Show cover of Talking Strategy

Talking Strategy

Our thinking about defence and security is shaped by ideas. What we see depends on our vantage point and the lenses we apply to the world. Governments, military and business leaders are seeking to maximise the value they gain from scarce resources by becoming more ‘strategic’. Standing on the shoulders of the giants of strategy from the past helps us see further and more clearly into the future. This series is aimed at those looking to learn more about strategy and how to become more strategic – leaders, practitioners and scholars. This podcast series, co-chaired by Professor Beatrice Heuser and Paul O’Neill, examines the ideas of important thinkers from around the world and across the ages. The ideas, where they came from and what shaped those whose ideas shape us now. By exploring the concepts in which we and our adversaries think today, the episodes will shine a light on how we best prepare for tomorrow. The views or statements expressed by guests are their own and their appearance on the podcast does not imply an endorsement of them or any entity they represent. Views and opinions expressed by RUSI employees are those of the employees and do not necessarily reflect the view of RUSI.


S4E21: Strategy’s Human Dimension, with Baroness Neville-Jones
To conclude Season Four of Talking Strategy, we talk to long-serving diplomat, policy adviser and politician The Rt Hon Baroness Neville-Jones. With intimate experience of the functioning of governments and the EU, Lady Neville-Jones compares the respective organisational cultures and human side of strategy, drawing on lessons from her career. Pauline Neville-Jones joined the British diplomatic service in 1963. She was posted in places as varied as Rhodesia, Singapore, Bonn, Washington and the European Commission. From the 1990s onwards her postings were specifically concerned with defence matters. She was head of the Defence and Overseas Secretariat of the Cabinet Office from 1991 to 1994, and during that time she also chaired the Joint Intelligence Committee. Subsequently, she was Political Director of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office until 1996, and in that capacity negotiated the 1995 Dayton Agreement on Bosnia on behalf of the UK. In the final episode of this season, Lady Neville-Jones reflects on the success of the Dayton Agreement: was it ‘good enough’? Was anything better in the offing? And on relations with Russia: did the West ‘lose’ Moscow in the 1990s? Tune in to hear her advice to practitioners.
34:27 4/9/24
S4E20: Moshe Dayan, Master of Emergent Strategy? With Professor Eitan Shamir
Moshe Dayan (1915-1981) is a controversial figure in Israeli politics. Revered by some as a master strategist, he is criticised by others for his failure to foresee Egypt’s attack in 1973, and then for ‘giving up’ the Sinai in return for a peace treaty. Strategy-making can take two approaches. The first, ‘Deliberate Strategy’, is formulated and implemented hierarchically and centrally; decisions are taken by the head of the organisation, and detailed plans and instructions are issued to those responsible for implementation. The alternative model, ‘Emergent Strategy’, is characterised by its flexibility on ends as well as ways and means. This week’s guest, Professor Eitan Shamir, is the Director of the Begin Sadat Center for Strategic Studies of Bar Ilan University, argues that Moshe Dayan was a strategist who took the second approach. Professor Shamir is the author of a new biography entitled “Moshe Dayan: The Making of a Strategist” (2023, in Hebrew, and due to be published in English in 2024 by Cambridge University Press) and, with Beatrice, edited Insurgencies and Counterinsurgencies: National Styles and Strategic Cultures (CUP, 2017).
31:29 3/26/24
S4E19: Arthur Tedder: A Coalition Strategist of War and Warfare with Air Marshal Edward Stringer
Marshal of the Royal Air Force Arthur Tedder was General Eisenhower’s Deputy as Supreme Commander for Operation Overlord during the Second World War. A quiet and thoughtful leader, Tedder understood the difference between war and warfare and carefully orchestrated his campaigns – including the transportation plan concerning D-Day – in an alliance context to great effect. Tedder’s strategic leadership can be characterised as understated and thoughtful, underpinned by his ability to manage relationships with allies and experts to get the most from each. He also understood the importance of waging war economically in a way that exploited logistics capacity as a critical enabler for his own forces and as a means of weakening his enemies. Despite the Allied victory, after the Second World War he recognised the weaknesses that loomed. This week’s guest, Air Marshal Edward Stringer, was the air component commander for NATO's operation in Libya in 2011, the Director of Operations in the UK Ministry of Defence and the UK liaison officer to the Chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff. In his last role, he was Director General Joint Force Development. Since retirement, he has become an expert commentator and writer on defence, defence strategy and air power.
