Introduction to Strategic Studies/What Is Strategy? Why Study Strategy?

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jaysiel aubrey part of Strategic Studies

"…The Ruler may bring misfortune on his army… By employing the officers of his army without discrimination, through ignorance of the military principle of adaptation to circumstances. This shakes the confidence of the soldiers."

Sun Tzu, The Art of War
Chinese strategist (544-496 BCE)


Strategy is the means by which objectives are pursued and obtained over time. This class will enable learners to apply strategic thinking to their lives, through understanding strategy and putting it into practice.


This will introduce you to the issue and the questions to be posed in the class and your environment


This will delineate the readings that should be done prior to undertaking the exercises in this class.


Military strategy is comparable to any other form of planning governing groups of individuals under constraints of space and time. This strategy is geared towards a highly capricious goal in a test to humanity’s skill in the art of planning military strategy. Successful military organizations have a great deal of strategic planning process down to a science. This science begins in the governing administration field which is a hierarchical governing groups of individuals that dictate command (orders)given throughout the governing body.

Strategic planning, therefore, begins with simple administration. “The Army,” after all, “marches on its stomach.” Without adequate administration in place, logistics will not flow. When logistics do not flow, the army cannot function. What’s more, to extend the culinary metaphor, “too many cooks spoil the broth.” Overlapping responsibility not only begets a lack of parsimony, but it can create confusion at the level of command. The first step to strategic planning, therefore, is to make certain the organization charged with accomplishing a task is administrated effectively. The second stage is planning.

The intent of this Class is to give a very brief discussion of certain aspects of military administration in their ideal forms, and then discuss strategic planning from a very high level of conceptualization. Basic ideas about administration are rooted in the concept of chain of command, which delimit roles and responsibilities. The roots of strategic planning are to be found in the identification of an objective, and the processes used in planning and how to attain it.

Some of the best policy-makers, however, look to the objective for their inspiration while planning. This is the optimum mode of strategic planning, and is successful more often than not. It does not, however, start at the very beginning of the strategic planning process. Strategic planning begins with organization. Before anything else, or at least in tandem with the formulation of an objective, roles and responsibilities must be given to those who will work in the execution of operations that will eventually end in the attainment of an objective.


"By method and discipline are to be understood the marshalling of the army in its proper subdivisions, the graduations of rank among the officers, the maintenance of roads by which supplies may reach the army, and the control of military expenditure."

Sun Tzu, The Art of War
Chinese strategist (544-496 BCE)

For those who have not read Sun Tzu’s military classic, the quote given above may seem mundane and unspectacular. Sun Tzu’s mastery of war did not, however, come from crafty plans and perfect stratagems. Though he understood the nature of deception and manoeuvre, one of his greatest successes was knowing how to manage an army. One of the most important aspects of army management is the chain of command. Understanding of the chain of command is essential to the functioning of any large organization. Without adequate definition, rank structures can blur, and lines that separate areas of responsibility can be crossed. Such a situation creates waste, and is to be avoided. Firm but flexible definition of roles and levels of command eliminates overlap and creates efficiency.

The modern concept of military strategy has four basic classifications that are useful for understanding this concept in any organizational context. They are Grand Strategy, Strategy, Operations, and Tactics. These four basic ideas are at the root of the usefulness of military rank structure. They also assist in dividing responsibility between levels of the chain of command so that there is no overlap. These terms will be defined further in the next section.

The successes of the Roman Legion, for example, were to a great extent based upon its superb organizational structure. The capabilities of humans are only as good as the work environment into which they are put. It was the Legion’s administration that made the Legionnaire so much more capable than the Gallic tribesman. His work environment was well structured to utilizing him in the best way possible. Marches were measured, each man carried an equal sized pack, the art of encastramentation (constructing camps) was perfected, each man had a grain mill and adequate supplies of food. The Legion was thus a policy tool with exceptional utility to policy makers. When a Senator wanted to know how long it would take an army to get to its destination, he would measure it in marches, thus he knew how many days it would walk, how much food was needed, as well as how much pay and salt to take for the troops. Furthermore, the army had astounding battlefield flexibility. It was organized into four ranks of specialists, (Velites, Hastati, Principes, Triarii), as well as being divided into ten cohorts of three maniples each plus auxilia. Every section was an army in and of itself which could be used flexibly because of the adequate training of each commander at every level of command.

