Understanding and Teaching Strategy

DISCLAIMER: The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily express the official policy or position of the U.S. Army War College, the Department of the Army, the Department of Defense, or the U.S. Government.

Foto: Forsvaret.dk Angrebsplan mod Danmark fra den kolde krig

For nearly three decades now, students at the U.S. Army War College have studied strategy using the basic conceptual model first introduced by COL (Ret) Arthur F. Lykke, Jr.[3] While Lykke’s initial formulation focused on military strategy, it soon evolved into a framework for understanding strategy in general, and at all levels and in a variety of different applications. The model, presented again in this article with some modifications, provides a clear and simple way of thinking about strategy. It does not, however, imply that doing strategy—its actual formulation and implementation in practice—is either simple or easy. In fact, the very nature of strategy leads to quite a different conclusion: Strategy is extraordinarily difficult.[4] Whether studied in the Hegelian-like style of the German author Clausewitz or the almost “bumper sticker” style of the Asian Sun Tzu, strategy emerges as a complex process, whose many enduring and key characteristics include the persistent operation of forces nearly impossible to influence let alone control such as uncertainty and chance.[5] All that said, there are still many reasons why a basic understanding of a rather simple model of strategy better prepares us to engage in strategic thinking, strategy formulation and implementation, and strategic leadership in highly complex and uncertain situations. Perhaps the most important reason is the value of a common language (terms, concepts, etc.) and a shared understanding of it in the otherwise quite complex and often confusing world of formulating and implementing strategy. And that is why it is increasingly important today to ensure that the education and development of our future leaders occur both for civilian and military members of the strategy community, and that it also take place jointly and in a shared environment.

The purpose of this article is twofold. The first is to present the basic foundation used at the U.S. Army War College (and elsewhere) for the discussion of strategic issues such as the key characteristics of the contemporary international security environment, the challenges and opportunities that environment presents to all actors (national and international, state and non-state, governmental and non-governmental), and possible strategic responses to those challenges and opportunities. The second purpose is to lay out some of the inherent challenges of formulating and implementing strategy not only in the face of an increasingly complex security environment but also in contemporary democracies. Democratic institutions, processes, and relationships frequently confound the already complicated challenges of formulating and implementing effective strategy.  To accomplish this twofold purpose the article will once again lay out the basic conceptual model of strategy and present another conceptual framework for the formulation of strategy. It will then focus on the critical relationship between policy and strategy, and in turn the special problematic of that relationship in democratic societies today. Finally, the article concludes with some observations about what these challenges of strategy formulation and implementation mean for leadership and especially leadership development in both the military and civilian communities, and the role of the U.S. Army War College in that leadership development process.

Strategy: What Is It?

Strategy is several things. The definition of strategy employed at the U.S. Army War College (USAWC) is the “relationship among ends, ways, and means.” This is a self-described “conceptual definition,” emphasizing that by design it simplifies a complex process into a framework for clearer understanding. Ends are the objectives or goals sought. Means are the resources available to pursue the objectives. And ways or concepts are how one organizes and applies the resources in pursuit of the objectives. Each of these components suggests a related question. What do we want to pursue (ends)? With what (means)? How (ways)? Often we add an important modifier to this definition: The calculated relationship among ends, ways and means. The point is to emphasize that the relationship is not pre-existing or a given; it is the result of choices made by individuals or institutions who ostensibly make decisions based on what they think or believe that relationship should be. These choices may or may not be conscious and deliberate. So in answering the question — what is strategy? — it is first a calculated relationship among these three basic components.[6]

