Author: Anderson, David A
Date published: November 1, 2012
THE SHAPING OF GRAND STRATEGY: Policy, Diplomacy, and War, edited by William Murray, Richard Hart Sinnreich, and James Lacey, Cambridge University Press, New York 2011, 283 pages, $27.99
WILLIAM MURRAY, Richard Hart Sinnreich, James Lacey, and other noted scholars have written a fascinating book detailing the complexities and risks of developing and executing grand strategy. The authors present historical case studies of renowned leaders' experiences and strategic events that shaped grand strategy. The book begins with King Louis XIV of France, followed by the Seven Years' War, Otto von Bismarck, British strategic transformation, and Neville Chamberlain. It ends with a look at U.S. presidents Franklin D. Roosevelt and Harry S. Truman.
A theme that resonates in the book is that grand strategy is rarely well conceived or successful. In only two of the seven cases presented, Franklin D. Roosevelt (World War II strategy) and Harry S. Truman (containment strategy), did grand strategy achieve its end state or long-term goal. The authors attribute Roosevelt and Truman's success to their willingness to adapt to constantly changing environments, their ability to see things as they were and not as they wished them to be, their understanding of the finiteness of national resources, and their desire not to fall victim to ambition. They understood their nation's enemies and explicitly used their militaries as a political tool of deterrence or last resort.
On the other hand, King Louis XIV exhausted the resources of France with an overly ambitious grand strategy to make France the preeminent power of Europe by military coercion and war. Louis XIV greatly miscalculated the resolve of France's neighbors to rally against him. Worse, he remained defiant and unwilling to adjust his grand strategy. In essence, this led to the bankrupting of France, and in the end, leftit in a significantly weaker strategic position.
British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain also made monumental miscalculations leading up to World War II. Chamberlain was convinced that Hitler could be reasoned with, that the British should not panic over Hitler's perceived ambitions by needlessly shoring up its defense posture, and that Hitler was not looking to acquire territory beyond that with historical ethnic ties to Germany. Chamberlain's miscalculation cost Britain an opportunity to adequately prepare for its eventual war with Germany.
Events such as these and others described in the book lead the reader to conclude that the U.S. post- Cold War approach to statecraftis eerily similar to that which led to the demise of past great powers and should be a cautionary tale for the designers of future U.S. grand strategy.
The authors' comprehensive research and indepth analysis of events are riveting. Each of the book's chapters can be read independent of the others; however, they are best read together. This book is a must read for government and military historians, political science and international relations students and scholars, and those who develop and execute statecraft.
David A. Anderson, Ph.D., LtCol, USMC, Retired, Fort Leavenworth, Kansas