The immediate post World War Two strategic landscape in the United States was dominated by the development of nuclear weapons, and their application. In his book on American strategic thought Russell Weigley includes a chapter on the ascendancy of the civilian national security establishment amid the primacy of the early nuclear age. As the Cold War progressed these civilian ‘strategy intellectuals’ would become influential on American strategic doctrine.
“Choosing among weapons systems, however, necessarily required judgments among various possible strategies. Making choices among future weapons systems and strategies would necessarily also involve choices among forms of military organization. And choices involving strategy and organization would carry the analysis far into the realms of policy. The expanded form of operations analysis which began with the effort to analyze the uses of future as well as existing weapons came to be called ‘systems analysis.’
“As Kissinger saw it, the strategy of deterrence when expressed as the doctrine of massive retaliation was the strategy that really forswore the diplomatic and strategic initiative. It amounted to a renunciation of the use of force except to counter the most unambiguous forms of aggression, because the weapons to be employed were too horrendous to be fired in any less circumstances.
“The search for a new strategic doctrine must not be confused with the search for a better weapons technology and with technical answers to technical questions. To seek refuge in technology from hard problems of strategy and policy was already another dangerous American tendency, fostered by the pragmatic qualities of the American character and by the complexity of nuclear-age technology.
“More than Ridgway, Taylor renewed the argument that without adequate capacities for limited war, America not only would face defensive disadvantages but would be unable to seize initiatives, unable to secure positive advantages that must be won in the battle for a better world. Massive retaliation, General Taylor reiterated, ‘could offer our leaders only two choices, the initiation of general nuclear war or compromise and retreat.’ A strategy of flexible response, in contrast, ‘would recognize that it is just as necessary to deter or win quickly a limited war as to deter general war.
“Therefore Morgenstern recommended a new application of sea power: to use sea power to ensure an invulnerable capacity for nuclear retaliation against the enemy’s homeland. He recommended the acceleration and enlargement of the Polaris program, so that nuclear submarines in constant movement could serve to launch the American missile force…The endurance capacity of nuclear engines would minimize the dependence of both submarines and seaplanes on fixed bases; except for occasional refueling, their supplies could be replenished from ships themselves moving in random patterns.
*All excerpts have been taken from The American Way of War: A History of United States Military Strategy and Policy, Russell Weigley, Indiana University Press.
In A History of Strategy, celebrated military theorist Martin van Creveld charts the evolution of strategy throughout its checkered history from antiquity to the present epoch. The survey Creveld offers underscores the paramount ideas of strategy within each era, and pinpoints their ideological prime movers.
“To restore the power of the offensive and save casualties, Liddell Hart went on to recommend ‘the indirect approach.’ Rather than attacking the enemy head on, he had to be weakened first by having his limbs cut off, his organization disrupted, and the mind of his commander unbalanced.
“Spurred by America’s failure in Vietnam, which was blamed on the strategy of attrition adopted by the US armed forces, the 1980s saw a revival of conventional warfare theory centering on such ideas as maneuver warfare and AirLand Battle. As their names imply, both focused on strategy and the operational art while all but ignoring strategy.
“With Fuller acting as the stimulant, mobility was married to mechanization. The outcome was something known as ‘the battle in depth’: meaning a highly offensive campaign which would be launched not merely along the front but against the enemy’s communications, depots, and command centers as well.
“Later the idea of ‘Massive Retaliation’ was adopted by the incoming Eisenhower Administration. As Secretary of State Alan Dulles declared in a famous speech, the US would not permit the other side to dictate the site and mode of the next war. Instead, any attempt by the Communists to engage in aggression anywhere in the world might be instantly met with means, and at a place, of America’s own choosing.
“…by 1990, at the latest, the Clausewitzian framework was beginning to show serious cracks. As has just been said, it proved incapable of incorporating warfare by, or against, non-state actors. To this point that Clausewitz himself, in the five pages he devoted to the subject, treated guerilla warfare solely as an extension of the struggle between states. At the same time, the question could not be avoided as to whether his insistence on the inherent tendency of war to escalate made him into a reasonable guide to nuclear-armed military establishments, one of whose objectives was deterrence rather than warfighting.
*All excerpts have been taken from A History of Strategy: From Sun Tzu to William S. Lind, Castalia House.