But an understanding of what strategy is must also recognize that it is intrinsically dynamic. And it is dynamic in two ways. First, the outcomes of strategic engagement —whether in politics, business, sports, wars or myriad other applications of strategy — are determined not by the choices made by one of the actors but by the interaction of the choices made by two or more participants or players. One cannot know the actual result of a strategic choice — a course of action, for example — until that choice meets its counterpart (a choice by another actor). So in this first sense, strategy is dynamic because the results emerge from the interaction of choices made by two or more players. And precisely because of this dynamic, strategy is dynamic in a second sense: It is a process not an outcome. Strategy is never truly a product. Although we often hear the term strategic plan, it is much more accurate to observe that true strategy is an ongoing process of making choices, seeing how those choices play out in the field, assessing those intermediate results, and adjusting as necessary to stay on track toward the achievement of the objective(s). While planning and plans may be important components of doing strategy, strategy itself should not be confused with a plan, if by the latter ones means something of a fixed blueprint to be followed. One can build a house according to a blueprint because rarely is someone or something trying to obstruct the construction of that house while it is being built. Someone may want to change the blueprint along the way, but it is generally done within the framework of a shared desire to build the house. But in all things strategic someone or something is in effect trying to prevent your strategy from succeeding, and therefore the dynamic process of planning, acting, assessing, reassessing, and adjusting is in fact not just necessary; it is part of the very essence of strategy. It is, to return to the phrase in the introduction, part of what makes doing strategy so difficult. The strategy must be sound in and of itself AND it must survive the dynamic process of interacting with choices made by others, shifts in the nature and character of the environment in which it is occurring, and the curveballs thrown up by the indomitable forces of chance and the unknown.

This complex, dynamic character of strategy also highlights the importance of some very important principles of strategy which we cover briefly here.[7] The first is the principle of balance. A sound strategy must have internal balance. If the objectives are too ambitious, the resources too limited, or the concepts for employing them too inefficient, the strategy will almost certainly fail. So in formulating and adjusting the strategy, the strategist must constantly work to ensure that the appropriate balance is maintained. And since resources are always limited, this means that risk is inherent in any strategy; when one allocates certain resources in certain ways to pursue certain objectives, risk emerges somewhere because fewer resources are allocated to those other areas. Managing that risk is key, making conscious choices about where and how to bear it.

The second key principle is that ends are the most important component of strategy. This does not mean the other two are unimportant. But if the strategic ends are wrong, no amount of adjustment of ways and means will fix the strategy. In short, if you are going to the wrong place you can get there faster and you can get there more efficiently, but neither will correct for the very serious flaw that the objective of the strategy has been misidentified.[8]

A third key principle of strategy is that the objectives must be pursued with the appropriate means applied in effective, carefully considered ways. Not all means are appropriate for the pursuit of all objectives. In the past two decades this was evident in the many efforts to find the right balance of military and non-military instruments in peace operations.[9] It lies at the heart of the debate about the three D’s (defense, diplomacy, and development) and the appropriate strategic mix necessary to address effectively the challenges of complex international stabilization and reconstruction operations in conflict-riven and post-conflict environments. For even if one has properly identified the strategic objectives, the application of the wrong tools will generally lead to strategic failure.[10] Moreover, the right tools but in the wrong combination (the ways in which one applies the means) can also result in strategic failure. It is necessary but not sufficient to identify and define the ends properly; finding the appropriate mix of ways and means is crucial, too.

To summarize, then, strategy is all of these things together: Setting the proper objectives, identifying and employing the appropriate resources in the most effective and efficient ways possible given various and multiple constraints and limitations, and assessing and adapting as situations change, other actors make their choices, and previously unknown or largely uncontrollable factors come into play. Small wonder, then, that strategy is a concept relatively simple in theory and yet extraordinarily complex in practice.

Grand Strategy: What Is It?

As Garly and Odgaard observe in the introductory article to this special edition, strategy also operates at different levels, and they identify three: grand strategy, security strategy, and theatre strategy.[11] For our purposes we concentrate here on grand strategy which we define as the over-arching strategy of a state as it pursues its interests through the application of the instruments of power derived from all the elements of power. Although there are numerous lists (with accompanying acronyms) of the elements of power, it suffices here to identify one of the most common and perhaps also simplest, DIME: Diplomatic, Information, Military, and Economic. Within each of these elements, there are multiple instruments, i.e., specific tools that can be applied depending on what means a state has available to use and the ways in which those means can be organized and employed.[12] Typically states vary greatly in terms of what and how much of each element of power they have and can bring to bear in the pursuit of their objectives, and they also vary greatly in terms of the variety and effectiveness of the many possible instruments that translate those elements into useful, practical applications of that power. But in all cases a sound grand strategy integrates the elements of power through the coordinated and synchronized application of specific instruments or tools of power in the pursuit of identified strategic objectives. At the level of grand strategy this integration of the elements of power is arguably the most important because the goals or objectives are quite broad, and there can be a vast array of choices and decisions to make about how best to pursue those broad goals and the most appropriate and feasible mix of the elements of power with their related tools or instruments. A grand strategy also has the other key characteristics of strategy generally: It is dynamic, involving an ongoing assessment of and adaptation to shifting conditions and circumstances in the strategic environment and to strategic choices made by other actors in the international system, and it is a process, not a singular outcome.

