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Time for a Grand Strategy Board?

The Gerousia

“I have not lived so long, Spartans, without having had the experience of many wars, and I see among you of the same age as myself, who will not fall into the common misfortune of longing for war from inexperience or from a belief in it’s advantage and safety”

Archidamus, King of Sparta

One thing on which most commentators, academics and former officials seem to agree is that the United States government has a difficult time planning and executing strategy. Furthermore, that since 1991 we have been without a consensus as to America’s grand strategy, which would guide our crafting of policy and strategy. This failing bridges partisan divisions and departmental bureaucracies; there are many career officials, political appointees and even a few politicians, who can explain the nuances of the Afghan War, or the Libyan intervention, the depreciatory tailspin of the US Dollar or America’s Russia policy – but none who would venture to say how these relate to one another, still less to a common vision.

Sadly, they do not, in fact, relate to one another – at least not, as far as I can discern, intentionally.

Few American policies or even military operations (!) in one country can be said to have been conceived even within a coherent and logically consistent regional strategy and it is not just common, but normal, to have DIME agencies working at completely contradictory purposes in the same area of operations. The interagency process, to the extent that it exists, is fundamentally broken and incapable of interagency operational jointness; and the institutional coordinating mechanism for any “whole of government” effort, the National Security Council, has become too consumed with crisis management. A mismatched prioritization of resources which leaves little time for the kind of long range planning and strategic thinking that allows nations to seize the initiative instead of reacting to  events.

It would be a useful corrective for the better conception and execution of US policy, for the President and the Congress to create a special board for grand strategy that could give presidents and key officials frank assessments and confidential guidance to help weave their policy ideas into a durable and overarching national strategy. One that might last beyond a few days’ headlines in The New York Times.

The President of the United States, of course has a number of bodies that could, should but do not always provide strategic advice. There’s the Defense Policy Advisory Board, an Intelligence Advisory Board,  the National Intelligence Council, the State Department’s Policy Planning Staff, the Office of Net Assessment and not least, the NSC itself and the Joint Chiefs of Staff, whose Chairman, by act of Congress, is the military advisor to the President and Secretary of Defense. While strategic thinking does percolate from these entities, many have very specific mandates or, conversely, wide ranging briefs on matters other than strategy. Some operate many levels below the Oval Office, are filled with superannuated politicians or have personnel who, while intellectually brilliant, are excessively political and untrained in matters of strategy. The Joint Chiefs, the professionals of strategy, are highly cognizant of the Constitutional deference they are required to give to civilian officials and are very leery of overstepping their bounds into the more political realms of policy and grand strategy.

What  the President could use is a high level group just focused on getting strategy right – or making sure we have one at all.

I’m envisioning a relatively small group composed of a core of pure strategists leavened with the most strategically oriented of our elder statesmen, flag officers, spooks and thinkers from cognate fields. A grand strategy board would be most active at the start of an administration and help in the crafting of the national strategy documents and return periodically when requested to give advice. Like the Spartan Gerousia, most of the members ( but not all) would be older and freer of the restraint of institutional imperatives and career ambitions. Like the Anglo-American joint chiefs and international conferences of WWII and the immediate postwar era, they would keep their eye on the panoramic view.


The Octagon Conference – FDR, Churchill and the Combined Chiefs of Staff

Here’s my grand strategy board in a hypothetical perfect world, unlike the one that prevails inside the beltway. I’m sure people will quibble with particular names or will suggest others. I freely admit, for example, that I do not have the best grasp of who our leading intellectual powerhouses are in the Navy, Air Force or the closed world of intelligence analysis and this impairs my ability to put together the list. Nevertheless, I’m trying anyway:

Let’s start with a group of acclaimed and eminent strategic thinkers who have demonstrated over a long tenure, their ability to consider matters of war, peace and statecraft as well as the nuances of strategic theory:

Thomas Schelling -Chairman
Andrew Marshall
Edward Luttwak
Colin Gray
Joseph Nye

Next, some senior statesmen:

Henry Kissinger
George Schultz
Zbigniew Brzezinski

Madeleine Albright

General officers and one colonel with a demonstrated talent for challenging conventional assumptions:

