eventually including missiles housed in silos in areas remote from population centers or aboard submarines in the ocean's depths) as the answer to defensive vulnerability; and the potential emergence of a “national security state.” Still, very few Americans read Brodie or Borden or otherwise became engaged in questions of “atomic strategy.” Most focused on the more pressing immediate problems of economic prosperity.
Within the military, during the administration of President Harry S. Truman (1945–51), war planning for what some called the “air atomic age” was initially incoherent. It was severely limited by the extreme secrecy governing nuclear matters, incessant interservice rivalry (such as the B‐36 bomber vs. the supercarrier controversy of 1949), and the ambivalent attitude of Truman regarding the nuclear weapons themselves. The planning process that evolved by the early 1950s was complex and variable, but can be sketched in broad outline. Initially, a Joint War Plans Committee (JWPC) in the Pentagon had the lead, but following passage of the National Security Act of 1947 and the creation of a U.S. Air Force separated from the army, an elaborately structured process of nuclear war planning emerged.
At its apex was the National Security Council (NSC), chaired by the president, which spelled out national security objectives and provided overall guidance regarding nuclear weapons. Below that were the Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS), who were responsible for translating generalized NSC guidance into specific strategic plans. The Joint Strategic Capabilities Plan (JSCP) covered global war planning for the coming year and was prepared annually. In addition, the Joint Strategic Objectives Plan (JSOP) projected a four‐ to six‐year time frame and was also prepared each year. The crucial elements of the nation's nuclear war plan—general guidance regarding target categories and desired damage levels—were contained in Annex C of the JSOP.
At the third level (below the NSC and JCS), the task was to identify specific targets and prepare operational plans detailing the means and timing of delivering the nuclear weapons to their targets. Until the late 1950s, identification of specific targets was the province of the Air Targets Division within the U.S. Air Force Directorate of Intelligence. Operational planning fell to the Strategic Air Command (SAC), which was moved in 1948 away from Washington, D.C., to the vicinity of Omaha, Nebraska.
Factors external to this formal planning process included intelligence estimates regarding the capability and vulnerability of the Soviet Union and technological change, especially as it affected the numbers, availability, and delivery modes of U.S. nuclear weapons. Also largely external to this process were the thoughts of the nuclear war theorists both within and outside the government, whose ideas, although they could affect public perceptions, were least important to the operational planners, whose work was directed essentially at pragmatic problem solving.
Nuclear war planning in the late 1940s and the 1950s can be summarized as follows: The people in the intelligence community, especially within the air force but also including the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), looked for targets, all the while fearing they might miss important ones and hence listing all they could find. The people who worked on development of nuclear weapons, especially those people in the Atomic Energy Commission, focused on reducing the size of warheads, improving their yield (destructive power), and increasing their number to keep up with the growing target list. The people who planned the military operations—planners at SAC and later at the European, Atlantic, and Pacific unified commands (EUCOM, LANTCOM, and PACOM)—sought to match the available weapons to the designated targets.
Inevitably, given the compartmentalized secrecy governing the artificially separate elements of the nuclear war planning process, a certain dynamic arose. More targets required more weapons, which in turn required more delivery systems (aircraft, missiles, submarines). As a result, the day‐to‐day work of the operations planners had little to do with any subtleties of either nuclear strategy or deterrence theory. Rather, it had to do with deploying as effectively and efficiently as possible the weapons available against the targets assigned; in sum, pragmatic problem solving. It took a decade for the formal system to become fully institutionalized.
At first, however, prior to the 1949 test explosion of the first Soviet atomic bomb, things were simpler. During the years between 1946 and 1949, the war planners in the U.S. military envisioned that war with the Soviet Union would be like World War II but on a more destructive scale. The United States then had few atomic weapons, let alone aircraft equipped to carry what were then extremely large and heavy nuclear bombs. The atomic‐capable bomber aircraft and their weapons would be “seeded” among normal B‐29 bombers at one of the American forward overseas bases. The detailed war plans remained secret until the end of the Cold War, when the early plans were declassified and published (1990) in fifteen volumes, edited by Steven T. Ross and David Alan Rosenberg, and entitled America's Plans for War Against the Soviet Union, 1945–1950. Plans since 1950 remain generally classified.
The initial scarcity of nuclear weapons was soon overcome. (The U.S. nuclear weapons stockpile grew from only a couple of warheads in 1945 to more than 500 in 1951, then exponentially to more than 1,000 in 1952, the last of which included 720 loadings on 660 bombers; by 1955, there were 2,250 warheads stockpiled with 1,755 loadings on 1,260 bombers.) The prodigious increase in the number of U.S. nuclear weapons resulted from a combination of technological breakthroughs and a dramatic surge in military spending, first by the Truman administration as a result of the Korean War (1950–53) and then as a result of a decision by President Dwight D. Eisenhower to emphasize the strategic nuclear forces while cutting back on the other armed services and reducing the overall defense budget.
In January 1954, following a year‐long review of defense policy by the administration, Secretary of State John Foster Dulles announced the doctrine of “Massive Retaliation”: the administration would rely upon the threat of nuclear escalation, including massive destruction of the Soviet Union, to deter or stop Soviet‐inspired local wars in the future. The policy was driven by the frustrations of the Korean War and Eisenhower's fears about the impact of increased defense spending upon the American economy. Essentially, it was an economic rather than a strategic decision, one that sought “more bang for the buck over the long haul.”
Massive retaliation provoked immediate debate. Some theorists of nuclear strategy questioned the credibility of the threat of a full‐scale nuclear attack on the Soviet Union as the result of any conflict less than a Soviet invasion of Europe. Some questioned the sanity of introducing an “age of overkill,” arguing instead that the ability to deliver with certainty a relatively few nuclear weapons would be sufficient for the needs of deterrence. The “finite deterrence” school, however, despite a strong effort by the U.S. Navy in 1957, was never really accepted in the United States, even though Eisenhower's own view was that it was not necessary to be able to destroy the entire Soviet Union in order to deter Moscow.
Despite Eisenhower's personal view, other matters intervened, always with political overtones, to increase the U.S. nuclear stockpile. This included 3,550 nuclear warheads in 1956, with 2,123 loadings on 1,470 bomber‐based launchers, to 23,000 warheads stockpiled in 1961, with 3,153 loadings, including 3,083 on bombers, 57 on intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs), and 80 on submarine‐launched ballistic missiles (SLBMs). Among the developments that contributed to the increase were the test explosion of the first Soviet hydrogen bomb in 1953; a 1954 RAND study, led by theorist Albert Wohlsetter, on the perceived vulnerability of SAC's forward bases overseas; intelligence failures positing a “bomber gap” with the Soviets outproducing the Americans in bombers; the 1957 Gaither Report warning of an impending “missile gap” in favor of the USSR, followed immediately by the Soviet launching of Sputnik (the first space satellite), falsely taken to demonstrate such a gap (which in fact favored the Americans); and the shooting down by the Soviets of one of the American U‐2 spy planes over the USSR in 1960. Still, by the end of the 1950s, the open threat of massive retaliation became muted, and steps were begun at the end of the decade to improve conventional forces as an alternative to nuclear confrontation.
The increased emphasis on conventional forces under the doctrine of Flexible Response was accelerated under President John F. Kennedy, but the Kennedy adminis tration (1961–63) also escalated the buildup of strategic nuclear forces to previously undreamt‐of levels. Under Kennedy, this occurred primarily by switching from the emphasis on bombers to land‐ and sea‐launched ballistic missiles, amounting to 1,000 Minuteman and 54 Titan land‐based intercontinental ballistic missiles and a fleet of 41 Polaris‐type submarines, each armed with 16 submarine‐launched ballistic missiles. Kennedy used the overwhelming American strategic superiority to help convince Moscow to back down in the Cuban Missile Crisis, leading the Soviets in the aftermath to increase dramatically their own strategic forces.
