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

13 - Strategy: change and continuity


For the historian strategic studies today present an interesting paradox. Thirty years ago strategic studies was a hybrid, a disciplinary mix of history, politics, law, some economics and even a little mathematics. Today the subject has been increasingly appropriated by departments of political science, its identity often subsumed under the amorphous title of ‘security studies’. As a result the study of strategy has been largely divorced from the historical roots in which it first flourished. This is not to say that history has no value for political scientists. They use case studies all the time, but they tend to choose those topics which prove or disprove a thesis, not subjects which are to be studied in their own historical contexts. Stories told without context obliterate the woof and warp of history, the sense of what is really new and changing as opposed to what is not.

This is not a historian’s diatribe against a discipline other than his own. Historians can be just as guilty of tunnel vision, too readily feeding the caricatures of themselves painted by political scientists. They are the party poopers who respond to claims that all is new and different by saying the reverse (and the perverse), claiming precedents which stress continuity, not change. So, for example, if the character of war is changing in the twenty-first century, those changes can be associated with non-state actors and private military companies, both of which are familiar to early modern historians, or with terrorists and insurgents, also equally well known to historians, in this case of Napoleonic Europe or of nineteenth-century imperialism. If this difference in disciplinary approach were uniformly true, what follows should stress continuity, saying that not much that is really new is likely to appear in the twenty-first century (and in some respects it will do that). Following the same logic, if the chapter had been written by a political scientist, it would have predicted dramatic changes, presenting major threats in that recurrent cliché, ‘an increasingly globalised world’.

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The Direction of War
  • Online ISBN: 9781107256514
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