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Backstage Politics

National Security Strategy



National security needs a plan. That means strategy. That’s what we’re going to address, the relationship between national security and the strategy to achieve it.




Today, I want to speak to you about national security and the strategy to preserve it. No matter if you have a lot of resources, a strong military power, a well-located territory, or good transport connections with commercial routes. All of this is useless if you don’t know how to combine them to preserve your security. That shows us something important. Security has much to do with planning, and more specifically, with strategy. In addition to this, the strategy has to do with behavior. On the international stage, that means the way a polity conducts its foreign relations.

On this occasion, I want to address the national security strategy. To do so, I’m going to discuss what strategy is and how it relates to national security.

National security is the most important concern of any State because it has to do with its survival. I don’t want to go over it again because I discussed this matter before.

So, national security is, in plain words, survival. It has a relation to the national interest, but this one is broader than national security. Indeed, it has to do with different aspects related to the State’s safety. However, it’s broader than mere survival. In some way, we can say it has to do with the means to ensure the existence of the State in the long run. In a few words, it’s the necessary power to ensure national security. For further information about this, you can check another episode I devoted to this question.

Hence, national interest is close to strategic matters because specific measures in the good of the national interest involve certain behavior. Anyways, they are intertwined, and for this reason, we can’t consider them separately. That explains why we are talking about national security, national interest, and strategy at the same time.


Authors’ definitions of strategy


Strategy has many definitions, and every author sets out their particular view on this. However, they usually focus on a specific aspect of strategy. For this reason, they develop a definition adapted to the matter they are addressing. In our case, we can’t limit the meaning of strategy to military issues. We have to take into account the national security implications in political terms. However, it doesn’t prevent us from getting inspiration from some authors that reflected on strategy from a military standpoint.

Despite his limitations, a good starting point is Clausewitz’s definition of strategy. He considered it the use of engagements for the object of war. What turns out to be interesting in his definition is his idea of engagements. In this regard, a strategy is the use of tacit and explicit threats to advance political purposes. Engagements are, in the strategic context, all-important means of power for the objectives of statecraft.

Another interesting definition is Wylie’s. In his view, a strategy is a “plan of action designed in order to achieve some end; a purpose together with a system of measures for its accomplishment.” In this case, Wylie emphasizes the role of strategy as a plan of action. This perspective is useful if we put it in the context of international politics.

The military historian Liddell Hart suggested another definition. He spoke about the grand strategy as a higher strategy. Its purpose is to coordinate and direct all the resources of a nation towards the achievement of the political goal of the war. The fundamental policy defines this goal.

The French general André Beaufre defined strategy as “the art of the dialectic of force or, more precisely, the art of the dialectic of two opposing wills using force to resolve their dispute.” In this case, Beaufre stresses the dueling character of strategic behavior. The importance of the enemy’s will is something neglected in strategic history, and this author remarks on this aspect of strategy.

Another point of view is Gregory D. Foster’s. He claimed that strategy is ultimately about effectively exercising power. He combined this definition with the metaphor that strategy is the bridge that relates military power to political purposes. Nevertheless, not always a strategic player is a successful one, and that explains why there are ways of exercising power ineffectively. So, the efforts of every polity aim to use power effectively, but that’s not always the result.

Williamson Murray and Mark Grimsley provide an appealing definition. They claimed that “strategy is a process, a constant adaptation to shifting conditions and circumstances in a world where chance, uncertainty, and ambiguity dominate.” Although this view forgets the instrumental character of strategy, it offers, after all, a powerful insight.


The meaning of strategy and tactic


These authors shed light on strategy mostly from a military standpoint, and it’s nothing wrong with it. However, more important than the instrumental dimension of strategy, or the role of enemies’ will and interests, is the difference it has with tactics. In this respect, the strategy is in charge of achieving the final goals of any polity. So, it answers the question of how.

At this point, we see a clear distinction between strategy an tactic. The strategy serves policy goals, which are instrumental regarding a polity’s broad vision of the desirable. What is desirable? First of all, survival. That’s the primary goal of any nation. And that means national security. Aside from several factors that influence on the reasoning that balances means with ends, strategy’s function is to carry out the polity goals. As a result, strategy adapts the means to those goals and establishes a general guideline in their implementation. The tactic, nevertheless, has to do with the contingent reality in which that strategy is implemented. In other words, it operates in a more specific and immediate level of reality. It affects the course of events in the short term. Strategy, yet, works in the long run. In brief, as Wayne Hughes said, “strategists plan, tacticians do.” That summarizes all I discussed so far because the strategy has to do with planning, and tactic with execution.

The strategy combines different means in a comprehensive plan to achieve specific goals. These goals belong to the realm of the political, and they are part of its particular dynamic.

We have to admit that strategy has connections with other relevant aspects, such as administration, logistics, technology, and so on. We’re dealing with a complex phenomenon because it gathers different means to attain a common goal. That makes these realms mutually dependent partners insofar as they follow the same plan. In some way, we can say that strategy is the will in motion that clusters all resources available for the achievement of a specific objective. Thus, all the elements that are part of the strategy adopt a new and different meaning because they are part of a plan.


