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11 September, 2010

New (Better) Definition of Grand Strategy

In the post "Addendum to Dreaming Grand Strategy" I offered a tentative definition of the term "Grand Strategy". It reads:

"A grand strategy is any comprehensive strategy statesmen develop or utilize to fulfill their state's chosen national purpose."

In crafting this definition I imagined myself quite original.

Quite accidentally I happened across, "Saving the World for Democracy: An Historical Analysis of America’s Grand Strategy in the 21st Century", a paper written by Colonel Joe Bassani for the Joint Advanced Warfighting School. I do not recommend the essay as a whole to my readers; its historical analysis suffers from a crippling paucity of primary and secondary source material. (The analysis of the Mongol Empire's grand strategy, for example, is based entirely on one secondary source!) However, Colonel Bassani's attempt to define what a grand strategy is and how grand strategies are created (pp. 6-13) is more than worth reading. After passing over the usual suspects and their thoughts on grand strategy, Colonel Bassani turns to the definition of grand strategy used by former Senator Gary Hart in his book The Fourth Power: Grand Strategy for the United States in the 21rst Century:

Former Senator Gary Hart describes grand strategy as “the application of power and resources to achieve large national purposes”. Putting aside the imprecise nature of the phrase “large national purposes”, Senator Hart goes on to further explain that his idea of grand strategy “is meant to be a coherent framework of purpose and direction in which random, and not so random, events can be interpreted, given meaning, and then responded to as required” .

--Colonel Joe Bassani, "Saving the World for Democracy: An Historical Analysis of America’s Grand Strategy in the 21st Century", pp. 9-10.

The similarities between my own conception of grand strategy and that of Senator Hart's is clear. Once again I have lost faith in my ability to form a truly original idea.


My loss is a small one. Colonel Bassani rightly points out the words "national purpose" are too vague to have real analytical utility. He proposes an alternate definition along a similar range of thought. It is thusfar the best definition of "grand strategy" I have yet seen:


[Grand strategy is] an overarching concept that guides how nations employ all of the instruments of national power to shape world events and achieve specific national security objectives. Grand strategy provides the linkage between national goals and actions by establishing a deliberately ambiguous vision of the world as we would like it to be (ends) and the methods (ways) and resources (means) we will employ in pursuit of that vision.


I have taken a great liking to this definition and will henceforth use it as my own. I have but one amendment. As argued in "Dreaming Grand Strategy" and "Addendum to Dreaming Grand Strategy" the "deliberately ambiguous vision of the world" highlighted by Colonel Bassani (less precisely named "national purpose" in my earlier writings) is a prerequisite for all grand strategies but is not "established" by them. The means by which a unifying vision is formed differs from polity to polity, changing with the historical experiences, social hierarchies, and political structures of each. However, once the decision-making class comes to share one common (if ambiguous) vision, strategies can be developed to establish the methods and means by which this vision may become reality. These strategies are grand strategies.


Colonel Bassani's definition, with Mr. Greer's revisions:


"Grand strategy is an overarching concept that guides how nations employ all of the instruments of national power to shape world events and achieve specific national security objectives. Grand strategy provides the linkage between national goals and actions by establishing the methods and resources employed in the pursuit of a predefined and deliberately ambiguous vision of the world as a nation's primary decision-makers would like it to be."




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3 comments:

YT said...

The inverse: "Grand strategy is an overarching concept that guides how transnational terrorist groups employ all of the instruments within their grasp to shape world events & achieve specific group objectives. Grand strategy provides the linkage between goals & actions by establishing the methods & resources employed in the pursuit of a predefined & unambiguous vision of the world as the primary decision-makers would like it to be."

Purpleslog said...

I like this. I think I will crib it.

I think I would use "nation-state objectives" instead of "national security objectives", to purposely include economic and other domains.

T. Greer said...

YT-

Sounds good to me.

PurpleSlog-

I like that. I think I will crib your revision.