To conclude Season Three of Talking Strategy, US Army General (ret.) Dr David Petraeus shares with us his philosophy about making good strategy. A scholarly soldier with a long and varied career, he commanded the International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan in 2010–11 and subsequently served as director of the CIA. General Petraeus’s experience has taught him that the best results can arise from what he describes as his own ‘intellectual construct for strategic leadership’, comprised of four tasks: brainstorming, communication, implementation and assessment. Successful results can be achieved from initially brainstorming with the best and brightest around the commander to find the next ‘big idea’ – thinking through all good proposals, and deciding which is the best. Then, the challenge is to communicate it to the entire defence establishment both at home and abroad, including one’s own forces and allied/coalition forces. Then comes the implementation, requiring energetic leadership. Finally, the results must be assessed – and here the circle closes. For General Petraeus, making and implementing good strategy is possible when the armed forces are turned into a learning organisation, one that can draw lessons and jettison approaches that have been unhelpful. For communication with multiple audiences during an armed conflict, his motto is: ‘Be first with the truth’.
S3E11: Raoul Castex: The Servitude of Strategy with Professor Martin Motte
Raoul Castex (1878–1968) was an active naval officer who theorised widely on strategy. As an advocate of ‘jointness’, he took a comprehensive approach rather than relying on any one service. A child of the predominant geopolitical fashions of his time, Castex was an advocate of keeping diplomats and ministers out of strategy-making during war, of an offensive strategy on all fronts (despite the experience of the First World War), and of France not concentrating all its efforts on defending itself on the continent but seeing itself as, above all, a colonial empire. He reached the rank of Vice-Admiral after having headed the French Naval College and the Centre for Advanced Naval Studies. He was an author on strategy more generally, which kept him busy following his retirement from the French Navy in 1939 after he failed to be appointed to the Navy's top position. His most important works were a series of volumes on strategic theory. Our guest for this episode, Professor Martin Motte, teaches at the École Pratique des Hautes Études and also at the French École de Guerre, the war college for higher officers. He is one of three authors of the manual produced by the École de Guerre for the education of its officers.
S3E10: Mao Zedong’s Strategy for Revolutionary War with Professor Steve Tsang
Professor Steve Tsang joins Beatrice and Paul to discuss the founding father of the Chinese People’s Republic, Mao Zedong. Mao was both a Leninist strategic theorist and the leader of the Chinese Communists in their fight to overthrow the Chinese nationalists – while not exerting themselves too much in the battle against Japanese occupation. There is a considerable gulf between Mao’s theoretical writings on strategies for insurgency and civil war, and the practices he followed, Professor Tsang explains. Nevertheless, his three-stage concept for a successful guerrilla movement has inspired other Communist revolutionary movements the world over. Another disciple of Clausewitz, Mao used the tenet that war is a continuation of politics by other means to argue, famously, that peace is also a time of fighting – even if the tools are not those of war. He made this his main argument for breaking with the Stalinist tradition that sought to rely only on Communist strategic thinkers, and with Soviet tutelage. For Mao, ‘Fighting in times of peace is politics, war is also politics, even if it uses special means’. This doctrine perfectly captured the spirit of the Cold War. Professor Steve Tsang is the Director of the SOAS China Institute. Previously, he was the Head of the School of Contemporary Chinese Studies at the University of Nottingham, and before that a Professorial Fellow at St Antony’s College, Oxford. He is also an Associate Fellow of Chatham House and an Emeritus Fellow of St Antony’s College.
