We had to use that information wisely, of course, but it told us when the Germans or Japanese were making big moves. Some of the sources that came out after the war from the Vietnamese archives, even Chinese and Russian sources, show that, at times, we were closer to winning than we thought. The Chinese and the Russians were wondering how much more material they were going to have to throw into the war.
Had we had that kind of information instead of making estimates, then we could have taken a different course of action, perhaps. This is more of a textbook, is that right? This book is a great place for people to begin who want to learn more about strategy. Gray does what he says he is going to do: he talks about modern strategy. He talks about everything from the principles of nuclear strategy to the basic fundamentals of strategy itself, the importance of Clausewitz, and of strategic context.
But his book is a great place to begin. It depends what he meant, because he and I have debated the nature of war.
I disagree with that. I think Clausewitz was trying to tell us that the whole thing changes. It is not just a chameleon. War is more than a chameleon, according to Clausewitz, because its internal make up—which parts of a society participate, for instance, and how—too can change, and it is really important for us to understand that. It is one of the things that really gets in the way of achieving an advantage over your opponent because there are certain things that you will not, or must not, allow yourself to do.
I think most practitioners will tell you that they do.
The work of the ICRC
They feel caught between the rules of engagement and what they think they need to do in order to achieve their military objectives. The military is naturally frustrated by that kind of restriction. Probably, in the long-run, it would run counter to the goals you want to achieve. So we have to find a balance between those two. He is a historian of war. He specialised in World War I, but then he was brought into the present. Tell me more about his book. These are essays he published in Survival and elsewhere, and they were directly relevant to what was going on in Iraq and Afghanistan.
It was a way of trying to get people to pay attention, whether Members of Parliament or the US defence establishment. He was trying to speak directly to them, as well as to lower ranking military and policy practitioners. The burden of it is that strategy is not just about the approach you have going into the campaign—your objectives, your resources, and how you expect to use the latter to achieve the former. Those things run counter to the overall war effort and need to be reined in. Whoever is in charge of running the war needs to be alert to those situations.
Those are some of the messages that come out in his essays. You have to stay actively involved in it, steering it, you have to communicate. You have to have good civil-military relations in order to make sure you get across the cultural barriers and pick the right people to do the job.
It is not policy. It is not politics. It is not diplomacy. It exists in relation to all three, but it does not replace them. Many people look to strategy as if it should come before policy, or transcend politics, or that it should put diplomacy to work for it.
‘The Art of War’: As relevant now as when it was written
None of these things ceases for the sake of strategy, but they all have a part to play in making a strategy work. Just as they can be responsible for making it fail. This idea comes out of Clausewitz, of course. But some have taken the expression out of context and treat it as if it were the only thing he said. Focusing on the political dimension of war, at the exclusion of the others, makes our understanding of war unidimensional, and it necessarily makes strategy unidimensional—which comes back around to agreeing that we may not be sure about what war is and what strategy is.
Handbook on International Rules Governing Military Operations
But, they wrongly assumed that policy itself will be rational enough to avoid escalation. History, recent and ancient, shows us that is not true. We rationalize our use of war by calling it an instrument of policy, but it has actually many more dimensions to it.
I think the coverage tends to sensationalise war too much. Loss of life is always tragic, but to zero in on the loss of life in one particular incident, while losing the larger picture seems, to me, a distortion not only of the brutality of war but the extent to which the populace needs to be engaged and involved in it.
Knee-jerking our way out of a war, making impulsive decisions based on the latest headlines is not doing strategy. It is probably going to make things worse in the long run. But it is really, really hard for us to see it that way. Of all the leaders—throughout history—who do you think is the greatest military strategist? Do you have someone you particularly admire? In terms of the best overall strategic leader, someone who could guide the crafting of military strategy and had the ability to direct it successfully to win a major war, and to keep his key allies in the game, while dealing with a large number of strong personalities, would have to be Franklin Delano Roosevelt.
He had the strategic sense to appreciate what was happening in Europe by late and early —before Germany attacked Poland—and he was already looking for ways to increase aid to the UK and other Western countries. Support Five Books. Five Books interviews are expensive to produce.
If you're enjoying this interview, please support us by donating a small amount. The American public had already been bloodied and disillusioned by World War I—with a quarter of a million dead—and which turned out not to have solved anything. He also had to deal with a congress and a military that did not always support his decisions.
But he had to maintain the larger perspective. Roosevelt somehow managed to handle all of that while also being physically debilitated. So, for me, he is the one strategist who ranks top. Chinese names can cause confusion because of the different ways Chinese characters have been romanized over the centuries. So we are talking about Master Sun. Five Books aims to keep its book recommendations and interviews up to date.
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