In the paper I wrote last year on libertarian foreign policy, I focused a great deal on the concept of “grand strategy.” I argued that grand strategy is a framework that links the state’s instruments of power—namely, its military power—to its ends in international politics. America’s grand strategy therefore has implications for the likelihood of war, the size and posture of the U.S. military, and the level of American defense spending.

However, scholars have defined the concept in a variety of different ways. Lukas Milevski, the author of an intellectual history on the idea of grand strategy, argues that these definitions rarely share much in common and are crafted to suit the purposes of the author in question rather than create conceptual clarity. The conceptual muddle that results has led some to question the utility of discussing grand strategy at all. While a recent literature review on the subject by Australian scholar Nina Silove provides an excellent framework that might put an end to the conceptual stretching that has made the term grand strategy problematic, a provocative essay at Foreign Policy by Alasadair Roberts of the University of Massachusetts argues that the problem is that grand strategy has actually been defined too narrowly:

Leaders are driven to strategy by force of circumstance. The world is a turbulent and dangerous place, and leaders cannot ignore the sphere of foreign affairs without jeopardizing vital interests. They must engage. Each decision must be driven by some calculation about ends and means, and about the implications for other decisions. These are the rudiments of grand strategy. Experts try to improve the quality of strategy, but the impulse for leaders to behave strategically is already there.


But here is the difficulty. The world of domestic affairs is equally treacherous. Machiavelli, the grand old man of realism, warned that a prince must have two fears — “one internal, based on his subjects, the other external, based on foreign powers.” In democracies, leaders who bungle internal affairs are tossed out in the next election. In autocracies, they are overthrown in coups. And sometimes, clumsy leaders suddenly discover their states collapsing beneath them. If danger in the sphere of foreign affairs impels leaders toward strategy, the same is also true in the sphere of domestic affairs.

One of the things I hoped to get across in my paper is the connection between international and domestic politics—specifically, the connection between an open international system and a free and open society at home. Few, I think would disagree with that, but Roberts’ argument adds another dimension to the discussion. It is unrealistic to assume that elected leaders can compartmentalize in a way that creates a neat division between domestic and foreign policy. And if elected leaders think holistically about these issues, then their views in one sphere will inevitably affect their conduct in the other.

Read his entire piece here.