, Volume 50, Issue 1, pp 48–54

Relativists and Absolutists: Grand Strategies in a World of Fractured Norms


    • Transaction PublishersRutgers—The State University of New Jersey
50th Anniversary Issue: Past, Present, Future

DOI: 10.1007/s12115-012-9618-9

Cite this article as:
Horowitz, I.L. Soc (2013) 50: 48. doi:10.1007/s12115-012-9618-9


The current widespread renewed interest in the development of grand military-political strategies is a function of a rapidly changing global configuration of powers. From the bipolarity of the Cold War, which by its very construction limited either the United States or the Soviet Union from constructing much less implementing a unilateral framework, we have moved to a political and economic environment in which a variety of nations in parts of the world that did not figure into the power equations of the past century, invites such analysis. This article draws attention to factors profoundly limiting a grand strategy at the global level. It further indicates that the source of such push for grand strategy derives from inherited doctrines, largely of 19th European origin, which continue to emphasize absolutist doctrines based on theology, history and ideology. They are increasingly dysfunctional formulas in a relativistic universe of political systems and military technologies. The emergence of economic Diaspora in place of “three worlds of development” also serves to weaken approaches derived from imperial doctrines and political approaches that are no longer the monopoly of conventional armed forces. The essay concludes with the belief that one older element that continues to display cachet is diplomacy and face to face human initiatives. Bargaining rather than blustering may be the order of the age. In this, it is Metternich rather than Hegel that may prove a better source of negotiating a complex multi-national world order.


International policyMilitary strategyState powerAuthoritarianismStrategic practiceStrategic thinkingNationalismPolitical pragmatismPolitical absolutismCultural relativismNormative values

Each of todays large Powers is left grappling with the age old dilemmas of rise and fall, with the shifting pace of productive growth, with technological innovation, with changes in the international scene, with the spiraling costs of weapons, with alterations in power balances. These are not developments which can be controlled by any one state or individual.

Paul Kennedy, The Rise and Fall of the Great Power

The language of “grand strategy” is freighted in historical analogies and metaphysical obscurities. But as one recent analyst indicates, the concept can be reduced to three basic elements: First, its statement of intentional practice forged in a specific context; second, a strategy which is executed by, with, and through leaders, citizens and organizations; third, a strategy which is influenced and altered by the actions of enemies no less than one’s own goals. Indeed, as its realization becomes distant, the rhetoric of those arguing for it seems to become more insistent.

I have less a problem with the term “strategy” than with the word “grand.” For the implication in arguments for a grand strategy is that the issues in contention are global rather than national or even regional. One of the most compelling advocates of “hegemonic claims” for strategic thinking, Colin S. Gray, summarizes the position well. “The practice of strategy, singular, considered as a function, is an eternal, universal, essential, and therefore unavoidable feature of human life. Individually and variably collectively, people perform the strategic function as a competitive necessity for human survival.”1 Even scholars who are critical of the term strategy and who are careful not to confuse it with policy, resource apportionment, and plans, conclude with an overall position that the essential goal of a political strategy is war. “Regardless of the specific methods used, war has been and is still about the use of armed forces to achieve specific political purposes, although the means and method change.”

In the face of such tough minded thinking, arguing against such teleological determinism risks the appearance of tender heartedness. My concerns are not to debate the significance of strategic thinking, or to define or refine the meaning of the word as such, but to inquire why the intentions of those who make the case for a grand strategy rarely factor in the capacity to mobilize a population. Neither in the Hundred Years War of 1337–1453, nor the combined Afghanistan wars of Russia and the Western Powers in 1979–2012 (in other words the present era) has the results been decisive or conclusive. Time and again, such elongated military struggles, fueled by leaders of exceptional strategic intelligence, have had to secure a hegemonic outcome. I do not dispute the importance of strategy in political decision-making; but I do call into question universalistic claims on overarching strategy as a requisite for military readiness to combat foes. More to the point, the notion of grand strategy itself must be called into question, given the shifting nature of state power, uneven technological advances, and the uncertain willingness of people at all ranks to sacrifice life and limb to secure a total victory through the uses of armed force.

