Military Strategy Magazine  /  Volume 3, Issue 4  /  

Politics, Strategy, and the Stream of Time

Politics, Strategy, and the Stream of Time Politics, Strategy, and the Stream of Time
To cite this article: Gray, Colin S., “Politics, Strategy, and the Stream of Time”, Infinity Journal, Volume 3, Issue 4, winter 2014, pages 4-9.

It is a commonplace truth that we do not waste valuable time by debating matters that are common knowledge, or at least are presumed to be such. Occasionally, however, one is faced with a professional mission that requires examination beyond that which is readily visible on the surface. This can be uncomfortable and unusually challenging for those of us who typically work on problems about which there is less consensus – often, that discomfort comes from the problems’ very familiarity. This essay has been triggered by the necessity of my venturing into unusually perilous waters as a consequence of an attempt to grapple with some exceptionally challenging issues. What follows here is a very terse report on some of the more troublesome issues with which I found myself obliged to deal. In the interests of clarity and discouragement of unhelpful verbiage, the text below is organised into answers to four large questions that are of the utmost importance to the purposes of Infinity Journal.

Q1 What do we mean by ‘politics’?

Carl von Clausewitz could hardly be clearer than when he tells us that ‘war springs from some political purpose’.[i] He continues by explaining that ‘war is not a mere act of policy but a true political instrument. . .’; policy, he insists

‘. . .will permeate all military operations, and, in so far as their violent nature will admit, it will have a continuous influence on them’. But, one should ask, just what is meant by this rather abstract concept that we refer to glibly, even unthinkingly, as politics? The most plausible answer, shocking though it can appear at first sight to some audiences, is that politics is simply influence and the process that achieves it – and by that one has to mean relative power (the ability to be influential). This simple claim would belong properly in the basket of banalities, were it not for the fact that it is so obvious that its implications commonly escape attention. When, in 1936, American political scientist Harold D. Lasswell began a book with the flat claim that ‘[t]he study of politics is the study of influence and the influential’, he was expressing a profound epiphany.[ii] As students of strategy we may forget the ever dynamic foundation of our subject that pertains to relations of relative influence (or power). Of course, strategy instrumentally is about issues and ideas. But also, indeed fundamentally, it is about the relative weight in the political process that creates and is able to act with those ideas upon the topics of contemporary concern. In order to be influential, one must first win in the relevant political process.

Stripped to its essentials, politics is entirely naked of substantive content, save for its ability as a process to enable governance by means of recruiting and enabling or disabling the fears and wishes of all too human politician-policymakers. Politics would appear to be about national security, social welfare, and a host of other pressing matters. But, most profoundly, if somewhat vacantly with respect to content, it is about who is more, or less, influential. It should be needless to say that people and institutions allow themselves to be influenced by promises and hopes of gaining relative advantage with respect to the values that they believe they hold. Very often, the values at issue will lend themselves to some material expression. This is a truth that is both sovereign and rules over all polities everywhere, and always has been so. For those of us committed professionally, and even somewhat personally, to solving problems in national security, full appreciation of the necessary truth in Lasswell’s claim can come as an unwelcome shock. After all, we may have believed that politics is, or should be, about doing good in the world, making the world safe for our particular favourite ethical code, strategic truth, and so forth. To realize that politics at root is about who is most influential over others (e.g. us) is not a morally attractive tale to tell; therefore, typically it is resisted, if not simply ignored. The arguable fact that many politicians around the world believe that their careers are really about the good that they first need power in order to enable and promote, does not subvert the merit in this claim. Strategy requires the expenditure of effort and the commitment of scarce resources for which there will always be politically competing claimed needs; it has to follow, therefore that politics, understood as the process that enables influence, must be appreciated as fundamental. Politics is not about strategic prudence, necessary though that may be. Rather, it is about power as influence. Political apparatchiks and their bosses who listen to them are far more interested in winning influence over the relevant public(s) than they are in winning in order to accomplish or attempt something of high social value.

Q2 Can we distinguish wars from other episodes, and does it much matter?

