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The Shaping of Grand Strategy: Policy, Diplomacy, and War

Edited by Williamson Murray, Richard Hart Sinnreich, and James Lacey

The Shaping of Grand Strategy provides an anthology of western leaders and their difficulties in developing effective grand strategy due to compounding factors of geography and history along with intermingled relationships between alliances, economics, politics, military and the people. The premise of the book is that these factors inhibit the ability for many states to form an effective grand strategy. Murray states that, “The most important factor in the development and execution of grand strategy has been the leadership at the top.” (21) The book highlights the failures of King Louis XIV, Chamberlain, and German leaders after Bismarck in their pursuit of long term strategy. On the other hand, Murray recognizes the successful pursuit of grand strategy in Bismarck and Lincoln due to their ability to reshape their long term goals as the environment progressed. (9) Leaders must recognize when the sacrifice of short-term for long-term goals is required. The Sun King, King Louis XIV of France, assumed power at age 22 in 1861. His pursuit of the “grand century” isolated France from other states and created alliances against it resulting in five wars over a 72 year period that left France bankrupt and contributed to its revolution. His overall errors in developing grand strategy stemmed from the pursuit individual glory, unilateralism, quest for absolute security from his neighbors, and overstretch. In the Seven Years War piece, Jeremy Black shows how current events and debate in society and politics can greatly impact the strategic culture thereby influencing grand strategy. He highlights how the war drove society and the politicians to stronger Imperial views and ultimately led to them into the American Revolutionary War. Marcus Jones, in his chapter on Otto Van Bismarck, expanded on the leader’s ability to understand the current situation and shape the evolving environment in a way that benefited Prussia. Bismarck stated his own view most succinctly in his statement, “Man cannot create the current of events. He can only float with it and steer.” (107) Sinnreich added another key point in the successful development of grand strategy is the avoidance of over ambition demonstrated by Britain at the turn of the 20th century. Although the British government was in agreement on the ends, they did could not agree on the means to achieve it. The takeaway from this case is that not all threats are equal and must be prioritized in the development of grand strategy with fixed means. As time progresses for Britain, Murray examined failures of Chamberlain and his policy that led to WWII. Though Chamberlain and Churchill had the same aim, keep the empire alive, their means to achieve this differed greatly. He argues that leaders must accurately weigh and balance risks (over the long- and short-term) in developing grand strategy. Chapter 7 and 8 examine the grand strategy and the transition from WWII to the cold war. The main two takeaways are that there are no guarantees in grand strategy and that strategy must guide the practical use of policy. Sinnreich concludes the book with the realization that the factors that contribute to the development of grand strategy are evolving and unpredictable. There will always be errors in strategy; leaders must accept the little mistakes while avoiding the major mistakes.

Chapter 1: Thoughts on Grand Strategy (Murray)

Thesis: grand strategy demands “an intertwining of political, social, and economic realities with military power as well as a recognition that politics must, in nearly all cases, drive military necessity.” (5)

“Grand Strategy is a matter involving great states and great states alone. No small states and few medium-size states have the possibility of crafting a grand strategy.” (1)

“Grand strategy lies at the nexus of politics and military strategy and thus contains important elements of both…it exist in a world of constant flux, one in which uncertainty and ambiguity dominate…international environment will more often than not have its say, as national opponents take the most inopportune moments to change their policies…internal and ideological factors also have a vote.” (8)

Lincoln and Otto von Bismark: “Both adapted their strategic framework to fit the overall political and military realities of the conflicts in which their nations were involved.”

Chapter 2: Learning from the Wars of Louis XIV (Lynn)

Thesis: The pursuit of self-interests and abandonment of strategy based on alliances and international agreements can result in the isolation and bankruptcy of a state. (35)

During King Louis’s life France fought 5 wars (Dutch, Germany, Spain, UK) over his 72 years on the throne. “King Louis’s strategy evolved and his wars varied in their proportions of failures and successes.” (45)

“Ultimately, his grand strategy caused him to overstretch the resources of France, which were insufficient to stand against all of Europe, and the wars of the sun king bankrupted the state.” (35)

“Going it alone cost Louis in two ways: he blundered into wars he might otherwise have avoided, and France had to bear alone the expense of those conflicts.” (52)

“Louis found himself making commitments greater than he or his advisors intended because the wars he fought got out of hand.” (56)

Chapter 3: Strategic Culture and the Seven Years War (Jeremy Black)

Thesis: The impact of public opinion and debate in politics as the state proceeds in time has a great impact on the direction of grand strategy.

