On the essence of strategy

Martin Wagener


The term “strategy” has always implied both theoretical and practical facets. In spite of extensive literature an accepted academic discipline such as “strategic studies” has never been established. Whoever studies international relationships will be able to fall back on a canon of similar fields of knowledge. This is not possible in the field of strategic studies, although there exist a lot of papers on strategy. Most of those volumes, however, do not have the necessary theoretical background. The multitude of publications in this field can be characterized as summing up the lives and works of the most important military strategists and discussing the military strategies of recent times. The label “strategic studies” is used for an abundance of papers in the wide field of security politics without considering carefully what the “strategic” in the paper really is. Here one can detect a clear lack of selectivity whenever terms such as “security”, “defence”, “war” or “strategy” are used practically synonymously, and institutes of strategy play an important part in this dilemma. Strategies are in a conflict between clear guidance for action and necessary flexibility in the course of action. Both of them are necessary - in a dosage which cannot be laid down - for the desired success. Thus, behaviour must be called the art of a strategist if it does justice to both day-to-day political and spontaneous events, and at the same time keeps in mind all long-term challenges and threats which form the centre of a security strategy. From this conflict another inevitable demand on a strategy arises: It must be able to alternatively provide options for exactly those eventualities which can arise from frictions. Whether a strategy is successful eventually depends on the one hand on whether the reactions of the adversary or rival have been calculated correctly on the international level. On the other hand, a government has to incorporate the checks and balances of its domestic policy into its international intentions. Furthermore, the quality of a security strategy is tied to the intellectual capabilities of the political leaders. Here one has to make clear on principle that in authoritarian systems it is easier to put a strategic concept into action. By contrast, in the case of democratic systems one has to point out what has been put into concise words by Richard K. Betts: „The essential logic of democracy is compromise, but compromise often undermines strategic logic.” according to Edward N. Luttwak an overall strategy is the result of interactions between a vertically aligned military strategy and a horizontally aligned diplomatic strategy. In the end, a security strategy in the ideally typical sense will be successful if a balance between the horizontal and the vertical dimensions can be achieved.