33:11 3/12/24
S4E18: Qasim Soleimani and the Strategy of Militant Proxies with Dr Afshon Ostovar
Qasim Soleimani was arguably Iran’s most important military leader in modern history. He moved Iran’s overall strategy from a direct approach to an indirect one of proxy warfare using non-state actors. Born in 1957, General Soleimani rose from a humble background to become a key commander in the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps. His experience of the Iran–Iraq War of 1980–88 gave him a desire to avoid another high-casualty conflict. Instead, he developed a proxy war approach that was much less costly to Iran, using Hezbollah, Palestinian Islamic Jihad and later Hamas to put pressure on Israel and the US. Soleimani was killed in a targeted strike by US forces in January 2020, which made him a martyr in Iran. Dr Afshon Ostovar, Associate Professor of National Security Affairs at the US Naval Postgraduate School, joins Beatrice and Paul for this episode. A graduate of the Universities of Arizona and Michigan, he was a Fellow at the Combating Terrorism Center at West Point, worked for the US Department of Defense, and taught at Johns Hopkins University. His book on the Revolutionary Guards examines the rise of Iran’s most powerful armed force and its role in regional conflicts and political violence.
33:38 2/27/24
S4E17: José de San Martín: the Hannibal of Latin America? with Lieutenant General Diego Suñer
José de San Martín gained his military experience serving Spain and fighting the French, sometimes with the British,meeting Wellington, Beresford, and Napoleon. Having served for 22 years in the Spanish Army, Jose de San Martin brilliantly led the armies that overthrew the Spanish to liberate the southern countries of South America. With naval experience, in coordination with former British naval officer Thomas, Lord Cochrane, he worked out how maritime and land forces could support each other, catching the Spanish colonial forces between simulated naval attacks on the one hand and land attacks on the other, forcing them to divide their forces. With technology no different from that available to Hannibal, San Martín crossed the Andes, a mountain range far higher than the Alps (admittedly with horses and mules, not elephants!). Joining us to talk about this national hero of Argentina, Chile and Peru is Lt Gen Diego Luis Suñer, Chief of the Argentine Army from 2016-2018. General Suñer joined the Army in 1979 and retired after 40 years' service in which he commanded multinational troops in Ecuador and Peru, attended the United States Army Command and Staff Course and was a professor at the Argentine Army’s Higher School of War.
32:57 2/13/24
S4E16: Alanbrooke, Churchill’s Right-Hand General with Dr Andrew Sangster
The relationship between Winston Churchill and his leading military advisor, the abrasive General ‘Shrapnel’ Alan Brooke (1883–1963), was one of the most productive yet tensest in the history of civil-military relations. This episode delves into some of their strategic debates. Viscount Alanbrooke’s relationship with Churchill was famously rocky, yet the two leaders trusted one another. It was due to Brooke’s influence that the Americans were persuaded to drop their plan to liberate Italy by starting off with a campaign to take Sardinia and to go for Sicily instead, and he also talked Churchill into dropping plans for an operation in Indonesia. The guest for this episode is Dr Andrew Sangster, an historian and Anglican priest and the author of 17 books, including an acclaimed biography of Alanbrooke. His next book, From Plato to Putin, discusses the causes and ethical dilemmas of war.
32:22 1/30/24
S4E15: Generals Lee and Grant: Great Strategists of the American Civil War with Dr Christian Keller
Generals Ulysses S Grant and Robert E Lee commanded the opposing armies in the American Civil War, each the greatest military leader of their own side. Products of the Academy at West Point, they were both expert tacticians and, most importantly, understood their sides’ strategic goals, limitations and opportunities, and led them accordingly. But Grant only really took charge in 1863, two years into the war. Had one of his predecessors still been in command, might the South have won? Join us to find out whether it might have, and why it did not. Joining Beatrice and Paul for this episode is Dr Christian Keller, Professor of History and Director of the Military History Programme of the Department of National Security and Strategy at the United States Army War College. Dr Keller is the award-winning author of The Great Partnership: Robert E. Lee, Stonewall Jackson, and the Fate of the Confederacy, and is also the host of The Civil War Strategy Podcast. In 2017 he was named the General Dwight D Eisenhower Chair of National Security.
33:54 1/16/24
S4E14: Lord Peach: Evolving, Adopting and Adapting Alliance Strategy
Air Chief Marshal Lord Peach, the former Chair of NATO’s Military Committee and architect of NATO’s first new military strategy in 50 years, joins us to discuss the process of strategy-making in an Alliance context. Lord Peach is the UK’s most experienced officer, having served in key 4-star appointments, including as the UK’s Chief of the Defence Staff (2016–18) and as the 32nd Chair of the NATO Military Committee (2018–21). He led the NATO military staffs through the creation of NATO’s new Military Strategy and the family of plans that sit beneath it. He is now the UK’s Special Envoy to the Balkans. In conversation, he offers insights into the challenges and strengths of Alliance strategy-making in NATO. In his view, while NATO requires unanimity for the adoption of any new decision, this is not only possible, but vital. It is a strength rather than the weakness some, less familiar with the organisation, perceive it to be. However, once unanimously adopted, a strategy must cope with ambiguity and evolve before it is adapted to ever-changing, and inevitably ambiguous, circumstances.
