Small Wars Journal

SWJ Book Review – Grand Strategy by Peter Layton

Fri, 09/14/2018 - 12:14am

SWJ Book Review – Grand Strategy by Peter Layton



Grand Strategy” by Peter Layton, USA, Columbia, SC, 30 July 2018, 267 pages, ISBN: 0-6482793-0-8 & 13:978-0-6482793-0-3, Paperback 17.99 USD


SWJ Review by Sarwar J. Minar


As the strategists, policy makers, academicians and many more are confused about the meaning and understandings of grand strategy, the book offers a concise solution to the problem, presenting a shift from traditional thinking, the book offers grand strategy to be a methodology of purposefully shaping tomorrow (p.2).


The book is divided into eight chapters. The author justified the need for better understand grand strategy by portraying three grand strategic catastrophes in the first chapter: UK’s attempt to avoid major war with Germany after first World War, USSR’s attempt to be US’s equal partner during the Cold War, and US’s attempt to bring democracy in the middle east in the post-Cold War era. Thus the book rationalizes better understanding and making better future grand strategies to avoid such failures.


To elucidate a better understanding of the concept, the book traces the evolution and development of the idea of grand strategy in the second chapter. By offering a brief comparison with strategy, the books lays that grand strategy has more expansive scope, requires use of diversified means (e.g., economic, military, diplomatic, informational etc.), and considers developing the necessary means over time. The books briefly discusses a few commonly held misconceptions about grand strategy and emphasizes on grand strategic synthesis (p.26), the importance of integrating ends, means and especially ways for successful grand strategy formulation. The book reminds the readers that grand strategy has a life cycle. The second chapter also provides a distinct definition, “grand strategy is the art of developing and applying diverse forms of power in an effective and efficient way to try to purposefully change the order existing between two or more intelligent and adaptive entities” (p.35).


The third chapter discusses about applying and building power and offers three types of grand strategies: Denial, Engagement, and Reform. The chapter provides the theoretical foundation associating the three grand strategies of denial, engagement, and reform respectively with IR mainstream theories of realism, liberalism and constructivism.


The fourth chapter explains practical approach to make grand strategies by providing explanations of each of the three grand strategies along with conditions for success.


Throughout fifth, sixth, and seventh chapters, a total of nine case studies, three case studies exemplifying each type of grand strategy, are illustrated. The cases are mix of successes and failures. The fifth chapter contains cases of Denial Grand Strategy: US’s Iraq War Grand Strategy (1991-1992), The LTTE Grand Strategy (1990-2002), and USSR’s Detente Grand Strategy (1965-1980). The sixth chapter describes cases of Engagement Grand Strategy: US’s European Recovery Grand Strategy (1947-1952), Iranian Hezbolla Grand Strategy (1982-2006), and British Appeasement Grand Strategy (1934-1939) to illustrate the Engagement Grand Strategy. The seventh chapter illustrates cases of Reform Grand Strategy: British Malayan Emergency Grand Strategy (1948-1960), Landmines Ban Campaign Grand Strategy (1992-1999), and US’s Iraq Regime Change Grand Strategy (2002-2003). 


The final chapter offers alternatives to grand strategy. While reactive ‘Risk Management’ focuses on loss control, ‘Opportunism’ focuses on availing opportunities. The book necessarily concludes with problems of grand strategy.


The book contributes to the conceptual development and understanding of the idea of grand strategy. Making grand strategy practically applicable remains one of the major contributions of the book. However, in trying to assist busy people to get practical benefit, the book simplified grand strategy as ‘problem solving method’ but all the objectives sought need not necessarily be problems. Moreover a little more attention and explanation on the ‘expansive goal’ would enrich the book since that is the fundamental reason which necessitated the creation of grand strategy.


The book is well articulated, well organized and nicely balanced. Highly Recommended.



Categories: SWJ Book Review

About the Author(s)

Sarwar J. Minar is the Senior Officer, International Programs and Relations, Independent University, Bangladesh (IUB) and Founder, Center for Grand Strategy Studies – a single issue think tank. He may be reached at