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  • Print publication year: 2013
  • Online publication date: June 2014

8 - Maritime strategy and national policy


Maritime strategy faces problems of definition even more acute than those currently confronting what some theorists call ‘military strategy’. The latter is a tautology constructed to reflect the growth of grand strategy or national strategy, and is therefore some compensation for the sloppy, if currently fashionable, tendency to use the word strategy as a general synonym for policy. For traditionalists, all strategy is military. So what do modernists mean by ‘military strategy’? How, for example, does it differ from the operational level of war? Is ‘military’ used in the narrow British sense, and therefore to refer only to armies? Or is its use more transatlantic, with the implication that ‘military’ encompasses all the armed services, including the navy? If the latter is the norm, is the expression ‘naval strategy’ redundant? To British ears, naval strategy implies that it is something that the Royal Navy does, and therefore carries the ultimate sanction of armed force. Maritime strategy by contrast is broader, potentially embracing all the nation’s uses of the sea, economic as well as defensive. These questions are not hair-splitting. Words convey concepts: if they are not defined, the thinking about them cannot be clear, and there is also the danger that one person’s military strategy is another’s policy, just as one person’s naval strategy is another’s maritime strategy. Such ambiguity creates confusion within individual nations, let alone alliances ostensibly speaking a common language.

Strategy traditionally defined at the turn of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries was what generals, not admirals, did. They applied strategy by employing their armies in particular theatres of war. Following a course set by the Enlightenment, by Joly de Maizeroy and the comte de Guibert, Jomini and Clausewitz sought, in the first place, to link tactics to strategy, and to provide a theoretical framework within which the practice of land warfare could be understood. To that extent the evolution of military thought is a story that starts at the bottom, with the practical and tactical guidance of the ancients, from Xenophon to Vegetius, and works its way up. Clausewitz defined strategy as the use of the battle for the purposes of the war: in other words, he aimed to link tactics to a wider objective and ultimately, of course, to link strategy to policy.

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The Direction of War
  • Online ISBN: 9781107256514
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