From 1948 through 1965, from President Truman to President Lyndon B. Johnson, the most important nuclear strategist in the United States was Gen. Curtis E. LeMay, who was commander of SAC (1948–57), U.S. Air Force vice chief of staff (1957–61), and air force chief of staff (1961–65). LeMay was absolutely determined to avoid a “nuclear Pearl Harbor” and was convinced that massive numerical superiority, with instant readiness, was the essence of deterrence. On several occasions, LeMay made it clear to his superiors that a preemptive attack option by the United States was written into the secret war plans (secret even from the JCS from 1951 to 1955). Furthermore, he had no interest in “this launch‐under‐attack business,” but instead, he planned to launch on warning (never formally defined), and with virtually the entire SAC nuclear force.
By 1960, SAC planners had identified some 8,000 targets to be destroyed in a nuclear strike on the Soviet Union. Also by that date, the navy's Polaris missile had been successfully tested. In an attempt to impose order on the target planning process (and incessant wrangling among the services), the president established the multiservice Joint Strategic Target Planning Staff (JSTPS), which was directed to prepare a coordinated U.S. Single Integrated Operational Plan (SIOP). Its first edition, formally designated SIOP‐62, became effective on 1 July 1961.
When briefed on the plan, President Kennedy and his defense secretary Robert S. McNamara found the existing SIOP wholly unacceptable, and they demanded changes to provide the president with a variety of options from which he could choose in a nuclear confrontation. As a result, the new “declared policy” emphasized the destruction of the enemy's military forces, not his civilian population; it was quickly dubbed the “counterforce” option as opposed to the previous “countervalue”—or city‐destroying—strategy. Although General LeMay disagreed with the new emphasis, he went along, especially once he realized that a counterforce strategy would mean an increased number of targets and, therefore, increased strategic forces.
In actuality, despite the change in declared policy, the war plan was not radically changed but merely provided with more options. The so‐called no‐cities strategy was, in truth, a sham, given the location of key military targets in or near cities and given the residual effects of nuclear detonations. Indeed, before leaving office in 1967, McNamara abandoned counterforce in favor of a capability to threaten the “assured destruction” of “one‐quarter to one‐third of [the Soviet Union's] population and about two‐thirds of its industrial capacity.” To be sure, the SIOP would now list several lesser options that a president might choose, but assured destruction was surely massive retaliation by another name. Given the enormous strategic nuclear forces in both the United States and the Soviet Union, “Mutual Assured Destruction” (MAD), while never a formal policy, was an apt description.
Subsequent presidents, secretaries of defense (especially James R. Schlesinger, Harold Brown, and Caspar Weinberger), and national security advisers (particularly Henry Kissinger) made fitful attempts to modify the targeting criteria and options of the SIOP. Three such instances that were leaked to the public involved the Nuclear Weapons Employment Policy (NUWEP‐1) signed by Schlesinger in April 1974; the Nuclear Targeting Policy Review of 1978; and Presidential Directive 59 (PD‐59), signed by President Jimmy Carter in July 1980. In each case, the changes were more declaratory than substantive, although this was difficult to discern given all the hoopla generated by the press, especially regarding an alleged new emphasis on targeting the “recovery capability” of the Soviet Union.
Most attention during the 1970s focused on the extent to which technological advances appeared to undermine any hopes for the stability of emerging arms control efforts. The first Strategic Arms Limitation Treaty (SALT I), an attempt to cap the number of ICBMs and ABM defense systems, was signed by President Richard M. Nixon and Soviet premier Leonid I. Brezhnev in 1972. But it sidestepped the newly crucial issue of multiple, independently targetable reentry vehicles (MIRVs), whereby a single large ICBM could now carry as many as a dozen warheads that could, within trajectory limits, strike different targets. The Soviet emphasis on large ICBMs, especially the SS‐18 armed with MIRVs, quickly led to fears that the U.S. land‐based missile force had suddenly become vulnerable to a disarming first (or surprise) strike. Why the Soviets might decide to attempt such a strike was an irrelevant question in the war planning culture. If they could, they might, so capabilities rather than intentions or likelihoods were important. And for those concerned with a Soviet first strike there was always the fear that Moscow's true goal might not be a disarming first strike at all, but rather a new ability in a crisis to impose “nuclear blackmail” based on U.S. perceptions of the vulnerability of its own forces and their allied mechanisms of command and control.
Abetted by exaggerated claims regarding the accuracy of Soviet missiles, the United States, it was argued, would soon face an emerging “window of vulnerability” unless drastic measures were taken to “modernize” its forces. This meant the production of the B‐1 and B‐2 bombers, the MX missile, Trident submarines, the “hardening” of command and control networks, and replacement of the existing inventory of nuclear warheads with new and improved models. (The number of warheads in the U.S. nuclear weapons stockpile had grown to 26,500 in 1962, 29,000 in 1963, 31,000 in 1964, and 31,500 in 1965 and 1966; it reached a peak of 32,000 in 1967; then began to drop, as older warheads were eliminated, to between 28,000 and 25,000 during the 1970s, where it remained until well into the 1980s. Meanwhile, the number of nuclear warheads loaded on various types of launchers averaged about 6,000 during the 1960s.) Critics of the argument about the need for such modernization to meet an alleged window of vulnerability were appalled. Their view was best encapsulated by Lord Solly Zuckerman, the British scientist, in his Nuclear Illusion and Reality (1982): “Once the numbers game took over, reason flew out the window.”
President Ronald Reagan took office in 1981 fully committed to the direst possible view of the capabilities as well as the intentions of the Soviet Union. The SALT II talks, envisaging significant reductions, had begun in 1974, leading to a treaty signed by Carter and Brezhnev in June 1979. But divided American opinion led the Senate to delay action, and the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in December 1979 effectively killed the treaty, at least until after the 1980 election.
The apparent enthusiasm with which the Reagan administration (1981–89) initially adopted the long dominant and prevailing views among war planners regarding “nuclear warfighting,” “countervailing strategy,” and other mantras going back to Herman Kahn's On Nuclear War (1960) frightened many Americans. Vice President George Bush's statement that a nuclear war was winnable, Secretary of State Alexander M. Haig's comment about “a nuclear demonstration shot,” and the president's own musings on a European nuclear war, along with outlandish remarks by civil defense officials on the survivability of nuclear war—all had the unforeseen effect of capturing the attention of a public accustomed to ignoring such issues for the previous twenty years. Despite the protest from a sizable and vocal segment of the public, the Reagan administration's position on nuclear war planning was not significantly different from that of its predecessors. However, it had brought to the declarative level, and thus made openly public, the assumptions upon which the operational level planners had been working for years—and that had shocked a considerable and influential segment of the public.
The reaction that set in during 1982–83, symbolized by the Nuclear Freeze Campaign and an unusual pastoral letter against nuclear war from the Roman Catholic bishops' conference in America, may well have played some part in leading the Reagan administration to shift focus to an improbable antimissile defense, the so‐called Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI), and move to reconsider the SALT II treaty by reopening the talks, soon relabeled START (Strategic Arms Reductions Talks). It was also during the Reagan administration that civilians began to assert somewhat more control over the war planning process, although the fundamentals were not changed.