Inevitably, the large and even frightening idea of war looms over the whole subject of strategy in a military context. However, not all that looms with apparent menace does so to enlightening effect; at least, this tends to be the case when scholars go mining for allegedly different granularities. Ironically, perhaps, on the one hand I find that the earnest quest for particular truths about particular wars (conflicts? happenings?) is essential for understanding, even as I worry that it may, as a consequence, have the effect of losing sight of the larger story (strategic narrative in today’s fashionable scholarly jargon).[iii] Names, what we call things, matter. But we need to be alert lest smaller truths have the inadvertent effect of obscuring larger ones, an under-recognized problem. It has been my recent experience to find much that is persuasive in a book about war (?) by a then-serving junior British officer, even if it is a little challenging to grasp on first reading. The work in question, War from the Ground Up, by Emile Simpson, on balance is admirably insightful. He is persuasive when he argues that the decade-plus conflict in Afghanistan has been substantially misunderstood both by those sent there to fight (?), and by those who ordered their commitment. However, I was surprised by Simpson’s own surprise at his epiphanies about armed conflict: his arguments are not especially revelatory. More to the point, I find scant difficulty in enlisting the blessed Carl to explain the recent and current unpleasantness in Afghanistan, adapting only lightly. As for the discovery that what was afoot in Helmand was ‘armed politics’ and not war, I must confess that a variant of that idea had been drilled into me by Chapter 1 on ‘The Diplomacy of Violence’, in Thomas C. Schelling’s influential 1966 book, Arms and Influence.[iv] Also, it so happened that while reading Simpson on Afghanistan I dipped back into an insightful 1995 study by (then) Major David S. Fadok, USAF. The major found that air power theorist John Warden accepted the Clausewitzian view that wars are ‘by nature political instruments’. Fadok then proceeded to comment: ‘Seen as such, wars are essentially discourses between the policy makers on each side’.[v] This scholarly jargon served to remind me of the optimistic and ambitious theorizing of the 1960s (and later) concerning the possible conduct of limited nuclear war.[vi] It is necessary for me to admit to some scepticism about the political effect of military threat and action. Diplomacy by carefully controlled explosive effect is perilously vulnerable to cultural misunderstanding across borders. In addition it is vulnerable to cultural, physical and other practical constraints on the ability of belligerents to respond cooperatively, even if they should be inclined to do so. My view on diplomacy by discretely employed violence is closely aligned with that of the then RAND air-power analyst and theorist, Benjamin S. Lambeth, when in the wake of Operation Desert Storm he wrote as follows:

Air power is a blunt instrument. It is designed, at bottom, to break things and kill people in the pursuit of clear and realistic policy grabs on the ground. If you want to send a message, use Western Union.[vii]

The more closely we examine wars in their historical context, the more impressed we ought to be by the continuities in their nature. Moreover, we should appreciate that war and its disparate forms of warfare do not effect a fusion of purpose and function. In other words, warfare does not become politics, even though it is unavoidably political in meaning. In the very early 1920s in the Anglo–Irish War, the historically notable Irish strategist, Michael Collins, understood that he was directing irregular warfare as political theatre against the mobilizable might of the British Empire.[viii] The fighting was important, but it was all about the political effects that he needed to create and exploit. In the 1960s there were some American aspirations to stage political theatre with nuclear use if need be, but the differences in the natures of war and politics always looked to many people as being very likely to thwart political artistry as a strategic guide. Sophisticated endeavour to render war and warfare more political have not been clearly successful. By far the most insightful thought expressed in the 1995 movie ‘The Crimson Tide’ was by Executive Officer Hunter who uttered the disturbing Clausewitzian opinion “that while the purpose of war is to serve a political end, the nature of war is to serve itself”.