38:06 1/2/24
S4E13: Sergey Gorshkov, Architect of the Soviet Navy with Captain (ret.) Dr Kevin Rowlands
Admiral Sergey Georgyevich Gorshkov (1910–1988) was a celebrated hero of the so-called Great Fatherland War (1941–1945). He was Commander-in-Chief of the Soviet Navy from 1956 until 1985, which he built up to be a navy fit for a superpower with global ambitions. He also furnished the navy’s theoretical strategic underpinnings through a series of publications which were studied closely by friends and foes alike. The navy that Gorshkov inherited was significantly smaller than that of the USSR’s main competitor, the US. Gorshkov turned this navy into a strong defensive force that could keep US nuclear submarines at bay. But he also wanted his navy to project Soviet power globally. In this episode, Beatrice and Paul and joined by Captain (ret.) Dr Kevin Rowlands, Head of the Royal Navy’s Strategic Studies Centre. Captain Rowlands spent 30 years in the Royal Navy, both at sea and in positions such as Secretary to the Chiefs of Staff Committee, and was the Course Director for the UK’s Advanced Command and Staff Course.
31:06 12/19/23
S4E12: Tecumseh: America’s First Whole-of-Society Strategy with Dr Kori Schake
In an epic achievement, Shawnee chief Tecumseh (1768–1813) brought together warring Native American tribes to stand up against the European settlers as they were pushing further West. His strategy included coalitions and the mobilisation of society as America had never seen before. In this episode, Beatrice and Paul are joined by Dr Kori Schake, Director of Foreign and Defence Policy at the American Enterprise Institute. Tecumseh, initially just the younger brother of a Shawnee chief, rose to fame along with his younger brother Tenskwatawa, a shamanic figure. Together they launched a movement that bridged age-old divisions among the Native American tribes. Social reforms – the repudiation of European imports such as alcohol, and a return to native customs – went hand in hand with political mobilisation and then military operations to roll back the encroachment of European settlements on Native American territory. Dr Schake has developed a passion for the Shawnee chief. She is a practitioner of strategy, having served in several high positions in the US Defense and State Departments and on the National Security Council. She was a foreign policy adviser to the McCain-Palin 2008 presidential campaign and has previously held the Distinguished Chair of International Security Studies at West Point.
33:06 12/5/23
S4E11: Napoleon Bonaparte: Soldier, Strategist, Emperor with Professor Alan Forrest
Napoleon is admired as one of the greatest strategists ever; he won most of his battles and dictated the terms of the peace treaties that ended his individual wars. Yet in the end, he was defeated, and his empire fell apart. So how great a strategist was he really? Napoleon’s ‘system of war’ remained the point of reference for generations, interpreted and publicised by Jomini and Clausewitz. Professor Alan Forrest joins Beatrice and Paul for this episode. A graduate of Aberdeen and Oxford, he was formerly the Chair of Modern History at York University, where he taught from 1989 to 2012. A prolific author, he is the general editor of a 2023 three-volume Cambridge History of the Napoleonic Wars.
33:53 11/21/23
S4E10: Michiel de Ruyter: The Modest Admiral Who Kept the English at Bay with Dr David 'J.D.' Davis
Hailing from humble origins, Michiel Adrienszoon was later given the surname de Ruyter, the ‘raider’. His greatest triumph was the Battle of Solebay in 1672. There he launched a pre-emptive strike against and defeated the English fleet as it prepared to attack the Netherlands jointly with the French. Originally a merchant sailor, Michiel de Ruyter operated in waters from the Baltic to the Mediterranean. A reluctant hero and an apolitical figure, he loyally served the Dutch Republic under Jan de Witt and subsequently William III of Orange. De Ruyter is most famous in England for inflicting on the Royal Navy its most embarrassing defeat of the 17th century in the raid on Chatham in 1667. The guest for this episode, David ‘JD’ Davies, is the chairman of the Society for Nautical Research and a Fellow of the Royal Historical Society. A prize-winning and bestselling author, he specialises principally in the early history of the Royal Navy. His most acclaimed scholarly non-fiction books include Pepys’s Navy: Ships, Men and Warfare 1649-89 and Kings of the Sea: Charles II, James II and the Royal Navy. His series of naval fiction set in the 17th century, The Journals of Matthew Quinton, was described by The Times as ‘a series of real panache’, and he has also published a trilogy set in Tudor times around the fictional character of Jack Stannard.
