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New Book and New Monograph

The Strategy Bridge by Colin S. Gray

I have been eager to read this book by the eminent Anglo-American strategist Colin Gray ever since Adam Elkus sang it’s praises and now I have a hardcover copy thanks entirely to an enterprising amigo. A description from Oxford Scholarship:

The Strategy Bridge: Theory for Practice is an original contribution to the general theory of strategy. While heavily indebted to the writings of Carl von Clausewitz, Sun Tzu, and the very few other classic authors, this book presents the theory, rather than merely comments on the theory, as developed by others. Bridge explains that the purpose of strategy is to connect purposefully politics and policy with the instruments they must use. The primary focus of attention is on military strategy, but this subject is well nested in discussion of grand strategy, for which military strategy is only one strand. Bridge presents the general theory of strategy comprehensively and explains the utility of this general theory for the particular strategies that strategists need to develop in order to meet their historically unique challenges. The book argues that strategy’s general theory provides essential education for practicing strategists at all times and in all circumstances. As general theory, Bridge is as relevant to understanding strategic behaviour in the Peloponnesian War as it is for the conflicts of the twenty?first century. The book proceeds from exposition of general strategic theory to address three basic issue areas that are not at all well explained in the extant literature, let alone understood, with a view to advancing better practice. Specifically, Bridge tackles the problems that harass and imperil strategic performance; it probes deeply into the hugely under?examined subject of just what it is that the strategist produces—strategic effect; and it ‘joins up the dots’ from theory through practice to consequences, by means of a close examination of command performance. Bridge takes a holistic view of strategy, and it is rigorously attentive to the significance of the contexts within which and for which strategies are developed and applied. The book regards the strategist as a hero, charged with the feasible, but awesomely difficult, task of converting the threat and use of force (for military strategy) into desired political consequences. He seeks some control over the rival or enemy via strategic effect, the product of his instrumental labours. In order to maximize his prospects for success, the practicing strategist requires all the educational assistance that strategic theory can provide.

I am unfortunately in the midst of a large project for work, but The Strategy Bridge is now at the very top of my bookpile and I will review it when I am finished.

And as long as we are on the subject of Professor Gray, he ventured into the murky domain of cyber war recently, publishing a monograph on the subject for The Strategic Studies Institute:

Making Strategic Sense of Cyber Power: Why the Sky is not Falling

Obviously, Dr. Gray is not in the “Cyber Pearl Harbor” camp:

The revolution in military affairs (RMA) theory of the 1990s (and the transformation theory that succeeded it) was always strategy- and politics-light. It is not exactly surprising thatthe next major intellectual challenge, that of cyber, similarly should attract analysis and assessment almost entirely naked of political and strategic meaning. Presumably, many people believed that “doing it” was more important than thinking about why one should be doing it. Anyone who seeks to think strategically is obliged to ask, “So what?” of his or her subject of current concern. But the cyber revolution did not arrive with three bangs, in a manner closely analogous to the atomic fact of the summer of 1945; instead it ambled, then galloped forward over a 25-year period, with most of us adapting to it in detail. When historians in the future seek to identify a classic book or two on cyber power written in the 1990s and 2000s, they will be hard pressed to locate even the shortest of short-listable items. There are three or four books that appear to have unusual merit, but they are not conceptually impressive. Certainly they are nowhere near deserving (oxymoronic) instant classic status. It is important that cyber should be understood as just another RMA, because it is possible to make helpful sense of it in that context. Above all else, perhaps, RMA identification enables us to place cyber where it belongs, in the grand narrative of strategic history….

Read the rest here.

8 Responses to “New Book and New Monograph”

  1. Madhu Says:

    I wonder if the book has many explanatory examples? This is not directed at the book by Colin Gray which I haven’t read, but is a comment about a certain type of paper on strategy that I have been reading.
    One problem that I’ve had with this particular literature on strategy about strategy is that it is wordy, verbose, obtuse, self-referential. For me personally (and this is an educational point and a tangent and who cares anyway, right?), I’ve found it much easier to understand when the principle is illustrated by an example. It’s funny how often such a simple educational tool is missing….
    I am such a little complainer and worrier and a too-much-commenting commenter, aren’t I?