Prior to the war “participants in making grand strategy saw states as sovereign but linked as if in a machine. They conceived of this system as being self contained and part of a static and well-ordered world.” (65)…“The strategic culture altered considerably, indeed was transformed, during and by the war.” (66)

“Debate, politics and policy were thus in a complex relationship, describing the terms the latter in terms of strategic culture might underplay this complexity” (70)

“A sense of strategic culture as dynamic makes sense not only of the politics of the period…but also of politics in the more widely defined sense of attitudes towards state and country.” (78)

Chapter 4: Strategy as Character—Bismarck and the Prusso-German Question (Jones)

Thesis: Grand Strategy must shift as the international, political, and economic environment changes. (Bismarck became the Minister-Presidency of Prussia in 1862)

“Bismarck’s great genius as the founder of Prussian-dominated German nation lay not in his adherence to a systematic program or plan but in his expert navigation of uncertain events through intuition and broad experience.” (81)

“His success was inseparable from his broad knowledge of European cultures and societies, linguistic talents, and diplomatic conventions, and his exceptional gift for analysis and prose.” (82)

Bismarck had a “conscious flexibility in achieving his ends, and quite possibly a flexibility in framing the ends themselves…a coldly unsentimental understanding of the state’s interests and how to pursue them.” (86)

In 1865 in a stroke of brilliance he convinced France not to attack Prussia while solidifying an agreement with Italy to help fight Austria. He was also able to present the domestic idea of a German confederation. Later Bismarck was able to drive France into war on terms that were favorable to Prussia.

“Bismarck’s great success in the 1880s was to embed the European states in an interlocking network of defensive treaties and alliances in which no aggressor could be assured of support and for which all bore some degree of responsibility.” (106)

Chapter 5: British Strategic transformation (Sinnreich)

Thesis: “Over ambition thus is the mortal enemy of effective grand strategy…not the least important of diplomatic tasks is reducing the strategic problem set to manageable proportions” (146)

In the early 1900’s Britain controlled nearly a quarter of the world’s population and land (116)

In 1890 Britain was an ally with Germany, Austria, and Hungary while enemies with France and Russia…20 years later the relationships were reversed. Also, Britain ruled the sea and had minimal land forces however Japan’s rise in a naval fleet and major reforms increased Britain’s need for a land force.

Britain economic center of gravity shifted from agriculture to manufacturing and education increased. This in turn resulted in the democratization of public policy impacting both domestic and international affairs. (120)

Both political sides in Britain agreed on the same strategic aims, where they differed was in how to accomplish it and with what means. (122)

Chapter 6: British Grand Strategy 1933-1942 (Murray)

Thesis: “Grand strategy demands a willingness to weigh and balance risks: those of the present against those of the future, those of the immediate neighborhood against those of distant provinces, and those of the more dangerous against the lesser.” (147)

3 grand strategy assumptions in the 1930s: 1) financial security should override all other concerns 2) Britain confronted no external threat that required a change in defensive posture 3) the troubled situation on the Continent did not concern another major conflict

Chamberlain was focused on keeping Britain economically sound in order to hold the empire together. Therefore, he chose to accept a policy of appeasement with Hitler. (152) Additionally, he avoided the creation of a large deterrent army and switch from manufacturing long range bombers that could reach Germany to fighters for defense (it was cheaper).

“Those who deal with grand strategy must deal not only with the present but also with the future.” (170)

Chapter 7: American Strategy for Global War 1940-1943 (Lacey)

Thesis: “When it comes to grand strategic concerns, there were (are) no guarantees.” (208)

Roosevelt had “a fixation on what was necessary to win the war.” (207)

“Consequences of a British defeat would be so serious for America that the United States ought to assist Britain in every way possible.” (185)

The industrial capacity to produce equipment was critical to establishing war plans and an invasion time line. The 1941 predictions from the War Production Board of when the U.S. would produce enough material coincided with the summer of 1944.

Marshall admitted that the U.S. did not truly have a grand strategy until after the Casablanca conference. (198)

Chapter 8: Harry Truman and the forming of American grand strategy in the Cold War, 1945-1953 (Gray)

Thesis: “Policy is necessary to guide strategy, while strategy is necessary if policy is to have any practical consequence.” (224)

Main argument: 1) Harry Truman got the big things right enough 2) although U.S. political and strategic advantage made the results inevitable, the emergence of the cold war was amply fueled if not over determined 3) Although Truman made mistakes, none proved irretrievable 4) Truman was lucky

“Like Otto von Bismarck, Roosevelt flew much of American grand strategy almost entirely solo in a fashion that could not continue after his departure.” (226)

“Truman made the right calls when and where it mattered…he led and supervised the command performance that got the most necessary jobs done.” (253)

Chapter 9: Patterns of Grand Strategy (Sinnreich)

Thesis: “Grand strategy is at the mercy of uncontrollable and often unpredictable political, economic, and military winds and currents, and executing it effectively requires both alertness to those changes and constant tiller correction.” (256)

Errors will occur, “it is the ability to make small rather than large mistakes and to err generally in ways for which one can readily find adequate compensation.” (257)

“Above all, grand strategy must reconcile ends however desirable with finite means.” (263)

“The more adaptable the (military) force, in the end, the greater its inherent strategic robustness and the stronger a nation’s hedge against unanticipated strategic challenges.” (268)

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