My view is that advanced economic nations and military leaders alike are confronted with a Janus faced issue: they seek a grand strategy on which to base policies, but instead end up implementing ad hoc decisions.2 Such a situation does not satisfy the search for global tranquility for the powerful nor national equilibrium for the poorer regions. I believe that this contradiction is well enough established not to require repetition. What remains to be explained is why this search, this demand for a grand strategy, continues to remain a goal and guidepost for academic and policy elites.

Without the presumption of widespread acceptance of agreed norms of behavior, it is simply not possible to establish a grand strategy in the present day military or political realm. This is so for a variety of reasons: norms are the practical expression of principles. Lacking agreement on norms, strategies become rhetorical in character and unenforceable in practice. Norms are linked to cultural continuities that are enforceable by legal systems through rewards and punishments. While every society has a range of what is considered permissible or impermissible behavior, some sense of limitations is understood by its members and citizens. One might well argue the philosophical premises that underlie such propositions. My own ontological position is rooted in Kantian notions of ethical performance rather than Hegelian notions of historical destiny.

Having stated the need for a normative basis of social structure as a foundation for grand strategy, it must be observed on empirical grounds if nothing else that advanced societies have for a multitude of reasons, come to be critical and removed from absolutist theologies and ideologies. In their place, are a plethora about the importance of beliefs in maximizing choices based on opportunities that advanced societies make feasible through the availability of goods and services, beyond anything experienced in previous epochs. This has weakened normative structures that have aided and abetted an information and communication world in which sharp differences exist about what in fact constitutes acceptable behavior, or if you will, normative behavior as defined by and confined to the specific system of any nation state. If the premises stated here are rejected or denied, then the basis of this argument is certainly undercut. At that point, the empirical accuracy of my claims about the breakdown of absolutism as a core moral value becomes the core issue.

The classic, normative view, grounded in traditional absolutist doctrine was enunciated by the great Roscoe Pound in The Spirit of the Common Law.3 Pound granted that society is in a constant state of flux, but saw the law as beyond the reach of change. That conviction, amounting to almost a superstition, is also held by those who believe that a system of government devised by the founders with near perfectly superhuman wisdom, is guaranteed to the citizens of the Republic forever by being inscribed in a written Constitution. In contrast to such classical founding doctrine, is the work of Jerome Frank in Law and the Modern Mind4 and his many successors. For them, it is a delusion to think that the foundation of law is a bastion of predictable and logical actions. They see decisions in law as well as society as defined to an enormous extent by powerful, concealed, and idiosyncratic prejudices by judges, lawyers, witnesses, and citizens generally. Such relativism is not simply an expression of legal preference, but has ontological foundations that cannot be dismissed.

The next link in this analytic chain is recognition of mushrooming cultural relativism of the assertion that universals must crumble before the onslaught of differences are observed in the global social order. Again, my purpose is not to reassert the need for a thirteenth century unification of belief, even if such use of Christendom as a unifying agency were possible. Rather it is to take for granted that relativism as a model of belief is widespread and embedded in the behavior of advanced societies. Consequently, since we must take seriously the prospect of a society in which notions of designs and strategies by a nation-state come up against relativism, which comes with it a serious erosion of traditional values such as patriotism, nationalism and ideologies as such. Indeed, the capacity to force a unified military action, even of modest sorts, rests on overcoming the skepticism of the age, and its erosion into cynicism as a modus vivendi for ordinary citizens.

In every field of the human sciences the debate between relativists and absolutists has continued unabated. This situation reflects the fact that a dualism exists between what is found in the material culture and what exists in the more rarefied atmosphere of spiritual or metaphysical culture. However we might wish for an absolutist framework, we exist in a relativist culture. These sorts of Western debates and dualisms must be contrasted with the Muslim-Islamic world. It is evident that the guidelines for behavior in this worldview are profoundly at variance with the Western European and North American cultural traditions. Such considerations as the separation of Church and State valued in contrast to the unification of Mosque and Polity, or for that matter, the values of life, liberty and happiness take on different shades of meaning in the two cultures. It hardly bears repeating that the sacrifice of individual life for an early trip to paradise takes on differential meanings in Christian and Muslim teachings. For that matter, the centrality of individual conscience in contrast to the notion of communal life as fulfillment at the highest ethical level through self sacrifice or martyrdom itself is a normative divide. Issues of the conduct of conflict, both how and why it is being conducted, come upon serious challenges for communities best identified as a combination of religious and social communities. Such traditional societies show remarkable unity in patterns of behavior and belief. The difficulty in implementing democratic (or at this point relativist) norms in the Middle East are clearly seen in the overwhelming choice, at least for the present, of religious governance of theocratic regimes (Shariah Law), and the profound fear that the fusion of democratic norms with relativist culture will lead to the downslide of Western powers as such.