Lieutenant General Paul van Riper
General James Mattis 
General Jack Keane
Colonel John Warden

Two economists:

Alan Greenspan
Nouriel Roubini

Two scientists:

Freeman Dyson
E.O. Wilson

Mixed group of strategists, historians, practitioners and theorists:

David Kilcullen
John Robb
John Negroponte

Barry Posen
Antulio Echevarria

Chet Richards
Micheal Vlahos
Thomas P.M. Barnett
Stephen Biddle
Robert Conquest
Duane Clairridge
Jack Matlock
Martin van Creveld

Visionaries and Contrarians:

Nicholas Nassim Taleb
William Gibson
Ray Kurzweill
Andrew Bacevich

What are the problems with my grand strategy board (aside from having zero chance of coming into being)? 

For one, it is probably way too large. In my efforts to balance expertise in strategy with varied thinking it grew bigger than what is manageable in real life, if the group is to be productive.

Secondly, it is an exceedingly white, male and conservative leaning list – though to some extent that reflects the criteria of experience, the field of strategy itself and the nature of American politics.  Barbara Ehrenreich, for example, is definitely bright but her politics are fundamentally opposed to effectively maximizing American power in the world or the use of military force – thus making her of little use except as a voice of dissent.

Another limitation of this exercise is the idiosyncratic eclecticism of my approach – this was a blog post written over a few days in my spare time and not a methodical inquiry into who in American life would verifiably be the “best qualified” to help construct a grand strategy. There are “insiders” who command great respect within the national security, defense and intelligence communities who are unknown to the general public, or even this corner of the blogosphere, who would be enormously helpful to such a board. Finally, a grand strategy board would not be a panacea; it would be subject to all the inertial pressures that over time would reduce it’s ability to effect change, just as the Policy Planning Staff and the NSC have been “neutered” over decades by the forces of the status quo.

That said, the above group or one reasonably comparable to it could, for a time, markedly improve the construction of strategy , assuming American leaders are willing to enlist such advice, put aside short term political considerations and pursue long term strategic goals.

Whom would you nominate to a grand strategy board?

Grand Strategic Viewing:

40 Responses to “Time for a Grand Strategy Board?”

  1. Joseph Fouche Says:

    I’d make a pool of the names of mid-tier officers and senior enlisted men from each service, mid-tenure civilian professors from the service academies, and 1000 names from the phonebooks of 100 randomly selected American urban areas. From that pool I’d select 12 people at random. Then I’d have this Gang of 12 unanimously create a national strategy since the concept of grand strategy is a British conspiracy. If they deadlocked, there would be resort to the Klingon method of conflict resolution: knife fight to the death. If that failed to work, I’d draw another 12 names at random repeat, ad infinitum.

  2. slapout9 Says:

    Zen, I nominate you!

  3. seydlitz89 Says:


    It’s a nice idea, but . . . political context!  Imo and from a Clausewitzian perspective our strategic confusion is simply a reflection of our political dysfunction which involves the decay/collapse of numerous national institutions.  How many of those you’ve listed are even ready to consider, let alone admit, that reality?

    We will have to deal with that before we can have any hope of formulating a grand strategy, which requires a sound political base.

  4. Cheryl Rofer Says:

    Well, as you apparently recognize, it ain’t never going to happen, for multiple reasons, among them the big one Seydlitz provides.
    But you ask for problems, and here’s one: Only one woman? C’mon, there are two Secretaries of State since Albright, and perhaps, maybe, one or two others???

  5. Lexington Green Says:

    Maybe it is not white, male and conservative enough?  Maybe it was only possible to have a grand strategy when everyone who ran everything of importance was either related, or went to Choate and Yale together, or worked in the same handful of white shoe Manhattan law firms, or at Dillon Read.  Maybe having a genuinely open and diverse elite means it can’t do anything because it can’t achieve consensus, so it is not really an elite at all, but a mob of serial placeholders going through the motions?  Not saying the old ways was best, or fair, or even good.  It may just be the only one that can work at all if you actually want to have a grand strategy. The nearest I can think of to this existing in reality is the British Privy Council, and the informal networks that it is part of.  The second nearest I can think of is FDR’s backdoor consultations with a variety of people, including running a personal espionage service, etc.  We are too bureaucratic for that now.  

