Air University Review , July-August 1980

Military Strategy, The Forgotten Art

Lieutenant Colonel William T. Rudd


Strategy deals with war, preparation for war, and the waging of war. Narrowly defined, it is the art of military command, of projecting and directing a campaign. It is different from tactics. . . in much the same way that an orchestra is different from its individual instruments. . . But as war and society have become more complicated--and war, it must be remembered, is an inherent part of society--strategy has of necessity required increasing consideration of nonmilitary factors, economic, psychological, moral, political, and technological. Strategy, therefore, is not merely a concept of wartime, but is an inherent element of state craft at all times. Only the most restricted terminology would now define strategy as the art of military command. In the present-day world, then, strategy is the art of controlling and utilizing the resources of a nation--or a coalition of nations--including its armed forces, to the end that its vital interests shall be effectively promoted and secured against enemies, actual, potential, or merely presumed. The highest type of strategy--sometimes called grand strategy--is that which so integrates the policies and armaments of the nation that the resort to war is either rendered unnecessary or is undertaken with the maximum chance of victory.

Edward Mead Earle
Makers of Modern Strategy

AFTER five years of growing concern for our military capabilities and posture, I was prompted to put some of my thoughts on paper. In my opinion, the most serious problem facing our country and the military is the absence of a clear, consistent, and coherent national (grand) strategy and a concomitant statement and application of long-range strategic objectives. This I see as the primary cause for the decline of U.S. power and influence abroad in recent years. Furthermore, I view the absence of a system to develop gifted military strategists as a factor contributing to the problem.

absence of a U.S.
national (grand) strategy

In 1977, former Defense Intelligence Agency director, Lieutenant General Daniel O. Graham, U.S. Army (Ret), stated: "There has been no formulation of basic U.S. national strategy since the waning years of the Truman administration when the strategy of containment was promulgated... . "1 Now with the University of Miami's Center for Advanced International Studies, Graham implies that thirty years of status quo retrenchment policies by the United States have enabled the Soviet Union to challenge the position of the United States as the single most powerful military nation in the world, a fact that he indicates increasingly portends grave consequences for U. S. vital national and international interests. Graham further asserts that "successful pursuit of the Kremlin's global goals lies in the formulation of a superior Soviet strategy." But, he adds, "The success of Soviet strategy has not been due so much to the brilliance of their strategists as to an eclipse of strategic thinking per se in the United States."2

In essence, grand and national military strategy are a continuum. By providing clear and coherent political aims and a plan to achieve them, grand strategy serves as an overarching framework for national military strategy. Within this framework, national military strategy shapes and Coordinates its plans and resources into an element of national power capable of achieving the stated aims. Since there is no clear boundary between grand and national military strategy, each should be consistent with and reinforce the other. Without the framework of a coherent grand strategy, however, military strategy either becomes self-serving or is forgotten.

Unfortunately, it appears to me that our growing preoccupation with resource allocation has been at the expense of military strategy and has had a profound and perverse effect on the military services. The impact of this trend has been evidenced by a decline in military advice as program management has gradually replaced military strategy as the primary military responsibility. This trend, plus organizational deficiencies and institutional neglect within the U.S. military, has caused national military strategy to become a forgotten art as the services and the Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) recast their focus and efforts on subsidiary issues of hardware, cost-effectiveness, and service doctrine.3

the problem gets attention

In the intervening years since General Graham so cogently identified the absence of grand strategy as the major national security problem in the United States, pressure has begun to mount for solutions. In late 1978, Senator Gary Hart recommended establishment of a grand strategy for the United States, one reflecting our international interests. Like other proponents, he cited the expansion of Soviet political, economic, and military presence in Sub-Sahara Africa and Southwestern Asia and the simultaneous decline of U.S. military and financial capabilities as the stimulus for his actions.4 Senator Hart's concern is reinforced by Stanley Hoffmann, Harvard Center for International Studies professor and former member of the Council on Foreign Relations. Carnegie Prize-winner Hoffmann sees the inconsistency and incoherence of U.S. foreign policy as destabilizing. He states that

in the absence of a strategy which tries to channel conflicting forces and to prevent the contradictions between policies that aim at equally valid goals from breeding chaos, the conduct of foreign policy risks becoming a succession of ad hoc moves, with frequent changes of course or warring implications.5

