“Culture” is a controversial term in diplomatic history but this is not the place to offer a full exegesis on its meaning. I offer instead a brief tour of the debate in diplomatic history before proposing ways in which it can be applied to the study of strategy. Historians often speak of nations having “styles of war,” but we are not always clear about how they work. Strategic culture, I suggest, does not exist as a kind of Zeitgeist about a nation’s military habits but is made by political entrepreneurs from the materials of national memory (or its inverse, national amnesia) to serve specific interests.1 It then acts as a “social fact” that determines the contours of “appropriate” behavior. In the final section, I examine how these strategic identities are affected by the distribution of power between nations, how some exert influence over others to remake their strategic cultures. This tackles the question of whether it is better to describe NATO’s doctrine as multilateral or hegemonic and what difference it makes. I argue that the opposition between dominance and autonomy in imperialism is complicated by the historical characteristics of American Empire. The American way of managing its internal political diversity through a system of constantly balanced “counterpowers” provides for endless expansion through inclusion, a kind of continuous incorporation of peoples into networks of shared subjectivity, namely the universal claim that the United States speaks for the “liberty of mankind.” American hegemony is not so much punitive as regulatory, remaking identities through mechanisms that pursue the “interiorization” and arrangement of all differences into “an effective apparatus of command.”2 First-use was the strategic desire of these hegemonic practices.


Foreign Policy American Foreign Policy Military History Political Entrepreneur International Relation Theory 
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Copyright information

© Andrew M. Johnston 2005

Authors and Affiliations

  • Andrew M Johnston
    • 1
  1. 1.University of Western OntarioLondonUK

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