Theorists have long striven to impose their preferred policy logic on the ‘grammar’ of war.[ix] This is readily understandable and indeed it is necessary, always provided it does not offend unduly against the distinctively competitive nature of warfare. War can always threaten to assume a life of its own, obedient to its own logic, rather than to the political process that launched it. This is a powerful reason why one must be careful to deny a practical fusion of politics and war. The latter may not only serve itself, it will also threaten to oblige politics to be its servant, rather than vice versa. In order to guard against loss of political control of the competitive violence of warfare it is advisable to resist liberal urges to diversify our master theory of war and warfare in order seemingly to accommodate recent experience.[x] This is not hard to do. We need to be crystal clear about what is, and what is not, war. From a host of scholars’ offerings, I choose the following definition from the writings of Hedley Bull: ‘War is organised violence carried on by political units against each other. Violence is not war unless it is carried out in the name of a political unit; what distinguishes killing in war from murder is its vicarious and official character, the symbolic responsibility of the unit whose agent the killer is’.[xi] Theorists will seek to diversify and discriminate among different forms of contemporary and hypothetical warfare (e.g., regular, irregular, hybrid, 4th generation, and the like), but one would be wise to be sceptical about such apparent sophistication, because the costs of undue self-persuasion could be high. General theory has no difficulty coping adequately with changing strategic contexts and recently novel-seeming conflict. The general theory both of war and of strategy insist that they address and command phenomena that effectively are permanent in nature, but also are ever certain to manifest themselves in belligerencies that can be very different in character. Furthermore, the rich diversity in character of conflict was as plainly discernible in ancient times as it is today. Then, now, and in the future, the phenomena are captured well enough in the general theories of war and strategy.[xii] In order to discipline scholars’ imagination, lest they err into undue creativity, it is important that the timeless authority of general theory should continue to be appreciated. It helps save us from ourselves, with our urge to create ever more elaborate theory of the kind that unwittingly sacrifices lasting major truth in the interest of promoting fashionable and usually transient ideas of recent vintage (though probably pre-existent but unrecognized). If war is confused with politics we are certain as a consequence to misunderstand both, and that can matter profoundly.

Q3 Policy, strategy, operational art, and tactics—can they cohere?

Policy should answer the ‘what’ question, while strategy provides the answer to ‘how’. In its turn, strategy requires answers at what commonly, if somewhat contestably, may be understood as the operational and tactical ‘levels’ of behaviour. There are problems pertaining to just about everything identified or imagined in the previous two sentences. To the possible annoyance of some readers, I must say that I believe it is sensible to recognize both the essential and vital integrity in the meaning of the two sentences, while also being alert to the challenges that can render them misleading or worse. My concern here primarily is to minimize the danger of lesser strategic truths crowding out full appreciation of much greater ones. It is useful to begin thinking about strategy by recognizing frankly the inherent limitations of the bare and simply PowerPointable model. It may be thought that ‘Ends, Ways, Means and Assumptions’ provides a neatly mechanistic grand design for intentions and actions that allows expediently for mutual adjustment among the elements. In practice, the doing of strategy is never smooth and mechanistic, because the pieces in the model have little if any natural tendency to cohere.[xiii] There is no gravitational force strong enough to overcome the motivational and behavioural traits most typical of each element in the E, W, M, formula. The human and collective institutional agents at each level strive to achieve excellence (even just survival) on terms best suited to their distinctive concerns. But a very substantial problem for the entire enterprise of a polity’s strategic effort is the fact that there are always difficulties particular, indeed characteristically particular, to each level of that effort, that have the malign ability to undermine the integrity of the whole enterprise of strategy. There is no single magical elixir that can fix the difficulties to which I allude here, but at least we can identify the nature of the coherence problem for strategy; this should enable a location of much of the answer needed. The answer is to insist upon a ‘whole house of strategy’ approach to meeting the challenge of incoherence that always threatens to defeat cunning plans and grand designs.[xiv]

