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<nettime> strategic studies

// permission to reproduce not received. though at 85k, much
// of it footnotes, the intro and section info should give a sense
// of its contents. without the checks and balances of 'strategic
// studies', does that leave everyone with the open-source intel
// of newstreams and availability to specialized information, so
// that one becomes one's own Stratfor, strategic forecaster, and
// if so, what does it mean when (for lack of information, possibly)
// that the world 'says no' to war or G.W.Bush, do they have better
// intel on the world order in the next 10-20 years, or is that not the
// point? without checks and balances on the issues of the day, one
// is left to make up one's own mind- where's accurate information?
// maybe there is a strategic re-alignment underway, undersway, in
// which things may be reordered, one way or another. inevitable.
// maybe it would be the difference between keeping the status quo
// content, and changing little or nothing, or also risking total collapse
// so as to enable total change. whatever it is, it seems that the U.S.
// is now set back 30+ years in its development, if not more. but, what
// is the chance that previous administrations, by keeping things as
// they are, may not have set things even further back, to a breaking
// point. meaning- why is Bill Clinton lauding Bono on the verge of
// WWIII? what if, strategy-wise, a global re-alignment may avert even
// greater catastrophe between global states now seeking the pole-
// position as the U.S. seems bent on fulfilling a type of obligation to
// prove its power through force, a move fatal for many of the states
// playing in the background, setting up best-exploitation scenarios?
// when lack of strategic information makes 'war or no war' an actual
// choice, as if scratching off a lotto ticket, like 'terrorism or no 
// what information is this being based on, and for what ends, and for
// what price? price, meaning, death, incendiary political economics.
// whois to blame- that's easy- the U.S. administration, by holding back
// all information, even the most benign reasoning for strategic moves
// and dealings, is playing a winner-take-all game, and who will ever
// know who wins or loses, if no one ever knows what game is played?
// maybe an attempt is being made, say, to break OPEC, to shift the
// oil power to non-OPEC countries, to separate forms of government
// from oil-supplies (that is, extremist governments, possibly), and to
// enable the domino-effect of transforming the Middle East. unlikely-
// maybe, but not impossible. is it worth dying for today, going to war
// even on a civilian front? well, maybe it depends on whether one
// wants a working computer should radical disruptions occur in the
// global energy (communications, and transportation) order. what if,
// beyond U.S. President George W. Bush, there is reason to pursue
// current policies, no matter how dangerous they may seem or really
// are- to avert a greater catastrophic future, played out strategically?
// maybe no one really knows. that is what scares me. maybe the U.S.
// government, not the administration, but the whole of the bureaucracy
// does not know one way or the other, for better or for worse, because
// of all the secrecy, there is no distance, no choice. it is just 'for war',
// then, those 'against war' would provide the needed counterweight.
// though, one might be skeptical. people are dying for some reason.

Should Strategic Studies Survive? 

Richard K. Betts  *


A specter is haunting strategic studies--the specter of peace. This 
sounds odd so long after the burst of euphoria at the end of the cold 
war, which dissipated into so many nasty little wars. Political 
science, however, has been less interested in war per se than in 
cataclysmic war among great powers, war that can visit not just 
benighted people far away, but people like us. Half a century of world 
war and cold war provided that impetus for strategic studies. After the 
cold war, however, universities face other demands as resources shrink. 
Has the warrant for feeding this field expired? Certainly not.

First, one interest alone fully justifies keeping the flame burning: to 
have expertise on the shelf in case great-power conflict arises again, 
which is more likely to happen than not. For whatever reason, the 
United States finds itself in a war or crisis in almost every 

Second, confusion continues about what U.S. foreign policy should 
expect military power to do for less vital interests. What force can 
accomplish in a specific situation does not follow directly from 
standard international relations theories or rational choice models; 
the answer depends on military technology, organization, and doctrine, 
and how they fit with local political and geographic circumstances. 
After the cold war, liberals, on the one hand, who spent the last 
thirty years trying to reduce American military power, demanded that 
Washington "do something" with the armed forces to suppress atrocities, 
promote democracy, and keep peace in places like Bosnia, Somalia, and 
Haiti. Conservatives, on the other hand, insisted on buying hefty 
forces but not using them. Vague notions that military power can impose 
political solutions at a reasonable cost, or that outside military 
power is useless for doing so, were subjected to little analytical 
discipline after 1990. If capacity for informed strategic 
analysis--integrating political, economic, [End Page 7] and military 
judgment--is not preserved and applied, decisions on the use of force 
will be uninformed and, therefore, irresponsible.