  6. zen Says:

    Ah, I see the comedians were first, thank you though, Slap.
    Seydlitz, .
    I agree with your that our fundamental problem is political decay/ dysfunction, which is why our strategic thinking is so poor. Perhaps forcing a hard look at our deficit in strategy will cause a further look at the drivers. yes, hope springs eternal.
    Fair point and the lack of women is a concern. Hillary is not on the list for the same reason I left off Robert Gates – she is still in office as a senior official and would be a beneficiary of the board’s advice rather than a member, until she retires. Some of the other best qualified females with senior administration/policy experience are also members of the administration at present. Condi Rice, I was on the fence about as the list was already tilting strongly rightward, but she could easily be put on. I suspect there are some sharp women in the upper reaches of the IC and the younger flag officers but I would benefit from suggestions here

  7. Cheryl Rofer Says:

    Yes, I figured that Clinton was not on the list because she is still in office. But surely there are one or two others?
    Lex makes an interesting point, that it’s easier to arrive at consensus when everyone is pretty much the same. But when you put it in my oversimplified way, it’s obvious that you’re also begging the question (in the real sense of that phrase).
    I’ve been reading a lot lately about Russian history in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century. The crowned heads of Europe at the time were pretty much all cousins or in-laws, so they should have, by Lex’s lights, been able to arrive at a consensus, and there was some of that, particularly in relation to grand strategy and who made the most appropriate rulers. But there were other problems, like seeing Europe as a great chessboard for the benefit of those rulers and the necessity of using the ruled as the means for solving those intrafamily squabbles. Ultimately, that blindness led to the horrendous first half of the twentieth century.
    So there are downsides to that easy consensus: magnifying the role of small differences and leaving out a large number of interests that might lead to better strategies.

  8. Shlok Says:

    I dunno. I mean I like the idea of having all those folks in one room and I like the idea of the USG paying thinkers for thinking. But from a design perspective, you may want a benevolent dictator instead. Steve Jobs instead of design by committee. 

  9. zen Says:

    Hi Shlok,
    I see your point, which made me think of something else. assuming such a board is sincerely used, it can really do 2 things:
    a) Help design something positive or constructive – here’s where your "Steve Jobs" figure is required to harness talent.
    b) Stop something really negative or destructive before it takes on a life of it’s own by functioning as a "murder board" for bad ideas. While the ppl above may have serious differences on strategic theory, a consensus would be quick to recognize and call out incoherence, incompetence and ill-considered schemes.
    Fear of looking like a goddamned fool, even behind closed doors, could be a tonic to our planning process

  10. zen Says:

    Hi Lex,
    Good point – what existed was a shared understanding of premises and values that made FDR’s informal, ad hockery strategically sufficient to win WWII while today our institutionalized power bureaucracies cannot even handle a ragtag military run by a crazed dictator in Libya. We are overly ideological and ideogically conflicted to the point where the elite cannot agree on Ends in any given situation, seldom on Ways and squander Means

  11. Athena Says:

    Cheryl points out the problem with such Grand Strategy boards is that in order to be effective, they have to carry a certain level of homogeneity, and one of the big selling points of America is the lack of homogeneity…sort of coded into our national DNA, if you will.

    I noticed you don’t include many sociologists or culture-studies figures. Would it not be beneficial to counterweight the military-science-economy notables with people who are knowledgeable in the cultural consequences of a policy of "national identity" so to speak?

    It would undoubtedly be a challenge to come up with individuals (from religious leaders to cultural pulse-takers) without being influenced by media hype or the fast pace of momentary attention versus longterm cultural change, but it would be worth the effort. There’s no doubt in my mind that there’s a long-term cultural aimlessness that colors the general attitude about America’s "purpose" that in turn influences (or fails to influence) economic and military policy. We simply don’t know our core values anymore in terms of the actions we take as a country.

