The New Makers of Modern Strategy: From the Ancient World to the Digital Age

  • Published

The New Makers of Modern Strategy: From the Ancient World to the Digital Age edited by Hal Brands. Princeton University Press, 2023, 1,158 pp.

The New Makers of Modern Strategy is the latest update to the classic compendium first edited by Edward Mead Earle in 1942 and last updated in 1986 by Peter Paret. Unlike Earle or Paret, who were historians, the editor of this most recent volume, Hal Brands, is a political scientist. Brands is the Henry A. Kissinger distinguished professor of global affairs at the Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies and a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute. The latest version of this anthology consists of 45 essays from a veritable Who’s Who in contemporary strategic studies, with a couple of contributors—Williamson Murray and S.C.M. Paine—contributing two essays. Eight essays from the previous volume have received a fresh treatment in The New Makers.

The New Makers has twice as many essays as the original Makers of Modern Strategy and slightly more than one and a half as many as the Paret edition.1 This reflects an attempt to cast a wider net than its predecessors in terms of both the periods and material covered, such as the inclusion of new domains and a shift from the bipolarity of the Cold War to a multipolar world. In this, it achieves mixed results. Despite its subtitle, the ancient world is an afterthought. Only two entries cover strategy in the period prior to Machiavelli—the earliest strategist discussed in the prior editions—in contrast to four that touch on the First World War.

The book does a better job when expanding the range of the Makers series. It does this through the inclusion of essays on strategy in non-Western contexts and on the economic aspects of strategy. Among the first, S.C.M. Paine’s and Elizabeth Economy’s essays are especially noteworthy, and serve as valuable introductions to Chinese thinkers such as Sun Yat-Sen, whom Western strategists would be well advised to become familiar with. The contributions by James Lacey, and Eric Helleiner and Jonathan Kirshner on the relationship between economics and strategy are some of the best contributions to the volume.

Yet Brands’ attempt to broaden the Makers perspective is not always successful. Kori Schanke’s essay on “Strategic Excellence: Tecumseh and the Shawnee Confederacy” and Priya Satia’s “Strategies of Anti-Imperial Resistance” are among the weakest of the essays in this volume. Both pieces could have been sacrificed in favor of addressing some of the omissions in the earlier editions, and in this specific volume. Carter Malkasian’s essay “Strategies of Counterinsurgency and Counter-Terrorism after 9/11” is one of several contributions that are of uneven quality. The portion on counterterrorism is valuable and highlights how domestic politics and fiscal realities impact strategy, key factors that are often overlooked by military leaders. Yet the section on counterinsurgency borders on hagiography and would have been better served by a more skeptical voice like that provided by Gian Gentile.2 Overall, the uneven nature of the essays in this collection leaves one with the feeling that a third of them could have been omitted entirely.

Despite the greatly expanded nature of The New Makers, once again there is no essay on Julian Corbett. Airpower theorist John Warden and the ever controversial but often-cited John Boyd are both deserving of coverage but also go unmentioned. As in the previous edition, geopolitics is overlooked. An essay on Halford J. Mackinder and Nicholas J. Spykman would have been valuable and would have served to complement Derwent Whittlesey’s on Karl Haushofer in the original edition. Despite the ubiquity with which terms like hybrid, grey zone, and irregular warfare are thrown around, the debate about their usefulness as intellectual constructs is far from settled, and an essay by Donald Stoker on the topic would have been a welcome addition.

The inclusion of new domains is discussed in Joshua Rovner’s “Strategy and Grand Strategy in New Domains” and is one of the more useful essays in the volume. He reminds us that there is no magic technological solution that leads to cheap victory. By successfully tying the new domains of cyberspace and space to the past, Rovner illustrates how logistical, organizational, and fiscal realities will define the realm of the possible. Ultimately, strategic success requires integrating capabilities from both new and existing domains. One can see a future edition of Makers including a more expansive examination of strategy as it relates to space and cyberspace.

Lawrence Freedman’s opening essay on the idea of strategy is, like all his work, insightful. Yet it is essentially a reworking of two pieces that were previously published in the Texas National Security Review.3 In addition to those contributions already singled out for praise, among the most valuable essays in the book are Walter Russell Mead’s on the strategic legacy of ancient Greece and Rome, Michael Leggiere’s on “Napoleon and the Strategy of the Single Point,” and Iskander Rehman’s discussion of French strategy in the seventeenth century.

Hew Strachan’s treatment of Carl von Clausewitz is an example of how fresh insights can be found in oft-studied material. At the same time, Dimitry Adamsky’s discussion of the revolution in military affairs and Thomas Rid’s examination of the intelligence revolution are thoughtful pieces that bring the Makers series into recent history. The volume concludes with an excellent essay by John Lewis Gaddis that neatly summarizes and ties together the work by the preceding authors.

The New Makers embraces a broader conception of strategy than the 1986 version, which was firmly focused on war. This reflects not so much an evolution of the term strategy but a return to its use in the original Earle edition. Yet, in doing so it unwittingly raises questions of who makes strategy and at what level it is made. Because of the nature of the volume—a collection of essays that examine practically the entire span of recorded history across the globe—this book is ill-suited to answer this question or to untangle the nuances between policy, grand strategy, and strategy.

Despite this, The New Makers of Modern Strategy is essential reading for courses on strategy. It does not replace the previous two volumes but serves as a useful addition and update by expanding the historical periods, topics, and cultural backgrounds addressed in the Makers series. The uneven nature of this work, however, means that it is best dipped into selectively.

Lieutenant Colonel Wilson C. Blythe Jr., USA, PhD

1 Edward Meade Earle, ed., Makers of Modern Strategy: Military Thought from Machiavelli to Hitler (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1943); and Peter Paret, ed., The Makers of Modern Strategy from Machiavelli to the Nuclear Age (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1986).

2 See, for example, Gian Gentile, Wrong Turn: America's Deadly Embrace of Counterinsurgency (New York: New Press, 2013).

3 See Lawrence Freedman, “The Meaning of Strategy, Part I: The Origin Story,” Texas National Security Review 1, no. 1 (December 2017); and Freedman, “The Meaning of Strategy, Part II: The Objectives,” Texas National Security Review 1, no. 2 (2018).

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