What is Grand Strategy?

Allies Grand Strategy Conference in North Africa - Roosevelt meets Churchill

What is grand strategy? Is there a common definition? What is the available litterature on the issue? Are there alternative approaches to grand strategy? Access two recent publications (a book and an article) on grand strategy, by Thierry Balzacq et al.


Comparative Grand Strategy: A Framework and Cases 

Thierry Balzacq, Peter Dombrowski, and Simon Reich

Oxford University Press

Abstract: The study of grand strategy has historically been confined to a few great powers—preponderantly, the United States, China, and Russia. In contrast, this volume introduces readers to the novel field of “comparative grand strategy.” Its co-editors offer a framework that expands the analysis beyond a traditional rationalist approach to incorporate significant cultural factors that influence strategists as they prioritize threats and opportunities in the global system. This framework then combines these factors with domestic political influences often understated or overlooked in the international relations literature. It considers both how grand strategy is actually formulated and the varied instruments used to implement it. Applying this framework, the volume’s remaining contributors then examine how grand strategy is conceived, formulated, and implemented by ten states. These consist of the United Nations G5 members and five other states “pivotal” to global or regional economic development and security. This group is composed of Brazil and India—two regional powers operating in very different security environments—and Iran, Israel, and Saudi Arabia, who confront each other in a truly existential conflict. Departing from a state-based analysis, an eleventh case study examines the European Union—an organization that lacks many of the trappings of a conventional state but which is able to call upon more resources than most. The volume’s concluding chapter points to both the theoretical and empirical areas of convergence and divergence highlighted by these chapters, and the prospective questions for future analysis in the emergent field of comparative grand strategy.

Keywords: grand strategy, comparative approach, major powers, pivotal powers, rationalism, constructivism, a framework for analysis, prescription, explanation, research program


“Is Grand Strategy a Research Program? A Review Essay”

Thierry Balzacq, Peter Dombrowski & Simon Reich

Security Studies, Volume 28, 2019 - Issue 1

Abstract: The literature on grand strategy is dynamic and voluminous. Yet a vital set of questions remains unsettled. There is little agreement on such basic issues as a common definition of grand strategy, the appropriate methods that should be employed in studying it, which countries qualify as comparative cases, and whether the purpose of research is explanatory or prescriptive. This article examines four recent, important books as a platform for addressing these issues and argues that, as currently constituted, grand strategy is a field of study rather than a mature research program. It concludes by offering a modest range of options that can be employed to rectify these problems and develop a comparative grand strategy program.


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