33:03 11/7/23
S4E9: Catherine the Great: Russia’s Black Sea Expansion
Catherine II of Russia prided herself on being called ‘emperor’, not ‘empress’. Having dumped her weak husband, she deployed her lovers strategically: one she made king of Poland, one she sent to conquer Crimea, and one to rule over it. Here are the origins of Russia’s claims to Ukraine. Dr Kelly O’Neill, an historian of Russia at Harvard University, and the author of Claiming Crimea: A History of Catherine the Great’s Southern Empire, joins Beatrice and Paul for this episode. Coming from an aristocratic family of the Holy Roman Empire, Catherine II married the heir to the Russian imperial throne, but upon his accession, managed to seize power and reigned in her own right from 1762-1796. She plunged into European great power politics with great talent and sweeping strategic moves. Previously, Russia had not had access to the Black Sea and the Mediterranean trade beckoning beyond it. Catherine even had her eye on Constantinople, and dreamed of freeing it from Turkish occupation to restore it to Christendom under the rule of her grandson, fittingly named Constantine. While this did not come to pass, by the end of her reign, Russia had occupied a large part of the Polish Lithuanian empire, dominated the Black Sea and was a European great power. It was said that no cannon in Europe could be fired without her leave, a line that Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov currently likes to use in his speeches: clearly, his master would like to restore this situation.
33:48 10/24/23
S4E8: Gustavus Adolphus: Pioneer of Combined Arms Manoeuvre with Professor Gunnar Aselius
The Swedish campaigns in Central Europe in the Thirty Years’ War are remembered in folklore for their brutality, for massacres of civilians and ‘scorched earth’ tactics. And yet, as their leader, King Gustavus II Adolphus of Sweden (1594 – 1632) is remembered almost as a saint, even in these very same regions. King Gustavus Adolphus, an experienced military commander who had already fought and won wars against the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth and Denmark, intervened in the Thirty Years’ War like a force of nature – a ‘Lion from Midnight’. He was the champion of the Protestant cause, fighting the Catholic Habsburgs and their followers. In a series of huge moves, his armies swept through the Holy Roman Empire, winning battles at Frankfurt/Oder, Werben, Breitenfeld, Rain on the River Lech, and, finally, Lützen – but this last Swedish victory cost him his life. Professor Gunnar Åselius explains the paradox: Gustavus Adolphus prided himself on his military reforms and the discipline he kept among his soldiers, but even they would turn to pillage and murder to feed themselves when they were not paid. Holding degrees from the universities of Uppsala and Stockholm, Professor Åselius teaches Military History at the Swedish Defence University.
32:40 10/10/23
S4E7: Caesar: Rome's Defensive Expansion
Julius Caesar is famous for describing hugely complicated strategic problems, then adding his famous Vini, vidi, vici: ‘I came, I saw, I conquered’. But what did his strategic genius consist of? And how did he justify extending the Roman Empire right across Western Europe? Did Rome acquire her empire, not quite in a fit of absent-mindedness, but defensively, or was she ruthlessly expansionist? Gaius Iulius Caesar’s account of his Gallic Wars (58-50 BC) explained his military operations as ‘just’ wars: Rome came to the rescue of allies and quelled lawless rebels. Admittedly, Caesar showed outstanding generalship. Forced marches by Roman infantry, operations - even in winter - caught adversaries by surprise. Complementing kinetic tools of siege craft and battle, Caesar’s diplomacy turned Gallic and Germanic tribes and their leaders against each other, forging alliances and isolating adversaries, just as he had done previously in Roman domestic politics. Dr Louis Rawlings helps us dissect Caesar as a strategist and as a political animal. Rawlings holds his degrees from University College London, having previously taught there and at the Department of War Studies, King’s College London. He is now Senior Lecturer in Ancient History at Cardiff University.
33:30 9/26/23
S4E6: Yi Sun-sin: Korea’s Greatest Commander
While most of the political and military commanders whom we now call ‘great’ were often ruthless or megalomaniacs, Korean Admiral Yi Sun-sin is remembered not only for his military prowess but also for his integrity and humility. He came to his nation’s rescue in extremis when others had failed. The 15th and 16th century saw unprecedented creativity in naval warfare. The Chinese, Portuguese, Spanish, English, Japanese and Koreans each employed their first blue water navies in distinct ways, for distinct strategic purposes, and with distinct technological innovations. In 1592, Admiral Yi Sun-sin answered the call to rescue his country from invasion, despite having been undeservedly court-martialled twice and reduced to the ranks by hostile superiors who were jealous of his abilities. Vastly overmatched, with only a dozen innovative ‘turtle ships’ and some support from Chinese naval forces, he defeated the Japanese fleet, isolating the Hideyoshi army and ending the Imjin War – a triumph that cost him his life. Lt Cdr Dr Seok Yeong-dal teaches naval history and strategy at the Republic of Korea Naval Academy. His PhD from Yonsei University in Seoul examined the successes and limitations of the Royal Navy's reforms in the 19th century. He has written extensively on Admiral Yi, as well as on the Royal Navy in the 19th century with his recent book, A Failed Reform or The First Steps of Reforms, Achievements and Limitations of the Royal Navy's Reforms in the 19th Century, published in South Korea in 2023.
