Strategy from 1700-1945: The Rise of Politics, Economics and General Staffs Part II

In spite of the development of military bureaucracies and the creation of standing operational plans, the role of strategic genius became even more important during the Modern Era. During this period strategic genius transitioned from the military to the political realm, particularly in the realm of grand strategy. Victory was no longer a certainty with a brilliant general leading a well-trained army. The new strategic genius had to manage the strategic square, marshalling the entire resources of his country and ensuring a proper balance of military means and political ends. In addition, the strategic genius now had to keep together fractious and often fragile coalitions and ensure that acceptable strategic goals were decided and executed by each alliance member.
The role of strategic genius in combining each of the three major areas considered- domestic and alliance politics, military staff work, and the mobilization of industry and finance can be seen in the differences between the United States and Germany in World War II. The case studies of the U.S. and Germany also show not only that the eight types of strategic mismatches listed by David Lee can be correlated into the classic discussion of ends, ways and means, but they are in fact, variations on balancing the strategic square. The interaction of political ends, military capability and strategic planning must be correctly aligned with material strength to successful conclude a war.
Politically, the United States clearly did a better job of balancing political objectives and military capabilities. Although the United States did not enter the war officially until 1941, strategic planning by the Army and Navy had begun before Pearl Harbor. The United States was able to quickly take its place in the Allied triumvirate and articulate clear political goals for its military to achieve- “unconditional surrender” of the Axis Powers. The strong political hand of President Roosevelt was needed to ensure the Army and Navy worked in harmony to coordinate their efforts with the limited resources available in 1942 and 1943. Based on the need to fight a two-front war, the Western Allies did an excellent job of setting intermediate goals such as Operation Torch that did not exceed their available military capabilities. Once American military power was expanded to its wartime height, the U.S. was able to lead simultaneous operations in both the European and Pacific Theaters by 1944 .
In contrast, Germany was never able to set realistic political goals commensurate with their available military capability and economic strength and could not muster a sound alliance able to coordinate any comprehensive war strategy, even for a fairly common purpose of fighting the Soviet Union.
As a result, the vaunted German General Staff never was able to create a military strategy to meet Hitler’s political goals because Germany never really had any articulated strategy other than the defeat of Britain, and when that proved unfeasible, the conquest of Russia. The entire German strategic ethos to seek Vernichtungsschlacht or a “battle of annihilation” to decisively defeat an enemy army proved a constantly elusive goal on the Russian Front, where the Red Army was constantly able to make good losses throughout the war. Hitler’s misguided mix of military and political goals in operational decisions showed many of the mistakes of Philip II of Spain, where Hitler would refuse to give ground for sound military reasons, such as an orderly retreat from Stalingrad to escape the Russian encirclement, because of a reluctance to give up an conquered territory.
An overemphasis on operational prowess and the failure to comprehend the influence of politics and economics on strategy and warfare led to disaster for Germany in two world wars, despite the tactical and operational abilities of the German Army. Strategy and warfare now required a new type of strategic genius that could master all aspects of strategic thought-military, political, diplomatic and economic.
Georges Clemenceau certainly summed up the changes to warfare and strategy during the Early Modern and Modern Period in his apocryphal saying that “War is too important to be left to the generals.”