Journal of Political Risk, Vol. 8, No. 5, May 2020
John T. Kuehn, Ph.D., Professor of Military History
U.S. Army Command and General Staff College
Fort Leavenworth, Kansas
A recent article in Foreign Affairs by Daniel W. Drezner, Ronald R. Krebs, and Randall Schweller hoisted the white flag: “The End of Grand Strategy: America Must Think Small.” The article implies that an American attempt to develop a grand strategy, or to support the current grand strategy in vogue, are both vain pursuits.
One reaction to prescriptions of this sort, or rather proscriptions, is to examine what the authors mean exactly by “grand strategy,” what is their definition?
Perhaps their definition is so different from other accepted definitions of this concept that there is no need to worry, maybe they are talking about something else. After all, this author wrote on the topic ten years ago, bemoaning that the problem was rooted in, although not limited to, a general lack of understanding of the meaning of the term, especially by military professionals in the nation’s service and war colleges. It might be useful to compare my definition with that consigned to the dust bin by the FA authors.
Carl von Clausewitz has written that as military campaigns proceed, the war as a whole replaces the campaign, and the whole country the theater of operations. In other words, grand strategy is “the next stage,” which encompasses the strategic considerations for “the whole country.”
But the authors argue that, “A grand strategy is a road map for how to match means with ends.”
That settles nothing, although I prefer mine to theirs, which could apply at just about any level of conflict, from a platoon fight in Helmand Province to a 40-year Cold War. So what do the authors think the “wrong” grand strategy — or whatever it is the US executes as policy—might be? The authors characterize the current American grand strategy as to “…sustain and expand a global order that promoted open markets, open polities, and multilateral institutions.” These flowery words have been characterized by MIT political scientist Barry Posen as “liberal hegemony.” Hegemony infers a hegemon, and that hegemon, of course, is supposedly the United States—the actor employing the verbs of this approach. The authors’ real complaint is with that grand strategy—liberal hegemony—and its state of disrepair under the current administration of the United States.