31:29 9/12/23
S4E5: Frederick II of Prussia, The Philosopher King with Dr Adam Storring
Frederick II of Prussia, like the Era of the Enlightenment in which he lived, was torn about warfare: was it to be humanised, or was it to be perfected? As king he favoured the latter, earning the respect of contemporaries as the greatest strategist of his age. Frederick in his youth thought Machiavelli’s instructions for princes morally reprehensible, and as a king surrounded himself with great moral philosophers, including, famously, Voltaire. But Frederick saw it as his duty, as that of any monarch, to increase the territorial possessions of his dynasty, even by war, irrespective of just causes. One of the last monarchs who was his own commander-in-chief on his military campaigns, he was also a crafty political strategist, wresting Silesia away from Empress Maria Theresia yet persuading her to colluding with him (and Catherine II of Russia) in the partition of Poland. Dr Adam Storring helps us understand this complicated man, who like Xerxes and Alexander III before him, was obsessed with outdoing and outshining his father. A Cambridge man, Dr Storring was awarded the André Corvisier Prize for the worldwide Best Dissertation on Military History in 2019. His publications include works on Frederick the Great, including in the forthcoming Cambridge History of Strategy (2024). He teaches at the Department of War Studies, King’s College London.
33:08 8/29/23
S4E4: Alexander the Great: Son of Zeus with Dr Andrew Fear
Alexander III of Macedon posed as the ‘Son of Zeus’, but followed the advice of his biological father, King Philip II, to get out of Macedon and “seek a kingdom equal to yourself”. Between 336 and 323 BC, Alexander the Great created the largest empire the Middle East had known. Macedonian expansionism had begun under Philip II, with his son Alexander II picking up and honing the armed forces created by his father. But where Philip’s strategic aims were to dominate all of Greece and Western Asia Minor, Alexander’s sight was set on bringing the Persian Empire to heel. And as he moved from sieges and massacres to battle after victorious battle, his ambitions grew further – the conquest of Afghanistan and India. How did he keep his Macedonian and Greek companions motivated? Without him to lead, they did not know how to get back? Dr Andrew Fear, Lecturer in Ancient History at the University of Manchester, joins Paul and Beatrice to tell us about the strategies of Alexander. An Oxonian, he has a spate of publications on Alexander and on warfare in Antiquity, with contributions to the Cambridge History of Greek and Roman Warfare (CUP 2007) and to the forthcoming Cambridge History of Strategy, co-edited by Beatrice, and Isabelle Duyvesteyn. He is co-editor with Dr Jamie Wood of A Companion to Isidore of Seville (Brill, 2015).
32:57 8/15/23
S4E3: Shaka Zulu: Africa’s Greatest Commander? with Professor John Laband
Shaka Zulu (c. 1787–1828) was the most powerful king in southern Africa during the pre-colonial period. He forged a polity that would become the largest in the region through the ruthless use of his reorganised and loyal army. Initially regarded as an upstart, Shaka managed to impose himself as a regional ruler. Invaded by a powerful neighbouring tribe, he organised the collective defence of the Zulus and other tribes, reorganising the militia and drawing on indigenous traditions, without any European influences. He then turned to crushing the surrounding chiefdoms with the utmost brutality, leaving a trail of massacres and destruction in his wake. Operating with only 5,000 to 10,000 warriors at any given time, Shaka – like Napoleon – prevailed not through the introduction of new technologies, but through innovative ways of training and employing his army. Professor John Laband is the world-leading expert on Zulu history. A graduate of the University of Natal and Cambridge, he is Professor Emeritus of History at Wilfrid Laurier University, Canada. He joins Beatrice and Paul for this episode.
33:20 8/1/23
S4E2: Xerxes: The Persian Empire’s Aegean Expansion with Dr John O. Hyland
Dr John O. Hyland joins Paul and Beatrice to discuss fifth-century BC Persian ruler Xerxes I, whose royal progress took him to the Western boundaries of his empire. Xerxes I tried to extend his rule beyond the Aegean, which his father had failed to accomplish. For a land power this was a challenge, despite the formidable army that Xerxes commanded. He used two strategic tools – engineering, to construct a pontoon bridge across the Hellespont, and the hire of a navy, to tackle the Athenian fleet. While the latter did not work so well for him at Salamis, Xerxes’ army returned by land.Safely back beyond the Straits, Xerxes portrayed himself as conqueror and enforcer of order on the Greeks. Dr John O. Hyland is the perfect specialist to talk to us about Xerxes, and also about the theory of a Greek or ‘Western’ Way of War, identified and scorned by Xerxes’ cousin Mardonius, and contrasted with a supposedly more subtle ‘Eastern’ way of war. Dr Hyland holds a PhD on the Ancient Mediterranean World from the University of Chicago and teaches at Christopher Newport University. His next book will explore Persia’s Greek Campaigns.
