'87 Sir

Thirty years of service ----USNA Class of 1987 '87 Sir

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Can there be a "Master Strategist?"

The final chapter of the section on military strategy in Dr. Freedman's book asks a critical question-can a single person be a "master strategist" a la Clausewitz?

Or is modern strategy so complicated and multifaceted that a single person cannot grasp all the subtle nuances?

This would seem to be one of those esoteric questions that academics love, but it's really an important issue.  As this section showed, strategy is as much art as science, and the ability to properly and completely outline a national security/defense/war strategy has not done well by most countries throughout history.

Based on his analysis and commentary, it's pretty clear that Dr. Freedman considers modern strategic thought to be too complex for solo contemplation, which is pretty interesting considering how much he quotes, Colin Gray, one of my favorite strategic thinkers, to prove his thesis. 

Strategic thought is a wide open field that can encompass everything from this volume, which surveys thousands of years to a single volume covering one aspect of strategic thinking, such as David Kilcullen's excellent new volume-Out of the Mountains.  While I don't disagree with the notion that modern strategy is hard and has many variables, I still think it is possible to become a "master strategist" in a particular field of study such as military or business strategy.

However, I can certainly see his point in a different way, separating strategic thought from the process of actually forming strategy that will influence diplomacy, drive doctrine, and influence procurement and operations.  One of the definitions of strategy is the balancing of ends, ways, and means and this clearly takes the involvement of both politicians and generals.  While not a big fan of "strategy by committee,"  I have to conclude that as a practical matter, it is really too complex a process for one person to master.  Sadly, gone are the days when a Napoleon could do it all-- make strategy, conduct operations, and command armies on a tactical battlefield.

Some other interesting observations were the role of "cultural strategy," which introduced the recent discussions about the role of a country's and military's culture in forming strategy.  Sun Tzu, of course, touched on this almost 4000 years ago, so again--nothing new here, just a relearning of history.

This was a less than chipper conclusion to the section on military strategy.  But it was an interesting education in how strategic thought has advanced and adapted throughout history and the challenges to successfully implementing strategy in the 21st century.

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