By Jeremy Black | Posted 27th May 2014, 13:20
Adopting a wide-ranging definition of strategy, Lawrence Freedman, Professor of War Studies at King’s College London, provides a discursive account with many interesting passages, notably, but not only, on recent developments involving the US. However the focus that he adopts, largely on western thinking, is seriously misguided in any work that purports to be a history of strategy or that seeks to explain the strategic cultures encountered by western powers as they expanded. There is a major failure by Freedman to engage with strategic culture, with China other than Sun Tzu and Mao, with India and, indeed, with the concept of most aspects of strategic thought, process and practice before the development of the term in the 18th century. Thus, the important insights offered by Geoffrey Parker in his study of the strategic problems and thought of Philip II of Spain are not really incorporated. Similar points can be made about many other scholars and episodes.
Moreover, the preference in the discussion for most of the book, and certainly prior to 1800, is on the strategy of military thinkers, not the strategy of military actors. This is a serious flaw. Possibly the book should have been entitled ‘Strategy: a Largely Western History of the Concept’. We have sections on Weber, Tolstoy, Gramsci and Alinsky, but no well-informed account of what strategy meant in the Middle Ages or the early modern period, to the Qianlong Emperor or to Louis XIV, to Aurangzeb or Suleiman the Magnificent. This is simply not what the title promises… MORE
Finding Strategic Man
A Reader’s Guide to Strategy
By Paul Kennedy
From our September/October 2014 Issue
Lawrence Freedman’s monumental new book is one the most significant works in the fields of international relations, strategic studies, and history to appear in recent years, so readers should know what it is and what it is not. Despite its size and ambition, this magnum opus is not comprehensive. Strategy is instead a deliberately selective look at an important term that gets bandied about so much as to become almost meaningless. Scholars now have a work that arrests that slackness.
Readers should also know that Freedman’s book does not focus on “grand strategy,” a topic widely studied and a term often used to judge policymaking, since it concerns historical actors pursuing big ends. The index therefore contains no entry for the Roman Empire, and Freedman never discusses the grand strategies of such lasting players as the Ming dynasty, the Ottomans, King Philip II of Spain, the British Empire, or the Catholic Church. He does, however, tackle Satan’s strategy, in a dissection of Paradise Lost. There are diversions into literature, ancient myth, political theory, and the classics, and to the extent that they serve Freedman’s grander purpose of showing what strategy can sometimes be, the detours may be justified. But Freedman certainly likes to pick and choose, a tendency that can sometimes make it difficult for readers to follow the thread of his arguments even as readers move into the central sections.
Those sections are threefold — “Strategies of Force,” “Strategy From Below,” and “Strategy From Above” — and Strategy is best read as three separate books in one. As he has with everything else in this elaborate study, Freedman has chosen these titles carefully. Still, his idiosyncratic and even peremptory claim on meanings and the logical chain of his chapters remind one of Alice’s encounter with the arbitrary Red Queen: things are as the author says they are, whatever one may happen to think about whether a “from below” strategy is included in his “Strategies of Force” section. Yet the book still stands tall compared to the many lesser works on strategy and policy out there, which is why it will still stand out in ten or 20 years’ time.
WAR ON THE MIND
“Strategies of Force,” the largest of Freedman’s sections, comes the closest to a classic discussion of wars, campaigns, generals, and admirals. Yet rather than analyzing strategic campaigning on the battlefield, it mostly covers strategic theory about war. The book’s striking front cover, which shows a model of the Trojan horse, may trick bookstore browsers, but they will not find much about tactics, logistics, or the warrior ethos in the pages that follow. .. MORE