IR - Strategy - Theory POLITIC5083

  • Academic Session: 2023-24
  • School: School of Social and Political Sciences
  • Credits: 20
  • Level: Level 5 (SCQF level 11)
  • Typically Offered: Semester 2
  • Available to Visiting Students: Yes

Short Description

This is an introduction to Strategic Theory. The first third of the course considers early strategists avant la lettre and the origins of key strategic concepts. The second third homes in on the 'classical' strategists such as Guibert, Clausewitz, Jomini and their followers until the First World War. The last third considers 20th strategists and debates about strategy, ending with current strategic debates.


10 weeks

4 introductory lectures in week 1. While this may be a timetabling challenge, this is essential to bring students from very diverse backgrounds up to a standard of knowledge that will allow all of them to engage with the subject. The strong, empirically established didactic reasons for this outweigh any bureaucratic arguments for standardisation.

2-hour seminars held weekly for 10 weeks, starting with an introductory seminar in week 1.

Requirements of Entry

Open to postgraduate students only

Excluded Courses



It is recommended, but not mandatory, that this course is taken with Applied Strategy.



A review of 1000 words (25%)

An essay of 3000 words, excluding footnote references and bibliography (75%).

Course Aims

The study of international relations emerged from the desire to ban or contain war. Strategic studies are that subset of IR studies that ponder how to use force if war cannot be avoided, or its threat to deter aggression. This course explores the evolution of theories of strategy, with an emphasis on the contexts in which they were formulated, and also on continuity and change (long-lasting or recurrent concepts vs. the very few examples of radical change or innovation). The course considers the impact of ideologies and values, technology, and other major factors on changing ideas about strategy - i.e. why and how war is to be waged, and with what ends.

Intended Learning Outcomes of Course

By the end of this course students will be able to:

■ Be conversant with a body of key texts of strategic theory

■  in the political, social, economic, cultural and ideological contexts in which they were formulated;

■ against the background of the biographic experiences of their authors (how did experience X lead them to conclude Y? and how did not experiencing X lead them to ignore Y in their theory?).

■ Test these texts for their relevance and wisdom in the times when they originated;

■ Test these texts for their relevance and wisdom beyond the times in which they originated;

■ Understand the genesis of key concepts of strategy and test their applicability to our own times;

■ Thus be able to engage with key debates about strategy.

■ Be able to write essays addressing questions or problems by digesting relevant literature and marshalling it into reasoned and factually supported answers;

■ Be able to make oral presentations on the basis of digesting and concisely presenting relevant literature;

■ Track strategic concepts in current debates.

Minimum Requirement for Award of Credits

Students must submit at least 75% by weight of the components (including examinations) of the course's summative assessment.