More Summer Strategy goodness....

OOPS, silly me...I forgot that everything is always about context. SO, our summer discussion is taken from a fantastic book (of course) of essays on historical looks at problems in grand strategy. Williamson Murray is one of my favorite writers of military history and strategy and the breadth and depth of his writing is truly amazing. This book was used in one of my MA courses from American Military University and was really on with the next session. WHY am I writing about this? Well, strategy, especially Grand Strategy is an elusive topic...kinda like truth and the Obama Administration, and it's hard to get we are finding out. And, like bacon, strategy never goes out of style, the U.S. is just now starting to think about what happens next after the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan end? AND, most of all strategy is about allocating scarce resources to achieve your country's diplomatic and national security objectives, which again are in the news today.

BUT, these are not new problems...history can teach us a lot...if we are willing to learn and not be distracted by gay basketball players, the latest food-fight over gun control, or worry about which Kardashian sister is knocked up by which thug NBA player....

Now I know that putting together France and anything military is kinda like putting olive oil on your ice cream...but the French did some serious butt kicking in Mali and were, at one point in history, the dominant power in Europe until the Germans decided to work together and march down the Champs de Elysse every 40 years or so....

Here are my thoughts on France.

The Cart Before the Horse: How Warfare Drove Strategy in Early Modern and Modern France 

The case studies presented on strategy in 17th and 20th century France, show how strategy is often influenced by the nature and act of war itself. In both centuries French strategy was influenced by current or past warfare to a significant degree beyond rational planning to meet rational political objectives. 
Louis XIV was motivated by personal desires that affected his strategy beyond sound political and military planning. The desire for glorie, or as the Spanish monarch Philip II called it, reputation drove Louis' desire for war almost for its own sake in order to secure France's place among European powers. During the early years of his reign his desire for war and conquest caused him to wage war against most of his neighbors without a lot of strategic forethought, causing severe long-term consequences for his reign and France. France, like Hapsburg Spain, suffered from many of the problems of an aristocracy and absolute monarchy in decision making and financial planning to meet the commitments of a large war machine. Once France was able to successfully conquer new territory to satiate Louis quest, the need to defend these conquests took on a life of its own and forced French strategy to become very similar to the early, failed Hapsburg strategy of defense of territory at all cost to prevent a loss of glory for the dynasty. France was constantly waging what Louis viewed as defensive wars to protect his realm. [1] 

Two additional results of Louis constant warfare also had a significant influence over French strategy in the late 17th century. The constant waging of long wars weakened the French treasury while forcing Louis to maintain large standing armies. In order to keep these armies in the field logistically, the French were forced to build large magazines, or fortresses, to provide food and fodder for the army, and the French were forced to maintain a strategy of “forward deployment” of their forces to ravage enemy territory to provide supplies versus their own countryside and peasants. This made it challenging for Louis to negotiate or even keep a lasting peace with his neighbors, which continued a constant state of warfare, causing further reduction of French resources in a vicious cycle that weakened the entire French monarchy. [2] 

Concurrent with this need to maintain his armies on other countries forage, Louis' strategic thinking was also influenced by the rise of positional warfare and the engineering and building of large fortifications to both protected his frontier and provide bases from which his army could sally into enemy territory. The new fortresses designed by the engineer Vauban allowed Louis to ring the French eastern frontier and provide protection along the most likely invasion routes into France. Unfortunately, these routes were also the invasion and raiding routes into his neighbors, so although Louis and France saw his strategy as primarily defensive in nature, that was not how the other European powers viewed French strategy. In addition, the need to defend these fortifications tied down a significant number of French troops, limiting Louis strategic options and forcing the need to maintain a large army.[3]

Louis inability to set rational goals that could be met with the means available were overly influenced by what Clausewitz would call the non-rational need for achievement of military victory in warfare, without a thought to achieving political victory and a lasting peace, constantly antagonizing the other powers of Europe and leading to France's eventual bankruptcy and the fall of the Bourbon dynasty. 

 French strategy between the World Wars was a classic case of preparing to fight the last war and French strategy prior to 1940 was almost completely driven by a desire to avoid the mistakes and casualties of World War I rather than a rational understanding of the political and military threat posed by Nazi Germany. The formulation of French strategy also shows how the influence of domestic politics and the internal political view of war as an instrument of policy can have an adverse effect on strategy. France, like many of the other European powers, was traumatized by the slaughter and destruction of World War I and this institutional memory had a profound influence on French grand and military strategy during the 1920s and 1930s, with disastrous effects when the Germans finally attacked in May 1940. 
The first factor that drove French strategy was a realization that even though Germany had been defeated in 1918, it had not been destroyed and another European war was likely, particularly after the rise of the Nazis in the late 1930. Mindful of the failures of the early French offensives of 1914, the French strategy became almost exclusively defensive in nature, designed to fight tightly controlled battles of attrition that would favor the defense. This strategy was also driven by political struggles within France during the interwar years, particularly the role of the army in society and a desire to avoid war at nearly any cost.[4] 

The French strategy was also influence by the rise of alliance warfare and the attendant compromises needed to wage coalition warfare. In both World Wars, the French were keenly aware of their need for allies to encircle Germany and force a two front war. This was particularly true before 1939, when the French were very aware of the relative weakness in manpower compared to Germany, as well as the new measure of military prowess, air power. Prior to 1940, Britain and Belgium were the primary allies needed to maintain France's defenses and fight a forward deployed battle off French soil. However, the French were not able to drive these alliances to suit their strategic needs and their lack of military power and willingness to use it prevented the strong coalition action that might have stopped Hitler prior to September 1939. Even when war broke out, the Dutch, Belgians, French and British did not create a coordinated military strategy that would have enhanced their chances of stopping the German offensive when it came. The French desire to create alliances prevented what might have been the extension of the Maginot Line to the sea, cutting off and essentially abandoning Belgium, but allowing a shorter front and perhaps providing the French with the strategic reserve they lacked in 1940. The French desire to fight a defensive war and coupled with a desire to fight a forward defense in Belgium, limited their strategic options and not only gave the Germans the initiative, but left the French vulnerable to the German thrust through the Ardennes without sufficient reserves, particularly armored reserves, to counterattack into the German flank.[5] 
In both case studies, the nature of warfare being waged had a profound influence on the strategic decisions made by the French. In addition, the French were unable to change their strategic course, either through ignorance or inertia.  The formation of strategy is often not a rational process; earlier decisions imprison statesmen within the logic of their choices and finally impose policies and actions that those leaders would have preferred to avoid.

[1] Williamson Murray, MacGregor Knox and Alvin Bernstein, ed., The Making of Strategy: Rulers, States and War (New York: Cambridge University Press: 1994), 178-179, 184-185, 187. 
[2] Murray, et al., 190-191. 
[3] Murray, et al., 193-195. 
[4] Paul Kennedy, ed., Grand Strategies in War and Peace, ed. Paul Kennedy (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1991), 129, 131, 143. 
[5] Murray, et al., 467, 483, 489-490. 
[6] Murray, et al., 196.