Implicit here is the lack of continuity in grand strategy that Occurs with a change of administration and the failure of the United States to sustain long-range strategic objectives. Hoffman sees the problem clearly. It stems from an absence of coherence in grand strategy and a lack of consensus for that strategy. He hit home when he stated: "For drift to end, . . . a final condition is needed: not a grand design of dubious value, or a mere collection of lofty goals, but a strategic rationale that brings the fragments together. "6

the need for institutional change

Hoffmann did not go far enough, however. What he might have added, but did not, is that perhaps our grand strategy should be elevated above partisan politics. A coherent national strategy, founded on logic and a realistic appraisal of the world environment, should have long-range strategic objectives that sustain U.S. national interests. Properly formulated, this grand strategy should elicit consensus from the left and the right, liberal and conservative, Republican and Democrat, alike. It should be possible for differences to exist over means to attain these objectives while maintaining the coherence of the strategy intact. But for this idea to work, for national grand strategy to be elevated above special interests, several changes in the existing national security structure are required.

The foremost change needed is the establishment of a national strategic analysis and planning system that is insulated from partisanship and agency parochialism. This system should be designed to provide long-range strategic continuity, regardless of the political party or administration in power. Its purpose should be to perform continual political, military, and economic analysis and strategy formulation. This system, staffed with the best and brightest minds in political, military, and economic operations strategy, should report to the executive branch and have permanent representatives from the Department of State, the National Security Council, the Council of Economic Advisers, and the military services.7 Its primary duties should be to formulate global and regional grand strategy, long-range strategic objectives, and to evaluate the costs and benefits of strategy alternatives. Finally, one of its most important tasks would be to assess and measure continually the conformance or appropriateness of fit of strategic objectives and commitments with the political, military, and economic organizations, forces, and capabilities postured to attain those objectives or honor those commitments.

Second, I believe the Department of Defense needs a workable system that elevates national military strategy and strategic planning to a preeminent position in national security affairs. This system should integrate unified and combined military strategy formulation and planning with the national strategic analysis and planning system, provide continuity in the development of long range strategic objectives, and produce the caliber of military officer capable of developing combined-arms military strategy. The system should be insulated from service parochialism by placing it directly under the Secretary of Defense. Military officers selected for this system might become permanent members of a "sixth service," the Joint Strategic Planning Service JSPS). Selection criteria for this elite service should require staff duty on unified and combined commands to qualify for the DOD and national strategic planning staffs. Membership in this service might be a prerequisite for command of unified and combined commands and for Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. The JSPS member's specialty would be joint and combined strategy, planning, and employment. If these changes were effected, the product should be a more rational, coherent, and integrated grand strategy supported by mutually reinforcing political, economic, and military strategies.

This subject is timely because the mood for change is right. The coming years will see a great ferment on national security and foreign policy issues. U.S. military professionals must find a way to contribute sound military advice to this process, advice grounded in considerations of strategy. Nothing is more powerful than the idea whose time has come. The services should not let this opportunity be lost.