In their analysis of the six Single Integrated Operational Plans (SIOPs) for U.S. nuclear strategy in effect from 1960 to 1985, Desmond Ball (with Jeffrey Richelson) concluded that the general categories and particular types of targets had remained remarkably resilient. They were the Soviet Union's military forces, its urban‐industrial structure, and its leadership centers. “Two developments have occurred, however,” Ball advised. “One is that the number of potential target installations … increased enormously, from …4,100 in 1960 … to some 50,000…. Second, these targets have been increasingly divided into a larger array of ‘packages’ of varying sizes and characteristics, providing … ‘customized’ options for an extremely wide range of possible contingencies.” In 1986, Ball saw little reason to expect these developments to change markedly.
But then came the dramatic events of 1989–91: the fall of the Berlin Wall, the disintegration of the Warsaw Pact, and the collapse of the Soviet Union. The end of the Cold War threw all earlier calculations of nuclear war planning into doubt. In the initial transition, President George Bush (1989–93) ordered a nuclear targeting review. Conducted in 1989–91, it did not result in any radical changes but did lead to significant reductions in the number of targets. In the Bush administration, nuclear arms control efforts moved to the forefront, initially confounded by the location of Soviet ICBMs in at least four of the “successor republics” to the Soviet Union. In 1991, the United States and the Russians signed the first Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty (START I). Under that treaty, the United States reduced its arsenal of strategic nuclear warheads loaded on launchers from 13,700 in 1987 down to about 7,000 in 1996. On his last day in office in January 1993, President Bush sent a second treaty, START II, to the Senate (which did not ratify it until January 1996; by the end of 1998, the Russian Duma still had not ratified the START II Treaty).
When President Bill Clinton took office in 1993, the entire U.S. military establishment was in a state of flux, undergoing radical reductions in personnel and weapons, coincident with a wholesale reorganization of the armed services, especially the air force. In 1992, the Strategic Air Command was transformed into a joint command. This new Strategic Command was headed first by Air Force Gen. George Lee Butler, former head of SAC, and subsequently by either an air force general or navy admiral.
Considerable pressure mounted in the late 1990s for reducing the nuclear arsenal. In December 1996, sixty retired generals and admirals from a number of countries, including the former Soviet Union and the United States (the latter including General Butler, now retired), issued a call for long‐term nuclear planning to be based on the assumption of eventual complete elimination of nuclear weapons. In March 1997, President Clinton and Russian president Boris N. Yeltsin agreed that if and when the Russian legislators approved START II, the two nations would begin talks on further reductions, to perhaps 2,000–2,500 warheads. In November 1998, with the Russian Duma still delaying ratification of the START II Treaty, Pentagon officials, driven as much by budgetary constraints as by reduced security risks, recommended that the Clinton administration consider unilateral reductions in the U.S. nuclear arsenal, either reducing the number of loaded warheads from the approximately 7,000 that existed at the end of 1998 or eliminating some categories of strategic weapons.
The state of affairs in Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union remained so uncertain and unpredictable that in the late 1990s, preexisting nuclear war plans, although placed in a tentative hold status, remained, as it were, on the shelf. Although the information is classified, it is possible that major changes in strategy and targeting have occurred or will occur. The principal concern of nuclear theorists, strategists, and war planners had become the proliferation—both real and potential—of nuclear capabilities around the world. President Clinton gave few indications that nuclear issues were high on his agenda, causing the very small percentage of the American public that pays attention to such matters considerable concern.
[See also Air and Space Defense; Air Force Combat Organizations: Strategic Air Forces; Arms Control and Disarmament: Nuclear; Arms Race: Nuclear Arms Race; De terrence; Nuclear Protest Movements; Nuclear War, Prevention of Accidental; Nuclear Weapons and War, Popular Images of; Procurement; SALT Treaties (1972, 1979); Theorists of War.]
Lawrence Freedman , The Evolution of Nuclear Strategy, 1981; rev. ed. 1989.
Fred Kaplan , The Wizards of Armageddon, 1983.
David Alan Rosenberg , The Origins of Overkill: Nuclear Weapons and American Strategy, 1945–1960, International Security, 7 (Spring 1983), pp. 1–71.
David MacIsaac , The Nuclear Weapons Debate and American Society, Air University Review, 35 (May–June 1984), pp. 81–96.
Thomas B. Cochran,, William M. Arkin,, and and Milton M. Hoenig , Nuclear Weapons Data Book. Vol. I: U.S. Nuclear Forces and Capabilities, 1984.
Robert Jervis , The Illogic of American Nuclear Strategy, 1984.
Charles W. Kegley, Jr., and Eugene R. Wittkopf, eds., The Nuclear Reader: Strategy, Weapons, War, 1985.
Gregg Herken , Counsels of War, 1985; enl. ed. 1987.
Desmond Ball and Jeffrey Richelson, eds., Strategic Nuclear Targeting, 1986.
A. B. Carter et al., eds., Managing Nuclear Operations, 1987.
Steven Ross , American War Plans, 1945–1950, 1988.
Janne E. Nolan , Guardians of the Arsenal: The Politics of Nuclear Strategy, 1989.
Scott Sagan , Moving Targets: Nuclear Strategy and National Security, 1989.
Samuel R. Williamson, Jr., and and Steven L. Reardon , The Origins of U.S. Nuclear Strategy, 1945–1953, 1993.
Robert S. Norris and and Thomas B. Cochran , US‐USSR/Russian Strategic Offensive Nuclear Forces, 1945–1996, 1997.
Stephen I. Schwartz, ed., Atomic Audit: The Costs and Consequences of U.S. Nuclear Weapons Since 1940, 1998.
The word “strategy,” derived from Greek, originally meant the “art of the general,” or “generalship.” It has long since been broadened to include also the art of the admiral and of the air commander. So dynamic and pregnant a word is bound to be applied also to numerous other kinds of competitive situations, including commerce and games, and today one speaks of testing various “strategies of play” over a broad range of game situations. Such usage is, however, comparatively recent, occurring mostly since World War II. In this article we shall be concerned only with the classic application of the term strategy to war, including relevant aspects of the planning processes prior to, and in preparation for, war.
Strategy is distinguished from the related term “tactics” in ways which are well understood, though variously stated. Thus, the Oxford English Dictionary asserts that tactics refers “only to the mechanical movement of bodies set in motion by” strategy. Mahan proposed as a distinction between tactics and strategy the fact of contact. Tactics thus refers to the localized hostilities that occur where adversaries are in contact; strategy, to the basic dispositions of strength that constitute the entire conduct of a campaign or of a war. Or one can say that tactics is fighting and strategy is planning where and how to fight, with the “how” construed so as to exclude the details.
Another meaningful and even necessary distinction stresses the different levels at which the pertinent operations or decisions take place. Although one might speak appropriately of the “strategy” of a battle, referring thereby to the commander‘s purpose and essential dispositions of force, one would generally apply the term only to a large and critical battle and to the decisions of the commander in chief. Lesser commanders would be concerned with tactics. The normal connotations of the word “strategy” suggest, however, even higher levels of direction. Some have attempted, though abortively, to introduce terms like “grand strategy” to refer to the very highest levels of decision making affecting the most basic and essential dispositions for the conduct of a war, such as the major decisions made jointly by Churchill and Roosevelt during World War II, the most basic and dominant of these being the decision to defeat Germany first and Japan second.
Although it is pointless to resist established usage, one might note in passing that the use of the term “strategic” to describe a certain kind of aerial bombing has been misleading and therefore unfortunate. “Strategic bombing” applies to a type of operation characterized by deep penetration into the heartland of the enemy country, against targets selected for military or economic (i.e., supportive of the military) reasons or simply for purposes of terrorizing civilians. It is distinguished from “tactical bombing,” which includes short-range operations, often in close support of friendly ground forces, and intermediate-range, or “interdiction,” bombing, usually against the logistics or supply system of the enemy ground forces. The distinction is essentially one of zones of penetration and attack, with the concurrent implication, at least on the part of its advocates, that the targets for strategic bombing are radically different in kind from those sought in tactical bombing and somehow more fundamental in importance.