    I also noticed you left out the Evil Overlord’s requirement to maintain a common 5 to 17 year old on staff at all times to prevent the engineering of ingenious infernal devices, cunning plans, or self-destruct protocols easily mistaken for next week’s lunch menu. 😉

  12. J. Scott Says:

    Zen, One obstacle to your strateegery board I’ve not seen is fear; fear of not being politically correct, and the resultant ridicule.  The bureaucrats have been accounted for to be sure, but the continuing damage of bureaucracy can’t be underestimated—we have too many, and given they are bureaucrats they are hostage to a prescribed mentality/thought-process. A new or contrary idea doesn’t stand a chance in such an environment. Ironically our national elite, practically tripping over themselves to extoll the virtues of embracing creativity, don’t lend that enthusiasm for creativity or serious debate to either domestic or foreign affairs. We have come to this point in history embracing "empire" when our form of governance is deliberately counter the notion (Washington’s remarks about foreign entanglements comes to mind.). Less is better—and cheaper in an age when we can’t afford much more of our folly. From everything I’ve seen, at the national level we are led by fools—thankfully, many in the Several States are beginning to understand the seriousness of self-governance.

  13. Lexington Green Says:

    I am reading Andrew Roberts biography of Lord Salisbury, as well as recently reading Ashley Jackson’s The British Empire and World War II, as well as having spent the last couple of years immersed in Victorian memoirs.  The thing you see is that (1) the British had a very powerful grand strategy, that worked very well for them through thick and thin, and (2) there was no committee, there was only a shared understanding among all the people that mattered about roughly what should be done under any particular set of circumstances.  There was a lot of political uproar about foreign policy between Gladstone’s Liberals and Salisbury’s Tories.  But when you got down to it, the dispute existed within a narrow band of agreement.  It may be that a true grand strategy can only work when it is either (1) very simple in theory (i.e. the Cold War: Containment and Deterrence), or (2) based on an unarticulated set of widely shared assumptions among an elite.  We are now in a complex world, more like late Victorian times than like the Cold War.  So, we cannot rely on theoretically simple axioms, yet we do not have an elite consensus.  Further, the USA cannot have that kind of an elite consensus.  The memoir literature in particular picks up something the history does not.  These people had absolute self-confidence and belief in the superiority and value of their own institutions, country, class, religion and their own right to rule as a result.  Without some similar set of strongly shared beliefs, an elite consensus won’t happen.   You cannot have a grand strategy if you are not sure who you are, what you are there for, why you should do things, whether your society and its institutions are worth killing to preserve, who deserves to die under your guns, who deserves to be left to die at someone else’s hands  rather than expend your own blood and treasure, who must go without at home to maintain strength abroad.  We are in a constant turmoil of self-referential dispute about these matters.  That may be a lovely and admirable attribute in some way.  But it incompatible to forming a coherent set of grand strategic guidelines in a complex age.  Only an uncomplicated self-image and self-valuation would allow that.  So, we will muddle along, for now, until things get dangerous enough that we get focused, or until some cultural shift restores some greater degree of unity and confidence.  The former may not happen soon, the latter may not happen ever.  All that said, a grand strategy board roughly like you are mentioning, might be a good "Team B"  for the President and the senior leadership, if were conducted in a non-bureaucratic way.  

  14. J. Scott Says:

    Lex, Well said—particularly your last sentence. PC and bureaucrats are a part of our problem—but Lord knows we have others; the self-image/self-valuation making up at least another portion. I don’t know how we get to the cultural shift you correctly indicated as needed without something truly out of the ordinary…

  15. Joseph Fouche Says:

    The problem with a culled strateegery board is that it’s culled. Making a list of people you’ve heard of and selected from that list guarantees you’ll get more than enough participants who follow the adage "If you can’t be part of the solution, don’t be a loner. Be part of the problem". Pulling names from a hat would introduce an element of serendipity into the process. You might end up with perspectives that are even more unconventional yet as applicable as those of a nerd in the basement of the Moscow Embassy or the bastard brat of a Scotch peddler. You don’t need a strateergery board manned by a dusty rump. You need a strateergery jury. Strateergery is too important to be left to the usual suspects.

