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A War Studies Classic

The New Makers of Modern Strategy - Book CoverThis year we are seeing the refurbishment of a classic in war studies and military history. There is a new edition of the book Makers of Modern Strategy.

As a guide through our IWP course # 628 on “Military Strategy,” I have been excited to examine the new volume of May 2023 and inquire into what it does (or does not do) for the wider scholarly communities of security studies, great power rivalry, low intensity conflict, modern history, and so on. The conclusion: it’s indeed valuable, even if it will not “replace” the last edition, which has its own virtues and special perspectives.

All three editions of Makers of Moden Strategy have been team efforts drawing upon talented scholars, each writing a specialized essay. 1943 was the first occasion this innovative work came out from Princeton University Press; the editor was Edward Mead Earle, consultant to the Office of Strategic Services and the War Department. A second edition did not follow until 1986. That was immediately accepted into the classrooms of civilian graduate programs and American war colleges and staff schools (e.g. where I was on faculty at the Naval War College, and then Marine Corps University). The editor of that second edition was Peter Paret, a scholar on Clausewitz and also on French military affairs, including the war in Algeria of the 1950s. Now, in 2023 we have the advantage of yet another classroom option – a single volume, the largest as well as the latest. There are 46 essays, twice as many as in the first edition. The editor is Hal Brands, a hyper-productive academic at Johns Hopkins University; several colleagues from that school have chapters in the new book. We have occasion now to back up and consider the merits of each of the three books.

The first edition, of 1943, was a collaboration by Earle with an expert in the American founding, Felix Gilbert, and a specialist on modern Germany, Gordon Craig. Craig’s own book on Prussian and German civil-military relations and that towering figure Otto von Bismarck has long been important and also one of the texts for # 628. Makers of Modern Strategy showed strong interests in German wars; after all, Berlin led armies into many wars starting in 1864. The book devoted attention to 20th century leaders such as Genl. Ludendorff and geopolitician Karl Haushofer. Other essays covered Nazi and Japanese imperial concepts of war, and several named French and British statesmen. Many of these chapters have vanished in the new edition although their topics do get some coverage inside.

Consider the title. All three volumes include the words “Makers of MODERN Strategy,” so when does that period begin? What is “modern”? Begin with Machiavelli, the Princeton teams argue. All three editions devote a full chapter to the Florentine bureaucrat and literary man most famous for his booklet The Prince. We do not reach back quite so far, in Military Strategy 628; our course at the Institute begins with the 18th century, and then the French Revolution and Napoleonic Wars, and then marches on towards today’s issues. It is in our school’s political philosophy programs that the professors turn us to Machiavelli – and frankly the old sage may have more use there than in military studies conducted in our 21st century.

We may also consider the subtitle of the work, which in the middle of the Second World War may have winked at the wicked: Makers of Modern Strategy: Military Thought from Machiavelli to Hitler.

The second edition appears in the mid-80s. That subtitle shifts a little: From Machiavelli to the Nuclear Age. This “middle” volume in Princeton’s troika kept the concept of the first book and retained some earlier chapter authors. Newly emerging: Peter Paret, whose presence with the editing is paralleled by his original essays – one on Napoleon’s revolution in war, and another on Carl von Clausewitz. At the time, On War by Clausewitz was a dominant force in U.S. professional military education, for its value in theory and in provoking thinking, training the mind. Schools today have options: some read an essay about the ideas of Clausewitz and a set of pages from On War; others program more time with the original work, reading the primary source rather than a scholar’s gloss.

In 1986, a chapter on Friedrich Engels and Karl Marx on revolution and war was included. It complimented the 1st edition; the same author, Sigmund Neumann updated his chapter. The 2nd edition adds a new essay on Vladimir Lenin and Leon Trotsky and Joseph Stalin. Thus emerges a real strength of the book series – they do not have to replace one another; they can be considered additive. In this case, the combination of early editions made the big picture of Communist thinkers more complete, as suits a volume issued in the Cold War.

