Military Strategy Magazine  /  Volume 9, Issue 1  /  


“It does not matter that strategy in our common meaning of the word, distinctive from tactics, did not appear in English, French, German, or Italian, until the 1770s, our ancestors of all races and persuasions conducted strategy as the use of available means in effective ways to achieve political ends.” More than any other quote, it is Colin Gray’s words that best suit this specific issue of Military Strategy Magazine.

Language evolves and words both gain and lose meaning over time. While this is the natural course of communication throughout history, it can, at times, cause problems. After all, words matter. Considering that the word ‘Strategy’, not to mention ‘War’, “has forfeited conceptual clarity,” [Strachan 2007] we thought it was important to briefly restate what Strategy is. This is important, not just for our own general knowledge but more specifically so that we may better understand the insightful articles in this issue, however contentious you may find one or more to be.

Clausewitz defined Strategy as “the use of the engagement for the purpose of the war” – with “engagement” denoting organized violence and “purpose” conveying the political condition being sought. He viewed Strategy as war’s “most dominant” and “most important aspect”. His definition resulted from detailed studies of more than 130 military campaigns, and it also was a direct result of his first-hand experience in, among others, the Revolutionary and the subsequent Napoleonic Wars. To be clear, utilizing Clausewitz’s definition of war is not an Argument from Authority, as we use various others, and strategic history in general, when discussing Strategy. Utilizing it is merely a way to most accurately and succinctly describe a complex activity that has been carried out for thousands of years.

We must also remember that Strategy is neither state nor nonstate-centric. it applies to all policymaking groups, and while particular strategies may be cultural and context specific, Strategy itself is not [Handel 2001]. Throughout the thousands of years of the history of war and its warfare – from early Mesopotamian kingdoms and ancient empires, to “feudal lords”, clans, tribes, the “trading cities of the Middle Ages”, contemporary historical empires, and current states and nonstate actors (Mexican drug cartels, Hamas, Proud Boys) – all have engaged in this deportment in an attempt to link violence to the ends of policy being sought. However arguable, it may prove more useful and instructive to only utilize the term Strategy, rather than attach certain adjectives such as ‘grand’ or even ‘military’, as it may be more constructive to understand ‘military strategy’ as a military or armed forces’ contribution to the chosen strategy. The reason is that Strategy is ultimately about making use of organized violence for policy ends. It is more than the application of organized violence, and it is not about any and all instruments of power for whatever pursued political condition.

As noted above, language evolves, and we at Military Strategy Magazine are not trying to stop the inevitable or control the narrative. However, in regard to discussions on an activity that involves an incredible amount of responsibility given the stakes involved, we will always aim for clarity, a level of continuity, and simplicity. If we stray too far from those objectives, then those thinking about or ‘doing’ Strategy will lose the plot altogether, which is far too high of a price to pay when peoples’ lives are at risk.


The IJ Group
Military Strategy Magazine
September 2023