Professional neglect of strategic thought. The student in quest of the written strategic thought of the past will be startled to discover how lean it is, especially in a world that has known so much war. Actually, the frequency and persistence of war from remote antiquity to the present—for long periods one might almost speak of its continuity—provide one clue to the scarcity of written works. Men who spent much of their adult lives fighting were apparently content to learn their art in the field and by communication of relevant wisdom through word of mouth.
Moreover, until the early part of the nineteenth century, weapons and methods of fighting changed slowly, as did the conventions which guided those methods. The challenge of sharply changed conditions was generally absent. Even the introduction of gunpowder offered no such change. At the time it was so unimportant that chroniclers neglected to note the precise date of its first use on a European battlefield, sometime in the early fourteenth century. It took two centuries for the crossbow to be displaced by the musket, which developed when the touchhole gave way to the matchlock (late in the fifteenth century), thus permitting use of a trigger.
Another part of the explanation concerns the character and number of the potential users of strategic lore, who would also normally be the contributors to its literature. For most of the span of our civilization the leaders of armies have been aristocrats, often princes and kings, and those surrounding them have been of the same caste, which has never been known as a society of scholars. It is significant that the great Marshal de Saxe, first soldier of France during part of the reign of Louis xv, wrote his brief “Reveries Upon the Art of War” (1757) relatively early in his career, during a period of illness when he could do nothing else, and wrote nothing subsequently. The more modern practitioners of the military arts too have been committed to the idea, no doubt correctly on balance, that the first function of the commander is not strategic decision making but the leadership of military forces, whether large or small. Among the great military powers of modern times, it has always been axiomatic that the avenue to promotion in peacetime and, especially, in war is success in command, not good staff work.
A related conviction long cherished by professional military officers is, in the words of Field Marshal Lord Wavell, “that tactics, the art of handling troops on the battlefield, is and always will be a more difficult and more important part of the general‘s task than strategy, the art of bringing forces to the battlefield in a favorable position.” Of strategy, Wavell added, “the main principles . . . are simple and easy to grasp” (1953, p. 97). It is remarkable that the reflective Wavell should have considered tactics more important as well as more difficult than strategy. The fatal error in his own military career was one of strategic judgment—his approving early in 1941 the commitment of a major portion of his North African forces to the British expedition to Greece without having first disposed of Rommel in the desert. What has been certainly true, however, is that tactics has been much more than strategy the province of the professional soldier, since the former is in many ways more esoteric and makes far heavier demands on military virtues like resolution and courage.
Finally, one should remember that the market for strategic insight has always been a limited one. Actual and potential commanders in chief were never numerous. Until very recently, the great majority of professional military officers could live out their careers without ever being called upon to make or to offer advice upon a strategic decision. Their training took full cognizance of this fact.
Background of strategy. The “roots of strategy” have been traced as far back as the writings, or collected maxims, of Sun Tzu (c. 500 B.C.). His “Art of War,” however, is today merely quaint. The Greeks, especially Xenophon and Thucydides, are more important, although they did not write discourses on strategy. But included in their chronicles or histories are long statements, supposedly quoting Greek generals, which often reveal fascinating strategic insight. Another early author, Vegetius (“The Military Institutions of the Romans,” c. a.d. 390), deals more with tactics than strategy, though his book is said to have been used by commanders in the Middle Ages and later. Niccolò Machiavelli should also be mentioned, although interestingly enough, his Art of War (1521), engrossed with problems of tactics and organizational reform, probably contains less about strategy than some of his other works. Again, the writings of Marshal Maurice de Saxe (1757) and Friedrich n (1747) are absorbed largely in detailed tactical concerns and are interesting today mostly for what they reveal of war in their own times. Only the collection of what are purported to be Napoleon‘s “maxims” begin to show some live connection with our own times. In short, the roots of modern strategy really begin at the end of the eighteenth century.
However, rather than catalogue the contributions of past writers whose works have dissolved into the stream of modern military thinking, it is preferable to look back to see which thinkers stand out as major contributors to the ideas and doctrines that in one form or another represent our living strategic inheritance.
Mahan . Before World War II, theoretical strategy was divided into three parts: naval, air, and land strategy. In the field of naval strategy the figure of the American naval officer Alfred Thayer Mahan was still supreme. His strategic ideas represented mostly the rediscovery of principles that had held sway in sailing days. More clearly than any predecessor, Mahan illuminated the concept of “command of the sea.” He distinguished sharply between attaining command, which is the function of the battle fleet, and exercising it, which is done by cruisers and convoy-escort vessels. He felt that mere commerce raiding had always failed to be “decisive of great issues,” and being innately conservative, he missed seeing the special strategic potential of the submarine in that role. He died too early (December 1914) to witness its astonishing success against Allied commerce in World War I. Mahan‘s views and great prestige contributed to the general prewar underestimation of the submarine, even within the German navy. [See the biography of Mahan.]
Corbett and Castex . Another distinguished though less well-known figure in naval strategy was Mahan‘s civilian British contemporary Julian Corbett, also a naval historian. In France an outstanding figure was Admiral Raoul Castex, who between the wars wrote with insight of the submarine experience of World War I. The very few books on naval strategy published after these writers (e.g., Brodie 1941) were usually attempts to bring the work of these thinkers, especially of Mahan, up to date.
Douhet . In the new field of air strategy there was only one noteworthy writer, the Italian General Giulio Douhet, whose slender body of writings appeared in the decade following World War I. U.S. Brigadier General “Billy” Mitchell was an air propagandist, but except for some commonplace ideas, like applying the notion of concentration of force to the air, he was not truly a thinker on air strategy. The British attach much importance to the views of Lord Trenchard, World War I commander of the Royal Flying Corps and founder of the Royal Air Force, and some of his assistants (e.g., General P. R. C. Groves), whose convictions were more or less parallel to those of Douhet. The leaders of the German Luftwaffe of World War II, as well as of the American air forces, subsequently acknowledged their indebtedness to Douhet.
Douhet (1921) attempted to apply Mahan‘s concept of command of the sea to air fighting. Actually Douhet exaggerated the similarity of air and naval strategies, and he is more easily and accurately remembered as the prophet of the concept that attributes dominance to strategic bombing. In Douhet‘s opinion nothing could withstand the power of a large bomber force, which could and should ignore the static battle lines on the ground and proceed to destroy first the enemy‘s offensive air force, then the factories from which his air power issued, and finally the will to resist of the people at large. Douhet assumed, too readily that ground fighting would always be stalled as it was in 1914-1918, and he grossly underestimated the tonnage of bombs required to accomplish the above-described goals against any significant power. In World War II the RAF and the USAAF attempted to carry out his design, with results that were limited but certainly positive, especially against Japan. [For an evaluation, see Brodie 1959, chapters 3 and 4; see also the biography of Douhet.]
Clausewitz . In land strategy, certainly the oldest area in which any kind of strategic thinking can be discovered, the towering stature of Karl von Clausewitz, who died in 1831, has not been surpassed or even equaled. Clausewitz is almost alone in the philosophic breadth and grasp he had of this subject. Among the publicists in all strategic fields since his time, only Mahan comes close to his sense of the political constraints on strategy. Clausewitz‘ book On War (1832-1834) is ponderous and difficult to read, and it has suffered from bad translations of corrupted texts. It has had few readers, and the frequent references to, or “quotations” from, his work often distort his essential message.
