Categorical Confusion? The Strategic Implications of Recognizing Challenges Either as Irregular or Traditional

  • February 01, 2012
  • Dr Colin S Gray

Strategic theory should educate to enable effective strategic practice, but much of contemporary theory promotes confusion, not clarity, of suitable understanding. A little strategic theory goes a long way, at least it does if it is austere and focused on essentials. Unfortunately, contemporary strategic conceptualization in the U.S. defense community is prolix, over-elaborate, and it confuses rather than clarifies. Recent debate about irregular, as contrasted allegedly with traditional, challenges to U.S. national security have done more harm than good. Conceptualization of and for an operational level of war can imperil the truly vital nexus between strategy and tactics. In much the same way, the invention of purportedly distinctive categories of challenge endangers the relationship between general theory for statecraft, war, and strategy, and strategic and tactical practice for particular historical cases. It is not helpful to sort challenges into supposedly distinctive categories. But, if such categorization proves politically or bureaucratically unavoidable, its potential for harm can be reduced by firm insistence upon the authority of the general theory of strategy.