In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Strategy

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Origins
  • The Art and Science of War in Political Context
  • The Enlightenment
  • Small Wars, Insurgencies, and Counterinsurgency
  • Interpreters of Napoleonic Strategy
  • Strategists of the Long 19th Century
  • Secondary Literature on the Long 19th Century
  • Total War and its Alternatives
  • Early Writing on Naval and Maritime Strategies
  • Early Air Power Thinking
  • Nuclear Strategies
  • Writing on Insurgencies and Counterinsurgencies from the Late 19th to the Early 21st Centuries
  • Western Strategic Theory since 1945
  • Soviet Strategic Theory
  • Naval and Maritime Strategy since 1945
  • Air Power Thinking since 1945

Related Articles Expand or collapse the "related articles" sectionabout

Forthcoming Articles Expand or collapse the "forthcoming articles" section


Military History Strategy
Beatrice Heuser
  • LAST REVIEWED: 26 July 2023
  • LAST MODIFIED: 06 February 2012
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199791279-0057


The term strategy is difficult to define and to circumscribe. It was not used in the Occident until the late 18th century, and since then its meaning has changed considerably. Today, strategy is largely taken to mean, in its original military-political context, a comprehensive plan in pursuit of political ends, including the threat or actual use of force, in a dialectic of wills between at least two sides in a conflict. These sides interact; thus, a strategy will rarely be successful if it shows no adaptability. This bibliography will not consider the now more popular use of the term strategy to refer merely to a complex plan in any walk of life. Strategy, in the aforementioned definition, can be taken to be either theoretical—with war in general in mind or a specific situation—or applied. Few applied strategic concepts have survived from earlier times, because for many centuries practitioners made do without writing them down. Once strategic concepts were generated systematically by governments, they were invariably compromise documents drawn up jointly by a number of actors, which usually deprived them of the coherence found in most of the single-authored theoretical works. Moreover, applied strategic concepts (or strategic concepts drawn up in times of peace for the eventuality of war) are often lacking in explicit articulation of the reasons why certain courses of action are preferred. Because they were more readily accessible, theoretical works have enjoyed more scholarly attention than has the fragmentary evidence we have of applied strategic concepts throughout history. Applied strategic concepts, in so far as these existed or can be surmised from circumstantial evidence (e.g., the Schlieffen Plan), will be discussed under other Oxford Bibliographies articles relating to individual wars.

General Overviews

The two most illuminating works on warfare through the ages are Delbrück 1975–1985, a four-volume survey from antiquity to the author’s own times, and Chaliand 1994, a reader containing excerpts from key texts, both from Europe and other areas of the world, again from antiquity to the author’s own times. Besides illustrating how war was prepared for and fought in practice, both deal with the art of war, emphasizing links with political, economic, social, or ideological (including religious) aims transcending narrowly military ones. This nexus is central to what would later be called strategy, even though the word did not feature in Western literature before the late 18th century. Liddell Hart 1967 (originally published in 1929) prepared the ground for a quantum leap in English-language writing about strategy by seeking out recurring patterns for success in war. The edited volumes Earle 1944 and Paret 1986, both consciously with the same title, anachronistically but justifiably use the term strategy retrospectively, to describe the works of the great writers on war in modern European history; they have defined the subject for generations to come, and several contributions in these two volumes have not been bettered. Chaliand 1994, Earle 1944, and Paret 1986 should be essential reading for any course on strategy. Kennedy 1991 is a collection of invaluable case studies across Western history. Heuser 2010 complements these collections in offering in the form of a monograph a full narrative of the development of thinking on strategy in its cultural-ideological context. Handel 1996, again essential reading on which generations of US officers were raised, contains great insights but is limited by the author’s ahistorical approach. Baylis, et al. 2007 is a widely used teaching aid for beginners, useful also for distance learning.

  • Baylis, John, James Wirtz, Colin S. Gray, and Eliot Cohen, eds. Strategy in the Contemporary World: An Introduction to Strategic Studies. 2d ed. Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press, 2007.

    NNNThe most useful handbook for an instructor new to the subject who is teaching a Strategy 101 course, with short texts covering aspects from theoretical and historical to contemporary and useful bibliographies.

  • Chaliand, Gérard, ed. The Art of War in World History: From Antiquity to the Nuclear Age. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1994.

    NNNThe best anthology of texts dealing with war, containing approximately eighty excerpts, ranging from the Egyptian Kadesh inscription of c. 1300 BCE to the nuclear strategists of the 20th century, some translated into English here for the first time.

  • Delbrück, Hans. The History of the Art of War within the Framework of Political History. 4 vols. Translated by Walter J. Renfroe Jr. Contributions in Military History. Westport, CT: Greenwood, 1975–1985.

    NNNVolume 4 originally published in 1920, in German. Delbrück’s last volume addresses the evolution of strategic thought, little of which had existed in medieval times, other than in the form of reiterations of Vegetius and concerns about restraints on war. We find allusions to Delbrück’s bugbear (fully developed in Die Strategie des Perikles [1890])—that there are mainly two forms of war, one focusing on the slow attrition of the enemy’s armed forces and the other on a decisive battle of annihilation.

  • Earle, Edward Mead, ed. Makers of Modern Strategy: Military Thought from Machiavelli to Hitler. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1944.

    NNNPublished during World War II, this volume conveys an acute sense of the relevance of past thinking to very real problems of the present. In addition to Earle’s introduction, the articles by Felix Gilbert (on Machiavelli), Hans Rothfels (on Clausewitz), Jean Gottmann (on Bugeaud, Galliéni, Lyautey), and Gordon Craig (on Delbrück) are still points of reference.

  • Handel, Michael I. Masters of War: Classical Strategic Thought. 2d ed. London and Portland, OR: Frank Cass, 1996.

    NNNExamination of the writings of Sun Tzu, Clausewitz, and others. Very good on extrapolating general reflections on war, but without any attempt to reach a more thorough understanding of the texts by studying the use of language in its historical context.

  • Heuser, Beatrice. The Evolution of Strategy: Thinking War from Antiquity to the Present. Cambridge, UK, and New York: Cambridge University Press, 2010.

    NNNSurvey of the evolution of thinking about warfare and its political aims from late Roman times. Shows how after centuries of a more balanced approach, the Napoleonic paradigm introduced a long period of obsession with victory at the expense of fruitful peace settlements.

  • Kennedy, Paul. Grand Strategies in War and Peace. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1991.

    NNNCollection of articles showing how comprehensive grand strategy has been in case studies ranging from ancient Rome to the Cold War, invariably including economic dimensions, alliance dimensions, considerations of domestic politics, and many other factors. Includes particularly interesting contributions by Dennis E. Showalter and Douglas Porch.

  • Liddell Hart, Basil Henry. The Strategy of Indirect Approach. London: Faber and Faber, 1967.

    NNNOriginally published in 1929 as The Decisive Wars of History (London: Bell and Sons). This particular narrative of history is that wars have tended to end successfully for the side that sought to maximize its own strength by attacking an adversary not head-on but indirectly, exploiting weaknesses and using surprise and stratagems. The dichotomy of direct versus indirect approach recalls Delbrück’s attrition versus annihilation.

  • Paret, Peter, ed. Makers of Modern Strategy: From Machiavelli to the Nuclear Age. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1986.

    NNNThis volume consciously updates Earle 1944, retaining some of the earlier articles while adding new chapters on such topics as nuclear strategy (Lawrence Freedman), the American way of war (Russell F. Weigley), and Soviet doctrine (Condoleezza Rice).

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