The fundamental problem lies unavoidably in the relations of interdependency among levels (policy, strategy, operations, tactics). Both scholars and practitioners have observed that although E, W, M is, and has to be, a hierarchy of authority, that characterization tends to obscure the degree of dependence of higher levels upon competence at lower (e.g. if soldiers decline to fight hard, it will not much matter whether their higher direction – operational, strategic, and political – is or is not inspired). One approach to this conceptual challenge is to alter the brand names on military activity. For a leading example of an apparent collapsing of categories, we may elect to go along with General Krulak of the USMC with his idea of the ‘strategic corporal’.[xv] This endeavour to melt conceptual categories is paradoxically simultaneously true, yet unhelpful and probably even harmful. A corporal does strategy in the same sense that a strategist does politics. All strategy needs to be done in the field, which is to say tactically by someone, including corporals. Everything that a strategist does or fails to do is likely to have strategic meaning. Whether corporals are more or less important for the course of conflicts of a particular character has no bearing on the nature of their function in the hierarchy, puzzle, or mosaic of conflict. Strategic effect has to be built on tactical foundations. The conceptual elevation of a corporal’s contribution to the course of history is, therefore, simply a categorical error. While there may be some value in recognizing that in wars of different character different loads, perhaps even kinds, of responsibility rest on corporals, the price paid in mistaken understanding of the structure of conflict is likely to be forbidding. Even corporals having an effect that is undoubtedly strategically valuable, require direction by higher – which is to say operational, strategic, and political – authority.

Three subjects of high importance for Q3 have attracted much controversy in recent years, some of which appears to be founded upon a poor understanding of the basics that need to govern the field of most concern to Infinity Journal. These basic issue-areas pertain to: (1) the proposition that there should be operational art exercised at an operational level of war; (2) the relations among politics, policy, and strategy; and (3) the nature and therefore the proper character of civil-military relations.

First, much has been written in recent years that is highly critical of the idea of there being an operational level of war. More to the point, much of the criticism has appeared sensible and even empirically well enough founded.[xvi] I will confess to having been persuaded for a short while that even the stronger critics were more right than wrong. However, on more careful reflection and historical study, today I am reasonably convinced that fundamental criticism of the linked ideas of an operational level of war and of operational art is ill advised. As usual in conceptual debate, there is a powerful-seeming reason for dissatisfaction with contemporary orthodoxy. At root, the critics of operational theory are troubled, understandably, indeed commendably, by the all too common military phenomenon of operational design and practice devouring strategy. The critics have noticed correctly the absence of coherence among war’s levels of behaviour, and have correctly flagged the frequent occurrence of generals as operational artists in effect taking control, or trying to do so, of a whole military effort that requires, but is lacking, a central strategic grip.[xvii] This phenomenon is common to warfare because of the enduring incoherence among the immediate pressing challenges and opportunities that appear to require action ‘now’ by particular kinds of armed forces committed to distinctive operations. My belief, overall, is that the idea of an operational level of warfare, with its associated notion of operational art, is sufficiently sound as to oblige us to decline to be misled even by somewhat valid criticisms. To reject operational level thought and practice, fundamentally for the reason that it may be a redundant level of command that encourages undue distance from battlespace realities on the part of strategists, and that it hinders necessary strategic grip on the evolving course of combat, is only to register problems that require urgent attention. It is vitally important for forces engaged tactically to be commanded and led by officers who connect on their ‘bridge’ with strategy, for the purposes of advancing a coherence that links the tactical to the interests of higher strategic design. If operations are indeed permitted to devour strategy, the best cure for the malady is to discipline and change military leaders. This kind of criticism, though often well founded, is not dissimilar in kind from the view that because electorates cannot be trusted to elect prudent political leaders – which is certainly true – we need to remove the popular vote from having practical relevance to our strategic affairs. This would be poor advice, notwithstanding the impressive weight of historical evidence one can assemble in its support. The simplest of reasons for rejecting both the ‘dump the operational level’, and the ‘abandon popular democracy’, ideas is that the alternatives are certain to be worse. The principle of prudence in human affairs is keyed on the importance of practical consequences, not moral rectitude. By way of a final point on coherence and its absence, it is really important to recognize that poor though the coherence may be between tactical conduct and operational plans, that poverty is likely to be as nothing when compared with the consequences of incoherence between Political/Policy Ends, and Strategic Ways and Military Means. Vietnam and Afghanistan are historical exemplars of this level of incoherence.