33:44 7/18/23
S4E1: Subotai the Valiant: Genghis Khan’s Master Strategist
The credit for successful military campaigns often goes to the senior commander, when in fact, the brilliance of the operation and the planning happened at much lower levels of the organisation. This is the case with Subotai (1175 – 1248), Genghis Khan’s leading general. Veteran and military historian Dr Angelo Caravaggio joins Paul and Beatrice to discuss Subotai, the brains behind Genghis Khan’s vision of conquest, and the one who should be in receipt of many of the strategic credits given to Khan. Many of the concepts that we talk about today at military colleges about strategy and tactics – speed, manoeuvre, surprise, the deep battle, the battle of annihilation, even the concept of Mission Command – were all practiced by the Mongols under Subotai. Without Subotai, the Mongols would not have defeated Korea, China, Poland, Persia, Russia or Hungary. This does not, however, make him a hero to worship; he had the majority of the population of Afghanistan killed, the entire population of towns that would not yield were massacred, in one case right down to the cats and dogs. Dr Angelo developed a keen interest in Subotai and holds his degrees from the Royal Military College of Canada and the Wilfrid Laurier University. He has been teaching at the Canadian Forces College for 13 years, specialising in leadership, defence and security.
32:21 7/4/23
S3E12: Petraeus’s ‘Big Four’: Brainstorm, Communicate, Implement, Assess
To conclude Season Three of Talking Strategy, US Army General (ret.) Dr David Petraeus shares with us his philosophy about making good strategy. A scholarly soldier with a long and varied career, he commanded the International Security Assistance Force in Afghanistan in 2010–11 and subsequently served as director of the CIA. General Petraeus’s experience has taught him that the best results can arise from what he describes as his own ‘intellectual construct for strategic leadership’, comprised of four tasks: brainstorming, communication, implementation and assessment. Successful results can be achieved from initially brainstorming with the best and brightest around the commander to find the next ‘big idea’ – thinking through all good proposals, and deciding which is the best. Then, the challenge is to communicate it to the entire defence establishment both at home and abroad, including one’s own forces and allied/coalition forces. Then comes the implementation, requiring energetic leadership. Finally, the results must be assessed – and here the circle closes. For General Petraeus, making and implementing good strategy is possible when the armed forces are turned into a learning organisation, one that can draw lessons and jettison approaches that have been unhelpful. For communication with multiple audiences during an armed conflict, his motto is: ‘Be first with the truth’.
40:52 4/25/23
S3E11: Raoul Castex: The Servitude of Strategy with Professor Martin Motte
Raoul Castex (1878–1968) was an active naval officer who theorised widely on strategy. As an advocate of ‘jointness’, he took a comprehensive approach rather than relying on any one service. A child of the predominant geopolitical fashions of his time, Castex was an advocate of keeping diplomats and ministers out of strategy-making during war, of an offensive strategy on all fronts (despite the experience of the First World War), and of France not concentrating all its efforts on defending itself on the continent but seeing itself as, above all, a colonial empire. He reached the rank of Vice-Admiral after having headed the French Naval College and the Centre for Advanced Naval Studies. He was an author on strategy more generally, which kept him busy following his retirement from the French Navy in 1939 after he failed to be appointed to the Navy's top position. His most important works were a series of volumes on strategic theory. Our guest for this episode, Professor Martin Motte, teaches at the École Pratique des Hautes Études and also at the French École de Guerre, the war college for higher officers. He is one of three authors of the manual produced by the École de Guerre for the education of its officers.
30:24 4/18/23
S3E10: Mao Zedong’s Strategy for Revolutionary War with Professor Steve Tsang
Professor Steve Tsang joins Beatrice and Paul to discuss the founding father of the Chinese People’s Republic, Mao Zedong. Mao was both a Leninist strategic theorist and the leader of the Chinese Communists in their fight to overthrow the Chinese nationalists – while not exerting themselves too much in the battle against Japanese occupation. There is a considerable gulf between Mao’s theoretical writings on strategies for insurgency and civil war, and the practices he followed, Professor Tsang explains. Nevertheless, his three-stage concept for a successful guerrilla movement has inspired other Communist revolutionary movements the world over. Another disciple of Clausewitz, Mao used the tenet that war is a continuation of politics by other means to argue, famously, that peace is also a time of fighting – even if the tools are not those of war. He made this his main argument for breaking with the Stalinist tradition that sought to rely only on Communist strategic thinkers, and with Soviet tutelage. For Mao, ‘Fighting in times of peace is politics, war is also politics, even if it uses special means’. This doctrine perfectly captured the spirit of the Cold War. Professor Steve Tsang is the Director of the SOAS China Institute. Previously, he was the Head of the School of Contemporary Chinese Studies at the University of Nottingham, and before that a Professorial Fellow at St Antony’s College, Oxford. He is also an Associate Fellow of Chatham House and an Emeritus Fellow of St Antony’s College.
