Essays & Reviews

A Contemporary Hat Tip to Makers of Modern Strategy

In a Special Report of the Council on Foreign Relations, Revising U.S. Grand Strategy Toward China, Robert Blackwill and Ashley J. Tellis argue that because the American effort to “integrate” China into the liberal international order has now generated new threats to U.S. primacy in Asia—and could result in a consequential challenge to American power globally—Washington needs a new grand strategy toward China that centers on balancing the rise of Chinese power rather than continuing to assist its ascendancy.  Such a strategy would be designed to limit the dangers that China’s geo-economic and military power pose to U.S. national interests in Asia and globally, even as the United States and its allies maintain diplomatic and economic interactions with China.

The authors invoke definition of grand strategy set out in Makers of Modern Strategy: Military Thought from Machiavelli to Hitler (1943), edited by Edward Meade Earle (and last week’s featured work in CSD):  “the art of controlling and utilizing the resources of a nation…to the end that its vital interests shall be effectively promoted and secured against enemies, actual, potential, or merely presumed.”  Elaborating on this idea, Earle argued that this “highest type of strategy” is precisely such because it “so integrates the policies and armaments of the nation that the resort to war is either rendered unnecessary or is undertaken with the maximum chance of victory.” With these considerations in mind, Earle concluded that “[grand] strategy…is not merely a concept of wartime, but is an inherent element of statecraft at all times.”

The authors conclude:  “Though many others have subsequently offered variations on this concept, a wiser or more comprehensive definition of grand strategy has not been better articulated.”

Whatever one thinks of the substance of the Blackwill-Tellis argument, in principle or in detail – it is bound to be criticized as either provocative or self-contradictory – it is interesting to note that the framework of such an argument recognizes the value of Classic views of strategy and diplomacy.