Second, many scholars appear to be resistant to the conceptually, perhaps even morally, necessary recognition of the implications of the fact that all ‘policy’ is made by political process, and that that process, everywhere and in all periods, is run and dominated by the people who succeed in being influential over others. The substantive content of policy is made in a process of political negotiation among the people and organizations who contend for power, as they must. Decisions on national defence are taken politically, usually with input from subject-specific experts and interests. But, in all systems of governance politics ultimately rules. Prudent assessment concerning the maintenance of their preeminent popular influence flags to political leaders where the limits of the politically tolerable most probably lie. This is not to be critical, it is simply to recognize that we humans run our affairs, including our security affairs, by the means of a political process that is geared to generate power as influence, not prudent policy. Policy does not emerge, pristine and unsullied by unduly subjective emotions, as the ever dynamic product of objective expert analysis.[xviii] This is not to claim that political process will be indifferent to arguments that are armed with evidence of apparent national danger. But it is to say that strategic theorists and defence analysts (like this author) need to appreciate the humbling professional truth that their contribution to debate on public policy can always be trumped by politics.

Third, civil-military relations may well be said to lie at the heart of strategy, as Eliot Cohen claims, but it would probably be more correct to argue that public political tolerance is as, if not even more, vital.[xix] As a very general rule, people will go only whither they are content to be led. Great leaders always require willing, even if somewhat politically passive, followers. Civil-military relations vary in detail, of course, given the breadth of unique historical circumstance that is their particular foundation in every polity. However, this critically important subject does allow authority to an elementary golden rule: the military power of the state must always be subject to authority that is accepted very widely as politically legitimate. The substantive reason for this is that the well-being of society and state cannot prudently be entrusted, or surrendered, even to their coercive instruments. It is only common sense to deny those coercive instruments the opportunity to be more than they should be, given the temptations to organizational mission creep that can come opportunistically to soldiers. Military culture often differs from public and private political culture(s), and it would be imprudent to have one’s national security policy and strategy decided by professional military experts (or their civilian defence analytical associates and frequent functional allies). The price one pays for insisting upon civilian political authority over defence matters is, naturally, necessarily an acceptance ultimately of the sovereignty of a public political will that is ever likely to be inadequately understanding of security problems. It is worth noting that the danger of undue military influence over the policy realm is understandably enhanced when the polity is committed to war (even only to ‘armed politics’ or ‘politics with arms’). However, the peril to civilian (political) supremacy in war lies not only in the scope and weight of the burdens of actual armed conflict, but also in the nature of war itself. By this I mean that the balance of relative influence between the civilian and the soldier is likely to alter simply because of the dynamic and ever unpredictable course of a (necessarily unique) particular war. Whatever the constitutional niceties and formalities in relations, in wartime the state can find itself serving the present and near-term future apparent necessities of a conflict that has evolved beyond expectation, let alone confident anticipation. There is in effect a natural and inevitable tendency for the needs of an on-going conflict to subordinate and even subvert civilian society so that national priorities are reordered more and more in practice in favour of the plausible necessities of war. Not infrequently in strategic history, this re-prioritization in favour of the military security interest has occurred with good enough reason. My point is that even when military leaders are not seeking to reduce or subvert civilian political authority, a context of armed conflict may itself achieve that end.

Polities and their armed forces are all but organised by design for high incoherence among levels. The trouble is that energetic and sincere efforts to impose greater unity of effort tend to promote, or even cause directly, worse sins than incoherence. While organisational reform and tinkering certainly can improve coherence between levels, it has to be admitted that more often it does not. By far the most reliable approach to fixing the challenge preventatively is to adopt rigorous selection methods for high and higher military command.

Q4 How can we plan for future security? Just how ignorant are we about the future?

Given that we cannot extract data about the future from the future, how can we aspire to conduct defence planning prudently? Notwithstanding the persistent popularity of futurology, there is no way in which the future can be studied directly. Both science and social science are disarmed conclusively by the unavoidable fact of the total absence of data.  There is, and can never be, some all but magical computer program (even at RAND) capable of delivering reliable knowledge about the future. If science is respected as it should be as an endeavour to seek out reliable knowledge, and if that knowledge can only be regarded as reliable if it is verifiably testable, then it cannot assist the futurology needed for defence planning. Unarguably, such planning cannot be aided usefully by science or social science that is totally incapable of discovering knowledge of the future. However, perhaps ironically, we are anything but ignorant about the future: there are four compelling reasons why we can be modestly confident in our understanding of tomorrow, including the certain fact that that future will have an important strategic dimension.

