National Style in Strategy: The American Example
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The American Example II n the late 1970s, American defense commentators ”discovered” something they really had known all along-that the Soviet Union did not appear to share many of the beliefs and practices that are central to the American idea of international order. Although the Western strategic literature of the past quarter-century is replete with warnings against the practice of mirror-imaging and projecting American desires and perspectives upon Moscow, those warnings by and large proceeded unheeded until the late 1970s. In the early 1980s, the U.S. defense community is in a situation where it acknowledges the apparent fact of national cultural and stylistic differencesa great advance-but it has yet to determine what those differences should mean for U.S. policy. Two works, in particular, merit identification as path-breaking studies in this field: Jack Snyder’s RAND Report on The Soviet Strategic Culture: ZmpZicationsfor Limited Nuclear Operations(September 1973, and Ken Booths somewhat eccentric, though brilliant, book Strategy and Ethnocentrism. Neither of these were works of ”original scholarship”-but, like Alfred Thayer Mahan’s The Znfluence of Sea Power Upon History, 1660-1783,2 they dignified and elevated insight to the level of principle. The strategic cultural theme of this article has its roots in a concern flagged informatively by Jack Snyder. He has written as follows: It is useful to look at the Soviet approach to strategic thinking as a unique “strategic culture.” Individuals are socialized into a distinctivelySovietmode of strategic thinking. As a result of this socialization process, a set of general beliefs, attitudes and behavioral patterns with regard to nuclear strategy has This study is part of a much larger study on Nuclear Strategy and National Style by Dr. Gray. Colin S. Gray is Director of National Security Studies at the Hudson Institute. He writes frequently on strategy and strategic issues. 1. (London:Croom, Helm, 1973). See the appropriately critical, though somewhat ungenerous, review by Adda Bozeman i n Survival, Vol. XXII, No. 4 (July/August1980), pp. 187-8. Bozeman points, quite rightly, to the curiouslybiased judgments that Booth tends to level in criticism of American policymakers.That granted, the book, nonetheless, merits landmark status. 2. (London: Methuen, 1975, first pub. 1890). Mahan “discovered what the Royal Navy had actually been practicing for two and a half centuries! ~~ lntmtionnl Security, Fall 1981 (Vol. 6 ,No.2) 0162-2889/81/020021-27 $02.50/0 @ 1981by the President and Fellows of Harvard College and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. 21 International Security I 22 achieveda state of semipermanence that places them on the level of "culture" rather than mere "policy." Of course, attitudes may change as a result of changes in technology and the international environment. However, new problems are not assessed objectively. Rather, they are seen through the perceptual lens provided by the strategic c u l t ~ r e . ~ It is hypothesized here that there is a discernible American strategic "culture ": that culture referring to modes of thought and action with respect to force, derives from perception of the national historical experience, aspiration for self-characterization (e.g., as an American, what am I?, how should I feel, think, and behave?), and from all of the many distinctively American experiences (of geography, political philosophy, of civic culture, and "way of life") that characterize an American citizen. The idea of an American national style is derivative from the idea of American strategic culture, suggesting that there is a distinctively American way in strategic matters. Notwithstanding the necessary indeterminacy of some of the evidence, this article presents a multi-part hypothesis. First, it is suggested that there is an American (and, ab extensio, other) strategic culture-which flows from geopolitical, historical, economic, and other unique influences. Second, that American strategic culture provides the milieu within which strategic ideas and defense policy decisions are debated and decided. Third, it is suggested here that an understanding of American strategic culture (and, by extension, "style") can help explain why American policymakers have made the decisions they have. Moreover, if the past and present can thus be explained, it may be possible to employ the concept of strategic culture (and "style") to predict decisions in the future...