Those studying political and military history will inevitably come across the term “grand strategy.” Books on grand strategy are becoming more prevalent nowadays, but the basic concept is not always clear to laymen, but it can be crucial in understanding historical outcomes. For example, to explain why America never lost a single battle during the Vietnam War, but still lost the war, we must inevitably dive into grand strategy.
Wikipedia uses B. H. Liddell Hart’s definition, which is thorough and accurate, but far from succinct.
For the role of grand strategy—higher strategy—is to co-ordinate and direct all the resources of a nation, or band of nations, towards the attainment of the political object of the war—the goal defined by fundamental policy.
Grand strategy should both calculate and develop the economic resources and man-power of nations in order to sustain the fighting services. Also the moral resources—for to foster the people’s willing spirit is often as important as to possess the more concrete forms of power. Grand strategy, too, should regulate the distribution of power between the several services, and between the services and industry. Moreover, fighting power is but one of the instruments of grand strategy—which should take account of and apply the power of financial pressure, of diplomatic pressure, of commercial pressure, and, not least of ethical pressure, to weaken the opponent’s will. A good cause is a sword as well as armour. Likewise, chivalry in war can be a most effective weapon in weakening the opponent’s will to resist, as well as augmenting moral strength.
Furthermore, while the horizon of strategy is bounded by the war, grand strategy looks beyond the war to the subsequent peace.1
That is a mouthful at the dinner table, battlefield, or classroom. Frankly, we need something quicker and to the point without the antiquated notion of chivalry.
More recently, Edward N. Luttwak, the man who has written much on the topic, said grand strategy is
…the application of method and ingenuity in the use of both persuasion and force—that is to say, strategy in all its aspects, from higher statecraft down to military tactics.”2
This is succinct and it is a more than satisfactory definition. However, Athanassios G. Platias and Constantinos Koliopoulos more recently provided what is possibly the best one-sentence definition, stating that grand strategy
…is about a state coupling means and ends in the context of international competition, both in peacetime and wartime, and both during potential as well as actual conflict.3
Not that brevity is always necessary, but Platias and Koliopoulos have the best, brief definition of grand strategy.
Can anyone do better?
Liddell Hart, B. H. Strategy, 2nd rev. ed. New York: Penguin, 1991.
Luttwak, Edward N. The Grand Strategy of the Byzantine Empire. Harvard University Press, 2009.
Platias, Athanassios G. and Constantinos Koliopoulos. Thucydides on Strategy: Athenian and Spartan Grand Strategies in the Peloponesian War and Their Relevance Today. New York: Columbia University Press, 2010.
- B. H. Liddell Hart, Strategy, 2nd rev. ed. (New York: Penguin, 1991), 322. [↩]
- Edward N. Luttwak, The Grand Strategy of the Byzantine Empire (Harvard University Press, 2009), ix. [↩]
- Athanassios G. Platias and Constantinos Koliopoulos, Thucydides on Strategy: Grand Strategies in the Peloponnesian War and their Relevance Today (New York: Columbia University Press, 2010), 3. [↩]