  1. We should understand that human history (including strategic history) needs to be viewed as a continuum in time that effectively is endless.[xxi] In other words, past, present, and future are really a unity and need to be understood with the aid of the metaphor of a constant stream. We are not as a species embarked on a journey that should be regarded as one of progress towards moral, let alone political, perfection. Recognition of this essential continuity makes an important contribution to understanding that we must and can learn from our past, because it is our future also.Strategic history occurs in ever changing character of detail, but nonetheless in enduring obedience to the human motives that do not alter. Thucydides summarized the motives for human behaviour, including political behaviour, with his justly famous triptych of ‘fear, honour, and interest’.[xxi] These motives are the fuel for calculations and of the emotions expressed in armed conflict. They are contrasts in explanation of the course of events in the great stream of (all) time.
  2. Strategic history occurs in the context of the ever changing character of detail, but nonetheless in enduring obedience to the human motives, which do not alter. Thucydides summarized the motives for human behaviour, including political behaviour, with his justly famous triptych of ‘fear, honour, and interest’.[xxiii] These motives are the fuel for calculations and for the emotions expressed in armed conflict. They provide an explanation for the course of events in the great stream of (all) time.
  3. All of our strategic history, everywhere and at all times, has been governed by political process. Human beings, needful of security, require collective governance, and inevitably that requires political process. The coming century will be no less in thrall than was our past to the political phenomenon of competition for weight of relative influence.
  4. In addition to future history, necessarily being driven both by our persisting human nature and the necessity for political process to provide governance, we know that our condition is certain to continue to be obedient to the practical consequences of the logic of strategy. Our future has to be a strategic one, because there is no way in which human beings, endeavouring to behave prudently or not, can avoid the mandated consequences of strategic logic. The authority of the essential theory of strategy is not only intellectual, but also pragmatic. Political units of all kinds cannot escape the discipline of the necessity of weighing these Ways and Means in the balance with the political Ends they wish to secure – to offend against the basic logic in the architecture of strategy is, in effect, to offend against Strategy Law, and it is a capital mistake. But, the value of the logical discipline of strategy is entirely vulnerable to possible imprudence in the policy Ends that are selected and endlessly revised politically. If policy/politics is undisciplined in its demands, disciplined coherence at lower levels will not serve to avert disaster.

As a constructive codicil to points 1–4 above – on the stream of time, human nature, politics, and strategy – it is necessary to recognize that we are as well armed intellectually to cope and to survive with the challenges to security in the 21st century, as we both need to be and can be. We know that the strategic problems for future security really will be political problems that are inescapably human. We cannot learn from history what will occur in the future in detail, because chance, human nature, and political discretion in an adversarial context must preclude such knowledge.[xxiii] Science is of no value because there can be no empirical data from happenings that are yet to, indeed may not, occur. But a firm intellectual grasp of the nature of humanity, politics, and strategy, revealed abundantly as they are in the two and a half millennia of our strategic historical experience from the time of Herodotus until today, should be more than adequate as a source of reliable data about the future. Thucydides, Sun Tzu, and Clausewitz can tell us most that is knowable and worth knowing about the Twenty-first Century. No all but magical quantitative methodology can be discovered that will reveal what the stream of time has yet to reach. Our past is our future also, because really the two are but one, even as the tools for security change as they must in detail.