Far from being the advocate of total or absolute war, as is often charged, Clausewitz might in fact be considered the originator of the modern doctrine of limited war. His often-quoted phrase “War is a mere continuation of politics by other means” was intended simply to stress the necessary dominance of the political aim and thus the necessary subjection of the general to the political leader. This has been generally overlooked or forgotten, but another basic Clausewitz thesis which did not suffer this fate was the importance of destroying the enemy‘s armed forces, a process distinct from capturing portions of his territory or cities or fortresses. [See the biography of Clausewitz.]
Jomini . An important contemporary of Clausewitz‘ was the Swiss mercenary Antoine Henri Jomini, a senior officer on Napoleon‘s staff and later on the staff of Napoleon‘s enemy, the tsar of Russia. Jomini‘s continual publications during a very long life, his lucidity, and the fact that he wrote in relatively accessible French rather than forbidding German, resulted in his having, outside of Germany, a far greater influence than Clausewitz. The generals on both sides of the American Civil War are supposed to have been much influenced by him.
He is best summarized as the chief interpreter of Napoleon‘s strategy and of the elements which brought about its success. We may perceive his continuing influence especially in his exaltation of the doctrine of the offensive. Clausewitz had also appreciated the importance of the offensive, but his views were characteristically more moderate and qualified. Jomini is also famous for coining the phrase (though not originating the thought) “methods change but principles are unchanging.” However, he did not deign to present an accompanying list of principles. Such a list was to be the corruption of a later age.
Du Picq and Foch . In France an original mind appeared in the slender but scholarly work of Colonel Ardant du Picq, killed in one of the first battles of the Franco-Prussian War. Du Picq was entirely absorbed with the psychology of the soldier in combat. His realistic insights, because they were not carefully studied, had an unfortunate influence in the pre-World War I school of French military romantics under the intellectual leadership of Ferdinand Foch. Foch and his followers made slogans of quotations from du Picq and Clausewitz without troubling to understand the subleties of their thought. For example, du Picq‘s remark “He will win who has the resolution to advance” referred to the omnipresent element of fear in battle. Foch quoted it as a clarion call to the attack. However outstanding his later abilities as a commander, Foch in his pre-1914 role as professor at the École Supérieure de la Guerre and as a writer on strategy was mostly a propagandist and a vulgarizer of his greater predecessors.
The method of all these men consisted in the scrutiny of military history to see what abiding lessons could be derived from the experience of the past. Some, like Clausewitz, du Picq, and Mahan, had been careful and fairly objective historians; others, like Foch, were not averse to distorting history, with which they had little enough familiarity, to serve their pre-existing convictions. We should also notice that none of these figures, including the most recent, were at all interested in applying quantitative measures to their data or conceptions. Douhet‘s failure to apply even elementary arithmetical calculations to his concepts resulted in the gross exaggerations that oblige us to account him, however insightful, more wrong than right in his prediction of the character of World War II. Perhaps the contemporary strategists contrast most sharply with the old precisely in their different attitude toward quantification.
”Principles of war.” Beginning shortly before World War I and continuing into the present, there have been various presentations of the so-called principles of war (the first listing of principles in United States Army training manuals was in Training Regulations 10-5 of 1921, which simply named the “principles” without explaining them). These “principles,” usually presented in lists of six to a dozen numbered maxims, are supposed to be unchanging despite the fantastic changes that have occurred and continue to occur in almost all the factors with which they deal. The propositions usually stress the importance of such common-sense precepts as: avoid undue dispersion of strength in order to maximize the chances for superiority at the decisive point (principle of mass, or concentration); choose firmly your course of action and adhere to it despite distracting pressures (principle of the objective); press vigorously any advantage gained, especially after victory in battle (principle of pursuit); etc. There are occasional additions to, or subtractions from, this list, depending on the whim or bias of the individual compiler.
The utility of these generalizations or “principles” is in encapsulating what otherwise has to be derived from much study, as well as in placing foremost in the commander‘s mind important ideas that might otherwise be forgotten in the heat of battle. Nevertheless, undue emphasis upon them argues a negation of strategic thinking. When Admiral Halsey declined on the basis of the “principle of concentration” to divide his tremendous force at Leyte Gulf, electing instead to throw the whole of the great Third Fleet against the puny decoy force under Admiral Ozawa, he threw away his chance for destroying the main Japanese fleet. As Winston Churchill put it, “The truths of war are absolute, but the principles governing their application have to be deduced on each occasion from the circumstances, which are always different; and in consequence no rules are any guide to action” (1923-1929, p. 576 in the 1931 edition).
Contemporary strategic thought. Changes wrought by World War II. World War II had an altogether different character from World War I, but among the more conspicuous changes two deserve special mention. The first was the heavy reliance upon scientists to assist not only top military commanders but even heads of government to reach critical tactical and strategic decisions. The role of scientists was particularly prominent in the new field of strategic bombing, where previous war experience was completely lacking and where a flow of new inventions was radically affecting the capabilities of the bombing forces. The outstanding application of analytical skills was in target selection, where economists proved especially invaluable.
The second was the introduction at the very end of the conflict of the atomic bomb, which was in itself a basic strategic change of totally unprecedented importance. It also signaled the beginning of an era of extremely rapid and also extremely costly technological development, which would in turn account for the unparalleled ascendancy of the “superpowers,” the Soviet Union and especially the United States. The atomic bomb differed from all previous military inventions in that it was immediately clear that its effects went far beyond the tactical. The bomber airplane had already taken war beyond the battlefield, but nuclear weapons guaranteed that those operations which in World War II we called strategic bombing would be all-important in any war in which they should again occur. However, shortly one began to hear expressions of the fear that even in their initial form those weapons were far too effective for the user‘s good, as long as reciprocal use also had to be considered.
Furthermore, the rapidity of change that resulted from the development of a wide range of nuclear weapons, combined with the development of fabulous new rockets or “self-propelled missiles” for carrying them, diminished greatly the utility of traditional “military judgment” in selecting the appropriate systems. The professional military man had enough to do to keep abreast of current technological developments pertinent to his work. But decisions about weapons systems had to be made even though these systems might not be ready for six years or more, when the whole technological environment could be significantly different. (A “weapons system” refers to the entire system of utilization, including manning, bases, etc., of any major weapon.)
It was not a wholly new requirement of the military that they think ahead technologically, but certainly the dimensions and complexity of the problem were totally new. Also, apart from technological issues, the fears justly inspired by nuclear weapons, as well as the menacing unknowns posed by the political realignment of world power—accented by the ascendancy of the Soviet Union in Europe, the victory of communism in China, and the decolonization of large parts of Africa, Asia, and the western Pacific—required continuing intensive scrutiny by suitably trained scholars of the changing political constraints on national strategy.
Institutional and intellectual developments . Deriving partly from these realizations on the part of the military, a development took place in the United States that was to have far-reaching consequences for the study of strategy. This was the founding of a number of nonprofit research institutions closely associated with, but autonomous from, the military services, where people with various kinds of scientific training, including the social sciences, and with access to “classified” (i.e., secret) information could devote themselves on a full-time basis to the consideration of national security problems. The prototype of these organizations, and still the best known among them, is The RAND Corporation, originally set up by a contract between the United States Air Force and the Douglas Aircraft Corporation but shortly thereafter made independent from Douglas.
