Lukas Milevski, Leiden University and author of The Evolution of Modern Grand Strategic Thought (2016) Oxford University Press. The RUSI Journal, Vol.163, No.3, July 2018, pp. 117-118, https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/03071847.2018.1494922 [subscription required)
Grand Strategy by the Australian academic and defence analyst Peter Layton is one of the latest contributions to the ever-growing literature on grand strategy. Fortunately, Layton’s work does not represent the usual tired fare that characterises the literature – that is, the endless rounds of policy prescription for this or that ‘grand strategy’, most often proposed without any serious thought dedicated to translating the prescription into real world action and practice. This reviewer has previously identified Layton through his earlier work on grand strategy as representing a new wave in the conceptualisation of grand strategy, along with Hal Brands in the US.
This new wave interprets grand strategy as a particular type of decision-making process – Layton contrasts it with risk management and opportunism as alternative ways of making decisions and interacting with the world (Brands by comparison sees no feasible alternative to grand strategy). Layton’s Grand Strategy represents the culmination of several years of study and thought to develop this particular interpretation of grand strategy.
The result is not a work of policy prescription, but rather is the elucidation of an optimised grand strategy diagnostic process designed to benefit busy policymakers by providing them with a model of how to think about grand strategy. Grand Strategy begins by creating this diagnostic process step by step, allowing readers to follow the logic that underpins the model as a whole. Layton’s logical sequence opens with a conceptual exposition of grand strategy. This transitions into the second step, a two-stage discussion of applying and developing power, both vital for Layton’s interpretation of grand strategy. The third step considers the new well-elucidated vision of grand strategy in a more practical, real-world sense, which culminates in the fourth and final step of case studies of each of the three types of grand strategy.
Layton has made a valuable contribution to the grand strategic literature by avoiding the usual policy prescription in favour of elucidating how a policymaker may think about conceptualising and then practising grand strategy. There are sure to be quibbles and disagreements over Layton’s conceptualisation of grand strategy (this reviewer has various disagreements and dissatisfactions with the book on this front – for example, Layton fully embraces the evolution of the concept of grand strategy, whereas this reviewer is rather more sceptical), or his distinctions, for instance, among the essential categories. However, the focus on how to think rather than on what to think and what grand strategy to pursue is undoubtedly and ultimately a far more productive perspective on grand strategy. For those interested in improving the practice of grand strategy or foreign policy, this is a highly recommended work.