We must therefore turn to the issue of imperial power, since over against the play of relativism and absolutism; such influence weighs heavily on decision making with respect to resistance to tyrannies. Relativist societies not only are defined precisely by the options, choices and decisions available to its members, but by a recognition that these same rights must apply to tyrannical or totalitarian states. The problem is that granting rights to such states weakens prospects of resisting their onslaughts, well before the ballot box. What is involved is a breakdown of belief that rational behavior as such is defined the same way in all society, as if the rational man argument in what constitutes sound economic policy with respect to banking, savings and spending, somehow automatically applies to societies in the real of political systems and policies. Here relativistic and open systems must confront the prospect of being weakened with respect to fending off the onslaughts of absolutist states precisely because relativism rejects what absolutism takes for granted: the superiority of one society and one system over another.

Force and belief are scarcely strangers to each other in the conduct of policy. This is done because imperial worlds have served as the material basis of normative values. With such a linkage, and a clear connection to the institutional realities of civilization, this becomes a source of irritation to those peoples and cultures that have had such norms imposed rather than accepted. Imperialism has become a nasty term, a reason why many Middle East regimes seek an alternative rather than a development beyond foreign impositions. Indeed, with the exception of the brilliant, if eccentric work of Lewis S. Feuer in Imperialism and the Anti-Imperialist Mind,5 I know of no other major figure who has tackled the issue of this linkage quite so boldly. It is true that Samuel Huntington dealt with frankness about the clash of civilizations. The difficulty with these formulations is that they saw the conflict in terms of modernity versus tradition. They took for granted that modernity is some sort of equivalent to democracy, when in fact it increasingly comes to define the drive toward cultural relativism. Huntington well appreciated the sources of the struggle between civilizations, but not the tensions within civilization that help explain the persistence of conflagration.6

Again, without converting a brief essay into a multi-volume history, it must be recognized that when the connection between normative structure and empire building is examined, there are many examples to choose from. There is the Macedonian Empire of Alexander the Great, The Roman Republic from Monarchy to Caesar, The Byzantine Empire from Attila to the Fourth Crusade, The Ottoman Empire, and the European Empire extending from 1688 to 1814. These are rough benchmarks of struggles within rather than between large nations. Such enormous events as the Hundred Years War of 1337–1453, The 30 Years War of 1618–1648, or extended warfare such as can be found in the American Civil War, the Russian Civil War, the two major World Wars of the twentieth century, defy simple classifications. Indeed, amorphous but serious conflicts that took place in the Nuclear Age, pitted competing ideologies and states with one another, but ended in what may uncomfortably be called a stalemate or draw in military terms. This new situation gives evidence of rationality, the inability to conduct warfare short of all out nuclear disasters, and irrationality, willingness to conduct warfare precisely in the vanishing expectations of a definite outcome.

The historical evidence makes it unlikely to view empire building as a workable effort to shed light on “both the uniqueness and universality of grand strategy and military strategy.” For to do so is to ignore the capacity of empires to establish normative patterns of survival that insure peace as well as war, and civil codes of conduct as well as military codes of conflict. It is precisely those norms, sometimes ethical other times legal, and often the intertwining of both with each other, that create the possibilities in past civilizations for a wide consensus. Alexander created a workable balance of means and ends, force and stability, in an empire extending from Western Europe to India. Caesar likewise used the relentless expansion of militarism as a mechanism to serve the political ambitions of an elite civil and military authority, but also to broaden the range of the Roman society to include many subjected people. The Byzantine Empire was unique in that its very strategy encompassed the desire to avoid war by every possible means in all possible circumstances, but to always be ready to fight at any time. This was indeed an effort to maintain military combat-readiness, but it also strongly implied a political world in which peace is desirable.

