- The Evolution of Strategy: Thinking War from Antiquity to the Present
Beatrice Heuser, professor of international relations at the University of Reading, has produced a remarkable diachronic synopsis of how people have “thought about the link between political aims and the use of force, or its threat” (p. 3). Her industry and prodigious consumption of the relevant theoretical literature, encompassing well-known actors such Carl von Clausewitz and Antoine Henri Jomini and less familiar writers such as Henry Humphry Evans Lloyd and Victor Derrécagaix, gives the work a magisterial character without sacrificing a lively narrative style. Nonetheless the central message is clear: that the conceptualization of war and its necessary political concomitants can never be a monolithic construct dependent upon some immutable Grundnorm.
Heuser’s book can be broken down into six major sections dealing in turn with the definition of the parameters of what constitutes “strategy,” the evolution of war thinking on land, on sea, in the air, in the nuclear age and in the post–Cold War world. The scope of the work may be ambitious, but the panache with which the author traverses her subjects and the conviction with which the arguments are presented are a testament to the careful distillation of the source material and the detailed scholarship that informs the text throughout. It is not surprising that in a work of such scope, the discussion of some time periods or certain genres of writers are given greater prominence than others. Heuser, for example, is clearly on “home turf” when discussing the legacy of nineteenth- and early twentieth-century military writers or the multidimensional debate that drove (or rather, continues to drive) the application of nuclear strategy. However, the iteration of what is most familiar to her does not preclude the author from drawing thought-provoking parallels across both time and topic so that the reader is rewarded with a richly panoptic overview that serves as an intelligent, informative, and stimulating introduction to the way that men (and it is mostly men) have considered war and its practice over the centuries.
Although Heuser begins sensibly enough (chapter 1) with a discussion of the essential elements of what comprises “strategy writ large,” it is not her intention to provide a strict, lexical dissection of the term. Instead, she charts the broad trends of what writers have deemed to fall within the realm of strategic discourse from antiquity to the present day. In doing so, she demonstrates the dramatic expansion in the [End Page 669] use of the word from the narrowly conceived “art of generalship” to the excessively expansive modern tendency to conflate “policy” with “strategy.” Even though this latter trend is too broad for Heuser’s purposes, her favorable citing of John Garnett’s notion of strategy as the use or potential use of military power by “governments in pursuit of their interests” (p. 15) demonstrates her acceptance of the modern convention that strategy belongs as much to the realm of political conversation as it does to the articulation and praxis of military theory. This much is surely correct, but it remains unclear whether or not Heuser’s focus on writers whose works considered “policy-making and (the) conduct of war” (pp. 33–34) for didactic purposes or to exert influence on contemporary governments, means that the role of nonstate actors in the appreciation of strategic concepts is therefore downplayed.
In the course of chapters 2 to 7, the author lays out the evolutionary basis of her argument concerning the transformation of “thinking war” but in so doing she characterizes the rationales that lay behind early warfare as unduly primitivist. In antiquity, generals and policymakers could be very adept in the adoption of nuanced and sophisticated approaches that demonstrated a very “modern” understanding of the potential of armed coercion to achieve their goals. As Edward Luttwak has argued, the notion of “suasion,” the threat of the use of military power (whether explicit or implicit), was instrumental in maintaining the...