33:23 4/11/23
S3E9: Sir Michael Quinlan and British Nuclear Strategy with Dr Tanya Ogilvie-White & Dr Kristan Stoddart
With a serious commitment to the ‘Just War’ tradition, Sir Michael Quinlan (1930–2009), chief British nuclear strategist of the late 1970s and 1980s, helped to construct the complex edifice of the British and NATO nuclear deterrence posture. Sir Michael was both a strategic analyst and, as a key British civil servant, a practitioner in so far as his analysis formed the British nuclear strategy. That he was a Jesuit-educated Catholic and an Oxford-educated Classicist explains much about his approach to nuclear strategy: throughout his adult life, he grappled with the nuclear paradox that peace could be the result of the mutual threat of unbearable nuclear conflagration. He sought serious debate with all and sundry, replacing secrecy with transparency and persuasion where at all possible. Dr Tanya Ogilvie-White and Dr Kristan Stoddart join Beatrice and Paul for this week’s episode. Both Tanya and Kristan knew Sir Michael and his writings at first hand: Tanya posthumously published his correspondence under the title On Nuclear Deterrence. She is Senior Research Adviser at the Asia-Pacific Leadership Network and a member of the International Group of Eminent Persons – an initiative working to achieve a world without nuclear weapons. Previously, she was research director of the Centre for Nuclear Non-Proliferation and Disarmament at the Crawford School of Public Policy (Australian National University) and a Senior Lecturer at the University of Canterbury, New Zealand, and she has held positions at several think tanks. Dr Kristan Stoddart is an Associate Professor in the School of Social Sciences at Swansea University. He was previously a Reader in the Department of International Politics at Aberystwyth, and he is the author of Losing an Empire and Finding a Role: Britain, the USA, NATO and Nuclear Weapons, 1964-70 (Palgrave Macmillan, 2012).
30:06 4/4/23
S3E8: Continuation of Diplomacy by Other Means: Dietrich von Bülow with Dr Arthur Kuhle
Dietrich Heinrich von Bülow (1757–1807) was called ‘everything from a conceited crank to the founder of modern military science’ (R R Palmer). Probably the last Prussian strategist to sympathise with the French Revolution, he had a keen interest in the relationship between political aims and war as their instrument, and in geopolitics: he correctly prophesied that the 19th century would produce in Europe the smallest number of states since states came into being, after the territorial expansion of the strong by conquering or annexing smaller powers. Von Bülow’s Spirit of the Modern System of War combined geopolitics with geographic considerations, ideas about the balance of power in Europe and geometric treatises on how to calculate and establish the best chances of success in battle by focusing on magazines and lines of supply and movement. He was unfairly ridiculed for his geometric approach by Clausewitz, who, at the same time, borrowed Bülow’s main tenet: ‘If something can be effected by force and cannot be achieved by negotiations, diplomacy turns into war, or conflict with reasons becomes conflict with physical forces’. And he concluded: ‘war is a means for the achievement of diplomatic aims’. Sound familiar? This week’s guest on Talking Strategy, Dr Arthur Kuhle, studied History and Arts History at the Universities of Berlin and Belfast from 2006 to 2012. He completed his PhD at the Humboldt University Berlin on the intellectual predecessors of Carl von Clausewitz, a work subsequently published in German. After working at the University of Göttingen for some time, he is now engaged in research on the history of the climate of the Himalayas and its relevance for the emergence of early civilisations there.
