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

2 - The meaning of strategy: historical perspectives


On 19 November 2003, President George W. Bush delivered a major speech on international relations at the Royal United Services Institute in Whitehall, London. Security was intense: many Britons were unhappy that the privileges of a state visit were being accorded an American president who had gone to war in Iraq when the justification for doing so in international law was at best unclear. The event was therefore controversial; however, the speech was less so. Indeed, most British commentators welcomed it as a clear statement of United States foreign policy, and probably George Bush’s most coherent comments on the subject to date. ‘We will help the Iraqi people establish a peaceful and democratic country in the heart of the Middle East. And by doing so, we will defend our people from danger,’ he declared. He then went on: ‘The forward strategy of freedom must also apply to the Arab–Israeli conflict.’

This last sentence is puzzling. Strategy is a military means; freedom in this context is a political or even moral condition. Strategy can be used to achieve freedom, but can freedom be a strategy in itself? A fortnight after Bush’s speech, on 2 December 2003, the British Foreign and Commonwealth Office published its first White Paper on foreign policy since the Callaghan government of 1976–9. Its focus was on terrorism and security; it was concerned with illegal immigration, drugs, crime, disease, poverty and the environment; and it included – according to the Foreign Office’s website – ‘the UK’s strategy for policy, public service delivery and organisational priorities’. The punctuation created ambiguity (were public service delivery and organisational priorities subjects of the paper or objects of the strategy?), but the central phrase was the first one. It suggested that the Foreign Office now developed strategy to set policy, rather than policy to set strategy.

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The Direction of War
  • Online ISBN: 9781107256514
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