Grand Strategy and Policy

Earlier we noted that the relationship between the ends pursued and the means and ways chosen to pursue those ends is an essential component of “getting strategy right.” But there is another critical relationship in strategy and it also leads us into the process of strategy formulation: the relationship between policy and strategy. Simply stated, policy is what should and indeed must guide strategy, not only at the level of grand strategy but at all levels. This is the basic yet fundamental point of the oft-quoted phrase from Clausewitz, paraphrased here, that war is the extension of politics by other means—it is in fact the extension of “policy by other means”, meaning that the use of the military must be guided by the strategic objectives and apply the military instruments of power in ways that are consistent with the policy that underlies and therefore must guide it. Policy in this context is the broad goal-setting function of strategy, but not simply in the sense of setting strategic objectives, which it clearly does, but also in the guidance it provides about what elements of state power should be employed and in what ways. In some cases the policy constraints will also substantially narrow the range of tools that can be used within any one or more of those elements. In democracies the responsibility for formulating the policy that in turn guides strategy remains in the domain of the public, i.e., it is a public policy function. This does not mean that all public institutions and officials, including the public itself, play equally in the process of formulating policy and policy guidance; rather, it means only that the ultimate authority for determining that policy is the constituted public policy process. One example of that as applied to military strategy is embodied in the democratic principle of civilian control. We will explore several other aspects of the policy-strategy relationship in the subsequent section on the formulation of strategy in practice. But first we consider how all of this is supposed to come together theoretically in the formulation of strategy.

Formulation and Implementation of Strategy in Theory

To illustrate the formulation of strategy in theory we have reproduced a variation of a diagram frequently used at the US Army War College in its professional military education (PME) curriculum for senior-level military officers and including international officers and some US security-sector civilians.[13]

Figure 1 presents in flow-chart form a suggested process for formulating national or grand strategy. We will not walk through each step of the process as presented; instead we use this diagram to make some observations that bear on the remainder of our arguments in this article. First, strategy formulation should begin with a careful consideration of the national values of the country, and those core values must be reflected in the policy and its resulting guidance for strategy lest the resulting strategy be at odds with those same values. When that happens, strategy is almost certain to fail. Those same values underlie the national interests of the country and its citizens, and those interests become the focal point of what the grand strategy is designed to protect and promote. The next step in this process—the strategic appraisal—involves a number of critical tasks such as the identification of potential threats and challenges to those interests, as well as opportunities for their promotion and advancement. It entails an assessment of the strategic environment, including both its external and internal dimensions. The external environment consists of other actors in the international system (e.g., state and non-state, governmental and non-governmental, international organizations, etc.), important characteristics such as the distribution of power and resources, including people, and overall trends and forces at work. There may be elements of continuity from the past co-existing with elements of strong and rapid change in the present and future, making the challenge of accurate assessment all the more difficult. The internal environment consists of those things within the country that bear on identifying the proper objectives for the strategy as well as its formulation and implementation. They include, for example, the institutions of government, the economic climate, the mood and preferences of the public, proclivities of individual leaders, and so on.[14] This is a highly complex and complicated component of strategy formulation, and often presents the strategist with a confounding array of variables, frequently very difficult to measure, and including unknowns and even unknowable’s.[15] And there is usually a large number of domestic participants in the strategic appraisal process.