[i] Carl von Clausewitz, tr. Michael Howard and Peter Paret (1832–4; Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1976), p. 87.
[ii] Harold D. Lasswell, Politics: Who Gets What, When, How (New York: Whittlesey House, 1936), p.3.
[iii] ‘Strategic Narrative’ is accorded its own chapter in Emile Simpson, War from the Ground Up: Twenty–First–Century Combat as Politics (London: Hurst, 2012), ch. 8.
[iv] Thomas C. Schelling, Arms and Influence (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1966), ch. 1.
[v] David S. Fadok, John Boyd and John Warden, Air Power’s Quest for Strategic Paralysis (Maxwell AFB, AL: Air University Press, February 1995), p. 26.
[vi] Klaus Knorr and Thornton Read, eds., Limited Strategic War: Essays in Nuclear Strategy (London: Pall Mall Press, 1962), was an exemplary period-piece.
[vii] Benjamin S. Lambeth, ‘The Uses and Abuse of Air Power’, The Wall Street Journal, July 27, 1995.
[viii] I have sought to explain the admirable fit of Collins’ strategy within his political and military contexts in my article, ‘The Anglo–Irish War, 1919–21: Lessons from an Irregular Conflict’, Comparative Strategy, Vol. 26, No. 5 (October–December 2007), pp. 371–94.
[ix] Clausewitz, On War, p. 605.
[x] I have argued this case in ‘Concept Failure? COIN, Counterinsurgency, and Strategic Theory’, Prism, Vol. 3, No. 3 (June 2012), pp. 17–32; and ‘Categorical Confusion? The Strategic Implications of Recognizing Challenges either as Irregular or Traditional’ (Carlisle, PA: Strategic Studies Institute, US Army War College, February 2012).
[xi] Hedley Bull, The Anarchical Society: A Study of Order in World Politics (New York: Columbia University Press, 1977), p. 184.
[xii] This belief is foundational to Beatrice Heuser, The Evolution of Strategy: Thinking War from Antiquity to the Present (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2010); and Colin S. Gray, The Strategy Bridge: Theory for Practice (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010). See also the excellent contributions to Victor Davis Hanson, ed., Makers of Ancient Strategy: From the Persian Wars to the Fall of Rome (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2010).
[xiii] The argument is significant in and for Edward N. Luttwak, Strategy: The Logic of War and Peace, rev. edn. (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2001), esp. p. xii.
[xiv] See Colin S. Gray, ‘The Whole House of Strategy’, Joint Force Quarterly, Issue 71 (4th qtr. 2013), pp. 58–62. The article is a shortened version of ch. 7 in my book, Perspectives on Strategy (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013).
[xv] Charles C. Krulak, ‘The Strategic Corporal: Leadership in the Three Block War’, Marines, 28 (May 1999), pp. 28–34.
[xvi] For example, see Justin Kelly and Michael J. Brennan, Alien: How Operational Art Devoured Strategy (Carlisle, PA: Strategic Studies Institute, US Army War College, September 2009). The theory and historical practice of operational art are well presented and analysed in John Andreas Olsen and Martin van Creveld, eds., The Evolution of Operational Art: From Napoleon to the Present (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011).
[xvii] The finest recent historical study of an operational artist of the highest calibre is Mungo Melvin’s brilliant book, Manstein: Hitler’s Greatest General (London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 2010). Manstein’s arguable limitations with respect to politics and ethics should not be allowed to diminish appreciation of his talent at the operational level of warfare. Serving the Third Reich as he did, Manstein had no opportunities to exercise political or strategic discretion.
[xviii] This claim is registered and argued in Gray, Strategy and Defence Planning: Meeting the Challenge of Uncertainty (Oxford: Oxford University Press, forthcoming June 2014).
[xix] Eliot A. Cohen, Supreme Command: Soldiers, Statesmen, and Leadership in Wartime (New York: The Free Press, 2002), p. xii.
[xx] This methodological conundrum is a major theme in my, Strategy and Defence Planning.
[xxi] I have found the following works to be the most useful: Richard E. Neustadt and Ernest R. May, Thinking in Time: The Uses of History for Decision Makers (New York: The Free Press, 1986); and John Lewis Gaddis, The Landscape of History: How Historians Map the Past (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004).
[xxii] The reasons for the contemporary relevance of Thucydides’ History for today are presented and explained persuasively in Williamson Murray, ‘Thucydides: Theorist of War’, Naval War College Review, Vol. 66, No. 4 (Autumn 2013), pp. 31–46
[xxiii] To those who harbour hopes for science or social science to be able miraculously to reveal what time has yet to make manifest, I recommend strongly a careful reading of Nassim Nicholas Taleb, Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable, (New York: Random House, 2010), though I recognize that there will always be some social scientific astrologers who cannot be convinced that mathematics and faith cannot triumph over the physics of time.