  16. zen Says:

    Hi Athena ( great handle),
    "I noticed you don’t include many sociologists or culture-studies figures. Would it not be beneficial to counterweight the military-science-economy notables with people who are knowledgeable in the cultural consequences of a policy of "national identity" so to speak?

    It would undoubtedly be a challenge to come up with individuals (from religious leaders to cultural pulse-takers) without being influenced by media hype or the fast pace of momentary attention versus longterm cultural change, but it would be worth the effort"
    Kilcullen is an anthropologist and Vlahos is a theorist for whom "identity", cultural and religious, is very important. That said, you have an excellent point – in terms of sociologists, Charles Moskos would have been a natural fit but he is dead and I would have to study the leading lights of the field. Charles Hill is deeply interested in the narratives behind grand strategy, Camile Paglia has an ability to discern all kinds of primal cultural connections and cross-cultural/cross-class aesthetic trends ( at other times she is off the wall) – again, as with sociology, my frame of reference with cultural studies is very slight.
    Lex and Scott,
    Lex, you explained that well. Consensus about the American identity is a critical component – in Boydian terms "a noble philosophy" and animating "grand ideal" – which has been badly corroded in our elite universities for about two generations and we are reaping the cost of a politically divided, technocratic, elite with a weak sense primary loyalty to an American identity and a growing oligarchical sense of class or social separation from the rest of the citizenry.
    The jury mechanism is a strategic *veto* and I agree, it has it’s place – just not sure if the jury will get you to a *constructive* function

  17. Nathaniel T. Lauterbach Says:

    Hi Mark-
    Good, thought-provoking post.
    I have to say that I’m rather skeptical of such a board or council of graybeards and crew-cuts to even formulate a policy.  The key problem I think is that a real grand strategy needs to work against something every bit as much as it works for something, and it needs to be built on something of a consensus.  I fear that if we have 1 of those things down, we’re likely to be missing the other two.  The last time we had anything close to all three was just prior to the USSR falling.  Since then, we’ve been adrift.
    We know who we are rather well, I think (although some question this–especially those who question the identity of what it means to be a US Citizen / American, etc. in a time of mass illegal immigration, lack of historical knowledge held by many "Americans", and the wretched state of the civics lessons taught in public schools).  Who we’re against is more difficult to define.  And getting the buy-in for something of a consensus is either easy or difficult depending on how the first two issues get framed & communicated.
    A really good question is how this American Greybeard & Crewcut Council Of Grand Strategy Excellence & Kickassness is going to fix this.  I don’t really see the problem as structural or bureaucratic the way you do, Mark.  It’s not even an institutional malaise.  It’s deeper–it cuts through the heart of our citizens.  It has to do with the identity of Americans.  Sure–I’ll grant that the NSC is absorbed in crisis management–but recall that that’s the point of the NSC–to handle crises in a nuclear-armed world where individual departments might be too riven with bureaucratic strife to handle quickly-changing events.  It was never designed as a grand-strategic council.  Nor are the other numerous directorates, councils, etc.  Those councils are the function of the executive branch.  The executive has something important to say about grand strategy, but really, grand strategy should be the purview of the people, and their elected representatives.  Who we are, and who are enemies are, and the consensus derived from those states, are what determines grand strategy, not some mealy-mouthed bureaucratic council of retired or recently-fired or formerly-successful civil servants, politicians, and military officers.
    Finally, would our decision-making on a grand-strategic level been any better in the past if we had such a council?  I don’t know–but thinking back to WWII, I can think of many times where such a council would probably have stiffened the backs of an America at war.  Joseph Nye has an important thing to add to the conversation, but honestly, can you imagine him saying anything useful following a Pearl Harbor-type event, where America’s naval power was truncated overnight, and her land and air forces are not up to the tasks, to say nothing of the special capabilities which would have to be developed?  Me neither.
    Still, I enjoyed the post.  I look forward to more of this.
    Semper Fidelis,

  18. Nathaniel T. Lauterbach Says:

    I meant to say "I don’t know-but thinking back to WWII, I caNNOT think of many times where such a council would have stiffened the backs of an America at war."

