I'll be co-teaching a graduate level course on Grand Strategy this fall, and will be responsible for teaching the first block of historical case studies. The overall course aims to nurture strategic thinking above the operational level, with IR experts covering theories about how states and people interact, a political scientist covering deterrence, nuclear themes, containment, and US grand strategies since 1945, and regional specialists covering contemporary Great Power challenges, in particular that posed by China. My intent during the first historical block is to introduce students to historical cases that illustrate various dimensions of strategy, the interaction between opponents, alliance dynamics, and strategic planning/force development in peace and strategy during war. My first inclination is to use the following cases (I only have ten 3 hour lesson periods, so can only cover 4 or 5 cases):
Peloponnesian War: I just think Thucydides provides some many venues for discussion debate, ranging from his triad of fear, honor, and interests to rising/declining power dynamics, to role of allies/dependents, to internal tensions between oligarchs/demos, etc. A tough haul to cover in 6 hours, but worth it. Using the Strassler's Landmark Thucydides, supplemented by either Platias and Koliopoulos' Thucydides on Strategy or Paul Rahe's Sparta's Second Attic War: The Grand Strategy of Classical Sparta, 446-418 BC. I certainly value Kagan's three volume study, but want students to read Thucydides in his own word, and will provide commentary/lecture to set the stage.
Punic Wars: I've chosen this one because it provides an interesting case in strategic versus tactical success, land power versus sea power, theaters of war and centers of gravitiy, Fabian strategy, etc. Leaning towards using Adrian Goldworthy's The Fall of Carthage. The Punic Wars 265-146 BC.
Seven Years War: Using this one because it presents, to my mind, one of the clearest examples of a coherent grand strategy, that of William Pitt the Elder. I'm thinking of using Daniel Baugh's The Global Seven Years War 1754-1763: Britain and France in a Great Power Contest. And yes, I understand that one could instead focus on the struggle on the continent, and Frederick II's campaigns. But I find if one tries to cover everything, one instead just gives the thinnest of historical overviews with superficial discussions.
The Dreadnought Race and World War I: focus will be on great power competition after 1890, with discussion of Tirpitz Plan, Fisher's reforms, and the naval dynamics of WWI. Vaguely thinking of using Nicholas Lambert's Planning Armageddon. Would have liked to use Rolf Hobson's Imperialism at Sea: Naval Strategic Thought, the Ideology of Sea Power and the Tirpitz Plan, 1875-1914 but it is out of print. The intent of the case study is not to provide an overview of World War I, but instead to examine how a particular strategic concept, in this case William II's belief that Weltpolitik required a powerful fleet, caused a reaction in Britain that rendered the concept counterproductive diplomatically and misplaced militarily.
World War II: I'm still thinking about where to focus this case study. Since both the previous case studies have focused on the maritime sphere, I'm rather loathe to do the same here, though I've found that Overy's Why the Allies Won World War II and Philip O'Brian's How the War was Won: Air-Sea Power and Allied Victory in World War II offer focused, clear arguments that generate good discussion. Leaning toward focusing German planning and assumptions about the war they initiated, perhaps using Gerhard Weinberg's World at Arms or focusing more tightly on the Eastern Front using Stephen Fritz' Ostkrieg. Hitler's War of Extermination in the East. I'm aware that I might instead focus on Japan and the Pacific War, but believe that were it not for Germany and the war it unleashed in Europe & Atlantic, the Pacific War (as distinct from Japan's war in China) would not have happened.
I have a couple questions to ask the group:
1. I've considered replacing the Punic Wars with a case study on Byzantine grand strategy, using Edward Luttwak's The Grand Strategy of the Byzantine Empire. I have two reservations. The first relates to the time span. Luttwak's book spans a millennium, claiming a continuity in Byzantine strategic conceptions from the Germanic invasions to surge of Islam to Bulgarian challenge to coping with Seljuks and managing crusaders. While I'll concede that the concept of a partiuclar strategic culture applies, equating strategic culture with grand strategy seems misplaced. I also know that some of my classicist friends were less than smitten, shall we say, with Luttwak's Grand Strategy of the Roman Empire. Most of the glowing reviews seem to come from political scientists and IR scholars, not historians. Any thoughts on Luttwak's thesis and The Grand Strategy of the Byzantine Empire from those specializing in the era? Or thoughts on whether grand strategy is a useful concept when it spans a millenium, with multiple different threats?
2. I think very highly of Geoffrey Parker's Grand Strategy of Philipp II, and used it in a previous course. Tempted to use that book or Parker's newer book on Charles V (Emperor) in a case study of Habsburg grand strategy, but find that my students (American military officers) have great difficulty understanding the early modern period and the Habsburgs in particular. And given time constraints, it's either the Habsburgs or the Anglo-French rivalry in the 18th century. Any thoughts on which case provides more insights on grand strategy in your opinion?
Post a bit long-winded, but wanted to share my thoughts on useful case studies and books before I asked for insights and reactions on Luttwak and the Habsburg verus Anglo-French case study.
All the best,