Third, the size and composition of the U.S. defense budget are crucial, 
affecting fiscal and social policy as well as foreign affairs. Who can 
rationally recommend whether the budget should be higher or lower, or 
what it should buy, without any expertise on the nature of military 
forces and what combinations of them are necessary to achieve 
objectives set by elected officials? If civilian strategists are not to 
decide along with the professional military, either ignorant civilians 
will do it, disjoining political and military logic, or the military 
will do it alone.

Fourth, U.S. civil-military relations are problematic. The armed forces 
were reformed and rejuvenated over the same time that political 
leadership loosened oversight. Reagan's romantic nationalism made for 
laissez-faire civilian control, and Clinton's impaired moral authority, 
owing to his own draft evasion, precluded vigorous guidance as 
commander in chief. After Vietnam, the military became more popular 
with the mass public as the elite distanced itself from it. Fewer 
civilian policymakers have experienced military service themselves, 
while the military institution as it shrinks is growing apart from 
society after a half century of closeness enforced by the mass 
mobilization of world war and cold war. There is no danger of direct 
insubordination, but a larger proportion of military officers now feels 
more competent and more moral than the rest of their country and less 
respectful of their government. Education in strategy will not solve 
problems in civil-military relations and might even aggravate conflict 
if it emboldens civilians to question military judgments. But if checks 
and balances matter, it can only help.

Strategic studies is both necessary and contested because it focuses on 
the essential Clausewitzian problem: how to make force a rational 
instrument of policy rather than mindless murder--how to integrate 
politics and war. This requires the interdisciplinary joining of 
military grammar and political logic, in Clausewitz's terms, a marriage 
that gets lip service in principle but is often subverted in practice 
by those who identify more with one half of the union than the other. 
Soldiers often object to politics permeating war because it gives 
civilians the right to meddle in operations, while many intellectuals 
object to dignifying war as an instrument of policy or an academic 
priority. For all these reasons, political science became the main 
academic home for the field, and the place of military affairs within 
it is periodically challenged.

Within a field of international relations constantly riven by sectarian 
debates about overarching frameworks like realism, liberalism, and 
their [End Page 8] "neo" variants, the murky boundaries of strategy 
fuel controversy. To clarify where strategic studies should fit, think 
of a subfield of three concentric circles: at the core is military 
science (how technology, organization, and tactics combine to win 
battles); the outer, most inclusive ring is security studies 
(everything that bears on the safety of a polity); and in the middle 
lies strategic studies (how political ends and military means interact 
under social, economic, and other constraints).

The distinctions are relevant in principle, because they illustrate why 
strategic studies should be the most important part of the 
subfield--broader in scope than strictly military problems, but more 
focused than security studies, which is potentially boundless. In 
practice, however, the distinctions solve few problems because the 
dividing lines between strategic studies and the other two layers can 
never be clear, and the distinctions are not recognized 
institutionally. Only security studies has academic standing, so the 
place of strategic studies emerges through debates about defining 
security. Most scholars of security identify it with strategic studies, 
but much of what they do strikes some in other subfields as too close 
to military science for comfort. Critics then argue for reorienting the 
security subfield to so many other issues that the military core may 
become a pea lost in an amorphous ball of wax. The intellectual 
coherence of strategic studies increases with linkage to the military 
core, but institutional status and legitimacy grow with distance from 

One danger in strategic studies is missing the political forest for the 
military trees. That danger was greater during the cold war than now. 
The opposite danger--that defining security broadly will squeeze out 
work on the military aspects--is greater now. There is no consensus 
that attention to military matters remains an important responsibility 
for social science, or even that knowledge of military systems is as 
vital for studying security as knowledge of economic systems is for 
studying political economy.

The Case for Scientific Strategy 

The First Cycle of Cold War Strategic Studies 

The Second Cycle and After 

The Missing Discipline 

Strategic Studies and Security Studies 

Strategy for What? 

Richard K. Betts is Professor of Political Science and Director of the 
Institute of War and Peace Studies at Columbia University, and he is 
Director of National Security Studies at the Council on Foreign 
Relations. His most recent book is Military Readiness (1995). 

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