Although it was perhaps not intended by their military sponsors that these research institutions should concern themselves with strategy, it was inevitable that at least some of their personnel would ultimately do so. Able, highly trained men are unlikely to let go unchallenged assumptions which they consider invalid or faulty but which have been fed to them as “givens” or “inputs” for what are supposed to be limited technical inquiries. Furthermore, while in the nuclear age the old division between land, sea, and air strategy makes, from the national point of view, less sense than ever, professional military officers are likely to be affected by loyalty to service interests. At any rate, the new nonprofit research institutions, together with some universities, began to produce from their civilian staffs the new leaders of strategic thought.
Although the larger research efforts conducted by these institutions were likely to be carried on by teams of technical experts, the novel and important ideas that floated into public consciousness were, as always in the past, the product mostly of individuals who seemed to have special gifts for strategic insight. The latter, though certainly more numerous than ever before, are still not a numerous group, yet they have produced most of the ideas on which debate has focused since the end of World War II, some of which have already won overwhelming national and even international acceptance. The more important of these ideas can be divided into two groups, comprising (a) a drastic modification of the previously prevailing notions concerning the conduct of total, or “general,” nuclear war, and (b) development of a new body of views concerning “limited war.”
With respect to the former, the theory of strategic bombing derived from Douhet and the experience of World War II, and initially carried over almost unchanged into the nuclear era, called for the most rapid possible destruction of the enemy‘s retaliatory air power, his war-production industries, and the morale of his people, mostly through the slaughter of a large proportion of them. Security of the offensive force was to be gained not through defensive means but by attacking in good time, and nuclear weapons only made it more urgent to strike first. However, civilian theorists began to point out that because general nuclear wars would have to be fought with “forces-in-being,” which is to say, forces existing at the outset, the so-called war-production industries counted for little or nothing as targets. Furthermore, the slaughter of populations was contraindicated for strategic as well as humanitarian reasons. There was, therefore, a strong trend toward “city-avoidance” strategies, which is to say that in any sensible target system cities were to be hostages rather than ruins, the main emphasis being on “counterforce” or “damage-limiting” targets, that is, the destruction of enemy retaliatory forces in order to limit damage to oneself.
Security of one‘s own offensive or retaliatory forces was to be sought not through rapidity of reaction—obviously dangerous to the maintenance of peace—but, especially with missiles, through underground protection (”hardening”), concealment, or mobility. As both major nuclear powers proceeded to make their retaliatory forces markedly less vulnerable, a real targeting dilemma set in, inasmuch as the resulting deterioration of the utility of counterforce strategies did not in itself warrant a return to the concept of city targeting. At any rate, the changes which produced this dilemma were considered highly stabilizing, because far from being anxious to strike while striking was possible, neither side now had much inducement to initiate the mutually destructive exchange.
The prevailing realization was indeed that there could be no conceivable political objectives worth the fighting of a general nuclear war. As a result ideas of limited war were developed, characterized in the main by the concept of having localized aggressions resisted locally rather than by general war or “massive retaliation” (to use a phrase derived from a much-publicized speech on January 12, 1954, by U.S. Secretary of State John Foster Dulles, who was thereby attempting to reject the recently concluded Korean War as a pattern for the future). The modern concept of limited war, it should be noted, is totally different from that of the eighteenth century, inasmuch as it means not a limited mobilization of the total potential force of the state but rather the withholding of a tremendously powerful, already mobilized and in fact highly alerted force.
The earlier theorists of limited war saw no essential reason for avoiding tactical use of nuclear weapons, but later a school of thought developed which placed heavy emphasis on the avoidance of nuclear weapons at almost all costs, primarily because of the allegedly “escalatory” effects of any resort to nuclear weapons. “Escalation” (i.e., a heightening of intensity of hostilities) was something which might be deliberately sought as a warning to the enemy of one‘s resolve, but its obvious dangers made it imperative to keep it tightly controlled. The idea of a deliberate and always measured progression, where necessary, from very limited to very large applications of force fell under the general concept of “controlled response.” This concept, with special emphasis on “conventional,” or nonnuclear, fighting capabilities, characterized the administration of President John F. Kennedy and Secretary of Defense Robert S. McNamara. [See Limited war; and Nuclear war.]
The intellectual and institutional movement just described has thus far been almost exclusively American, with some imitation, on an extremely modest scale, in the United Kingdom and in France. There seems to be no comparable emphasis on analytical techniques in the communist countries, where the study of strategy still seems to be the exclusive preserve of the military leaders, except insofar as they are guided on particular issues by the intuitively derived dicta of their political leaders.
Recent research directions . The body of the new strategic inquiry may be divided, somewhat arbitrarily, into three major categories: (1) the formulation and intellectual testing of new strategic concepts by a variety of analytical devices (including war gaming); (2) the formulation of national-defense-policy recommendations concerning particular regions; and (3) recommendations on the selection of “weapons systems,” determined largely by what has come to be called “cost-effectiveness” analysis, that is, a rigorous method for finding how to get the most military value for any given sum of money or, conversely, for getting a certain high level of defense potential at minimum cost (see Quade 1964).
These varying efforts, most of them concerned with vast expenditures, have stimulated an appreciation of quantification, which as we have seen, was previously absent from strategic discourse except in mobilization planning. On the other hand, where strategic study used to be based primarily on historical research, most of its new devotees have largely neglected or- abandoned military history. Although this neglect or separation has sometimes been defended by appeals to the novelty of the post-World War II strategic universe, there is no doubt that it represents one of the weaknesses or limitations in the new approach. Perhaps the new emphasis on limited war will stimulate a return to relevant historical research, which after all provides our only secure information on how men behave in political crisis and in battle. Besides, the era since World War II has by now developed an important history of its own, which includes a succession of crises and of various kinds of military conflict, including a considerable conventional war in Korea and a new kind of conflict in Vietnam.
The pace of technological development in military armaments is hardly likely to slacken appreciably in the future. For that reason, the special kinds of cost-effectiveness analysis of military systems developed since World War II will no doubt continue to play a prominent part in strategic decision-making processes. On the other hand, there are at least two reasons for expecting that strategic thought will be much less concerned with technological developments than in the score of years following World War II. First, though new weapons systems will appear, and various existing kinds will become more “sophisticated,” there do seem to be ceilings on meaningful effectiveness. Already nuclear weapons can be made that are much more powerful than seems to be warranted by most conceivable uses; and the possibility, for example, of using orbiting space vehicles for potentially aggressive military purposes (they are already available for reconnaissance) is not likely to make a major change in the military aspect that the great nuclear powers already present to each other. Second, while the primary problem for strategists in the past was to assemble and effectively utilize superior strength, in the contemporary period the more frequent problem is how to make the available power relevant to objectives likely to be in dispute. Certainly it is no longer necessary at this writing to emphasize, to any government that may have the power to conduct it, the fantastic destructiveness of total nuclear war and the unsuitability of that degree of military conflict for any conceivable political objectives.
We may therefore expect, in any strategic analysis, a heightening of the importance of the political environment with respect to the total governance of any military operations. And for that reason we may expect not only the continued dominance of civilian influence in both the analysis and determination of strategic issues but possibly also some lessening of the relative importance of the special nonprofit defense-oriented research organizations described above, for they will not necessarily have a comparative advantage over other intellectual institutions in appraising the political realities of the times.
Ardant Du Picq, Charles (1880)1947 Battle Studies: Ancient and Modern Battles. Edited by John N. Greely and Robert C. Cotton. Harrisburg, Pa.: Military Service Publishing. → First published in French.
Aron, Raymond (1963) 1965 The Great Debate: Theories of Nuclear Strategy. Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday. → First published as Le grand débat: Initiation à la stratégie atomique.