Firm definition of the chain of command is thus not a process which ossifies an organization into inaction, but a process of liberation through accurate definition. Workers function better when they have been given a margin of manoeuvre that is well defined. A private, for example, who relies on his sergeant to tell him when he can breathe is a useless private (with a useless sergeant, for that matter). Granted, this is an overstatement of fact, but a private who is told “you man that machine gun and cover this field of fire” is a useful private who frees his sergeant to do work in other areas. When the sergeant has to stay at the foxhole to tell the private what to shoot at, both of the troops are rendered less useful. The chain of command assists in avoiding this kind of overlap.

The Four Levels of Strategic Planning[edit]

"The control of a large force is the same principle as the control of a few men: it is merely a question of dividing up their numbers."

Sunzi, The Art of War
Chinese strategist (544-496 BCE)

The Levels of Strategic Planning: the Levels of Strategic Planning provide for a starting point from which to organize a decision-making matrix. The four levels correspond also to ranks of military command and general areas of interest in the planning of a military operation. These levels of analysis are useful as they specify exact areas of responsibility for Command, Control, Communication, and Intelligence (henceforth C3I) far more than do the simple terms “operational” and “policy.” Planning at the highest levels is the most general and ethereal; the lowest levels are all the more specific and concrete.

Grand Strategy Political direction. As Clausewitz so accurately observed, “war is politics carried out by other means.” The Grand Strategic decision-making process includes the decision to go to war, the drafting of Rules of Engagement, and the decision on the GOALS to be achieved by a military operation. The ruling government is at this level in military strategy. It plans wars.

Strategy High-level military planning. This work primarily involves LOGISTICS. It has been said that armchair generals study tactics, while real generals study logistics. The goals set are of lesser scope than those of Grand Strategy, which is concerned with the whole war. Strategy is concerned with dividing the war into theatres, supplying forces in these theatres, and harmonizing the Operational objectives in-theatre to the general battle-plan. Once the army has been given its objectives by the state, the Generals decide how best to achieve these aims by planning campaigns.

Operations (Grand Tactics) In-theatre manoeuvre and attainment of limited objectives planned by the General Staff. This work involves MANAGEMENT of forces which are attempting to make headway towards Tactical goals which must be harmonized with the Strategic and in-theatre goals. Field/senior officers (Colonels, Lt. Colonels, to a degree Majors) are charged with utilizing supplies provided at the Strategic level to achieve their limited goals. These officers plan battles.

Tactics Short-term, easily identifiable objectives. With simple goals set by the Operational level of command, the tactical goals are all bite-sized parts and parcels of the higher level game plan. This level is primarily concerned with IMPLEMENTATION, and the personnel employed here, though not necessarily long-term planners, are technically proficient and capable. Junior officers and senior Non-Comissioned Officers manage combat. Securing and defending geographic points, persons, or denying the same to the enemy are easily identifiable tactical goals. This level takes objectives within a battle.

The Objective[edit]

"Thus it is that in war the victorious strategist only seeks battle after the victory has been won, whereas he who is destined to defeat first fights and afterwards looks for victory.."

Sunzi, The Art of War
Chinese strategist (544-496 BCE)

In all strategic decision making, the objective must be held above all other considerations. By this it is meant that the plan is secondary to the objective. Plans are thus made to reflect the objective first, and other considerations second. Sun Tzu makes a very astute commentary about this aspect of planning. He says “He wins his battles by making no mistakes. Making no mistakes is what establishes the certainty of victory, for it means conquering an enemy that is already defeated.” This simple phrase accentuates the importance of planning in the attainment of strategic goals. Objectives are not attained in the heat of the moment with all your units working twenty hours a day, seven days a week. While this is proof of a dedicated team and expert unit leaders, it is not a good reflection on the strategic planning process. Sometimes such rushes are unavoidable, but better weather a rush while one is leisurely approaching an accurate deadline than while rushing to complete another project. Planning is how you defeat the problem or attain the objective before actually beginning work. Sun Tzu would say, “What the ancients called a clever fighter is one who not only wins, but excels in winning with ease. Hence his victories bring him neither reputation for wisdom nor credit for courage.”

Assurance of victory in this sense is accurate budgetary, time, and manpower assessments. Deadlines are set with the knowledge of the capabilities of the organization, just as the logistical constraints of the Legion were known because of its firm administration. Measurement and estimation is at the heart of achievement. In order for plans to succeed, they must be made early and accurate. In order to do this, a great range of expertise is required. This is why planning is necessarily an iterative process. Planning considerations must incorporate the need for change. Since expertise is required, that expertise must be used in a parsimonious fashion.

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Project 1 - Nature of your Business[edit]

Briefly introduce the project(s) and how they fit with the learning material. Give any tips on the projects that need to be stated prior to opening the project (especially if the contents are supposed to be a bit of a surprise)
What is Strategy


This will detail what has been learned and encourage you to add feedback to this page from your own experiences from the project.