Military Strategy

The U.S. military should meet the challenge squarely and initiate those changes that will provide lasting benefits to the nation and its people. However, to reestablish military strategy permanently to its rightful place in U.S. military affairs requires the military to recognize and alleviate those conditions and institutional deficiencies that caused U. S. military strategy to become the forgotten art. The root cause for this decline of strategic

institutional military failures

As a group, we in the military have failed to fulfill part of our primary responsibility to the American people and the nation. This has been a subtle, unconscious failure rather than a conscious, overt commission or omission; but a failing, nevertheless. In brief, the military's prime responsibility is to be ever prepared to protect, defend, and further the vital national interests of the United States: under all circumstances. This presumes the existence of a logical, rational, and coherent unified military strategy to achieve strategic objectives with a force structure and capabilities postured within the framework of that strategy. Continuation of organizational deficiencies within the services and the JCS make the formulation of coherent unified military strategy almost an impossibility. Until a truly unified national military strategic planning staff is created, the problem will persist. The present organizational structure cannot work because of the absence of an integrated and unified military appraisal of policy objectives in either the services or the JCS. Further, change historically has been resisted within the services for fear of losing roles, missions, and funding, though there have been noteworthy examples of cooperation such as T AC/TRADOC and joint logistics efforts. Finally, our military organizational structure tends to force the separate services to attempt to solve each new problem or counter each new threat within the framework of single service resources and capabilities.

Without coherent national military strategy for a framework, the military cannot help failing to develop optimum force posture and capabilities. In the past, national security policy such as Mutual Assured Destruction (MAD) and essential equivalence appear to me to have been founded on superficial concepts without combat validity. Similarly, military doctrine, concepts, and force structure founded on concepts such as quality versus quantity, high-low mix, and force multipliers appear to me overly simplistic. If my perception is correct, the missing element is a coherent strategy which glues the pieces together and gives the whole--doctrine, concepts, and force structure--an irrefutable logic. Small wonder that, on analysis, nuclear and conventional forces are not designed and planned to cooperate in a continuum of war or that military communications, facilities, and equipments have not been designed to withstand attack. These failings and more devolve from the absence of military strategy and our failure to solve our own organizational and institutional problems.

Without the coordination that comes from developing and integrating grand strategy and military strategy, there has evolved a gap or misfit between national security objectives and military capabilities to attain them. Vietnam is, of course, the most classic example where policy called for civic action and training whereas military capabilities mainly provided conventional war roles and missions. In my view, we have failed most notably in communicating to the civilian leadership the gap which many times exists between commitment and capability. If that is not the case, we have at least failed to convince the civilian leadership that we recognize the need to close the gap between capability and commitment with changes in our organization, force structure, and capability. The Mideast has provided the most recent examples of this problem.

The second major institutional failure of the military has been our lack of comprehension of the true value of grand and military strategy to the success of politico-military endeavors. The father of Soviet military strategy, Mikhail V. Frunze, (as reported by D. F. White) put it best at the Eleventh Congress of the Soviets of Workers, Peasants, Cossacks, and Red Army representatives in Moscow in 1922:

". . . the principal condition for the formulation of an adequate military [strategy] was its strict coordination with the general aims of the state and the material and spiritual resources at its disposal. He admitted that it was impossible to invent such a [strategy]"; its elements already existed, and the work of military theorists was to appraise these elements and to bring them together into a coherent system in accordance with "the basic teachings of military science and the requirements of military art. "8

The value, then, of coherent military strategy formulation is the evolution of the single best campaign scheme based on all factors involved. This scheme, though subject to changes and modifications as factors change, produces the highest likelihood of success and also suggests required priorities for forces and capabilities. Since it has coherence, all necessary supporting actions are more clearly illuminated. I do not think we in the U.S. military have understood this concept as well as we should. In addition, pressures from DOD for cost-effectiveness and systems analysis techniques led the military into an era wherein the focus, controls, and incentives were placed on the peacetime administrative matters of resource allocation and program management. Accordingly, service concentration shifted from strategic imperatives and attendant implications to subsidiary analysis on tactical details and technology improvements. Weapons became ends in themselves; nuclear weapons and strategic bombardment became substitutes for reasoned strategy. In the end, the problem also became our own failure to be honest with ourselves; a failure of our convictions that without strategy the choice of weapons is superfluous, and the failure to modify our institutions and organizations to regain a capability to formulate that strategic framework on which all else rests.