Brodie, Bernard (1941) 1965 A Guide to Naval Strategy. 5th ed. Princeton Univ. Press., Bernard (1941) 1965 A Guide to Naval Strategy. 5th ed. Princeton Univ. Press.
Brodie, Bernard (1959) 1965 Strategy in the Missile Age. 2d ed. Princeton Univ. Press. → An introduction to modern strategic concepts.
Brodie, Bernard 1966 Escalation and the Nuclear Option. Princeton Univ. Press. → On the debate concerning nuclear versus conventional strategies.
Bull, Hedley (1961) 1965 The Control of the Arms Race: Disarmament and Arms Control in the Missile Age. 2d ed. New York: Praeger.
Churchill, Winston (1923-1929) 1963-1964 The World Crisis. 6 vols. New York: Scribners. → The 1931 edition is a condensation of the 1923-1929 edition.
Clausewitz, Karl Von (1832-1834) 1943 On War. New York: Modern Library. → First published in German as Vom Kriege, in three volumes. To date this is the best translation of this great classic, but a new and superior version is at this writing under preparation by an international team of scholars.
Corbett, Julian S. (1911) 1918 Some Principles of Maritime Strategy. London: Longmans.
Douhet, Giulio (1921)1942 The Command of the Air. New York: Coward-McCann. → First published as 11 domino dell ‘aria.
Earle, Edward M. (editor) 1943 Makers of Modern Strategy: Military Thought From Machiavelli to Hitler. Princeton Univ. Press.
Foch, Ferdinand (1903) 1920 Principles of War. New York: Holt. → First published as Des principes de la guerre.
Friedrich II, der Grosse, King of prussia (1747) 1950 The Instruction of Frederick the Great for His Generals, 1747. Pages 301-400 in Thomas R. Phillips (editor), The Roots of Strategy. Harrisburg, Pa.: Military Service Publishing. → For other writings of Frederick the Great, see Earle (1943).
Hitch, Charles J.; and McKean, R. N. 1960 The Economics of Defense in the Nuclear Age. Cambridge, Mass. Harvard Univ. Press.
Jomini, Henri (1836) 1952 Summary of the Art of War. Edited by J. D. Hittle. Harrisburg, Pa.: Military Service Publishing. → First published as Precis de I‘art de la guerre. The 1952 edition is a condensed version.
Kahn, Herman (1960) 1961 On Thermonuclear War. 2d ed. Princeton Univ. Press.
Kaufmann, William W. 1964 The McNamara Strategy. New York: Harper. → An interpretation of the strategic philosophy absorbed by U.S. Secretary of Defense McNamara from certain of his contemporaries.
Kissinger, Henry A. (editor) 1965a Problems of National Strategy: A Book of Readings. New York: Praeger.
Kissinger, Henry A. 1965b The Troubled Partnership: A Re-appraisal of the Atlantic Alliance. New York: McGraw-Hill.
Knorr, Klaus E.; and Read, Thornton (editors) 1962 Limited Strategic War. New York: Praeger.
Luvaas, Jay 1964 The Education of an Army: British Military Thought, 1815-1940. Univ. of Chicago Press.
Machiavelli, NiccolÒ (1521) 1965 The Art of War. Edited with an introduction by Neal Wood. New York: Bobbs-Merrill. → First published as Arte della guerra.
Mahan, Alfred Thayer (1890) 1963 The Influence of Sea Power Upon History: 1660-1783. New York: Hill & Wang.
Mahan, Alfred Thayer 1911 Naval Strategy Compared and Contrasted With the Principles and Practice of Military Operations on Land: Lectures. . . . Boston: Little.
NapolÉon I, Emperor of the French (1827) 1950 Military Maxims of Napoleon. Pages 401-441 in Thomas R. Phillips (editor), The Roots of Strategy. Harrisburg, Pa.: Military Service Publishing. → First published posthumously in French.
Osgood, Robert E. (1957) 1960 Limited War: The Challenge to American Strategy. Univ. of Chicago Press.
Phillips, Thomas R. (editor) (1940) 1950 The Roots of Strategy. Harrisburg, Pa.: Military Service Publishing.
Quade, Edward S. (editor) 1964 Analysis for Military Decisions. Chicago: Rand McNally.
Saxe, Maurice De (1757) 1950 My Reveries Upon the Art of War. Pages 177-300 in Thomas R. Phillips (editor), The Roots of Strategy. Harrisburg, Pa.: Military Service Publishing. → First published posthumously as Les reveries; Ou mémoires sur I‘art de la guerre.
Schelling, Thomas C. 1960 The Strategy of Conflict. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard Univ. Press. → A paperback edition was published in 1963 by Oxford University Press.
Schelling, Thomas C. 1966 Arms and Influence. New Haven: Yale Univ. Press.
Snyder, Glenn II. 1961 Deterrence and Defense: Toward a Theory of National Security. Princeton Univ. Press.
Sokolovskii, Vasilii D. (editor) (1962) 1963 Soviet Military Strategy. Translated, analyzed, and annotated by H. S. Dinerstein, L. Gouré, and T. W. Wolfe. Engle-wood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall. → First published in Russian as Voennaiia strategiia.
Sun Tzu On the Art of War. Pages 13-63 in Thomas R. Phillips (editor), The Roots of Strategy. Harrisburg, Pa.: Military Service Publishing, 1950. → First written as Ping Fa c. 500 B.C.
Vegetius The Military Institutions of the Romans. Pages 65-175 in Thomas R. Phillips (editor), The Roots of Strategy. Harrisburg, Pa.: Military Service Publishing, 1950. → First written as De re militari c. A.D. 390. First printed in 1473.
Wavell, Archibald 1953 Soldiers and Soldiering: Or Epithets of War. London: Cape.
Wolfe, Thomas W. 1964 Soviet Strategy at the Crossroads. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard Univ. Press.
"Strategy" is a somewhat over-used word to indicate a general plan or an approach to doing just about anything—so that one reads about strategies for winning in poker, finding the right woman or man, shaping a business, or preparing prize animals for an exhibition. The word came to be adopted from military usage after World War II. Etymologically the word comes from the Greek stratos, meaning army, and more narrowly from strategos, meaning a general. Thus it derives from "generalship" or, more precisely, a general's battle plan. It is normally coupled with the word "tactics," which comes from the Greek for "arranging things." The general formulated his plan and lesser officers then "arranged things" so that the plan would work out in detail. "Strategy" thus sounds both more martial and exalted than the ho-hum word "planning"—which, in addition, carries a faint reminder of socialist economics. Strategy has therefore, as it were, invaded business discourse and spread from broad concepts of corporate planning to such matters as marketing, advertising, human resources, accounts receivable collections and on to every specialty of business, suggesting that everyone is now a strategic thinker, not just the person at the top.
DEFINITIONS AND EXAMPLES
When the word is appropriately used, a strategy is a broad and general approach to an enterprise in which certain structural elements are determined in advance and courses of action have been selected from among others by preference in order to differentiate this enterprise from others in light of the environment as it is perceived to be and the anticipated action of opponents in particular.
A strategy is thus characterized by choices and decisions concerning future action at a level of generality which permits flexible implementation within the broad outline that the strategy presents. A strategy is more specific than a policy but more general than a plan yet has aspects of both.
A classical example of corporate strategy was that developed by Alfred P. Sloan for General Motors after he became its president in 1923. Sloan introduced annual styling changes, thus launching planned obsolescence as a motivator for replacing the car, and organized the different car lines based on pricing, with Chevrolet, Pontiac, Oldsmobile, Buick, and Cadillac each positioned in a unique price range and not competing with each other. The strategy worked very well for its time and consequently has led to widespread imitation. But it was a high-cost strategy in that it imposed significant, expensive redesign and reengineering annually—and is now followed only with token symbolic gestures. Another strategy, the basic platform on which multiple models can be built, has gradually taken over—and the competition now is between categories: sedans, SUVs, and pickups.
