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Australian Journal of Defence and Strategic Studies

Australian Journal of Defence and Strategic Studies

AJDSS Volume 2 Number 2

Commentary

What is in a name: discarding the grand strategy debate and seeking a new approach

Jason Thomas

Published online: 3 December 2020

EXTRACT

Introduction
In the 19th century, the Prussian Field Marshal Helmuth Von Moltke wrote ‘Strategy is a system of expedients: it is more than a mere scholarly discipline.’ 1 Contemporary attempts to define grand strategy become trapped in the same dilemma as any effort to find a conclusive approach to strategy. Those working in the domain of the military and security do not have a monopoly on the fundamentals of strategic thought. Outside the bounds of these sectors, the meaning of strategy is far more varied, 2 and hence develops many different approaches. 3 Security planners would be wise not to neglect this broader understanding of strategy.

The very nature of the subject resists rigid definition and constantly evolves. For the teaching and understanding of strategy, ‘grand’ or otherwise, the use of maxims - short statements expressing a general truth or rule of conduct - is probably all that is possible. Because, the core need of any strategy is to be flexible, and as maxims are only general truths, it will always be necessary to depart from them in specific situations. 4 The current grand strategy debate is somewhat opaque as it attempts to seek certainty in a fluid context; therefore, the debate risks constraining one field of strategic studies into a narrow inflexible discipline of limited utility.

This paper argues that in their pursuit of certainty current attempts to define grand strategy become fragmented due to the very nature of the topic and hence they provide little service to the creation of effective strategies. Therefore, it is necessary to abandon the further development and consideration of a ‘grand strategic’ epistemology. What is required is a broader and more nuanced approach to security strategy, one that may have to depart from the centrality and primacy of an impending conflict. It will be argued in this paper that good strategy is based on expedients that demand the development of specific solutions framed in contextual, temporal, relational and ethical settings.

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To cite this article:

Documentary-note: Jason Thomas, ‘What is in a name: discarding the grand strategy debate and seeking a new approach’, Australian Journal of Defence and Strategic Studies, [online] 2020, 2(2):247-257. https://www.defence.gov.au/ADC/Publications/AJDSS/volume2-number2/discarding-grand-strategy-debate.asp

Author-Date (Harvard): Thomas, J., 2020. ‘What is in a name: discarding the grand strategy debate and seeking a new approach’, Australian Journal of Defence and Strategic Studies, [online] 2(2), 247-257. Available at: <https://www.defence.gov.au/ADC/Publications/AJDSS/volume2-number2/discarding-grand-strategy-debate.asp





1 Helmuth Graf Von Moltke, Moltke on the Art of War: Selected Writings, Presidio, 1993, p 136.


2 OED, ‘Oxford English Dictionary On-Line’ Oxford University Press. https://www.oed.com At least six in current use


3 HBR, ‘Harvard Business Review’, 2020, https://hbr.org/ A keyword search will yield hundreds of entries on this site alone.


4 Stephen Bungay, ‘The Road to Mission Command: The Genesis of a Command Philosophy’, British Army Review, 2005, 137(22):10.