  19. Lexington Green Says:

    A strategeery jury — the US Congress used to have some of that.  WR Mead talks about how Jesse Helms represented the Jacksonian viewpoint, shared by millions of Americans who usually do not participate in elite deliberations.  This frustrated the smartypantses who had to deal with Helms.  But according to Mead, it improved the final product to have this important element of American thinking, or visceral reaction, included in policy making.  

  20. Time for a Grand Strategy Board? (SWJ Blog) Says:

    […] Time for a Grand Strategy Board? By Mark Safranski at Zenpundit. “It would be a useful corrective for the better conception and execution of US policy, for the President and the Congress to create a special board for grand strategy that could give presidents and key officials frank assessments and confidential guidance to help weave their policy ideas into a durable and overarching national strategy. One that might last beyond a few days’ headlines in The New York Times.” […]

  21. Joseph Fouche Says:

    The key advantage of a strategeery deliberative body composed of folks chosen by lot is that it might disrupt the tendency for common wisdom to run roughshod over group deliberation. Such a body wouldn’t necessarily have to reach conclusions backed by unanimous consent. For example, you could have three such randomly selected bodies, one team A, one team B, and one body to veto. One limitation of past red teaming exercises such as Team B during the Carter Administration was that they were self-selected and often represented what could be spun as a clearly partisan perspective. Sure it’s fun to watch Nitze cut up some young boomer whippersnappers or Van Riper frustrate the last gasp of the dotcom era but the introduction of ambiguity into the motives of a red team will cause entertaining friction and confuse the Washington press corps. Such a solution set is probably too mechanistic and Newtonian to overcome the organic political stumbling blocks mentioned by other commentators but it might be one way to frustrate the tendency of the nation’s strategic dialog to revert to its antiquated defaults.

  22. Fj Says:

    What about Hew Strachan?

  23. Robert Black Says:

    Hi MarkThe approach you have taken here toward the generation of the elusive “grand Strategy” overlooks the fact that many of the individuals you have listed as part of the “Dream Team” have tried to develop the strategy , but have yet to deliver  one.While not (yet) in anyone’s radar, I would nominate India-born physicist Moorthy Muthuswamy, author, Defeating Political Islam: The New Cold War. His book has outlined a version of grand strategy, and is unusual background should be of particular interest.

  24. Sawbuck Says:

    What about Mr. Y, since he (they ) are the ones that got the conversation going again in the first place?  

  25. J. Scott Says:

    Lex, Helms is an excellent example. My guess (based on his autobio) is he’d feel at home in the Tea Party movement. I pulled my copy off the shelf and smiled when I saw among a cluster of photos on the dust jacket a pic of JH with Mubarak just above a pic with the Dali Lama…the Congress of late has vacillated between an echo chamber and rabid mindless opposition. 

  26. zen Says:

    Hi Sawbuck,

    Porter and Mickleby (sp? ) the "Y" guys,did not get this convo started again, it has been going on and off since 9/11 and to a lesser extent, since 1991. They are a significant recent contribution though, with their twist highlighting the role political economy plays in constructing a grand strategy. 
    They are right, it is a significant and understudied factor but  they lean very far in that direction, making political economy almost their primary, without (in my view) having enough of a grasp of economics as a discipline( being mil officers and security guys) to make the aspects "fit" together persuasively as they might. Just my two cents.
  27. Robert Black Says:

    Hi Mark.
    The real issue apparently is a lack of “systematic understanding of the enemy,” to quote Dr. Bruce Hoffman, one of the top terrorism analysts..
    The eminent individuals you have listed have not developed that understanding (despite obviously trying). .
     What makes you think that now they will,, as part of a team?

  28. zen Says:

    Hi Robert Black By "enemy"
    I presume you mean radical Islamism. Well, that requires a strategy to deal with to be certain, but radical Islamist terrorism and insurgency are just one in a constellation of security issues and national interests that a grand strategy would have to prioritize and consider. Such a board probably would not be given such a large brief as developing "the" grand strategy, so much as providing the advice and guidance so that elected officials and policy makers could develop one and generally approach issues like radical Islamism in a more strategic fashion. Would it work? Who knows? But what is clear is that what are doing now is not working very well.
    Hi Nate,
    I’m not disagreeing with you or Lex about the importance of the political divisions in American society and lack of consensus over our identity. The bureaucratic structures and culture though do matter and they – the NSC, Policy Planning, the CIA- were capable of strategic assessments and planning in the early Cold War, in large part because the Soviets concentrated the mind and Truman and Eisenhower in particular demanded they produce clear-cut strategic options rather than gray, hedging, mush. I read a lot of PDFs of current unclassified work and I have the perspective of research, reading FRUS, NSC Docs and NIEs from what was done decades ago and today’s product frequently does not stand up well in the comparison.

