In This Review

"Is Strategy an Illusion?"
"Is Strategy an Illusion?"
By Richard K. Betts
International Security, Vol. 25, No. 2 (Fall 2000), pp. 5-50, , pp

Few books on the hackneyed subject of "strategy" are more worthy than this remarkable article. Strategies must be judged based on the circumstances as they appeared at the time, Betts argues, not with hindsight. Since reconstructing those circumstances is so hard, few analysts or citizens bother. Widespread illusions about strategy are a result. Results rarely follow plans. Professed purposes are often not the real ones. Strategists usually lack the time or perception to do adequate analysis. The objects of strategy have strategies of their own. But Betts goes further. He gives real -- not straw -- answers to his own critiques and then sifts to find the appropriately nuanced balance. His conclusions call for modesty about when to use force, keeping strategies simple, and much wider civilian awareness of the complications inherent in military operations. Reading those suggestions, one might be reminded of Dwight Eisenhower's decision-making as a general and as president. But they are also an uneasy reminder of the role that luck and hope played in America's recent operations and will play in future planning, from Kosovo to the Taiwan Strait to Afghanistan.