Why states need grand strategy
Sarwar J. Minar, Senior Officer, International Programs and Relations, IUB : Grand strategy is one of the most talked about concepts of foreign policy lexicon in the 21st century and yet it remains a confusing and widely misunderstood concept.
Though mostly because of the concern about USA’s future direction of foreign policy and the rising powers’ future direction of foreign policy, the idea of grand strategy has received such attention lately. The cumulative scholarship of grand strategy has made it realistically applicable to all the states of the world. Hence, it becomes an imperative to understand the concept of grand strategy and its relations with foreign policy.
Grand strategy and foreign policy are inextricably linked. Grand strategy can simply be understood as an international vision pursued by foreign policy of a state. Foreign policy is generally understood as extension of domestic policy of a state in its relation to the society of other states in the world. It refers to what a country does, the political action undertaken by a state in international relations. On the other hand, grand strategy illustrates why a country ought to take such political action by assessing trend of international system, the conceptual logic.
Grand strategy is essentially broader than foreign policy. Grand strategy works like mother of foreign policy and gives rationale and direction to foreign policy of a state in order to attain certain national goal or vision.
Since its origin, the idea of grand strategy has gone through a number of phases of development. In the post-World War I era, the idea was solely a military enterprise, how to extract all the state’s national resources to win the war. In the post-World War II era, understanding started to expand, sometimes through rereading of earlier texts, and it became a subject of international studies through inclusion of ‘peace’ besides ‘war.’ The understanding further broadened in the post-Cold War era that grand strategy is the art of reconciling ends and means, the calculated relations between means to large ends. It comprises a state’s deliberate effort to harness all the elements of a state, for instance, political, military, diplomatic, and economic tools, together to achieve and preserve a state’s long term national goal and thus to advance that state’s best national interest. Grand strategy also deals with how to develop such resource tools necessary to achieve the goal.
Grand strategy must be understood as an important guideline for a state to succeed in international politics in the 21st century. Grand strategy’s both internal and external dimensions can significantly assist a state to become successful. Grand strategy facilitates allocating scarce national resource, prioritizing national goals and threats to address, coordinating different organizations of a government and directing them for achieving important national goal. How a country better deploys, uses and even develops its necessary key resources largely depends on a state’s grand strategy. Foreign policy is also best conducted under the light of grand strategy. As grand strategy considers global and regional balance of power, incorporates how a state wants to see itself in future and sets goals what it wants to achieve, it can give proper guideline to the foreign policy of a state.
Grand strategy gives form and structure to foreign policy of a state. Without grand strategy, states suffer from confused and even discordant foreign policy. Without grand strategy, states keep merely reacting to events of world affairs and suffer from sudden changes to foreign policy which results in inconsistent foreign policy.
We have reached to the second decade of the 21st century, but do we have a ‘vision’? A vision either with a regional or international scope can help Bangladesh to guide its foreign policy in the 21st century. Now the prospects are bright for Bangladesh to emerge as a ‘connectivity providing power’ both for South Asian and South East Asian countries. Bangladesh, Nepal, Bhutan and India have signed regional motor vehicle agreement which is expected to pave the way for free movement of both people and good among the four countries. Sustaining and updating the agreement will remain as challenge to avail full potential of the agreement. In future, such agreement can also be signed with South East Asian countries for even greater benefit. Bangladesh’s direct access to the Bay of Bengal can add to such prospect not only for land locked states but also for rising powers of the region needing shortcut access to the sea route. The rise of India and China to the world stage and their gradually increasing attention towards Bangladesh seems to emerge as one of the main focuses of future foreign policy of Bangladesh. The world powers and the rapidly rising powers of the world also deserve special attention. The maintenance of cautious and consistent relations with them will remain as key challenges to the future direction of Bangladesh’s foreign policy in the twenty-first century and beyond. A proper and consistent foreign policy direction for exporting human resource to the right region and right countries is also very crucial for Bangladesh. Such scenario urges Bangladesh to update its foreign policy thinking and its international relations thinking.
Having a ‘vision’ can help Bangladesh to carefully manage available resources, develop necessary resources, prioritize national goals and threats in its foreign policy agenda and direct towards a long term national goal. Grand strategy can help understand and avail the emerging trends of international relations in South Asia and beyond – to protect and augment the national interest of Bangladesh. Moreover, grand strategy can help guide Bangladesh’s foreign policy towards right direction in the coming decades. An interesting allegory described by one of the proponents of grand strategy follows as: imagine statecraft as a boat navigating. Without its grand strategy, the purpose, different factions of scholars and experts like developmentalists, feminists, environmentalists, security experts etc. are likely to pull the boat to their preferred direction which by default will fail the boat from reaching its goal. A grand strategy can provide an overall state purpose and therefore integrate all the other policy areas in necessary proportion to reach to the goal. Thus grand strategy can significantly contribute to make Bangladeshi statecraft successful.
However, the critics argue that grand strategy is a vague concept and is applicable only to the great powers and small states cannot have grand strategy. They further assert that the real world is too complicated to be decoded by grand strategy.
On the other hand, the defenders argue that though there is no single accepted definition of grand strategy, there are various understanding of grand strategy and those various understandings share a number of main themes. They further argue that all states have grand strategy whether they know it or not. Though the pessimists argue that the real world is too complicated to be decoded by grand strategy, it is far better having than not having grand strategy. And, of course, there is no alternative to grand strategy.
Many aspects of grand strategy deserve research attention. How important is grand strategy for Bangladesh? What good grand strategy can do for Bangladesh? What kinds of goals are realistic and timely for Bangladesh to pursue? What are the appropriate means and ends for grand strategy of countries like Bangladesh? What kind of role grand strategy plays in balancing scarce resources allocation? What role grand strategy plays in prioritizing national goals and risks? What are the possible barriers, risks, and pitfalls, if any, for a country like Bangladesh to have grand strategy? How to overcome these?
Bangladesh’s grand strategy scholarship has to evolve both in research and in policy level in the coming days. We urge universities to include grand strategy scholarship to their curriculum. WE also urge the major think tanks to initiate research projects on grand strategy and more importantly, relevant ministries to give proper focus on studying the idea and to put the idea into practice. The formulation and sustenance of a coherent and consistent foreign policy and the task of safeguarding and augmenting the national interest of Bangladesh in the coming decades significantly depends on this.