Strategy: Context and Adaptation from Archidamus to Airpower

  • Published

Strategy: Context and Adaptation from Archidamus to Airpower edited and authored by Richard J. Bailey Jr., James W. Forsyth Jr., and Mark O. Yeisley. Naval Institute Press, 2016, 288 pp.


As one might expect of a book with the word “context” in its title, what Strategy: Context and Adaptation from Archidamus to Airpower gives its reader is heavily context dependent. This collection of essays by instructors at the School of Advanced Air and Space Studies (SAASS) is a must for past and future SAASS students seeking to appreciate and revisit the perspectives of that institution’s renowned faculty. For readers with recent experience anywhere on Maxwell Air Force Base’s Academic Circle, many of the essays will be useful amplifications of familiar themes from curricula that have been heavily influenced by proximity to SAASS. Readers interested in how the faculty of the American military’s most strategically oriented school approaches the task of training the nation’s future military strategists will find much to appreciate. In short, the context of Strategy is SAASS and its approach to making and teaching strategy. This is not to say that as a collection of essays about strategy, Strategy lacks but to say that these pieces by leading strategic thinkers provide a much clearer editorial position on the building of strategists than they do on the building of strategy.

Although the book’s subtext is consistent throughout, the topics covered are broad and the methods varied. As intimated in the title, the essays range from Socratic dialogue to meditations on the development of strategy in air, space, and cyberspace. The first four essays are essentially philosophical, trending respectively from theory toward practice. Everett Carl Dolman, who literally wrote the book on Pure Strategy, begins the series by contemplating the meaning of the word “strategy,” setting the pace for the remainder of the book by ruthlessly defining terms and questioning easy answers. Harold Winton’s exploration of the utility of military theory evokes Heisenberg and cites Jomini en route to describing the importance of theory and the flaws inherent in any theory about the conduct of war. Winton’s warning on theory sets the stage well for James Forsyth’s essay on application of the realist theory of geopolitics to the creation of strategy. Forsyth explains a theory that is famous for putting practical considerations above all others and then demonstrates the moral imperative necessary for its function. James Tucci follows with a fun Socratic dialogue that makes a strong case for the study of the classics, as well as for the Socratic method itself.

The second section of the book is arguably more focused on the practical application of theory to current problems. Stephen Chiabotti’s discussion of the symbiotic and cyclic relationship between strategy and technology makes the historical case for strategic innovation informed by morality and context. Richard Muller’s essay on airpower history for the education of strategists is the most overtly SAASS-focused essay, and its direct discussion of the pedagogy of strategy is a unique contribution of this book. Jeffrey Smith’s insightful chapter on the relationship among theory, strategy, context, and technology in the development of future airpower strategy connects the dots between many of the other essays in the collection. Similarly, M. V. Smith’s essay on space power and strategy demonstrates the importance of theory and context in application to a domain that will unquestionably grow in importance to military operations in the future. Richard Bailey’s chapter on cyberspace reaches back to Dolman on the need for foundational definitions and struggles impressively with fundamental questions of liberty and interstate cooperation. Mark Yeisley considers the perspective of classical military theorists on irregular warfare and the effectiveness of airpower in what is a growing dimension of conflict, concluding that Airmen deserve greater education and training for the problems of irregular war. Finally, Stephen Wright examines the role of differences and inevitable disconnects between strategists and planners, laying out the differences in necessary mind-set and the problems of shepherding the right people through military careers to arrive intact as strategists. This chapter is a perfect bookend to the collection, as it struggles with the first problem of defining strategists relative to similar types and with the problem of making strategists.

Bailey, Forsyth, and Yeisley have created a book about strategy that explores the topic from its foundation to its frontiers with depth and precision. Importantly, it both describes and demonstrates a method of teaching strategists as it progresses from definition to theory and then application by alumni. By the end of the book, the reader has a much better understanding of how the world’s foremost instructors of strategy see the topic and how they see that it should be taught.

Maj Andrew L. Brown, USAF

"The views expressed are those of the author(s) and do not reflect the official policy or position of the US government or the Department of Defense."