Thursday, 26 January 2012

Rethinking Strategy

I'm a big fan of any discussion about Grand Strategy, it's something most countries lack, but which many need. Most countries have strategies, but no over arching objective to tie them together, certainly not in the foreign policy field. This leads to reactive, knee jerk decision making on a case by case basis. Not only does this make it harder for us (as a nation) to make decisions, it also makes it harder for other countries to understand our motivations for taking action, since our actions on day 1 may be driven by different objectives than our actions on day 2.

Rethinking security have this post on Grand Strategy arguing that:
...there is a very (conceptually) simple way for the United states to rectify its grand strategy problems: decide what is essential for American security and prosperity. Or to be more colloquial, what can Americans not go without, what are the biggest threats to nation, and how does force and diplomacy figure into these things? For example, we have determined that the free flow of Gulf oil into the world market is a critical American national interest (and we’re not alone, it’s also a critical Chinese national interest too) and allocated the necessary amount of military resources to ensure that Iran is deterred from doing anything more than making blustering non-threats to close the Hormuz Strait.

And this, I suspect, this is also why we recursively turn to wishing for a technocratic grand strategy to rescue us: we simply cannot come to an honest accounting of what essential interests constitute. Sure, part of this is intrinsic to the poisoned chalice of contemporary American politics. Americans have deep domestic divisions about foreign policy and security. There is a wide gulf between the basic epistemological lens that different political parties use when thinking about the basic parameters of foreign policy, to say nothing of the internal disputes within those parties themselves.

Of course these rules apply for the creation of any strategy, for any organisation, campaign etc. It's about finding the one overarching 'essential interest' and placing that at the core of your operations day to day.

Looking at the Republican race for the presidential nomination its possible to see a lack of a Grand Strategy there. At this stage both Gingrich and Romney are operating in reaction to the other, which leads to endless feedback. If one was able to incorporate a real strategy then they would be in a good position to move past their opponent. After all the 'essential interest' here is not to beat your opponent, its to convince the largest number of people that you're the right man to be president. Arguing with your opponent doesn't achieve that, so it shouldn't be a core piece of the on the ground activities, but there you go.

Anyway, the main article is well worth a read, so go forth and read.
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