Grand strategy divides opinion. Some critics regard it as unattainable, while others see it as hubristic. Its foremost advocates, meanwhile, idealise it as a silver bullet for resolving foreign policy dilemmas. Whether it is the challenge posed by revisionist states such as Russia, or non-state actors such as ISIS, it seems there is no problem on earth that cannot be solved without the development of a grand strategy. This talk constitutes part of a growing effort to reset expectations of the concept. All decision-makers are inevitably faced with trade-offs over their state’s competing interests and they make judgements about which goals and threats are the most important and how resources should be deployed to meet them. When policymakers proportion their aspirations to the state’s capabilities, they are likely to avoid the perils of underreach and overstretch. Instead of focusing on grand plans or other prescriptive solutions, the speaker makes the case for analysing a state’s behaviour over time using the benchmark of proportionality.
William James is a post-doctoral fellow at Harvard Kennedy School’s Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs. He defended his DPhil thesis from the University of Oxford in May 2019. William’s research centres on grand strategy, transatlantic relations, European security, alliance politics, as well as British foreign and defence policy since 1940. He is particularly interested in projects that bridge the gap between the academic and policy worlds.