Small Wars Journal

grand strategy

Rethinking Grand Strategy

Grand strategy may seem an irrelevant idea but it’s not. As Colin Gray declares “all strategy is grand strategy.” Without a grand strategy that explains the ends, works the means and sets out the ways, lower-level strategies will be uncoordinated, work at odds with each other and be unlikely to succeed. It should be thought of as a practical problem-solving methodology you can apply to particular real-world problems. This article rethinks grand strategy to provide just that.

About the Author(s)

Exemplar, Not Crusader

Many of you have already seen this, but for those who haven't, I discussed warfare, foreign policy, and America's way ahead in a changing world with Time's Mark Thompson the other day


No matter what portion of the ideological spectrum Americans come at world problems from, their views are shaped in a way by the idea of the “end of history.” We think that political development has a single endpoint, that being liberal democracy.

I'm not arguing that there's a better endpoint. Instead, I’m arguing that America cannot get the world to that endpoint in the near term. America needs to be more humble in its foreign policies, more realistic than its current expectation of instant modernization without any instability, and more cognizant of the significant challenges it faces in getting its own house in order.

In a phrase, I argue that America should focus more on being an exemplar than a crusader.

First, the world is undergoing a massive wave of change, bringing rapid development and modernization to more people than ever before. I show that this change is intensely destabilizing. It took the West centuries to progress from the corrupt rule of warlords to liberal democracy.

There is no reason to believe that America can remake the world—or even a corner of it—in its image in the course of a few years. We are going to face a period of intensifying instability in the developing world and we need to understand that some things just cannot be neatly managed, much less controlled. We can’t bring on the end of history by using war to spread democracy and the welfare state (used in the academic, not pejorative sense).

Second, and perhaps more importantly because it affects us domestically and internationally, the welfare state is facing a crisis in the world’s leading democracies. This defies the notion that history is teleological—marching toward a determined end point. It would be no surprise, however, to the ancients who saw all governments as fallible and saw history as more of a cyclical thing.

You can read the rest here.

Tip-Toe Through the Trinity

Dave Maxwell points out an excellent read for Labor Day from Christopher Bassford entitled "Tip-Toe through the Trinity or the Strange Persistence of Trinitarian Warfare."  From the conclusion:


Much of the criticism of Clausewitz essentially boils down to a complaint that he never stated his entire theory in a way we could all grasp by reading a single pithy sentence—at most, a pithy paragraph. Nonetheless, the 300-word Section 28 of Book 1, Chapter 1, of On War is an amazingly compressed summation of reality. Clausewitz’s Trinity is all-inclusive and universal, comprising the subjective and the objective; the unilateral and multilateral; the intellectual, the emotional, and the physical components that comprise the phenomenon of war in any human construct. Indeed, through the subtraction of a few adjectives that narrow its scope to war, it is easily expanded to encompass all of human experience. It is thus a profoundly realistic concept. Understanding it as the central, connecting idea in Clausewitzian theory will help us to order the often confusing welter of his ideas and to apply them, in a useful, comparative manner, both to the history of the world we live in and to its present realities. Most important, its realism will help us steer clear of the worst tendencies of theory and of ideology, of “pure reason” and logic, and of pure emotion.