Future National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice wrote on her specialty, the current Soviet Union and its military strategy. Nuclear problems were examined by Laurence Freedman, who would also write for the later 3rd edition.

Another couple of essays continued the first edition’s limited but solid coverage of low intensity conflict. The three books have made efforts at assessing frontier skirmishes by empires, and guerrilla wars. The later editions added Maoist revolutionary war theory and practice. The third edition carries on with one good essay on terrorism, another on militant Islamism, and treatment of that determined sponsor of warfare in peacetime, Qassem Soleimani, who until his death led Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps overseas operations.

Let that note bring us now, fully, to this 3rd edition, just released from the press: The New Makers of Modern Strategy: From the Ancient World to the Digital Age. One can appreciate the transition from Hitler in edition 1, to nuclear weapons in edition 2, to digitized warfare in the subtitle of edition 3. Those are meaningful changes.

But otherwise, the newest title can confuse. Why is it NEW Makers of Modern Strategy? Assuredly, this 3rd edition does cover some “new makers” of strategy. There is French psychoanalyst Frantz Fanon, an explicit proponent of terrorism but also a hero to Algerians in their war of independence the 1950s. There is Gandhi, with a strategy of civil disobedience against the British Empire. Those are important and new to this series. But the 3rd edition also, and suddenly, reaches back to pre-“modern” times. Never before has this series done chapters on Sun Tzu, or Thucydides, or Polybius who analyzed Rome’s wars with Carthage. Each of these is a most worthy thinker – and all are terrific to read today – but all are of pre-Christian eras. The extra reach, both backwards and forwards in time, is the main reason this new volume has so many more pages.

Now, even a door-stopper like this new hardback cannot cover everything. The decisions must have challenged Hal Brands as editor. He has had to abandon some matters.

There is no word here of Russell Weigley, and little on his famous theme of “an American way of war.” Relatedly, there are merely a few pages on military forces in the Civil War, easily the deadliest in U.S. history – which is also to say the history of our continent.

France, its forces, and its strategies, are much reduced. Some, including Americans, might argue this is a well-considered adjustment, given French stature after the 19th c. and given this new edition’s reduced emphasis on Europe in favor of some other continents. But it may jar any historian to see the absences. “France” is not indexed in the back of this tome – no named country is indexed. The subject index is simply not good: it does make the space to print names of three Renaissance painters, Charles Dickens, a Soviet dissident, and one or two academic writers of today whom we’ll forget by 2024. Peter Paret – not to mention Charles de Gaulle – would not be pleased by the shortfall in material on 20th century France. Nor would they be mollified by the one favorable mention of de Gaulle in this new book.

What else is missing? Two British geopolitical thinkers: “Heartland” thesis proponent Halford J. Mackinder, and navalist and historian Julian Corbett, whose Principles of Maritime Strategy is a timeless book which we continue using in # 628. Some American naval officers say that they prefer Corbett’s ideas to those of Alfred Thayer Mahan.

One does not find here the Cold War masters of counterinsurgency such as Harold Briggs who wrote and implemented the war-winning plan for Malaya, or his British associate Robert Thompson who did a superb little book synthesizing their methods. Nor can we find mention of American hero Edward Lansdale, the Air Force intelligence officer and CIA man who helped the Filipinos win their war with the “Huks” (communist guerrillas) by 1955.

Not doubting the efficiencies necessitated by composing any single volume, it is very troubling to me to see how little room was found for President Ronald Reagan. He is covered in an essay on arms control during peacetime, a good topic, given how much attention we pay now to “gray areas” between war and peace. But here, sadly consistent with so much recent scholarship, Reagan gets little credit as the primary agent and strategy-maker who won the Cold War. He won it as Sun Tzu would advise and hope, without major war. Reagan’s team composed a grand strategy – NSDD 75, dated January 1983 – and then followed it to victory. This new edition needs a chapter on that matter of global significance. Or, as an alternative, it could have offered pages on the narrower “Reagan Doctrine” of aiding guerrillas fighting communist regimes in their own countries. In short, Ronald Reagan was a “new maker” of a new strategy. It only worked perfectly in one theater, Afghanistan in the 1980s, but it worked. The Reagan Doctrine is never mentioned here.

