291 - On the nature of strategy

N. Lygeros

As we have pointed out in our article on the temporariness of the strategic mix regarding the problem of the exact definition of the term combination, we will see that the definition of strategy is a matter for debate, at least in its classical way. Actually, there are many definitions, and even too many, as we can notice it in the census reports made out by Mordacq in his strategy and Castex in his Strategic Theories. Even if the classical definitions of strategy agree that it represents operations management, they diverge on the question of its nature, whether it has to be classified as an art or a science. For Archduke Charles: strategy is the science of war; it sketches out plans, it takes up and delineates the course of military undertakings, it is strictly speaking the science of generals-in-chief (Strategy principle). For Jomini: strategy is the art of making war on the map, of embracing the whole theater of war. (Précis on the Art of War). As regards Clausewitz trying to get a side view concerning this terminological disagreement, without hiding the ontological nature of the problem, he suggested: strategy is the theory related to the use of battles dedicated to war. (About war). Nevertheless, this war-focused move cannot cover the whole field covered by the notion of strategy. In order to give a more general definition, land strategists before 1914 apply the primal idea: strategy is the art of commanding armies (Rüstow), strategy is the art of high command (Bonnal), strategy is the art of leading the armies on the theater of war or even more simply, the art of general-in-chief (Mordacq). Nevertheless, as Coutau-Bégarie specifies in his treatise, there is unanimous agreement about strategy being military and command related during war time; idea linked to the Feldherrnkunst initial German concept. Strategy is the art (Kunst) of the master (Herr) of battlefield (Feld).
Nevertheless, the question of nature remains. Is strategy an art or a science? And this question reminds us of the mathematical one whose polymorphous nature poses problems. A first point of purely terminological nature consists in asking the following question. Are the terms of science and art precise enough as regards their definition to be used as axioms in the definition of strategy? Moreover, it is common to notice that the excellence in an issue is considered as an art with all the underlying semantic confusion due to the terms “technique” and “art” compared to techné. Isn’t a person with a great technical know-how in a certain field described as an artist? On the contrary, isn’t an artist described as a master considered to be the holder of the science of his art? All this makes us consider that the terms “art” and “science” are closely related to a level of knowledge with a mutual interaction of mental unification. Thus, it would be difficult from a strictly cognitive point of view to assure a clear distinction between these two concepts. So, as strategy is a superior activity, why giving it terms whose difference is only perceptible at a basic level, where it would be difficult to categorize chess which is an extreme case of strategy. So, it seems more appropriate to define strategy at a superior cognitive level. For the whole story of strategy since the second half of the 19th century is the one of its expansion at the expense of politics. Thus, we will give strategy a definition which represents a consequence of our cognitive approach to the issue, that is to say strategy is the thought of conflict.