Academic journal article Parameters

Strategy versus Statecraft in Crimea

Academic journal article Parameters

Strategy versus Statecraft in Crimea

Article excerpt

Abstract: The March 2014 annexation of Crimea may be interpreted as a contest between Russian strategy and Western statecraft. The respective natures of strategy and statecraft differ substantially, which predetermined the parameters and outcome of the Crimean crisis. This makes an excellent case study of the interaction between strategy and statecraft, and shows why strategy trumps statecraft in direct confrontations.


Even as Russia continues to undermine eastern Ukraine with provocateurs from within and massed troops from without, it is fair to say the Crimean component of the ongoing Ukrainian crisis has concluded. This clearly important historical event will be mined for further insight into Russian foreign policy, as well as statecraft and international relations, for years to come. Contemporary commentary on the crisis ranges from blame to the vociferous defense by Russia's premier international propaganda arm, Russia Today. Academics blogged throughout to consider political, economic, and other implications in real time as the crisis developed.

With Crimea now annexed by Russia (even though questions about Russian intentions toward the rest of Ukraine continue), it is possible to step back and consider the crisis as a whole. Why and how did Russia so easily impose its will upon the course of events? Why did the statecraft practiced by the Western powers appear so weak and anemic?

This article suggests the dynamics and outcome of the Crimean crisis were determined by disparate assumptions and methods of thinking on the part of the West and of Russia. The West practiced statecraft. Russia entered into Crimea anticipating the need for strategy as classically understood--using force to gain its political ends though ultimately their threat of force sufficed. This difference between statecraft and strategy dominated the entire affair. To illustrate the importance of this distinction, the respective natures of strategy and statecraft will be explored as lenses through which to examine the crisis. Finally, because strategy and statecraft differ so significantly, the real and anticipated post-crisis consequences of statecraft will be considered, even though that statecraft now no longer opposes strategy in any immediate sense.

Strategy and Statecraft: Respective Natures

Although classical strategy is a subset of statecraft, their natures are different. The nature of strategy differs significantly from that of statecraft, even though both ultimately subscribe to Andre Beaufre's proposal that "[a]ny dialectical contest is a contest for freedom of action." (1)

However, strategy approaches the question of freedom of action differently from statecraft, a divergence stemming from the fundamental assumptions and ways of thinking which respectively underpin the two, particularly concerning the role of military force. It is because of the sheer difference between the nature of force, on the one hand, and all other instruments of political power, on the other hand, that one must make a clear distinction between the threat or use of force and the employment of all other political tools. This difference renders many modern definitions of strategy obscure by implying functional equality between all instruments of power. Strategy, in its classical sense (as a concept solely dedicated to understanding and mastering military force) when employed side-by-side with the wider concept of statecraft, adopts the natures of the instruments available.

Force and its political utility are thus the primary concerns of strategy. Colin Gray has defined strategy as "the use that is made of force and the threat of force for the ends of policy." (2) Threatened (or actual) violence is, therefore, the first instrument in the strategist's toolkit. Such threat of or use of force may well be reciprocated by the opposing party, giving rise to the adversarial, reciprocal nature of strategy. …

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