Once the overall strategic appraisal is complete, the next step is the formulation of broad policy and the accompanying policy guidance. This consists first and foremost of identifying and articulating the core strategic objectives, and any additional policy guidelines concerning how, with what, and at what level of intensity they will be pursued. From that the national strategy is formulated, and in the diagram we show only the formulation of the military strategy to support that national strategy, but in reality there will be several supporting (sometimes called subordinate) strategies that should be aligned in pursuit of the overall national objectives.  Creating and maintaining that alignment is yet another challenge we will identify in the next section on strategy formulation in practice. Finally, the emerging strategy is evaluated in terms of risk and risk management, and reassessed and adjusted as necessary—all the way back up to the identification and statement of national interests if need be. And this is the critical point: The strategy formulation process, even when presented in this flow-chart format, should not be viewed as a linear, step-by-step, purely rational exercise. It will loop back on itself as contradictions and stresses on resources force a reexamination of objectives as well as the ways and means to pursue them. Some objectives may even be in competition with each other, creating an internal tension in the strategy that must be addressed and mitigated if not resolved. In this much-abbreviated treatment of strategy formulation in theory, we should see there is nothing simple about it. But we should also see that the three component parts of strategy and their relationship to each other, and the various steps of the strategy formulation process and their relationship to each other and to the resultant strategy, are useful in helping the strategist ask the right questions. They do not comprise a tight, rational, linear formula for getting to the correct answers to those questions. In fact, as taught at the US Army War College and elsewhere, the strategy and strategy formulation models provide a framework for thinking and analysis, not a formula for successfully doing strategy. Creativity and critical thinking play heavily in the final product; in the end, nearly all strategy is a combination of both art and science, and often more art than science.

Similarly, once formulated the strategy requires effective implementation in order to achieve success. Effective implementation includes many of the same principles of, and is closely related to, strategy formulation. For one thing, the various tools identified in formulation must be organized and activated. They must also be coordinated and focused so as not to be in conflict with one another or impede the progress of other key components of the strategy. Just as the strategy needs continual assessment and adjustment as required, so too does its implementation. And just as the strategy requires balance, there are critical issues of balance and timing in implementation, too.  And for grand strategy especially, the time frame for implementation will be quite long, requiring patience and sustainability.  In theory, one can identify these and other discrete parts of strategy implementation and line them up in a logical array for execution. But as with its formulation the implementation of strategy almost always requires an artful application of adjustments and fixes to problems as they arise. It, too, is anything but simple.[16]

Formulation and Implementation of Strategy in Practice

At the end of the last section we highlighted some of the factors that already point to the myriad challenges of turning the theory of strategy formulation and implementation into practice. They include the complexity and uncertainty of the many dimensions of the strategic appraisal, and the fact that important strategic objectives may be in conflict with one another. No less important is the nature of the process that flows directly from the policy-strategy relationship discussed in the section preceding the last: The process of strategy formulation is inherently political. Although some students are frequently put off by this notion, it is not a negative editorial comment; it is both a statement of fact and a reality about what strategy is. There is no single correct answer for what is a good strategy in almost all situations we would confront under this heading of grand strategy; there may be some strategic alternatives that are better than others, but there is no such thing as the right answer. Because policy must ultimately guide strategy, the process of formulating that strategy must be political. But that also means that the policy itself is subject to the give and take of all things political. So more importantly, the issue is not that it is political; the issue is whether the underlying politics of the process are, for lack of a better word, healthy in terms of strategy formulation and implementation. That is why Clausewitz, for example, devotes so much thought and space to concepts like the “trinity” (the relationship between the government, the people, and the military) and qualities of leadership.[17] The move from theory to practice in strategy formulation and implementation is a hugely complicated and very difficult step because of the uncertain and often vague nature of the core concepts, the dynamic underlying all strategy, and the fact that the dynamic is magnified by the internal dynamics of the political process.

Consider a second diagram which has also been used at the US Army War College to help illustrate this important aspect of strategy formulation and implementation in practice. In this diagram the focus is on “national security policy and strategy” but it applies equally to grand strategy since in the terminology adopted in this special issue, security strategy is a subset of grand strategy.

As this figure illustrates, the definition, formulation, and of course implementation of broad national strategy occur at the nexus of the international and domestic systems, that is, where the two systems overlap. And that means that both the understanding of the international system (the external dimension of the strategic appraisal) and the formulation of a grand strategy based on that understanding will be forged as a matter of domestic political processes. The implementation of grand strategy will also be subject to those same domestic political processes. At this level of strategy, successful implementation almost always requires sustained effort over a long period of time, frequently without immediately observable results.

