Unformatted text preview: In Pursuit of Successful Strategies Principal Investigator: (b) (5) Produced for the Office of the Secretary of Defense, Office of Net Assessment
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Table of Contents
Introduction………………………………………………………………………………………4 The Strategic Thought of Themistocles…………………………………………………………29 The Grand Strategy of the Roman Empire………………………………………………………59 Giraldus Cambrensis, Edward I, and the Conquest of Wales…………………………………..104 Creating the British Way of War: English Strategy in the War of the Spanish Succession……159 Failed, Broken, or Galvanized? Prussia and 1806……………………………………………..202 Victory by Trial and Error Britain’s Struggle against Napoleon……………………………….240 Bismarckian Strategic Policy, 1871-1890………………………………………………………290 The Strategy of Lincoln and Grant……………………………………………………………..329 U.S. Naval Strategy and Japan…………………………………………………………………366 U.S. Grand Strategy in World War II…………………………………………………………..424 American Grand Strategy and the Unfolding of the Cold War 1945-1961…………………….482
The Reagan Administration’s Strategy toward the Soviet Union………………………………570 Afterword……………………………………………………………………………………….614 2 3 Introduction (b) (7)(C) Everything in strategy is very simple, but that does not mean that everything is very easy. Once it
has been determined,... it is easy to chart its course. But great strength of character, as well as
great lucidity and firmness of mind, is required in order to follow through steadily, to carry out
the plan, and not to be thrown off course by thousands of diversions. 1 In my career as a military historian, the subject of strategy has come to play an
increasingly important role in the topics that I have examined.2 This is to a considerable extent
been the result of the realization expressed by my colleague, Allan Millett and myself in an
article dealing with the lessons to be learned from our study on military effectiveness in the first
half of the twentieth century:
Whether policy shaped strategy or strategic imperatives drove policy was
irrelevant. Miscalculations in both led to defeat, and any combination of politicostrategic error had disastrous results even for some nations that ended the war as
members of the victorious coalition.... This is because it is more important to
make correct decisions at the political and strategic level than it is at the
operational and tactical level. Mistakes in operations and tactics can be corrected,
but political and strategic mistakes live forever.3 Not surprisingly then, this is a book about strategy. Unlike its most recent predecessor,
The Shaping of Grand Strategy, it addresses strategy in the widest sense: grand strategy in
1 Carl von Clausewitz, On War, ed. and trans. by Michael Howard and Peter Paret (Princeton, NJ, 1976), p. 178.
For two of the works that have resulted from this interest, see Williamson Murray, MacGregor Knox, and Alvin
Bernstein, eds., The Making of Strategy, Rulers, States, and War (Cambridge, 1992); and Williamson Murray,
Richard Hart Sinnreich, and James Lacey, eds., The Shaping of Grand Strategy, Policy, Diplomacy, and War
Allan R. Millett and Williamson Murray, “Lessons of War,” The National Interest, Winter 1988-1989.
2 4 peacetime as well as in war, theater strategy, military strategy, and political strategy. In most of
these case studies, the key players in success have been the statesmen and military leaders at the
center of events who not only have crafted and guided a successful approach to a knotty and
inevitably complex strategic environment but have also had the strength of character to pursue
their perceptions through to successful conclusion. But this study is more than just an examination of how a few exceptional individuals have managed to shape and mold strategy.
There are also several examples of how organizational culture or groups succeeded in setting the
parameters for success in the strategic realm. Since statesmen and military leaders will make
strategy in the future, the authors of the essays in this study believe it is of crucial importance
that America’s political and military leaders understand how their predecessors in the past have
developed and executed successful approaches to strategy.