The third major institutional military failure is an outgrowth of the first two. Since we have failed to accord military strategy its premier position in military affairs, it is understandable that no champion for organizational or institutional change have appeared in the active military. Numerous presidential commissions in recent years have cited the lack of organizations for unified and integrated strategic analysis and planning.9 Several retired general officers, in private conversation, made similar statements of varying degree. For whatever reason, it is my perception that the U.S. military has a long history of inattention to strategy and its consequences.

In my view, these consequences include:

All these failures inhibit the implementation of coherent national military strategy.10

Last, and perhaps most damaging, has been our failure to create an "institution of excellence," to use Colonel T. N. Dupuy's words. In analyzing why Germany produced combat superiority in battle during two wars, Dupuy concluded that it was because Germany consistently created more effective military institutions than any other country. Specifically, he found that the German General Staff became, in fact, an institution of excellence in the German military. The General Staff organization is unacceptable to the United States, but perhaps a study of its methods of developing excellence could be of benefit. Essentially, they stressed ten processes in their goal of excellence; the first six applying here. These were rigid selection, examinations for advancement, specialized training, and emphasis on historical analysis, initiative, and responsibility.11 The point to be made is that they had a system; the system was demanding; it was founded on education, historical study and analysis, and specialized training; and it was used to groom their strategists, staff members, and,' consequently, their combat commanders. This has been our most significant failure-the failure to develop a system to identify, select; educate, train, and use officers specially skilled in the art of war. Officers who are products of this type of system are urgently needed as military strategists, combat staff members, and, most important, as combat commanders. The problem has been one of failing to recognize the unique educational and analytical needs required to produce these superior military strategists, staffers, and commanders. Critical to their development, as Dupuy points out, are rigid selection standards, intensive educational preparation, an intimate knowledge of military history and strategy, and a sense of responsibility and initiative. The challenge to the military today is to accept our greater responsibility to the nation. This responsibility requires rational, coherent military and grand strategies. These strategies will be evolved only if our institutions foster the development of officers whose knowledge of military history, strategy, and military operations gives them the rare logic and insight demanded of the task.

the long road back

Reinstating coherent military strategic thought in the services will not be easy and cannot be accomplished with short-term fixes. It will require changing rigid institutional values, initiating organizational and functional improvements, and building an "institution of excellence" which inbreeds strategic thought into select officers.

The primary challenge the services face is the development of a system to identify, select, educate, and train highly qualified officers as military strategists. Criteria for selection will have to be established. By building areas of academic concentration, the professional military education (PME) system could be adapted to provide the majority of the educational needs. Officers selected as junior captains could enter Squadron Officer School with a concentration in military strategy and history. On returning to Air Command and Staff College, some of these same officers could continue a more detailed exploration of military history and strategic analysis, and with accreditation, could graduate from ACSC with a master's degree in military strategy. Air War College could provide doctorate-level work, and for a few select officers, Ph.D. degrees could be completed at civilian institutions. This process would provide a steady supply of bright military strategists for staff duty within the military. An added by-product would be scholarly works on strategy from graduates of the program.

To develop and utilize this proposed new breed of military strategist effectively, the formulation of military strategy must be recognized as a required staff function at major command level and above. A military strategy function should be created on the special staff of all major commands. Air Force specialty codes (AFSC) should be designated for these positions and graduates of the PME program assigned these codes. Over a period of years, every major headquarters and command could possess a strategy division manned with experts possessing the credentials to formulate coherent unified strategy.