Of course, it is valuable to read what the new essays of the third edition do cover, and there is much to take in.

Intelligence is reviewed by Thomas Rid. The “Makers” book series has always looked at military forces and also at the level above, “grand strategy.” And that higher level must include such topics as intelligence, ideology, leadership, and economics. This 3rd edition does well in that way. As an example, Alexander Hamilton and his ideas on economics and national strength have survived the cuts and are featured in all three editions. More generally, we’re sure that no new student consulting this tome will walk away thinking “strategy” is only about a general conducting a battle.

Editor Hal Brands has been publishing his own Cold War studies, and here he yields opportunities to others. We have a civil-military relations paper on American leadership in the Vietnam War by Mark Moyar of Hillsdale College. Serge Radchenko writes on the Brezhnev era and détente – also a good way to consider today’s great power rivalries. We have an essay by that towering figure in post 1945 geopolitics, John Lewis Gaddis (who in 2005 published a vital update of his classic Strategies of Containment). I like the new contribution on nuclear weapons and strategy by recent Pentagon civilian official Eric Edelman.

There is an S. C. M. Paine essay on Maoist war strategies – something we have a course on here (IWP # 706).  Paine’s approach is original and interesting. And there is a novel study of North Korea which appears to be a good choice: author Sue Mi Terry names this Pyongyang’s “strategy for survival.”

There are many other useful perspectives on this new collection.  How will readers like its coverage of Russia, or China?  Will scholars approve of this list of experts chosen to do the writing? To me it seems the selections are by and large judicious and their work good – although it will take all of us more than a first reading to know well so complex, large, and sophisticated a work.

One cluster of the new chapters is by professors who teach – or did so – at the Naval War College, Newport, Rhode Island. The many of great qualities have included Dr. Brad Lee, a quiet gentleman mentioned within text and footnotes in the new book; as a lecturer he is as learned and lucid as anyone, anywhere.  This third edition brings us fine chapters by Toshi Yoshihara, Thomas Mahnken, John Maurer, S. C. M. Paine, and Ahmed Hashim.

I am glad to see Professor Maurer presenting the A. T. Mahan story on sea power and the academic work that admiral did in Newport. What a legacy! Earlier editions of this Princeton series gave the responsibility of writing on Mahan to (1) Margaret Tuttle Sprout, and (2) Philip Crowl, and both their essays are as lively and well-worth reading as ever. How gratifying to see now this book series with three perspectives on Mahan and sea power from three authors 80 years apart. Another of the Newport contingent was Ahmed Hashim; while teaching at the Naval War College briefly he authored (for a different press) an outstanding book about counterinsurgency in the Sri Lankan war ending in 2009. In this new Makers from Princeton, Hashim has moved on to explain our globe’s violent moderns who call themselves “jihadis.”

And what of the authors who are not here? For whatever reasons, some names we might expect, or hope to see, are not present in the new table of contents, such as Henry Kissinger, Holger Herwig, George Baer, Eliot Cohen, and Douglas Porch. And John Shy: Shy contributed two superior essays to the 1986 edition. He passed away last year, which prompts us to consider how this new book must do without some of the leading historians of European militaries – scholars lost to life in recent years. Gone now are Michael Howard, Peter Paret, Dennis Showalter, John Pimlott, Colin Gray. Their passing leaves the good work to be done on European history to the future, and to others.

To conclude:

+ The New Makers of Modern Strategy is valuable.

+ Its major lines of thought are on strategy, military theory, military history, planning and procurement in peacetime, and to lesser degrees, current trends in academe.

+ Every reader has much to learn from it, whether a student or a specialist.

+ Faculty everywhere need to know what is in the new edition; that matters; that will be part of innumerable serious conversations.

+ This 3rd edition does not replace the earlier two. It supplements them. At the Institute, in Military Strategy # 628, we will be assigning chapters from the 2nd and 3rd editions in our Fall 2023 syllabus.