In particular, the essays contained in this volume do not confine themselves to
examinations of the employment of military forces in war to achieve strategic political aims,
although any volume that aims at discussing strategic performance in the realm of the relations
between states must devote a substantial portion of its examination of the use of military power
in achieving political aims, the only reason for waging war. Inevitably, war or the threat of its
employment is intimately intertwined with the conduct of strategy in the international
environment. As the much quoted -- at least by all too many national political and military
leaders – but little understood statement of Clausewitz underlines: “we see, therefore, that war is
not merely an act of policy but a true political instrument, a continuation of political intercourse,
carried on with other means.”4
This collection is about approaches to the guiding of polities and military organizations
4 Clausewitz, On War, p. 87. For the obdurate, and disastrous unwillingness of Germany’s military leaders to
recognize the wisdom of Clausewitz’s observation, see particularly Isabel V. Hull, Absolute Destruction, Military
Culture and the Practices of War in Imperial Germany (Ithaca, NY, 2006).
5 into the future. Its case studies focus on individuals or corporate bodies that have developed and
then prosecuted strategies that have led to success. It does not examine strategic approaches that
have failed. Why not? Largely because history is replete with innumerable examples of states,
statesmen, military organizations and generals and admirals who have failed ignominiously in
pursuit of flawed strategy or strategies, or who in most cases have possessed no discernible
strategy. In fact, the failures throughout history in strategic decision making have been legion.
They litter the landscape with broken armies, collapsed economic systems, and all too often the
wreckage of states and empires.
The simple truth is that statesmen and military leaders throughout history have embarked
on various military ventures or attempted to manipulate the international arena with an
enthusiastic disregard for realities. Clausewitz, with enormous irony, notes that “no one starts a
war – or rather, no one in his senses ought to do so – without first being clear in his mind what
he intends to achieve by that war and how he intends to conduct it.”5 But, of course, too many
have done so in the past and will continue to do so in the future.6
Monday-morning quarter-backing of this wreckage, of course, has provided royalties for
innumerable historians, some with useful insights, but most without.7 The reasons and factors
that have produced successful strategies, however, have received either less attention than they
deserve or overly critical analysis that set standards of behavior that would have been impossible 5 Clausewitz, On War, p. 579.
One might cynically note that in the case of the invasion of Iraq in 2003 the senior policy makers simply wished
away the possibility that there might be an insurgent conflict after the conventional conflict in spite of everything
that history suggested about the political and religious milieu of Mesopotamia. They might even have read the
memoirs of the British general who put down the uprising of the Iraqi tribes against British rule in 1920, but they did
not. See Lieutenant General Aylmer L. Haldane, The Insurrection in Mesopotamia, 1920 (London, 1922). Not
surprisingly it was reissued in 2005 – a bit late in the game.
For some of the factors that have lain behind and contributed to strategic and military disasters, see Eliot A. Cohen
and John Gooch, Military Misfortunes, The Anatomy of Failure in War (New York, 1990).
6 6 to meet in the past, and will undoubtedly be impossible to meet in the present. 8 Much of the
inadequacy of such accounts reflects the fact that most historians have never had the opportunity
to serve in the highest levels of government, where they might have observed how strategy is
made, or not made as the case may be.9 Nevertheless experience has its limits. One is reminded
of Frederick the Great’s comment that one of his mules had participated in every one of his
campaigns but was none the wiser.
Thus, this volume focuses specifically on those few areas where states, or military
organizations, or individuals have crafted strategies that have led to success in the international
arena in peacetime, the conduct of complex military operations in war, and the projection of
military forces to achieve a successful end state. The purpose has been to suggest those attributes of successful strategies that might be of use to those charged with the responsibilities
of thinking about, developing, articulating, and then conducting strategy for the United States in
the twenty-first century.10 Underlying our effort has also been our belief that history in particular
provides insights and perceptions that are germane to any understanding of the strategic
challenges that will confront the United States in the coming decades.