Strategy Formulation and Implementation in a Democracy: The Need for Leadership

Democracies pose specific challenges to these key components of doing strategy.[18] And while time and space constraints do not allow for a consideration of them here, what we can highlight is the critical role of leadership in strategy formulation and implementation. In all open political systems, successful grand strategy typically results when political leaders rise to the challenge of their roles in strategy. Simply stated, leaders must do the following: 1) devise the strategy based on a strong vision for the country and consistent with its core values; 2) articulate the strategy effectively to others; 3) induce and inspire others to follow; 4) assess, reassess and adjust as necessary; and 5) maintain a laser-like focus on the strategic objectives. There is insufficient authority in most democratic political systems to achieve these things by dint of political power alone; ultimately the power of persuasion and the effective use of leadership skills determine these outcomes.

The Role of the U.S. Army War College: Developing Strategic Leaders

We have argued that grand strategy formulation and implementation, while relatively easy to grasp in theory, are in fact quite difficult in practice; that difficulty is a function both of what strategy is and the political context within which it is formulated and implemented. Both because of its inherent complexity and the additional complexity of the contemporary international system, the kind of strategic coherence and constancy we need are often lacking. This frequently results in 1) strategic lurches from one so-called “strategy” to another or 2) strategic ambiguity and vagueness, or 3) some combination of the two. Given the different levels of strategy, this uncertainty at the top often leads to the kind of theater-level strategy adaptation by implementers identified by Garly and Odgaard.[19] And while recent U.S. experience with “on-the-ground strategy development” has shown that good things can result from it, the problem is that in the absence of strategic coherence in Washington, the strategy in the field is not sustainable: Neither the political leadership nor the public will provide the long-term support that strategic success requires.[20] Democratic institutions and processes often stress divided and shared powers. This in turn frequently leads to intended inefficiencies and slow-to-develop outcomes. And when these combine, as they often do in the U.S. with a public that frequently wants immediate results, the challenges for successful strategy formulation and implementation are huge. And this democratic problematic, at least in the U.S. but almost certainly elsewhere, means that in the absence of senior-level leadership and the attendant public support over time, strategy formulation and implementation will either continue to occur on the ground or will break down.  In either case, effective strategic-level success is highly unlikely.

And so we conclude this article with some observations about the role of the USAWC, and specifically its mission in regard to the difficulties of formulating and implementing strategy as identified in the preceding sections.[21] The two primary functions that the USAWC performs are teaching and research. Obviously, we teach a broad and comprehensive curriculum, but it is clearly focused on two key elements described in this article. The first is the framework for understanding what strategy is and how it might be formulated and implemented in theory. As we observed earlier, having a common language and a shared understanding of it for thinking and talking about strategy is a necessary first-step in making it work in practice. But we also teach and work with our students to develop their skills and equip them to understand and deal with the VUCA world, where complexity and uncertainty reign, and the realm of real strategy where the application of theory meets the reality of practice. That in turn means they must develop and hone their leadership skills for an arena in which traditional military or civilian rank is likely to mean little or nothing at all, and the ability to discuss, debate and persuade will mean a great deal. So leadership development is the second key component of what we teach. But it is leadership in the broadest sense, to include not just the responsibility to make decisions but to provide effective, high quality advice, to interact effectively with both military and civilian counterparts in the U.S. and globally, and to be effective participants in and contributors to the policy and strategy formulation processes. To do all of this these future leaders must learn more about themselves, about others, and about strategy. Our curriculum strives to help them learn and grow in these areas.

Our research, not surprisingly, typically serves to support the teaching mission although the audience is often broader than just our own students. Among all faculty but especially those working in our Institutes, such as the Strategic Studies Institute (SSI) and the Peacekeeping and Stabilization Operations Institute (PKSOI), and the Center for Strategic Leadership (CSL), we strive to probe the VUCA environment to increase awareness of issues, trends, and challenges not only among our leaders but among senior military and civilian leaders and the attentive public generally, in the U.S. and abroad. We scrutinize existing policy and strategy, and we examine the qualities and skills of effective leaders, seeking to identify those that adaptive strategic leaders will need to help a country chart a course and steer through the challenging times that lie ahead. It is not that all of our graduates will be strategic leaders at the highest levels of either the military or civilian communities in the U.S. or their home countries, because we know that is not true. It is because we need individuals at all levels in all of the organizations who can think, act and lead strategically. As the example of adaptive strategy “on the ground” demonstrates, we need high quality strategic ideas at all levels and those ideas come from people.