What makes such excursions into the historic past intriguing, is that the contemporary scene is one in which talk of the rise and fall of the American empire, the American Century, and even American democracy, have become commonplace academic rhetoric. The shared consensus seems to be that empires fall when they overreach their goals, or better yet, go beyond their capacity to struggle in a world where the means and ends continuum breaks down. It might well be said that the stalemate in Korea at mid twentieth century was the prototype and the archetype of what took place in Vietnam, Iraq, and Afghanistan. The post imperial status of a society is exemplified by ambiguous military goals, political strategies, and even diplomatic purposes, but the notion of decline goes far beyond such a simplistic model. It embraces a huge transformation in the normative standing of a society, or better yet, the collapse of norms as a measuring rod as such.7 The grand illusion of the American empire was not so much in its overreaching, as in its diplomatic presumptions that the search for democratic systems was so enthralling, and captivating, that all societies, whatever their norms or theologies, would embrace such values.8

This was an ideological mistake that previous empire systems did not usually make. Just about all world class civilizations in the pre-democratic period appreciated that real power interests were at stake and must be served. Defeated nations could mimic and imitate the manners and mores of the conquering military force (and indeed often did just that if for no other reason than to gain favor and become part of the imaginings of the imperial power). However, the normative basis of these civilizations may have been overextended in military terms. Such empires were rarely foolish enough to believe that the heroics of conquering and making others subservient others created a groundswell of love and appreciation of the conquered and subservient peoples. The hubris of democracies is that they so readily ignore the question of national and class interests, and fasten with amazing ideological fervor on the advantages to the less fortunate citizens of democratic systems. The rapid disintegration of the British Empire in the twentieth century, the equally rapid disintegration of the Soviet Empire in the second half of that century, and now the weakening of the position of the United States in the first half of the twenty first century, is not so much a result of military ineptitude, as ideological disregard by its leaders of the system they so ardently defend.

This does not imply that nations like England, Russia, the United States, and others have simply dissolved into fumbling weakness. They tend to remain enormously advantaged by having at their disposal new technologies, advanced military capacities, and the ability to impose their economic power on the less developed elements of the world. There are also differences between political power, military strength, and economic power. Rolling these triumvirates into a single concept is a risky affair. These differences help to explain why the Roman Empire disintegrated more than a thousand years prior to the alteration of cartography to reflect that fact. Well into the nineteenth century, the Roman Empire was a ghostly superimposition on maps by geographers and its designers who ignored its utter disintegration. The Teutonic Empire of Wilhelmine Germany ruled central Europe while in mythology Caesarism still ruled in the fictive world of the map makers. Claimants to the imperial throne of the present would do well to take seriously parallels exhibiting similarities with a variety of earlier regimes.

It is interesting to note that the last successful “grand design,” the Congress of Vienna of 1814, held under the sponsorship of Prince Klemens von Metternich, achieved its end precisely by using a strategy of diplomacy and negotiation. Military power was unevenly distributed then as now and certainly such power differentials were omnipresent in its attendees. But such grand designs reflected a consensual rather than a conflict model. This unique international conference was called in order to remake Europe after the downfall of Napoleon. Many territorial decisions had to be made in the conference held in Vienna, Austria, from September 1814 to June 1815. The main goal of the conference was to create a balance of power that would preserve the peace. The goal of the Congress was to reestablish a balance of power amongst the countries of Europe. The Congress was highly successful in achieving its goal, for the peace in Europe was left undisturbed for almost 40 years. There were winners and losers in this effort to redress the disasters of the Napoleonic wars, but the strategy, while leaving intact power blocs and imperial aims, was not based upon continued military struggle, but on the shared values of a united albeit imperial Europe.

The normative basis of strategic thinking does not depend upon a second coming of the Congress of Vienna. Norms are defined and sharpened by conflict. Thus, the struggle between the United States and the Soviet Union during the Cold War period did not produce a consensus between democratic and totalitarian norms that were embraced by both contenders for world power to allow for negotiated settlements of hot zones of conflict. Thus while there were periods of threat and bluff on both sides, such as the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962, it did not spill over into nuclear warfare. Both parties recognized geographic domains. In exchange for the removal of Russian silos in Cuba, the Americans acknowledged that the straits of the Dardanelles were essentially a Soviet domain. This sort of resolution did not eliminate strategic thinking, or the threat of military force. It did modify the notion of “grand” and reduced strategy to a tacit appreciation of spheres of influence. The smaller powers were not exactly thrilled by such an outcome, but they were not in a position to offset larger realities at work. Bargaining rather than all out struggle increasingly determines outcomes.

