Grand strategy

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See also: Military doctrine
See also: Economic warfare

Grand strategy is the application of the full range of national power to influence national and non-national actors. It includes, but is not limited to, military means. Indeed, GEN Rupert Smith, a retired British Army commander with senior national and international experience, writes "War no longer exists. Confrontation, conflict and combat undoubtedly exist all over the world...nonetheless, war as cognitively known to most noncombatants, war as battle in a field between men and machinery, war as a massive deciding event in a dispute in international affairs; such war no longer exists."[1]

It is the greatest general that wins without fighting — Sun Tzu, circa 400 BC

It includes military strategy, diplomacy (foreign policy), intelligence, covert action, economic warfare, psychological operations, information operations and international law enforcement. There is, indeed, the situation when a nation does not fully realize it may be waging cultural war. [2]

There is no one approach to formulating grand strategy. Especially in pre-industrialized times, a monarch such as Alexander the Great would make most key decisions himself. While Napoleon had a staff, it was more to provide administrative support than advice.[3] When ideology or religion were dominant in a government, there might be more of a tendency to issue central guidance. Efficient bureaucratic mechanisms existed for millennia in China; the Roman Empire had efficient organizations, but more to communicate leadership decisions rather than advise on the alternatives for decisions.

Clausewitz's dictum that war is the continuation of national politics by military means says little about those politics, whether in an underdeveloped or postindustrial state. Revolutionary warfare focuses first on the political. "Not only did we fight in the military field but in the political, economic and cultural fields." [4] These additional dimensions are more, not less, essential in a multipolar world. "American grand strategy had been in a state of flux prior to 2001, as containment of the Soviet Union gave way to a wider range of apparently lesser challenges. The 9/11 attacks on the Pentagon and the World Trade towers, however, transformed the grand strategy debate and led to a sweeping reevaluation of American security policy"[5]

Communist theoreticians regarded Marxist-Leninism as all-encompassing and thus grand strategic, but it was really a culture, or secular religion. Religion and culture have been proposed as an inevitable ground for conflict. [6] An alternative grand strategic view rejects both unconscious effects of globalization, but also the idea of predestined conflict. [7] Certain militant Islamists such as Osama bin Laden have a broad set of goals that could well be considered grand strategy.


  1. Rupert Smith (2007), The Utility of Force: the Art of War in the Modern World, Alfred A. Knopf, ISBN 9780397265623
  2. Barber, Benjamin R. (1996), Jihad vs. McWorld: How Globalism and Tribalism are Reshaping the World, Ballantine
  3. Keegan, John (1988), The Mask of Command, Penguin
  4. Vo Nguyen Giap (1962), People's War People's Army: the Viet Cong Insurrection Manual for Underdeveloped Countries, Praeger, p. 97
  5. Biddle, Stephen D. (April 2005), American Grand Strategy after 9/11: an Assessment, Strategic Studies Institute, U.S. Army War College
  6. Samuel Huntington (1996). The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order. Simon & Schuster. 
  7. Thomas Barnett (2005). The Pentagon's New Map: War and Peace in the Twenty-first Century. Berkley Trade.