Grand Strategy as Co-Evolution: Being and Becoming

“Our form of government does not enter into rivalry with the institutions of others. Our government does not copy our neighbors’, but is an example to them. It is true that we are called a democracy, for the administration is in the hands of the many and not of the few. But while there exists equal justice to all and alike in their private disputes, the claim of excellence is also recognized; and when a citizen is in any way distinguished, he is preferred to the public service, not as a matter of privilege, but as the reward of merit.” – Pericles, The Funeral Oration

“The President of the United States of America and the Prime Minister,

Mr. Churchill, representing His Majesty’s Government in the United Kingdom, being met together, deem it right to make known certain common principles in the national policies of their respective countries on which they base their hopes for a better future for the world.”

– The Atlantic Charter, 1941

Adam Elkus, at Rethinking Security, makes an important point about grand strategy not requiring a great enemy:

Building a Strategy for Chaos?

….The short answer is that grand strategy isn’t something that requires an clear and equal enemy to create. But since grand strategy is something that involves a long time line, a substantially more broad subject area than war strategy, and the utilization of resources in peacetime, it makes more sense to visualize it less as an explicit plan than a collection of practices sustained over a long period of time. The policy of “offshore balancing” which Churchill mentions in this speech is one of those sets of practices. 

Boyd is commonly misunderstood as a tactically obsessed jet pilot whose insights mainly relate to cycling through a decision cycle faster than the opponent. But the importance of his writings to grand strategy is undeniable. His stress on the importance of forming organizations creative and efficient enough to “destroy and create” perceptions of the external environment, increase our own connectivity and degrade that of our opponents, and the importance of establishing a “pattern for vitality and growth” all point to aspects of strategic design that focus less on marshalling resources against a specific opponent than developing a basic strategic template that can remixed for various situations under a process of “plug and play.”  

In his post, Adam references Colonel John Boyd’s “Theme for Vitality and Growth” from his brief, Patterns of Conflict:


Adam went on to make an insightful observation:

The problem is that as societies grow both more structurally and interactively complex, this process grows much more difficult. That is what The Collapse of Complex Societies is about–how, if we view civilizations as computing mechanisms, how growth makes it more difficult to carry out the basic process of response to changing external conditions that is an essential part of data-processing. Moreover, even in eras of relative simplicity, the ability to aggregate enough information together to form a grand strategic design was exceedingly rare for individuals and more difficult for governments than success stories such as 19th century Prussia might indicate

Read the rest here.

I would like to extrapolate Adam’s argument about the difficulty imposed by complexity several steps further.

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