Much grand design theorizing depends on a victor and vanquished scenario, while in the nuclear age conflicts are increasingly fought to achieve stalemate settlements rather then outright victories. This does not mean that the world has become less risky, or even stagnant. It does mean that there is a shift from a unicausal world in which military force is used to achieve diplomatic settlement to resolve civil conflict. Instead one finds civil internal conflict may serve as an option to strategic warfare. Indeed, in the twenty first century world indirect methods such as denial of aid, suspension of travel, termination of banking arrangements, denial of trade exchanges, etc. become the new coin of economic strategy to achieve desired political ends, displacing or reducing the overt uses of military force. In this, the Hobbesian world of conflict within a civil society becomes the norm of the age. Game playing, decision theory, and choices short of actual armed combat become normative.

But this too has its limits. Its feasibility depends on whether even in a universe of hard conflict, shared normative frameworks exist. The sportive analog is crucial here, as in the world of Thomas Schelling.9 One must have a normative environment in which rules prevail, because of the mutual and shared dangers of not having them in place are simply too great to ignore. It might be said that in a universe in which the consensus is over rules of conduct rather than rights of people, a world less risky than what is too often advocated by the grand design people might actually become normative. This is not a pleasant scenario, since it leaves intact many hostilities and animosities fueled in the history of Western thought. As such, there is a need to accept a certain amount of instability in behavior as well as in rhetoric. However, given the choice of elongated wars and imploding schemes of grand designs, this would appear to be the best course of diplomatic thinking. It seems odd, but accurate, to say that despite the cynicism of diplomatic options to military force, the diplomats carry the day.10 The cynical, albeit appropriate retort of Joseph Stalin to H. G. Wells in a mid-1930 interview, on the power of religious thought, to wit, “how many divisions does the Pope have?” seems less shocking and more reliable a guide to policymaking than it did even 100 years ago. But it is all part of Western thought!

In the present political-theological climate, human rights become part of the ideological struggle, one that is ill suited for combat readiness styles of international relations. The conduct of conflict is mediated and moderated, but not by shared normative values of what is tolerable or what is unacceptable. In the absence of shared values of life and limb, the issue becomes: does one appeal to the norm of democratic systems or to the more recent emphasis on human rights considerations whatever may be the structure of government. With such choices, ambiguity in conflict zones displaces battlefield considerations. Wars become protracted but increasingly inconclusive with respect to outcomes. Casualties are increased because the line between military and civil personnel declines. Guerrilla warfare further creates ambiguities as to what actually constitutes a combat zone or a safe zone. Such definitions may ultimately be determined by physical force and armed might rather than legal systems or judicial imperatives. This is the case in Africa, portions of Latin America and certainly the Middle East. As Walter Russell Mead explained long ago, to speak of grand designs in such conditions is to deny unstable situations as they exist on the ground.11

Given a situation in which shared normative beliefs are extremely fragile among different religious and political systems, the task of large powers of a traditional sort is the practical choice of friends or enemies, not the capacity to succeed in implementing a grand design with victory or defeat. In many parts of the Middle East, the choices are between civilian directed military dictatorships and clerically directed religious factions. Such struggles have now become common in Syria, Egypt and Libya. The grand design of Western powers comes as an equally grand design of militant, largely theological, forces directing the uprisings in the Middle East. In such circumstances, the embrace of dictators, often of a brutal sort, to curb such a groundswell movement of large masses becomes painful, but perhaps inevitable choice between evils. The classical European and North American powers are reduced to a defensive posture rather than a grand design. In places of great strategic importance like Saudi Arabia, there is little discussion of democratic emancipation. There is great hope that somehow, through the process of economic modernization, such a nation will become part of the Western bloc. It is by no means certain that choosing oppressive regimes allows for even a decent decision making process, much less a grand design for democratic conquest. Nations must elect to stand with traditional enemies against newer more dangerous foes, or recognize that the issue of friends and enemies may rest on a vision of combatants that is no longer feasible or even plausible.