  29. Fred Says:

    "Having drawn our conclusions from an ananlysis of history it seems adventageous to construct on the fresh foundation a new dwelling house fro strategic thought."~B.H. Liddell Hart

    Great Stuff Zen!

  30. Seerov Says:

    I think you’re mistaken to assume that America has no grand strategy (GS) or GS "board" per se.  America’s grand strategy is to not allow the rise of any Eurasian power or coalition of powers that could challenge the US.  The opposition of coalitions is especially important since no one country is close to challenging the US on its own. 
    For example, Germany and Russia are currently growing closer.  The key to making this relationship work (for them) is by getting the countries between Germany and Russia to not feel threatened.  The US will try to disrupt this coalition by stirring shit in Poland, Baltics, Hungary, etc in order make it more difficult for this relationship to grow.  The US will cry "remember those Nat-zees" or "better dead than Red!" 
    You can’t have a "grand strategy board" talking about this stuff out in the public.  The US isn’t supposed to be stirring shit between allies and/or pushing color revolutions.  It’s not supposed to want global hegemony.  I can almost guarantee you that there is a covert GS board that does discuss and manage U.S. grand strategy.  If anything, I would create a board just for propaganda reasons and appearances.  They would talk out in the open about "freedom" and "justice" and blah, blah, blah, but my real GS board would be in the shadows managing America’s real GS.
    So your idea is sort of good, but for the wrong reasons.

  31. zen Says:

    Much thanks Fred! It stirred a lot of discussion, online and off, so mission accomplished.
    Hi Seerov,
    I expect such a board could only be useful if they gave confidential advice.
    You wrote geopolitically….
    "For example, Germany and Russia are currently growing closer.  The key to making this relationship work (for them) is by getting the countries between Germany and Russia to not feel threatened"
    And this very Mackinderish-Haushoferian condominium would work extremely well, provided that the two countries involved were not a) Germany and b) Russia. 😉
    Wilhelmine Germany tried to first, economically colonize Russia with bank loans and investments circa 1880-1905, then secondly by brute force in two world wars (Read Albert Speer’s Infiltrator sometime for a grasp of Germany’s last plan for partnership with Russi). Hand it to the Germans for task persistance. Then Stalin returned the favor and if he had grabbed all of Germany in 1945 those wacky Teutons would have gone the way of Polish Jewry.  As for the various peoples situated in between these two giants, they have long memories.

  32. Seerov Says:

    The key here is cooperation, and not domination.  In the past Germany tried to exploit Russia (if not just take it over).  After two major wars I think they leaned their lesson.  These countries fit very well together.  But like I said (with you in agreement) the challenge will be the counties in between.  This area IMO will become very active and important for US foreign policy in the next 10-20 years. 
    I suggest that you don’t write this off so easily.  I see this coalition (even economic union) as being more possible/probable than "Chimerica" or "North American Union" that people were talking about years back. 

  33. Genr? « The Committee of Public Safety Says:

    […] provided continuity in Japanese policy up to the eve of Pearl Harbor as a sort of super strateergery board. They sometimes cooperated and sometimes clashed but the goal of achieving Japanese parity with […]

  34. Dave Schuler Says:

    From a group dynamics standpoint any membership larger than seven is too many.  I think that I disagree with the underlying (or explicit) assumption of many of the comments above that our current approach is dysfunctional–it exhibits a fundamental misunderstanding of how our system works.   To the extent that we aren’t a plutocracy, we aren’t an aristocracy or an autocracy.  Our grand strategy is an emergent phenomenon of the sometimes conflicting, sometimes competing, sometimes agreeing interests of the people of the United States..While that’s infuriating or capricious to our more aristocratic cousins in Europe and our more autocratic adversaries everywhere, where has there been a more consistent grand strategy than the United States?  Its nature as an emergent phenomenon gives it more stability and support than any other system would.