32:36 3/28/23
S3E7: T.E. Lawrence: Understanding Irregular Warfare’s Cultural and Human Terrain with Dr Robert Johnson
Lawrence of Arabia is legendary status, Britain’s most romantic strategic theorist-cum-practitioner; as ‘al-Lorans’, he won the hearts of many Arabs in their fight for independence from the Ottoman Empire during the First World War. Dr Rob Johnson, the author of T.E. Lawrence’s most recent biography, joins Beatrice and Paul for this week’s episode. T.E. Lawrence’s great classic article on ‘guerrilla warfare’ published after the First World War is that of a practitioner who could, from his own experience, note that much about this form of war is counter-intuitive. It is better that guerilla fighters own their flawed strategy and application, rather than execute ‘perfect’ strategy seen as a foreign achievement. This crucial tenet developed by Lawrence still holds true and must be kept in mind, whichever side one is on. He ‘went native’ – and wrote about insurgency strategy from the point of view of the insurgent, not, as Major-General Sir Charles Edward Callwell did, from the point of view of the counter-insurgent. Dr Rob Johnson has written T.E. Lawrence’s most recent biography: Lawrence of Arabia on War: The Campaign in the Desert 1916–18 (Bloomsbury Publishing, 2020). A scholar at the University of Oxford, Dr Johnson has for many years now run the prestigious “Changing Character of War” programme originally created by Professor Sir Hew Strachan. But he is now applying his great energy to directing the British Ministry of Defence’s office of Net Assessment. The opinions expressed here are entirely his own as an Oxford scholar, and must not be seen to represent the British defence establishment.
33:20 3/21/23
S3E6: Net Assessment as a Tool of Strategy: Andrew Marshall, with Dr Thomas G Mahnken
Foreign policy strategist Andrew Marshall had a career that spanned seven decades from the late 1940s. He was hailed by a former KGB officer as ‘the grey cardinal, the éminence grise’ of the US revolution of military affairs, and as ‘the great hero’ of Chinese officers tracking developments in US military technology, claiming they had translated every word he wrote. Dr Thomas G Mahnken joins Talking Strategy to discuss his work and life. Andrew Marshall spent 25 years at the RAND Corporation, which developed methods of analysing the nature of the long-term competition between the US and the Soviet Union. He was recruited by Henry Kissinger to apply these approaches in the National Security Council, and later became the first Director of Net Assessment, a post he held for the next 43 years. His special approach to strategic thinking was interdisciplinary, questioning everything – including past successes – and encouraging out-of-the box thinking. This week’s guest, Dr Thomas G Mahnken, is President and Chief Executive Officer of the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments. He is a Senior Research Professor at the Philip Merrill Center for Strategic Studies at Johns Hopkins University’s Paul H Nitze School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS), and currently serves as a member of the congressionally mandated 2022 National Defense Strategy Commission and as a member of the Army Science Board.
29:47 3/14/23
S3E5: Kautilya: India’s Forerunner to Machiavelli? with Professor Kaushik Roy
Kautilya lived in India from 375 to 283 BC. He ranks alongside Sun Tzu as one of the great early sages who wrote about the relations between polities, and thus also about wars between them. Kaushik Roy, Guru Nanak Chair Professor at Jadavpur University, India, joins Beatrice and Paul to discuss his work. Kautilya’s approach to strategy included an understanding of inter-polity relations that assumed that one’s ‘enemy’s rear-enemy’ would be a good ally against the shared enemy: in other words, ‘make friends with your enemy’s enemy’. Meanwhile, insurgents would get support from other polities, and aggressors could be just, or just greedy. He thus paired ‘realist’ views with moral elements. Also referred to as Chanakya or Vishnugupta, Kautilya was adviser to two successive emperors of the Mauryan Empire in India. He was thus not only a theoretician but also had considerable political influence. His main body of work is the Arthashastra, an ancient Sanskrit treatise on statecraft, political science, economic policy and military strategy. While one is hard-pushed to argue that he had a lasting influence on the following millennia of political or strategic thinking in India, his views are worth pondering, as they cast fresh light on strategy and on relations between states. Kaushik Roy is Guru Nanak Chair Professor in the Department of History, Jadavpur University, Kolkata, India and a Global Fellow at the Peace Research Institute Oslo (PRIO), Norway. He obtained his PhD from the Centre for Historical Studies, School of Social Sciences, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi.
32:26 3/7/23
S3E4: Aube and the Jeune Ecole: Strategy for the Weak
Admiral Arne Røksund joins Beatrice and Paul to discuss a set of French strategists collectively referred to as the Jeune Ecole, ‘the young school’. The Jeune Ecole is considered the counterpoint to many battle-obsessed land strategists and followers of 19th century US naval officer Alfred Thayer Mahan. Leading among the strategists of the Jeune Ecole were Admiral Théophile Aube (1826–1890), who held the posts of governor of Martinique and navy minister, and Gabriel Charmes, an influential journalist whom he had met in the French colonies. For them, as for many other strategists of the decades before and after the First World War, treaties were scraps of paper to be torn up upon the outbreak of war; all was fair, they argued, for a weaker power in defence of its interests. Our guest, Admiral Arne Røksund, has had a distinguished career, holding posts including the Commandant and Commander in charge of all Norwegian military education, and Secretary General of the Norwegian Ministry of Defence. Currently the Secretary General of the Surveillance Authority of the European Free Trade Area, he holds a PhD in History from the University of Oslo.
29:46 2/28/23

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