restricted access Thinking about Strategic Culture
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Thinking *out StrategicCulture 1980s, extreme forms of certain generalizationsabout Soviet and U.S. societies provided the intellectual justification for the refinement of nuclear warfighting strategies in the United States. The former Soviet military was said to exhibit a preference for preemptive, offensive uses of force that was deeply rooted in Russia’s history of external expansionism and internal autocracy. The United States, on the other hand, tended to exhibit a tendency towards a sporadic, messianic and crusading use of force that was deeply rooted in the moralism of the early republicand in a fundamental belief that warfare was an aberration in human relations.’ Such characterizations of the superpowers’ strategic predispositions have been examined under the analytic category of “strategicculture.” Although the term remains loosely defined, the past decade has seen a growing amount of research on the relationshipbetween culture and strategy.The characterizations noted above had obvious policy implications at one time, and thus imply Alastair lain Johnston Alastair lain Johnston is Assistant Professor of Government at Harvard University, where he is a faculty associate of the Olin Institute for Strategic Studies and the Fuirbank Center for East Asian Research. His book, Cultural Realism: Strategic Culture and Grand Strategy in Ming China, will be published in 1995 by Princeton University Press. The author wishes to thank the following people for input into various stages of this research: Robert Axelrod, Tom Christensen, Dale Copeland, Peter Katzenstein, Jeff Legro, Kenneth Lieberthal , John Mearsheimer,Michel Oksenberg, Stephen Rosen, and Jack Snyder. This does not mean that they agree with him. Thanks as well to the SSRC/MacArthur Fellowshipin Peaceand Security and the Institute for the Study of World Politics for financial assistance. 1. Colin Gray, ”National Styles in Strategy: The American Example,” International Security, Vol. 6, No. 2 (Fall 1981); Colin Gray, Nuclear Strategy and National Style (Lanham, Md.: Hamilton Press, 1986);Carnes Lord, “AmericanStrategicCulture,” Comparative Strategy, Vol. 5, No. 3 (1985);Richard Pipes, ”Why the Soviet Union Thinks It Could Fight and Win a Nuclear War,” Commentary, Vol. 64, No. 1(July 1977),pp. 21-34. During the early years of the Reagan administration, Gray served as an adviser to the Arms Control and Disarmament Agency while Pipes was in the National Security Council. Pipes was also a member of Team B, the hawkish group of outside advisers to then-CIA director George Bush, which along with the Committee on the Present Danger (of which Pipes and Gray were both members) comprised influential proponents of war-fighting-warwinning nuclear capabilities to counter the alleged Soviet preference for war-fighting nuclear doctrines. Their views were the basis of strategic culturelike arguments made by the Reagan administration about the nature of the Soviet threat. See ”Soviet Strategic Objectives:An Alternative View, Report of Team ’8”’ (December 1976),in Donald I? Steury, compiler, Estimates on Soviet Military Power 2954-2984 (Washington, D.C.: Central IntelligenceAgency, 1994),pp. 329-335. Intermtional Security, Vol. 19, No. 4 (Spring1YY5),pp. 32-64 0 1995 by the President and Fellows of Harvard College and the Massachusetts Institute o f Technology 32 Thinking about Strategic Culture I 33 shortcomings in ahistorical and non-cultural structural models of strategic choice at the heart of mainstream international security studies. Thus it seems worthwhile to take a closer look at the analytic value of strategic culture. This article assesses the progress that has been made in studying strategic culture, examines the conceptual and methodological problems in the literature , and offers some possible solutions. It also suggests some caution about using strategic culture as an analytic tool. I begin by reviewing the literature on strategic culture and argue that the dominant approach to strategicculture is at the same time under-determined and over-determined,and has so far been unable to offer a convincing research design for isolating the effects of strategic culture.2On the basis of this critique,I then offer a definitionof strategicculture that is observable and falsifiable,and suggest a number of ways of conceptualizing its relationship to behavior. Finally, I suggest that the link between strategic culture and behavior should be approached with a great deal of care. Research on the symbolic elements of strategy suggests that strategic culture may...


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