Even in areas of more traditional rivals, nationalism remains a powerful force offsetting international or global considerations. Friends and enemies constantly shift over time. Our wartime ally in World War Two was China, while our enemy was imperial Japan. Now of course, Japan is very much closer to Western values and commitments than China, and far friendlier on the competitive economic turf. In the European sphere, the great ally of World War Two was Soviet Russia, and the great enemy Nazi Germany. Now, a half century later, Germany is the European bulwark of the free world economy, whereas past ally, Russian authoritarianism, casts a dark shadow limiting U.S. policy even with respect to a military shield force or a NATO alliance. The relatively brief time one can speak of another nation as a friend or enemy indicates that inherited notions such as grand designs may not pass muster as a singular policy of the United States. Present day ground shifts may provide a surer basis for relativism as a guide to conservatives. It is not simply a cultural quirk of radicals in the decade of the 1960s.

To select proper friends while sorting out the improper enemies thus becomes a task for those who would ground national policy exclusively on inherited traditions. The family of nations called the United Nations becomes a foreground for making difficult, but not necessarily pleasant choices. Two hundred nations in the United Nations present a formidable challenge for establishing grand military designs by any one nation or bloc of nations. A truly healthy family of nations works out consensual arrangements, often informally, without regard to inherited ground rules. A destructive family of nations breaks apart, forms new coalitions and creates conditions for yet more virulent forms of strife. In that sense the notion of a grand design, even if it is to survive the wreckage of the present world order, cannot be linked simply to militant might. To do so compromises the very notion of a democratic consensus, and yet worse, stands small chance of survival much less triumph. That is the root contradiction of grand strategy in the 21st century. Grand design changes short term requirements of civil societies and their capacity to seek out grounds of survival short of war. This is not a plea for one world or its opposite, a demand to leave the world organization. Serious agencies of major powers may obviously entertain such opposites, but few of them are prepared to risk the fabric of diplomacy to bring about an even unsure situation.

The world today shows many signs of regional alliances, national cohesion between different racial and religious elements, and shared goals of mutual abundance pursued in a differential manner. It further shows a far greater number of disparate and conflicting approaches by the many nations in which power remains a force—that is nearly all of them. To speak of a grand strategy with a unitary set of normative characteristics is hard to imagine much less implement. Self interest rather than universal norms seem characteristic in this highly relativistic environment. Hence the likelihood of any singular type of strategic thinking emerging as a norm is difficult to envision on operational grounds. What emerges is not a picture of an international order of things that is especially enticing or that even displays a singular core of values. Returning to earlier empires, in which vast numbers are subject to the rule of any single power, however estimable its core values, seems highly improbable. If the above scenario is recognized, and acted upon, then the potential for survival of powerful, if not omniscient states, are reasonably good. If not, prospects for a grand design can move ahead, but with uncertain success for highly differentiated democratic forces.

What adds a dimension of concern is the tremendous advances of relativism in the West, a situation in which few would dare enunciate the superiority of one nation, region, culture or religion over any other, coupled with the continuation of absolutism in many parts of the world, notably the Middle East. Absolutist nations show great willingness to sacrifice human life, material comfort, and do not accept as legitimate rights of the relativists to share this world. One suspects that the capacity to insist on democratic values may itself be subject to restrictions and constraints within the West. This may be a world in which nationalism and nation states have fared well. But it is also a world in which nations are toppled by internal dissension and differentiation.

The issues of whether America survives, or even how we survive as a culture, will ultimately be determined by the politics and practices of relativists and absolutists alike, those inhibited and those uninhibited by codes of conduct and cries of violations of rights. Absolutism does permit a sense of common mission and manifest destiny. Relativism converts such concerns into psychoanalytic categories of risk minimization and cost aversion. Recent surveys indicate that “while Americans were strongly keen on avoiding war costs, whether through high casualties or long duration, Europeans were definitely risk avoidance regarding sending ground troops at all.”12 If such data indicators of relativistic beliefs in the West are correct, then it is not reasonable to insist upon or blame any particular leader for the present political-military impasse. Wars that end in fuzzy, indecisive outcomes cannot be expected to generate unadulterated support by the citizenry in the name of grand strategies. That it would appear is the consequence of stalemates and losses in Korea in the 1950s, Vietnam in the 1970s, and a string of indecisive results in Iraq, Libya, and now Afghanistan. High risk ground wars in low-risk taking societies are a recipe for stimulating resistance rather than reinforcement of military actions of the classical sort.