Moreover, it is our sense that simply achieving success in the short term, a period of say
five to ten years, represents a considerable success at the strategic level, while successes that last
for several decades represent strategic genius. Beyond several decades, it is almost impossible to
8 Moreover, historians have had a tendency to minimize the difficulties, ambiguities and uncertainties that are
intimately intertwined with the development, articulation, and execution of successful strategic approaches at any
Maurice Ashley, one of the great historians of Oliver Cromwell and who served Winston Churchill as a research
assistant on the writing of the great man’s biography of the Duke of Marlborough, noted that Churchill’s work
would stand as a great work of history well into the future particularly because he knew how great men interacted
and talked with each other. However, one might also note that most historians who might observe the processes of
strategic decision making would be no better prepared to judge what they saw than those who were making a hash of
the strategic problems their nation was confronting.
There is, of course, a caveat. One might argue that in some of the cases discussed in this volume strategic success
was as much the result of incompetence or weaknesses of the losers as the brilliance of those who achieved strategic
7 plan, and those who believe that statesmen or military leaders can articulate strategies that will
reach out far into the future are naive, arrogant, or unaware of the complexities that human
interactions inevitably involve.11 The proof of this lies in the simple fact that strategies which
are successful for a decade or more are so rare in historical terms. Their rarity suggests the
extent of the fog that enshrouds decision making in the realm of human affairs. Uncertainty and
ambiguity as well as incomplete information have in the past and will in the future dominate the
world of the strategist.
So what is strategy? Simply put, one can argue that it is a matter of connecting the
available means to a political goal or goals. But, of course, it is much more than that. As Sun
Tsu suggests, not only a deep understanding of oneself, but an equally sophisticated
understanding of one’s opponent distinguish the great strategist from the rest of the herd.
Moreover, strategy demands constant adaptation to ever changing political and military
environments. And that is where history proves to be the crucial enabler. Those who developed
and conducted successful strategic approaches in the past have in almost every case possessed a
sophisticated understanding of history and historical precedent.12
Moreover, one should note that the most sophisticated theorists of war and strategy,
namely Thucydides and Clausewitz, immersed their examination of those two crucial topics in
their deep understanding of history. As the ancient Greek historian explained, his reason for
writing his history of the great war between Athens and Sparta lay in his hope that “these words 11 There are of course exceptions. The policy of containment that was developed in the late 1940s (see the chapters
by Brad Lee and Thomas Mahnken later in this collection) certainly formed the basis for American strategy for most
of the remainder of the Cold War, but it doubtful that George Kennan and Paul Nitze foresaw a strategy that would
have to last for over 40 years, or which would have to wind its way through so many twists and turns, which in some
cases involved even major limited wars, before reaching its end in the late 1980s and early 1990s, an end which
virtually no one saw until the Soviet collapse came. For the best overall summary of the Cold War, the reader might
want to consult John Gaddis, Now We Know, Rethinking Cold War History (Oxford, 1998).
The one exception might be the Athenian politician, general and strategist in the fifth century BC, who is the
subject of our first case study.
8 of mine [will be] judged useful by those who want to understand clearly the events which
happened in the past and which (human nature being what it is) will, at some time or other and in
much the same ways be repeated in the future.”13
For the Prussian theorist of war, the value of history lay in its ability to educate the mind
of the future strategist or commander, not to provide them with answers. As he suggests in a
comment about war, but which is equally applicable to strategy: “[A theory of strategy] is an
analytical investigation leading to a close acquaintance with the subject; applied to experience –
in our case, to [strategic] history – it leads to thorough familiarity with it. The closer it comes to
that goal, the more it proceeds from the objective form of a science to the subjective form of a
skill, the more effective it will prove in areas where the nature of the case admits no arbiter but
talent.”14 Historical knowledge provides the opening through which one can frame the right
question or questions, and if the strategist asks the right question, he or she has the chance of
discovering answers of some utility. On the other hand, the wrong question, no matter how
brilliantly articulated and phrased, is always guaranteed to provide an irrelevant or misleading
In the Washington of the first decade of the twenty-first century, the concept of strategy
has generated considerable interest at every level of government with innumerable “strategic”
products the result. Proliferating like tasteless mushrooms in an overheated dark room, they
include the “National Strategy for Maritime Security,” the “National Strategy for Homeland
Security,” the “National Strategy for Combating Terrorism,” and the “National Military
Strategy,” among others. The list seems to stretch on into infinity, and these efforts are absolutely useless. A perceptive examination of the military balance in Asia has recently noted: 13
14 Thucydides, History of the Peloponnesian War, p. 48.
Clausewitz, On War, p. 141.