  2. Madhu Says:

    I am such a dork, the excerpt from the cyber paper is filled with example so the book must be too. Okay, then, it goes on my anti-library ‘too long to read’ list, along with the Emile Simpson book everyone is talking about.
    Ugh, I am now officially incorporated into the Borg and talk just like all the other zenpunditians. 

  3. larrydunbar Says:

    “Obviously, Dr. Gray is not in the “Cyber Pearl Harbor” camp:”

    But then, are you suggesting that “Peal Harbor” was not a RMA?

    I mean, 9/11 and the subsequent wars in both Afghanistan and Iraq seems to have been very “Pearl Harbor” like and a revolution in military affairs. The military is in the budget of the USA like it never was before 9/11.

    The Japanese could have been revolutionary in how they carried out the war, but ignorant of Atom Bombs.

    Just saying that no one knows what the “end” of the strategy Japan deployed looked like without the bombs, but I would like to think that I would have surrendered after the first nuke was dropped.

    Nukes were a tactic as used (we refused to use them in the Korean War)–the strategy of nukes was later called MAD.

  4. A.E. Stahl Says:

    Keep in mind that Colin’s Perspectives on Strategy was just released. It’s basically “Bridge 2”. 

  5. L. C. Rees Says:


    “wordy, verbose, obtuse, self-referential”

    This is Gray’s Achilles heel: his Fighting Talk: Forty Maxims on War, Peace, and Strategy fails because it contains nothing that is “a pithy expression of wisdom or truth” that provides a “succinct formulation of an ultimate truth, a fundamental principle, or a rule of conduct”. War, Peace, and International Relations. An Introduction to Strategic History, a textbook, is the best Gray book I’ve read. It’s been written and edited to make it concise, brief, clear, and non-self-referential. 

    Codevilla and Seabury’s War: Ends and Means is a better work (with examples) within this space.

    Don’t forget J. C. Wylie’s Military Strategy. It’s even more succinct that W:E&E, the second greatest book on warfare after the Swun Dz Bing Fa that can be read in one sitting. And it has examples.

    To his great credit, no one has been more responsible for reviving Wylie than Prof. Gray.

  6. zen Says:

    Thanks AE!
    Doc Madhu wrote: 
    One problem that I’ve had with this particular literature on strategy about strategy is that it is wordy, verbose, obtuse, self-referential.

    Gray’s earlier work that I have read tends toward wordiness, but that may be that he is a) Also British b) not just a strategic theorist but a military historian and academic historians tend to insert caveats and qualifications into their assessments in order to anticipate criticism and objections from other academics or allow for the influence of other factors generally. historians as a field like nothing better at a conference to find an empirical hair to split in a paper or book and swarm the presenter shouting “Aha!” and “But!” with a mad gleam of triumph in their eyes. As a result, historians in a group tend to sacrifice rhetorical elegance or clairity for precision related to causation by qualifying their remarks.  if you are writing for practitioners or especially the popular reading public you can be both more economical with words and colorful in their use than academia tends to tolerate. 

  7. zen Says:

    Hi Larry,
    ” But then, are you suggesting that “Peal Harbor” was not a RMA?”
    The japanese were re-fighting he battle of Port Arthur in 1941 and had been rehearsing to do so for at least thirty years. It was well executed tactically and operationally it was a smashing success. Strategically it was a disaster of the highest order because the United States was not Tsarist Russia

  8. J. Scott Shipman Says:

    Zen and Doc Madhu,
    Gray’s National Security Dilemmas is a very good read and recommended. It is the only book of Gray’s that I have read from cover to cover. This title and Modern Strategy and War, Peace, and Victory are in the queue. He sources CvC quite a bit in NSD, and his liberal quoting go along way towards reinforcing the lack of true novelty, and the troubling consistency of relations between states.
    As an old sailor, I’m partial to Wylie, but Gray packs a good punch and much to offer—and while “wordy” he does a good job of channelling CvC in the context of his topic.
    By the way, NSD is also concerned largely with RMA and transformation, so-called. So if you don’t have enough to read, put that title on the list, too.  

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