Beyond the Buzzword: The Three Meanings of “Grand Strategy”

Author/s (editor/s):

Nina Silove

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Journal article

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The questions of how to define grand strategy and whether it “exists” continue to vex the study of grand strategy, despite the ever-increasing popularity of the term. Scholars broadly agree that grand strategy refers to something that has the characteristics of being long-term in scope, related to the state’s highest priorities, and concerned with all spheres of statecraft (military, diplomatic, and economic). The precise entity or phenomenon that manifests these characteristics is less clear, indicating deficiencies in the methods used by scholars—usually implicitly—to define and operationalize concepts. This article traces the intellectual history and contemporary usage of the concept of grand strategy to identify the phenomenon or object to which the concept refers. This analysis demonstrates that there is no single concept of grand strategy. Instead, there are three, which are labelled “grand plans,” “grand principles,” and “grand behavior,” respectively. Each concept provides a distinct, valuable framework for research and policy prescription.

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