This viewpoint is an attempt to make clear that a grand strategy at this point in history about large areas of foreign lands beyond the range of the nation state, or even about a nation state such as civil war in the United States between 1861 and 1865 or Russia between 1918 and 1923, needs to be examined with great care in terms of competing unities and diversities that exist prior to military decisions that can change the course of nations, regions or empires in directions that are extremely difficult to measure or predict. This is the case for so-called developing regions as well, even places whose leaders announce death to the last man—usually themselves as the final reserve. The search for grand strategy seems far more sober when viewed against such disturbing philosophical and theological backgrounds. In short, we should move past the comfort zone of apriori policymaking.

In all likelihood, wars will remain part and parcel of the human condition, much like strategy as such. Then again, it is important to realize that current and future warfare will increasingly be tactically determined, that it will be part of surgical strikes and carefully targeted opponents. This will be a period in which mass troop movements will be replaced by targeted air and seas strikes, such as were held by NATO forces in the dismantling of Muammar Gaddafi in Libya. These are new forms of the conventional war, dictated by many factors ranging from the costs of protracted warfare to the need for limited, rapid skirmish types of events that achieve specific objectives—such as curtailing the spread of nuclear warfare by eliminating war capable nuclear installations. The emergence of electronic technologies has certainly made such a profound downsizing feasible.

The movement of major regimes from the metaphysics of grand designs to the pragmatics of tactical assaults may not seem like much; but in point of fact it represents a vast improvement over the present political and military muddle. Thomas Fingar put it best in noting that “elegant strategies can be constructed without reference to intelligence, but persuading policymakers to implement them without knowing what intelligence might have to say about their likely efficacy and unintended consequences would be exceedingly difficult.”13 Indeed, such a cautionary note might actually represent a step forward toward a more peaceful and humane world, one in which casualties is measured in the hundreds rather than the millions, and nations are judged by their movement toward rational decisions rather than the fatalism of annihilation. However, to do so, the great triadic tradition of political-military discourse: tactics, strategies, and principles will need more nurturing and less bombast.


John Andreas Olsen and Colin S. Gray, The Practice of Strategy: From Alexander the Great to the Present. New York and Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011. 324 pp. See especially the essays by James D. Kiras, “Modern Irregular Warfare,” pp. 260–280; and Colin S. Gray, “Conclusion,” pp. 287–300.


Irving Louis Horowitz, “Political Indecision and Military Muddle in an Age of Grand Strategy,” The Forum. Vol. 9, No. 3. Fall 2011.


Roscoe Pound, The Spirit of the Common Law. New Brunswick and London: Transaction Publishers, 1998. 224 pp.


Jerome Frank, Law and the Modern Mind. New Brunswick and London: Transaction Publishers, 2009. 446 pp.


Lewis S. Feuer, Imperialism and the Anti-Imperialist Mind. New Brunswick and London: Transaction Publishers, 1989. 265 pp.


Samuel P. Huntington, The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1996. 367 pp.


John Lenczowski, Full Spectrum Diplomacy and Grand Strategy: Reforming the Structure and Culture of U.S. Foreign Policy. Lanham, Maryland: Lexington Books, 2011. 230 pp.


Harold James, The Creation and Destruction of Value: The Globalization Cycle. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 2009. 325 pp.


Thomas C. Schelling, Strategies of Commitment and other Essays. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 2006. 341 pp. Also his earlier classic text on The Strategy of Conflict. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 1960. 309 pp.


Two remarkable works that illustrate the special role of diplomacy as a caution against grand strategies are Henry Kissinger, Diplomacy. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1994. 912 pp., and Thomas Nowotny, Diplomacy and Global Governance: The Diplomatic Service in an Age of Worldwide Interdependence. New Brunswick and London: Transaction Publishers, 2011. 314 pp.


Walter Russell Mead, Mortal Splendor: The American Empire in Transition. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1987. 382 pp.


Ebru S. Canan-Sokullu, “Domestic Support for Wars: A Cross-Case and Cross-Country Analysis,” Armed Forces & Society. Vol. 38, No. 1, January 2012. pp. 117–141.


Thomas Fingar, “Intelligence and Grand Strategy,” Orbis: A Journal of World Affairs, Vol. 56, No. 1, pp. 118–134.


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© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2012