Strategy: An Art or a Science?

There are different levels of strategy. If we were to give a very broad definition though on what is strategy, we would say that strategy is the use of means for the achievement of ends. If we are talking about military strategy then we are talking about the use of military means for the accomplishment of the end of war. If we are talking about a state’s or coalition of states’ grand strategy, then, as Liddell Hart put it, we are talking about the use of all available means – including the military – to accomplish an end.
Given all the above, generally speaking, the way each strategist uses the available means in given situations differs and is not determined by certain laws. To paraphrase Clausewitz, the way a strategy is created and the way means are used, depends on the “genius” and “ability” of the leadership or the commander. Therefore, strategy cannot be explained as positive science, but rather as an art, since it has to be flexible and adaptable based on the creativity (art) of the strategist.
Nonetheless there have been people who disagreed with this notion like Bernard Brodie and Jomini who argued that a more scientific/systematic methodological approach has to be adopted for the better understanding of strategy and also the creation of certain strategy rules that could solve – according to Brodie – practical problems. However, both the above persons revised their views to a certain extent: Brodie was surprised by the lack of ‘political sense’ in the scientific strategic analyses and Jomini, even though he never clearly acknowledged it, he later tented to agree with Clausewitz’s explanation.
After all, strategy is created to manage certain political or military situations and ultimately war. Based on the fact that war – as every other political situation – is a social activity, and given that social activities are unbelievably complicated due to the different types of people involved in them, then the formation of a strategy cannot be simple or easy. Furthermore, because of this complexity, we have to admit that the axiom suggesting that strategy is more of an art than a science is oversimplified. Theoretical or even philosophical concepts contain much more than a mere definition no matter how wide or complicate it is. Thus, especially considering the different levels of strategy (e.g. operational level, national level, and grand strategic level), strategy contains both scientific and artistic/creative parameters. If we are talking for example about the operational level then scientific methods and innovation could play an important role in the formation of strategy.
Limiting the concept of strategy in one word like “art” or “science”, or even in both, is methodologically wrong; maybe that is why experts like Jomini and Brodie reconsidered their ideas and also why Clausewitz concluded that art and science cannot be clearly distinguished. I would argue that they rather co-exist in different analogies and degrees according to the given situation.
Conclusively, as mentioned earlier, if we were to strictly characterise strategy as an “art” or a “science”, it would have to be “art”. That is not only because of what has been already mentioned, but also because of the ability and creativity that is needed to face the constant change of data in such situations due to the “friction”, or just due to the fact that social activities are too complex. Science, although creative in many cases, at times of fluidity, rapid developments and emotional upheaval is inflexible.
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