It is worth noting that strategies in business (as also in war) frequently evolve from circumstances; the significance of the circumstances is then consciously noted and formalized. Thus, for instance, 7-Eleven, credited with pioneering the convenience store, began in 1927 as an ice cream company that started selling bread, milk, and eggs at its ice docks to customers. It was called The Southland Corporation then and did not adopt its current name until 1946, choosing the name then because its stores were open from 7 a.m. to 11 p.m. These days, of course, 7-Eleven is open 24 hours a day and seven days a week—but has not chosen to rename itself to fits its new strategy of delivering convenience 24-Seven.
It is conventional management wisdom to say that businesses must have a strategy in order to succeed. It is closer to the truth to say that all businesses by definition have a strategy; it may be consciously realized or not, formally rendered or not. The manner in which a company is organized and run is the expression of its strategy. The difference between two companies is that in one the strategy may be well known by all and operating as a set of conscious guiding principles; in the other it may be unconscious or simply perceived as "the way we do things around here." Consciously formulated strategies are superior to "traditional" approaches only if the planning is insightful, well done, and adapted to the circumstances. The business owner with a good smell for the market, a good sense of his or her customers, and a history of good "seat of the pants" judgment will outperform another business no matter how formal the strategizing of its owners—if they do not have the touch. For these reasons "strategy" is not a cure-all for a business in trouble, large or small, but a technique of discovering solutions and setting a course.
STRATEGIZING: BIG AND SMALL
Strategy formulation as a discipline—meaning as a special kind of business activity—is much more common in large corporations than in small business. In small business the same activity takes place but tends to be less formal, more adaptive, and more the product of one or two individuals in the company's leadership. In the big corporations strategy development flows in two directions. From the top will come a general sense of direction and emphasis: "We are a marketing company." "We are a technology company." "We are bottom-line oriented." Operating elements within the company then respond to this general message in annual plans in which each division or element responds with a plan of which the top few paragraphs are a strategic statement further elaborated into specific action initiatives in the body. This general approach arises from the very complexity of large organizations serving many diverse markets with dozens or hundreds of products or services—each of which requires different adaptations. In a company principally interested in short-term returns, for instance, individual strategies reliant on capital investments over longer periods will fare more poorly than highly leveraged approaches. In a technology company dominated by an engineering mindset, very exciting ("sexy") marketing concepts may be sidelined because they lack technical sophistication. In well-run large corporations, top management will make the effort to formulate different broad strategies for lower elements based on realities in the market and not permit vague, broad, but restrictive concepts to preempt appropriate responses. Such a stance, of course, requires high-level executives who actually understand a business rather than shining in some specialty like finance or marketing.
In a small business the formulation of strategy is typically closer to the market simply because the principals are engaged in the business itself at the point where, proverbially put, the rubber meets the road: where the business interfaces with the customer. Most small businesses owe their origin to the perception of what is, in actually, a strategic opportunity. The very idea of the business expresses the strategy: "I swear I've driven fifty miles this afternoon and I still can't find a decent art supply store anywhere." "What this town needs is a [fill in the blank]" has launched many a business. So have two unrelated objects that, for a brilliant moment, combine in the mind of an entrepreneur—and a new product is born.
In his book, My Years at General Motors, Sloan spoke about "the concept of the organization." Behind every small business there is a concept of the organization—a complex perception of needs and of responses to that need. That concept, in effect, is the strategy of the business. It is equivalent to the theme of a novel or of a non-fiction work: it is the organizing idea behind it which often escapes analysis—the entrepreneurial insight. It might be argued that, in its absence, strategies will tend to be pretty much the same and quite conventional. Robert Kennedy, writing in the Journal of Industrial Economics on "strategy fads" made this point by analyzing prime-time television programs—showing that, despite a great deal of strategizing, networks produce lackluster imitations. These findings are echoed in a broader context by Cass Sunstein of the University of Chicago in a paper tided Conformity and Dissent.
Analysis applied to strategy decomposes the concept into its visible inputs. These are the needs of the market, products that can meet the need, their differentiation from competing products, alternative means of production and of reaching the market, different messages to reach the consumer, the positioning of products to reach the best segments, pricing and incentives, and much more. There is little doubt that intense examination of the market is desirable—as is the consideration of alternative approaches. But what makes a winning strategy is that secret ingredient the entrepreneurial mind adds after everyone has left for home.
see also Business Planning
Colley, John L, Jacqueline L. Doyle, and Robert D. Hardie. Corporate Strategy. McGraw-Hill, 2002.
Grant, Robert M. Contemporary Strategy Analysis. Blackwell Publishing, 2002.
Kennedy, Robert E. "Strategy Fads and Competitive Convergence: An Empirical Test for Herd Behavior in Prime-Time Television Programming." Journal of Industrial Economics. March 2002.
Lake, Neville. The Strategic Planning Workbook. Second Edition. Kogan Page, 2006.
Mourdoukoutas, Panos. Business Strategy in a Semiglobal Economy. M.E. Sharpe, 2006.
Navarro, Peter. "Sustainable Strategies for a World of Economic Shocks." Financial Executive. April 2006.
Pettigrew Andrew M., Howard Thomas, and Richard Whittington eds. Handbook of Strategy and Management. Sage, 2002.
Schmetterer, Bob. Leap: A Revolution in Creative Business Strategy. John Wiley & Sons, 2003.
Sloan, Alfred P. My Years with General Motors. Currency, 1990.
Sunstein, Cass R. Conformity and Dissent. University of Chicago. 30 October 2002. Available from http://www.law.uchicago.edu/academics/publiclaw/resources/34.crs.conformity.pdf. Retrieved on 31 May 2006.
Once a beginning fly fisherman has experienced these various lies on a small stream, he (she) is ready to fish the larger streams. Fish the larger stream as a group of small streams adjacent to each other. Locate the many feeding, resting, and prime lies and fish them just like you did on the small stream.
For example, Montana’s Madison River can be intimidating to a novice. Ignore its heavy flows and focus on the first twenty feet of the bank side waters. Fish this just like your small stream. Look for current seams because these are prime lies that seem to always collect good fish. Take into account the light intensity, temperature, insect activity, and you will discover the best water to fish.
A large spring creek such as Idaho’s Henry’s Fork can be perplexing. Again, divide it up into small stream segments and look for the resting, feeding, and prime lies.
Huge coastal rivers such as Oregon’s Rogue River can be puzzling with many heavy flows and deep currents that are nearly impossible to penetrate. Remember that anadromous fish must migrate upstream through this river’s maze of rapids. Its salmon and steelhead have hundreds of miles to migrate and must choose the easiest flows to navigate through. This means the fish are swimming upstream through the river’s depths from knee to chest deep, and its current velocity is about as fast as you can walk. Eliminate all of the other water and concentrate your efforts on these fish migration paths. Again take into account the other factors which can influence fish activities. Look for resting lies and migratory highways. Spend your time fishing these areas.
strat·e·gy / ˈstratəjē/ • n. (pl. -gies) a plan of action or policy designed to achieve a major or overall aim: time to develop a coherent economic strategy | shifts in marketing strategy. ∎ the art of planning and directing overall military operations and movements in a war or battle.Often contrasted with tactics (see tactic). ∎ a plan for such military operations and movements: nonprovocative defense strategies.