Skip to main content Accessibility help
  • Print publication year: 2013
  • Online publication date: June 2014

7 - The limitations of strategic culture:the case of the British way in warfare


Few of the great thinkers on strategy who wrote before 1918 did so in English, and few of those who have done so since 1945 have been British as opposed to American. From Sun Tzu to Jomini, from Machiavelli to Clausewitz, most of the true originals in strategic thought have not hailed from the United Kingdom. But in one respect at least Britain can claim to have made an original contribution to strategic thought. Those who support the concept of strategic culture, the focus of much attention in contemporary strategic studies, have developed an ancestry for it which traces its roots to the British isles.

Not that the connection is immediately obvious. In 1977 an American, Jack Snyder, wrote a report on Russian strategic culture for RAND. Snyder defined strategic culture as ‘a set of general beliefs, attitudes and behavior patterns with regard to nuclear strategy [that] has achieved a state of semipermanence that places them on the level of “culture” rather than mere “policy”’. Snyder’s piece was seminal: he asked strategic theorists to look at Soviet attitudes to war in the light not just of communism but also of Russia’s geopolitical position and its Tsarist legacy. In a sense it turned the study of strategy away from its Cold War grooves, shaped by game theory and political science, and back to its more traditional disciplinary roots, geography and history. It was a point well made. Strategic culture has taken root in some university politics departments, and, although Snyder himself has since moderated his position, others – notably Colin Gray – have adopted it with increasing vehemence.

Recommend this book

Email your librarian or administrator to recommend adding this book to your organisation's collection.

The Direction of War
  • Online ISBN: 9781107256514
  • Book DOI:
Please enter your name
Please enter a valid email address
Who would you like to send this to *