22 Ottobre, 2020

Colin S. Gray

Some days ago, on 27 February, Colin S. Gray (born in December 29, 1943) died. He was a British-American writer on geopolitics and professor of International Relations and Strategic Studies. He was not only a very well known academic, but he was also a government defence adviser both to the British and U.S. governments. Gray served from 1982 until 1987 in the Reagan Administration’s General Advisory Committee on Arms Control and Disarmament. He was a very prolific writer due to his 30 books on military history and strategic studies, as well as numerous articles.

He was one of the most important, serious, influential and clear thinker on strategy and he was able to write on Cold War strategy as well as on the more fluid and problematic strategic environment of the 21st century (here some example 1 2 3). In contrast to other modern strategic thinkers, he did not neglect the importance of history. According to Gray, defining future threats is an impossible task, yet it is one that must be done. As the only sources of empirical evidence accessible are the past and the present, he studied the classics such as Thucydides and Clausewitz. In every books he wrote, there are several references to Clausewitz and his ideas. Probably the most important example of this approach is his book Strategy and Politics in which he delves into the question of the relationship between strategy, war and politics and he takes into account several of his main research questions: strategy and geography, strategy and history, culture.

While he wrote everything by hand he also developed ideas on cyber domain.

It is impossible to take into account every books he wrote, however I would like to share with you some suggestions. Colin Gray co-edited with John Baylis and James J. Wirtz, Strategy in the Contemporary World. It is probably the finest comprehensive primer on strategic studies series out there and the most complete Strategic Studies handbook. Strategy and Defence Planning: Meeting the Challenge of Uncertainty explores and examines why and how security communities prepare for their future defence. According to Gray, defence planning is the product of interplay among political process, historical experience, and the logic of strategy. Political “ends”, strategic “ways”, and military “means” (a clear influence of Clausewitz) all fed by reigning assumptions, organize the subject well with a template that can serve any time, place, and circumstance. