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Video – ‘The Problem of Strategy’ via Cambridge University

This video titled ‘How is War Directed? The Problem of Strategy’ is presented by Professor Hew Strachan. This lecture conducted at Cambridge University discusses the context behind some of the great strategists’ ideas and theories.

Professor Strachan discusses the idea that some of the most famous strategists developed their thinking from other works, even though they provide little acknowledgement of that fact.  He suggests that when it comes to strategy, often it is better to discuss schools of thought rather than individual authors – as books such as ‘On War’ need to be understood as a product of their time.  He says that great works such as this need to be taught in context, not just as a collection of random quotes to be used to reinforce whatever point someone wants to make.

He reminds us that famous strategists such as Jomini and Clausewitz wrote far more on military history than they ever did about military theory: the canon rested on a dialogue between past and present.  Additionally, Professor Strachan suggests that strategy has an extraordinarily poor record as a predictor of outcomes, and that more thought needs to be dedicated towards the future.

During the lecture, he discusses two things that have happened to strategy in the nuclear age:

  1. A presumption that technology has shaped the character of war and its direction
  2. Strategy, in the hands of academics tried to become a science

Professor Strachan suggests that strategic thought does best when it harnesses an awareness of the past and present, but poses the question, if we know strategic thought is of no or limited value as a predictor of outcomes, what’s its purpose?  He then explains that strategy is more about understanding, than it is about solutions.  He also provides an interesting example of ‘great’ strategists that lost, and haters of the concept of strategy that won, to demonstrate the problem with strategy and illustrate the distinction between strategic thought and strategy in practice.

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