The Shaping of Grand Strategy: Policy, Diplomacy, and War

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The Shaping of Grand Strategy: Policy, Diplomacy, and War

Edited by Williamson Murray, Richard Hart Sinnreich, and James Lacey

New York: Cambridge University Press, 2011

283 pages

$27.99

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Are you thirsting to find evidence that Otto von Bismarck is the greatest master of state power politics of all time, and Neville Chamberlain the worst? You'll find that and more in this rich anthology providing seven case studies on the forging--successful and unsuccessful--of grand strategy by statesmen over the ages.

Beginning with some "Thoughts on Grand Strategy" and how the phrase may be understood--the "intertwining of political, social, and economic realities with military power as well as a recognition that politics must, in nearly all cases, drive military necessity"--the collection of insightful essays first leads us to explore historical examples of ineffective strategic approaches.

Interestingly, an analysis of Louis XIV is the first such study, and it largely focuses on Louis's strategic failure in abandoning alliances in favor of unilateral actions that overstretched his state's resources and military, bearing striking resemblance to current US travails. "British Grand Strategy, 1933-1942" is another provocative case study underscoring what not to do, as it details Neville Chamberlain's strategic blunder in focusing on preventing war even as Germany rearmed, ignored the Munich Conference, and marched on and occupied Czechoslovakia. Both are great lessons underscoring the importance of matching strategy with reality, and describing what happens when that does not occur.

Reversing course and providing examples in effective grand strategy, the authors then take us on a journey detailing the strategic acumen of Bismarck, Winston Churchill, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, and Harry Truman. From Bismarck's diplomatic and military genius in establishing Prussia's dominant power status in Europe, to Roosevelt's decision in prioritizing the European theater over the Pacific, and finally to Truman's containment policy, there is much to learn from what they got right, making this a valuable tome in the professional libraries of scholars and statesmen alike.

The authors, who comprise university professors and scholars alike, are compelling and thoughtful in their detailed analyses, and the implications for US grand strategy are clear, if not explicit. In the chapters detailing the reign of Louis XIV and the British strategic shift prior to World War I, references to US overstretch are plainly stated and mostly convincing. Also implied in the effective strategies of Roosevelt and Truman is the importance of prioritizing world challenges, though there are no notable recommendations given for US policymakers and thinkers today.

The authors are also careful to point out that grand strategy is largely determined by uncertainty, such that, in the words of Bismarck, "man cannot create the current of events. He can only float with it and steer. …