9 “Recent national security strategies – as well as the Obama administration’s recent defense
guidance white paper – tend to speak in general terms. Rather than outlining a limited and
prioritized set of objectives, they often contain undifferentiated lists of desirable ends... [T]hey
tend to speak of challenges in only the vaguest terms.”15
A senior officer once commented to me about a draft of the “National Military Strategy”
that, if one were to take every place where U.S. or American or United States appeared and
replace those adjectives and nouns with Icelandic and Iceland, the document would be equably
applicable to that tiny island nation. The problem lies in the fact that these so-called strategic
documents are the products of bureaucratic processes that aim to remove every contentious issue,
while insuring that those issues near and dear to the hearts of the participants receive the proper
highlighting.16 Written by large groups of the unimaginative, they are passed up the chain of
command to insure that there is nothing daring or controversial that might upset the conventional
wisdom with its comfortable assumptions about the future.
In his own day Clausewitz accurately portrayed a similar array of theories about the
nature of war and strategy: It is only analytically that these attempts at can be called advances in the realm of
truth; synthetically in the rules and regulations they offer, they are absolutely
They aim at fixed values; but in war everything is uncertain, and calculations have 15 Thomas G. Mahnken with Dan Blumenthal, Thomas Donnelly, Michael Mazza, Gary J. Schmitt, and Andrew
Shearer, “Asia in the Balance, Transforming US Military Strategy in Asia,” American Enterprise Institute, June
This is true of virtually all government documents, the one exception being the 9/11 Report , but much of
bureaucratic Washington, not to mention a number of major political figures, attempted to strangle that effort before
it even got started.
10 to be made with variable quantities.
They direct the inquiry exclusively towards physical quantities, whereas all
military action is intertwined with psychological forces and effects.
They consider only unilateral action, whereas [strategy] consists of a continuous
interaction of opponents.17 Each statement applies equally to the conduct of strategy. And so, as in so many human
endeavors “plus ça change, plus c’est la méme chose (the more things change, the more they stay
Paralleling the search in Washington for the magic elixir of strategic success has been an
equally intense effort by so-called business strategists to unlock strategy, or more specifically
strategic concepts to repair and guide corporations to success. Virtually all of those efforts over
which business consultants spend endless hours – at great cost, one might add, to those who
employ them – are useless. As one of the few perceptive theorists of business strategy has noted:
“Bad strategy is long on goals and short on policy or action.” Like most of those interested in
strategy in the nation’s capital, “[i]t puts forward strategic objectives that are incoherent and,
sometimes, totally impracticable. It uses high sounding words and phrases to hide these failings.”19
The same must be said of most of what passes for strategy in the policy and military
realms – as well as in the academic world. Again Clausewitz’s analysis is equally applicable to
our current world of governmental and business strategy making: “Thus, it has come about that
17 Clausewitz, On War, p. 136.
A French proverb – one that goes well with the comment about the Bourbons on their return to France in 1815 –
“they have learned nothing, and forgotten everything.”
Richard P. Rumelt, Good Strategy, Bad Strategy, The Difference and Why It Matters (New York, 2011), pp. 3637.
18 11 our theoretical and critical literature, instead of giving plain, straightforward arguments in which
the author at least always knows what he is saying and the reader what he is reading, is crammed
with jargon, ending at obscure crossroads where the author loses his reader.”20 The Importance of History to Strategic Success From the enemy’s character, from his institutions, the state of is affairs and his general situation,
each side, using the laws of probability, forms an estimate of its opponent likely course and acts
accordingly.21 Why then is history so important to the strategist? Just as steering a course requires a
point of departure, to think about the future, the strategist must understand the present. But the
only way to understand our own circumst...
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- Summer '16