S3E9: Sir Michael Quinlan and British Nuclear Strategy with Dr Tanya Ogilvie-White & Dr Kristan Stoddart
With a serious commitment to the ‘Just War’ tradition, Sir Michael Quinlan (1930–2009), chief British nuclear strategist of the late 1970s and 1980s, helped to construct the complex edifice of the British and NATO nuclear deterrence posture. Sir Michael was both a strategic analyst and, as a key British civil servant, a practitioner in so far as his analysis formed the British nuclear strategy. That he was a Jesuit-educated Catholic and an Oxford-educated Classicist explains much about his approach to nuclear strategy: throughout his adult life, he grappled with the nuclear paradox that peace could be the result of the mutual threat of unbearable nuclear conflagration. He sought serious debate with all and sundry, replacing secrecy with transparency and persuasion where at all possible. Dr Tanya Ogilvie-White and Dr Kristan Stoddart join Beatrice and Paul for this week’s episode. Both Tanya and Kristan knew Sir Michael and his writings at first hand: Tanya posthumously published his correspondence under the title On Nuclear Deterrence. She is Senior Research Adviser at the Asia-Pacific Leadership Network and a member of the International Group of Eminent Persons – an initiative working to achieve a world without nuclear weapons. Previously, she was research director of the Centre for Nuclear Non-Proliferation and Disarmament at the Crawford School of Public Policy (Australian National University) and a Senior Lecturer at the University of Canterbury, New Zealand, and she has held positions at several think tanks. Dr Kristan Stoddart is an Associate Professor in the School of Social Sciences at Swansea University. He was previously a Reader in the Department of International Politics at Aberystwyth, and he is the author of Losing an Empire and Finding a Role: Britain, the USA, NATO and Nuclear Weapons, 1964-70 (Palgrave Macmillan, 2012).
S3E8: Continuation of Diplomacy by Other Means: Dietrich von Bülow with Dr Arthur Kuhle
Dietrich Heinrich von Bülow (1757–1807) was called ‘everything from a conceited crank to the founder of modern military science’ (R R Palmer). Probably the last Prussian strategist to sympathise with the French Revolution, he had a keen interest in the relationship between political aims and war as their instrument, and in geopolitics: he correctly prophesied that the 19th century would produce in Europe the smallest number of states since states came into being, after the territorial expansion of the strong by conquering or annexing smaller powers. Von Bülow’s Spirit of the Modern System of War combined geopolitics with geographic considerations, ideas about the balance of power in Europe and geometric treatises on how to calculate and establish the best chances of success in battle by focusing on magazines and lines of supply and movement. He was unfairly ridiculed for his geometric approach by Clausewitz, who, at the same time, borrowed Bülow’s main tenet: ‘If something can be effected by force and cannot be achieved by negotiations, diplomacy turns into war, or conflict with reasons becomes conflict with physical forces’. And he concluded: ‘war is a means for the achievement of diplomatic aims’. Sound familiar? This week’s guest on Talking Strategy, Dr Arthur Kuhle, studied History and Arts History at the Universities of Berlin and Belfast from 2006 to 2012. He completed his PhD at the Humboldt University Berlin on the intellectual predecessors of Carl von Clausewitz, a work subsequently published in German. After working at the University of Göttingen for some time, he is now engaged in research on the history of the climate of the Himalayas and its relevance for the emergence of early civilisations there.
Our thinking about defence and security is shaped by ideas. What we see depends on our vantage point and the lenses we apply to the world. Governments, military and business leaders are seeking to maximise the value they gain from scarce resources by becoming more ‘strategic’. Standing on the shoulders of the giants of strategy from the past helps us see further and more clearly into the future. This series is aimed at those looking to learn more about strategy and how to become more strategic – leaders, practitioners and scholars.
This podcast series, co-chaired by Professor Beatrice Heuser and Paul O’Neill, examines the ideas of important thinkers from around the world and across the ages. The ideas, where they came from and what shaped those whose ideas shape us now. By exploring the concepts in which we and our adversaries think today, the episodes will shine a light on how we best prepare for tomorrow.
The views or statements expressed by guests are their own and their appearance on the podcast does not imply an endorsement of them or any entity they represent. Views and opinions expressed by RUSI employees are those of the employees and do not necessarily reflect the view of RUSI.