  35. J. Scott Says:

    @David Schuler—good points, and I would add to "stability and support" variety.

  36. david ronfeldt Says:

    so … since this post is about strategy, and this blog is full of folks steeped in thinking about strategy … and since i have a long-lingering question i’ve wanted to raise somewhere sometime … please humor me a bit:
    i almost always see strategy defined as the art of relating ends and means.  it’s defined that way time after time, often but not always with a few extra criteria added here and there.  usually something about plans or resources.  
    but i’ve long felt that i’d prefer to define strategy as the art of positioning.  that presumes a consideration of ends and means, but in my view, it’s not as abstract a definition, and gets to the core concern right away.  in looking around for who else may favor such a definition, the best and almost only leader i find is michael porter and his writings about corporate strategy.  he’s says explicitly that strategy is the art of positioning — apropos market positioning in particular.  maybe in some long-forgotten moment, that’s where i got the notion in the first place.  meanwhile, i’ve been told that, of military strategists, jomini emphasizes positioning the most.  
    this is not my area of expertise.  i’d like to know more:  is the “ends and means” view so accepted, so basic, so adaptable, that it’s not worth questioning?  what’s to be gained, and/or lost, by the “positioning” view?  is there any strategy that isn’t about positioning? 

  37. zen Says:

    Hi David,

    Superb question. You have put your finger on an underlying tension in the world of strategy, partially the formal debates among schools of strategy and partly implicit and cognitive aspect that seldom gets examined. 
    I am writing a post to answer you 🙂
  38. Seerov Says:

    David Ronfield writes about positioning.
    I think one could conclude that it is all "position" and that planning is just setting up probabilities of success.  When you form strategy you put the in-group in a position to be successful at meeting its goals.  It’s all a series of contingency-plans based probabilities but which instinct or spirit is still involved. 
    I’m more interested in "who" the strategy should be for?  Who do "we" organize with and for what purpose (who are "we")?  Strategy is used for the planning of a goal, or for the maintenance of a process that leads to a goal later. This is important.   But it’s figuring out who the in-group is that perplexes me??? 
    Who do "we" position for? 

  39. Pundita Says:

    Hi Zen — There is a American grand strategy; it’s just that it’s not codified at the government level or made explicit as a distinct doctrine, but it is grand strategy nonetheless and does have a doctrine although not organized in particular body of writing.  The strategy is promoting American business on a global level in a world where there is competition from myriad regions and state-backed transnational enterprises.  The competition is very much a form of warfare. 

    .Those who set the strategy sit in boardrooms of major transnational industries such as hi-tech, energy, defense, pharma and banking sectors, and they’ve served by vast networks of advisors whose names rarely appear in the financial pages.  

    Every area of foreign and even defense policy that was traditionally handled by Washington during the Soviet and post-Soviet eras is dictated or profoundly influenced by the transnationals. Even foreign aid flows, traditionally the exclusive province of government, are driven by the largest transnationals and the charitable foundations they’ve set up.  (Bill and Melinda Gates foundation is one such example.)

    As for the traditional grand strategists, in light of the realities of the present grand strategy, they are in a word fantasists.  Can we do with fantasists?  Do we need them?  I’d say so, in the way we need poetry and metaphysical discussions. But as for using fantasists as advisors to government — the advisors with the power are business lobbies; government just trails along,  rubber stamps, and cuts red tape in the pro forma G2G negotiations with governments in foreign countries in which the transnationals are operating or have targeted.  

    This grand strategy is not ‘realpolitik,’ I might add.  This is strategy conceived by people with very clear objectives they won’t and can’t deviate from.  Not if America is to survive the current era in transnational business, which is dominated by state-backed transnational competitors.    

  40. Opposed Systems Design :: Everyone wants their greybeard panel but relationships and timing matter :: December :: 2011 Says:

    […] in April Zenpundit brought up the idea of a Grand Strategy Board (I just came across the post […]

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