The need for educating and developing strategic leaders—military and civilian—has never been greater than it is today. The nature of the international security environment calls for a more nuanced and incisive understanding in order to identify more accurately the strategic imperatives of the 21st century. It calls for more flexible and adaptive strategies for addressing those imperatives and shaping the future security environment rather than constantly being forced to react to it. We need more effective and efficient strategy formulation and implementation, both within the U.S. and internationally in concert with others. And increasingly, our strategies must be capable of integrating multi-tool, cross-agency, and cross-national approaches. It has become de rigueur lately to call for Whole of Government (WOG) approaches as we seek better strategy, but that may not be how we should think about the problem.[22] After all, WOG is a strategic way or concept; and it is only one way in which we might employ the possible tools in our strategic attempts to address the challenges and make the most of opportunities. What we need in order to achieve desired strategic outcomes or objectives are appropriately placed individuals with the ability to think, act, and lead strategically whether in WOG or more traditional approaches. The goal is not to use a new approach; the goal is to get the strategic ends as close to “right” as we can, build a sound strategy around the achievement of those ends (which should include the most appropriate ways to employ the means), and design and lead the implementation to achieve strategic success. Toward that “end” I am confident that the USAWC and the RDDC are making key contributions. We need more.

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[1] This article grew out of presentations made and discussions held by the author while he participated in a program held at the Royal Danish Defence College on April 12-13, 2010.  It draws heavily on the author’s experience as a faculty member, course director, and Chair of the Department of National Security and Strategy at the U.S. Army War College, as well as his current research conducted under the auspices of the Strategic Studies Institute of the USAWC.

[2] Robert H. “Robin” Dorff is Professor of National Security Affairs in the Strategic Studies Institute of the U.S. Army War College where he also holds the General Douglass MacArthur Chair of Research. He previously served on the USAWC faculty as a Visiting Professor (1994-96) and as Professor of National Security Policy and Strategy in the Department of National Security and Strategy (1997-2004), where he also held the General Maxwell D. Taylor Chair (1999-2002) and served as Department Chairman (2001-2004). His research focuses on strategy and strategic leadership, fragile and failing states, and integrating civilian and military capabilities. Professor Dorff holds a B.A. in Political Science from Colorado College and an M.A. and Ph.D. in Political Science from the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill.

[3] See Arthur F. Lykke, Jr., ”Toward an Understanding of Military Strategy,” reproduced in Joseph R. Cerami and James F. Holcomb, Jr. (eds.), U.S. Army War College Guide to Strategy. Carlisle, PA: Strategic Studies Institute, February 2001, pp. 179-85.

[4] Literally volumes have been written on this one aspect of strategy, but one very useful overview can also be found in the just-referenced edited volume. See David Jablonsky, “Why is Strategy Difficult?” in Cerami and Holcomb, Guide to Strategy, pp. 143-55.

[5] Carl von Clausewitz, On War, ed. and translated Michael Howard and Peter Paret. Princeton: Princeton Unviveristy Press, 1976. Sun Tzu, The Art of War, trans. Samuel B. Griffith. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1963.

[6] Some argue this definition overstates the rationality of strategy formulation, and presumes a kind of linearity to strategy that does not conform to reality. See, for example, arguments presented in Gabriel Marcella (ed.), Teaching Strategy: Challenge and Response. Carlisle, PA: Strategic Studies Institute, March 2010. While time and space limitations preclude an in-depth exploration of these issues here, some of the subsequent discussion will argue that this definition does not assume such levels of rationality or linearity. However, in this author’s opinion, some scholars and teachers have overstated both of those dimensions to the detriment of a sound understanding of what strategy is.

[7] There are many important principles of strategy one can glean from the very rich and broad literature, ranging perhaps from the ancients like Thucydides to some outstanding modern analyses, many of which will be touched on elsewhere in this special edition.