Therefore, the meaning of strategy is both clear and important regarding national security. It’s the conduct of the political behavior of a polity. That behavior is aimed to preserve national security, which means survival. So, the strategy has the mission of organizing the necessary means to attain that goal. We can speak about the general idea that guides strategy in this realm, but we can’t establish the specific conditions. That depends on the particular situation of every actor.


Dimensions of strategy


Strategy has different dimensions, and every author has stressed their classification. Insofar as this is only an introduction to this topic, I’ll limit my discussion on this aspect of strategy to say a few words.


For instance, Michael Howard’s analysis includes five elements of strategy that reflect its dimensions. He referred to moral, physical, mathematical, geographical, and statistical. The first one covers intellectual and psychological qualities and influences—the second consists of the size of the armed forces, their composition, armament, and so forth. The third includes the angle of lines of operation—the fourth consists of all geographical matters. And the last one covers support and maintenance. This perspective shows us that strategy has many broad, pervasive, and interpenetrating dimensions.

In contrast, Colin Grey spoke about three dimensions. The first category is about people and politics. It comprises not only people, but culture, politics, ethics, and society. The second category is the preparation of war, and it includes economics and logistics, organization, military administration, information and intelligence, strategic theory and doctrine, and technology. The final category is something he called war proper. It includes military operations, command, the adversary, and time. These categories reflect the components of the strategy and the way it works when implemented.

All these dimensions of strategy tell us the complexity it involves. However, these authors’ approach is military-oriented insofar as they based their reflections on Clausewitz work. There is nothing wrong with that, but if we want to address this matter from the perspective of international relations, we need a different procedure. To do so, we should take into account not only how any strategy works on the global stage.


National security strategy in a competitive world


The competitive environment in world politics makes any national security strategy rest on a broad combination of internal and external means. With internal means, I refer to those that constitute the State’s capabilities. They are many, but they all contribute decisively to the formation of national power. We already know how it works in advancing national security. For now, I’ll enumerate the most relevant. That is the military, but it depends on other sources of power such as economy, population, raw materials, commercial relations, technology, and political organization. When we talk about political power, we also speak about the three branches of government and how they work together.

Besides, I have to mention the role of other relevant sources of power that contribute to strengthening the State capabilities. In the cultural and ideological realm, we find mass-media and indoctrination through propaganda and education. The educative system also plays a significant role. So, this field is fundamental in getting the moral disposition of the population to cooperate with the State. That’s fundamental in terms of internal capabilities.

If I had to summarize the national security strategy in the domestic realm in one word, I’d say organization is the key. Insofar as the State develops its capacity to organize its space to transform it into a territory, it increases its capabilities. This phenomenon reflects on the growth of its capacity to mobilize the resources available thanks to its organizational infrastructure. I mean by this the bureaucracy, the judiciary, and all those power structures that serve the State to expand and increase its influence and presence in the whole territory. After all, the State is a geopolitical structure that organizes the space to get access to the resources it stores. If it has a suitable infrastructure, it can mobilize them on a broader scale. In this way, it enlarges its capacities.

Hence, the national security strategy in the domestic realm aims to strengthen internal capabilities by gathering all resources available in the territory. That allows the State to get more power by transforming itself. As a result, it has a direct impact on the global stage. The State reinforces its international position, and that works in its benefit by contributing to national security.

In the international realm, the strategy follows a different path, and it depends mostly on the way the State organizes its foreign relations. The geopolitical environment is decisive, aside from the inner conditions I’ve mentioned before. However, the State adapts its behavior to the external reality, and according to its internal capacities. In this regard, the State looks for protecting its access to those external resources it lacks. That’s the most usual regarding commercial and transport routes, but also to financial markets to get the necessary wherewithal. And I could mention many more elements, such as raw materials, workforce, information, and so on.

It’s unusual that scenario in which a State enjoys a comfortable hegemony, and there are no threats. For this reason, States tend to offset their strategic disadvantages by forming coalitions and looking for allies. Diplomacy is the way they manage their foreign affairs, and develop relationships with other actors to ensure their position and, in brief, their national security.


Question of the day


Question of the day! What do you think are most important for the national security strategy, the internal or external conditions? Post your opinion in the comments section below, and I’ll check it out.

Bibliography used:

Strayer, Joseph, On the Medieval Origins of the Modern State

Strayer, Joseph, Medieval Statecraft and the Perspectives of History

Gilbert, Felix (ed.), The Historical Essays of Otto Hintze

Tilly, Charles, Coercion, Capital, and European States: AD 990-1992

Mann, Michael, The Sources of Social Power

Poggi, Gianfranco, The Development of the Modern State

Anderson, M. S., The Origins of the Modern European State System 1494-1618

Spruyt, Hendrik, The Sovereign State and its Competitors

Le Goff, Jacques, La Baja Edad Media

Giddens, Anthony, The Nation-State and violence

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