Organizationally, strategy or strategic planning divisions should report directly to the commander or commander in chief and maintain coordination with the director of operations. Additionally, strategic planning staffs should also be manned with political and economic analysts to provide a balanced focus at each level. Strategic planning staffs for the service headquarters should coordinate with the theater staffs to provide a global service view. Furthermore, they should respond to the joint strategic planning staff in DOD with service inputs and also provide a source of manpower for joint staff manning. The joint strategic planning staff, working with political and economic counterparts, would be removed from parent service influence and biases as permanent members of the "sixth service" mentioned earlier. The joint staff would coordinate with unified command staffs and integrate global and regional military strategy. Under this concept, JCS roles and functions would require a redetermination. Finally, organizational changes would be needed to reflect approved service and joint strategic planning staff strategies in the force structure and budgeting process. These organizational actions, conscientiously applied, should remove the institutional barriers described and foster realistic, coherent strategy formulation and force development.

IT IS MY perception that the national power and international influence of the United States are on the wane largely due to the failure to evolve and implement coherent grand and national military strategy and long-range objectives. As always, the first step in correcting the problem is the identification of relevant causal factors. In this instance, it is suggested that organizational and institutional deficiencies present in the national security machinery, i.e., services, unified commands, DOD, and executive branch, encourage service advocacy at the expense of integrated strategy. Moreover, a national emphasis on resource allocation rather than strategy has exacerbated the situation by forcing the individual services to reorient their attention and efforts inward on subsidiary issues of hardware, cost-effectiveness, and doctrine. Sadly, however, without the framework of a grand and national military strategy, the rationale that cements these issues into a coherent whole has been lost.

To alleviate these deficiencies, I propose the establishment of strategic analysis and planning staffs--for grand strategy in the executive branch and for national military strategy in the Office of the Secretary of Defense--with supporting strategy staffs at the service headquarters, major unified and combined commands, and major subordinate commands. Military personnel for the strategy function should be provided from a small select group of officers highly educated and skilled in military history, strategy, analysis, and combat employment. The intensive educational preparation necessary could be provided by developing areas of concentration at the PME schools and linking each school's contribution in the progressive development of career military strategists. For until there are skilled military strategists, there can be little hope for competent strategy.

Looking back, perhaps the agony that was Vietnam could have been avoided, perhaps even the current energy crisis averted, had we met our national strategic responsibilities with courage and insight. This thought alone should spur us to overcome our neglect and work to build "institutions of excellence" capable of producing coherent grand and national military strategy.

Homestead AFB, Florida


1. "The Decline of US Strategic Thought," Air Force, August 1977, p. 27.

2. Ibid.

3. Ibid., p. 29.

4. Drew Middleton, "Specialists Debate a US Global Policy," New York Times, December 27, 1978. p. A-7.

5. Stanley Hoffmann, "A View from At Home: The Perils of Incoherence," Foreign Affairs, vol. 57, no. 3, 1979, p. 463.

6. Ibid., p. 489.

7. Paul R Schratz, "The U.S. Defense Establishment Trends in Organizational Structures, Functions and Interrelationships," Ph.D. dissertation, Ohio State University, 1972, p. 515.

8. Edward Mead Earle, editor, Makers of Modern Strategy (Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 1971), p. 344. I have substituted the word "strategy" for "doctrine" in the quotation to better convey Frunze's meaning.

9. Report to the Secretary of Defense on the National Military Command Structure, Washington, 1978, pp. 24-39, 48-58.

10. Schratz, pp. 486-583.

11. Colonel T. N. Dupuy, USA (Ret), A Genius for War: The German Army and General Staff, 1807-1945 (Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey: Prentice-Hall, Inc., 1977), p. 303.


Lieutenant Colonel William T. Rudd (USAFA) is Chief of Exercise of Evaluations, 31st Tactical Fighter Wing, Homestead AFB, Florida. He previously served as Air Operations Staff Officer for Project CHECKMATE at Hq USAF. Colonel Rudd is a graduate of Squadron Officer School and Air Command and Staff College; his article "A Personal Management Philosophy" was distributed to his class while he was a student at the Air War College.


The conclusions and opinions expressed in this document are those of the author cultivated in the freedom of expression, academic environment of Air University. They do not reflect the official position of the U.S. Government, Department of Defense, the United States Air Force or the Air University.

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