On strategy Ideas for strategists (part 1)

Wolfgang Pusztai

Up to the beginning of the 1990ies the Cold War had taken over one of the most important tasks of strategists: establishing priorities. Because of the fixed structures the room for manoeuvre was rather limited, especially for European middle-sized and small states. The breaking open of these old circumstances with the end of the Cold War led to increased elbowroom. Now the single protagonist has more “tools of strategy” at his disposal, which - if applied efficiently - can lead to reaching prioritized objectives. There are more “opportunities” for this, but there are more “threats” as well. Right from the start strategy has to take into consideration what can be “sold” to the political parties, to the parliament and to the public. Without wide acceptance a strategy cannot work well. The loss of public support can even lead to setbacks in the end. Setbacks can happen either through inadequate conversion (e.g. too limited allocation of resources), or through active impediment of the conversion (e.g. demonstrations and doing things for the sake of doing things), or through the perception of dividedness of a state, caused by the target objects of the strategy. If an affair is not interesting and important for the public (= the voter) any longer, one will have to expect that the interest of politics will remain small. Thus it will not be very likely that the necessary resources for the strategy will be allocated in the long term. If the public mood turns strongly, this problem will become an important topic in the next election campaign, and especially the opposition will use it excessively for vote catching, for one must not forget that popularity and success of a politician at home usually are prerequisites of successful foreign and security policy. As a strategy is to be established long term, its development ought to be kept out of day-to-day politics as much as possible. The more clearly interests are defined and the more widely these are accepted, the more easily negative internal influences can be prevented when implementing the strategy. Thus, international politics is also a product of the domestic context. Not the nations, but the people make decisions, and they have personal interests and likings influencing these decisions. Although every foreign affairs strategy aims at influencing the international environment, it is still firmly rooted in this domestic context. For this reason, the strategists’ assumptions on the domestic environment are as important as those on the international environment. The domestic context and the culture of a nation also represent the sources of the values of a nation, which, on the other hand, corroborate the national interests. Grasping the entire strategic environment, the perspective and the long-term trends correctly is, therefore, fundamental for the strategist’s job.