Grand Strategy? Influencing others…
2 Aug 2012|

This post is the second on demystifying grand strategy; it looks at how we can influence others. Grand strategy involves interacting with others in a way that will change them to our advantage. Grand strategy is not the ends sought—we decide that separately—nor is it the resources (the means) we use. Instead grand strategy is a mental roadmap we devise about how to use the people, money and materiel we have, we can build, we can hire or we can borrow to try to move others where we want them to go.

There are intrinsically three broad types of ways we can influence others as part of a grand strategy. Denial involves stopping others doing what they would like to do. Engagement involves helping others achieve what they—and ultimately we—want. Reform involves changing the social principles and rules that drive others’ actions. Each type has its own particular way to achieve an objective, but crucially different outcomes require using different grand strategies.

A denial grand strategy assumes that superior power determines outcomes; you can stop others achieving their objectives by being more powerful than them. Military and economic might is used in ways that deters or, if need be, physically stop others from engaging in undesirable behaviour. You become more powerful through building up your own military and economic power, forming alliances, or both. The problem with alliances though is that your allies may only be fair-weather friends seeking to maximise their benefits.

Denial grand strategies create international orders based around relative power. If you have overwhelming power you can dominate completely and disregard all others; another option is to form a small like-minded group of powerful equals that together manages other lesser states (a ‘concert’ of powers); lastly if you only have a moderate amount of power you can balance against others and prevent them dominating you. Denial is conceptually uncomplicated in using force to stop others however this is not a permanent solution. Others may simply bide their time until you are weaker or until they build up their own power more. Denial grand strategies examples include containment, offshore balancing, coercive diplomacy and deterrence. Australia played a part in the American Cold War containment grand strategy that included the shooting wars of Korea and Vietnam and a lot in-between.

An engagement grand strategy assumes that there are groups in the other state that have interests and desires that you share, or at least that are useful to you. You can support these helpful groups so that they prevail in the continual jostling between domestic interest groups rather then the groups you disapprove of. The aim is to ensure that the ‘right’ people govern the state. Ensuring what the other country wants is what you want is the goal.

Engagement grand strategies can create complex interdependence orders that make other states more permeable allowing access to specific domestic groups that can be usefully exploited and manipulated. Another order involves you and others mutually creating joint institutions that impose rules that all agree to abide with. The final alternative is one where democracies come together to cooperate under agreed rules and with strong economic linkages. Engagement grand strategies can have a long lasting effect and be low cost but they rely on finding useful others. Liberal internationalism, supranationalism, collective security and appeasement are examples.

The quintessential engagement grand strategy is the Marshal Plan 1948–52 where the US worked with like-minded domestic political groups to build an economically integrated, democratic Western Europe. A different example is that of Iran that worked with and through co-religionists in Lebanon to create the Hezbollah group (PDF) to advance shared objectives and values, including their protracted conflict with Israel. From Iran’s viewpoint this proved a most cost-effective grand strategy, giving them greater influence in the Levant than other options could have.

A reform grand strategy is all about changing the ideas people hold. The old ideas first need to collapse with people convinced a replacement idea is essential. Then those particular members of a society who have a strong influence on the ideas people adopt need to be convinced that some new notion (of yours) is the answer. After this, these idea advocates need supporting until their message convinces enough people that a tipping point is reached, a cascade occurs and most accept the new thinking. The new idea though has to be seen as useful; if it fails, old ways may return.

Reform grand strategies can reshape the principles on which societies operate and create permanent change although this may take time to achieve. Reform grand strategy examples include rollback, regime change, humanitarian intervention, security community and counterinsurgency—a good example of which is the Malayan Emergency of 1948–60 (PDF) in which success came from a reform grand strategy that sought to change the ‘hearts and minds’ particularly of the rural Chinese.

In my next post I’ll discuss grand strategy’s essential second half: developing the means to influence others.

Peter Layton is undertaking a research PhD in grand strategy at UNSW.