Defining Military Strategy

By Arthur F Lykke, Jr. | Military Review, January/February 1997 | Go to article overview

Defining Military Strategy


Arthur F Lykke, Jr., Military Review


Colonel Arthur F. Lykke Jr. 's pragmatic definition of military strategy is as current today as it was when his article led the May 1989 issue of Military Review. Lykke's model remains the basis for military strategy instruction at the US Army War College. Interestingly, our records show that Military Review rejected this same article in March 1981. According to Lykke, the editors felt an article on strategy would be inappropriate for students at the Army's senior tactical school

WHAT IS MILITARY STRATEGY? In ancient Greece, it was the "art of the general." In its glossary of military terms, the US Army War College lists eight definitions of military strategy. This highlights the first of many problems in the study of this important but complex subject. There is no universal definition or even the approximation of a consensus. Today the term "strategy" is used altogether too loosely. Some call a line drawn on a map a strategy. Others believe a laundry list of national objectives represents a strategy. The problem is not just semantics; it is one of effectively and competently using one of the most essential tools of the military profession. In trying to decide between alternative strategies, we are often faced with a comparison of apples and oranges, because the choices do not address the same factors. Only with a mutual understanding of what comprises military strategy can we hope to improve our strategic dialogue. There needs to be general agreement on a conceptual approach to military strategy: a definition, a description of the basic elements that make up military strategy and an analysis of how they are related. For the purpose of this discussion, we will use the definition approved by the US Joint Chiefs of Staff: "The art and science of employing the armed forces of a nation to secure the objectives of national policy by the application of force or the threat of force."1

During a visit to the US Army War College in 1981, General Maxwell D. Taylor characterized strategy as consisting of objectives, ways and means. We can express this concept as an equation: Strategy equals ends (objectives toward which one strives) plus ways (courses of action) plus means (instruments by which some end can be achieved). This general concept can be used as a basis for the formulation of any type strategy-military, political, economic and so forth, depending upon the element of national power employed.

We should not confuse military strategy with national (grand) strategy, which may be defined as: "The art and science of developing and using the political, economic and psychological powers of a nation, together with its armed forces, during peace and war, to secure national objectives."2

Military strategy is [only] one part of this allencompassing national strategy. The military component of our national strategy is sometimes referred to as national military strategy-military strategy at its higher level and differentiated from operational strategies used as the basis for military planning and operations. Military strategy must support national strategy and comply with national policy, which is defined as "a broad course of action or statements of guidance adopted by the government at the national level in pursuit of national objectives."3 In turn, national policy is influenced by the capabilities and limitations of military strategy.

With our general concept of strategy as a guidestrategy equals ends plus ways plus means-we can develop an approach to military strategy. Ends can be expressed as military objectives. Ways are concerned with the various methods of applying military force. In essence, this becomes an examination of courses of action designed to achieve the military objective. These courses of action are termed "military strategic concepts." Means refers to the military resources (manpower, materiel, money, forces, logistics and so forth) required to accomplish the mission. This leads us to the conclusion that military strategy equals military objectives plus military strategic concepts plus military resources. …

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