[8] Of course, this cannot be done if one has not properly identified the nature of the strategic challenge in the first place. To use a medical analogy, a doctor probably cannot prescribe a course of treatment that will succeed without first correctly identifying what ails the patient.

[9] See just one example from this author’s work: Robert H. Dorff, "The Future of Peace Support Operations". Small Wars and Insurgencies, Vol. 9, No. 1, Spring 1998, pp. 160-178.

[10] The oft-quoted old maxim is useful here to illustrate the point: If all you have is a hammer, every problem looks like a nail. Wikipedia identifies this as “[T]he concept known as the law of the instrument, Maslow's hammer, or a golden hammer….” and cites the source as Abraham Maslow with this quote: "It is tempting, if the only tool you have is a hammer, to treat everything as if it were a nail." Abraham H. Maslow, The Psychology of Science. Chapel Hill, NC: Maurice Bassett Publishing, 2002, p. 15. Wikipedia source available at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Law_of_the_instrument; accessed most recently 27 Aug 2011.

[11] Jens Garly and Liselotte Odgaard, “Strategic Studies at the Royal Danish Defence College”. Militært Tidsskrift, nr. 4, 2011 p. 3. To be clear there is often disagreement on this terminology. Some use grand strategy, national security strategy, and security strategy synonymously while others draw carefully and finely nuanced distinctions among them. For the purposes of this article we do not need to enter this debate. We use the distinction drawn by Garly and Odgaard which is more than appropriate for the arguments presented here.

[12] Some other acronyms and lists of the elements of power include DIMEFIL (adding finance, intelligence and law enforcement) and MIDLIFE (adding legal, intelligence, finance). For the DIMEFIL chart showing both the elements and some of the tools of each element, see Harry R. Yarger, Strategy and the National Security Professional: Strategic Thinking and Strategy Formulation in the 21st Century. Westport, Connecticut: Praeger, 2008, p. 72.

[13] For additional information on the US Army War College specifically and PME generally, see Linda P. Brady, Robert H. Dorff, Daniel J. Kaufman, and James M. Smith, Educating International Security Practitioners: Preparing to Face the Demands of the 21st Century International Security Environment. Carlisle, PA: U.S. Army War College, Strategic Studies Institute, 2001. Available online at: http://www.strategicstudiesinstitute.army.mil/pubs/display.cfm?PubID=280.

 [14] For a more detailed discussion of the strategic environment, see Yarger, op.cit., pp. 27-37.

[15] At the US Army War College we refer to this as the VUCA environment which stands for volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous.

[16] We are reminded of the loosely translated, slightly reinterpreted, and oft-quoted statement of von Moltke’s that “no battle plan survives the first encounter with the enemy”.

[17] We will return to these points in the next section.

[18] Entire books have been written on this topic, and we do not purport to offer anything like a full treatment here. The brief excursion is intended to return us to the teaching and research that occurs at institutions such as the Royal Danish Defence College and the US Army War College, and how that contributes to challenges we face in doing strategy. For one example of the practice of security strategy in the U.S., see Harvey M. Sapolsky, Eugene Gholz, and Caitlin Talmadge, US Defense Politics: The Origins of Security Policy. New York: Routledge, 2009.

 [19] Garly and Odgaard, op. cit., p. 2.

[20] We mention here the way in which U.S. military and civilian implementers essentially “invented” Provisional Reconstruction Teams (PRT’s) in response to a rapidly changing security environment on the ground and the lack of appropriate resources (reconstruction and stabilization tools) immediately available to address it. While PRT’s have subsequently become part of the common lexicon in Iraq and Afghanistan, they have yet to achieve the kind of sustained strategic commitment such as joint (military and civilian) doctrine, training and deployment that a national-level strategy would entail.

[21] We always hesitate to over-generalize, but this is a shared mission of all the Senior Service Colleges in the U.S. and probably quite similar to those of institutions such as the Royal Danish Defence College.

[22] This point surfaced clearly in a recent Symposium conducted under the SSI Academic Engagement Program and run by Kennesaw State University, February 25, 2001. See Mackenzie Duelge and Volker Franke, “Conflict Management: A Tool for U.S. National Security Strategy”.  Colloquium Brief, Strategic Studies Institute, July 2011. Available at: