Poli 439 – Understanding the Nature of the Field (Week of Jan 13-17)
- Agreement has been contested as to what constitutes “strategic studies” since the
collapse of the bi-polar system constituting the enthof the Cold War, as well as the
events following the attacks of September 11 , 2001. There will be a traditional approach
to strategic studies, followed by examining the new approaches to the field.
- Core Issue: What are the strengths and weaknesses of the foundations of the study of
- i) Development of the Field of Study – why is this important? ii) Nature of the field – why
should we care?
- Strategy: the application of military power to achieve political objectives, “the theory and
practice of the use, and threat of use, of organized force for political purposes.”
- Grand Strategy: “the coordination and direction of all the resources of a nation, a band of
nations, towards the attainment of the political objectives sought.”
- A mix of politics and military knowledge. There is no such thing as purely military advice
when it comes to strategy issues. A multi-disciplinary concept that relies on the power of
- Most popular viewpoint associated with strategy is realism. Power is the only currency of
value when security is threatened. See law and morality as irrelevant when security is
- Strategists are criticised for being obsessed with conflict and force, insufficiently
concerned with ethical issues, not scholarly in their approach, part of the problem and
not the solution and state-centric. Strategists do not oppose the idea that a peaceful co-
existence is possible, but see it as highly unlikely, and do not get their hopes up to the
idea of “perpetual peace.”
- It is argued that security should be emphasized over strategy in today’s post-Cold War
era. Security studies on its own becomes too broad, however, as it needs to focus on
military as a major aspect of the world’s affairs still in play today.
- The stakes in war are very high, so strategy is needed and is a very practical thing to
learn to think strategically.
- Strategy ultimately about how to win wars. War not senseless. Using military means to
achieve political objectives. (Clausewitz). Strategy makes war usable for political
purposes. Policy drives strategy and bad strategy can lead to defeat, even with statistical
- Clausewitz views war in four different contexts: 1. Killing and dying (war cannot be
waged without bloodshed). 2. War is a contest (between armies, generals, and states.
Physical and mental, each side trying to pin one another as well as avoid being pinned
themselves). 3. War is an instrument of policy: pursued not for its own sake, but to serve
the ends of the state. 4. War is a social activity (social condition mould the character and
conduct of war). - Clausewitz views it as a paradoxical trinity: violence, hatred, and enmity. These three
tendencies correlate with three groups: people, military, and government. Passion = the
people. Probability and chance = military. Reason = the government. Interaction of these
three determines the characteristics of war.
- Believed that states achieve military victory by attacking the enemy’s centre of gravity.
War of two kinds, overthrowing the enemy or “merely occupy some of his frontier districts
- Should be direct correlation between the value a state attaches to its ends and the
means it uses to achieve them.
- Wars with limited aims usually end with tacit negotiation and what amount of military
force that should be utilized is strategized. War with unlimited aims is settled by
imposition rather than negotiation.
- The rational calculus of war: based on ability to go to war using cost-benefit analysis.
Clausewitz also identifies the “friction” of war.
- Wide gulf between Clausewitz and Sun Tzu. Sun’s perspective was from ancient China,
quite opposite from Clausewitz.
- Tzu sees victory without bloodshed as ideal, and a display of skill. Less a matter of
destroying the army, and more of depleting their willingness to fight. He sees
psychological deception as key, and utilizes the idea of comparative advantage. Sun Tzu
also is optimistic of intelligence as an advantageous strategy. Whereas Clausewitz is
skeptical of the advantages of intelligence. Tzu inspired Mao Tze-Tung, which in turn
has influenced jihadists.
- Some argue that the information age now demands a new type of strategic theory.
Critics argue that old works on strategy apply to war between states and armies,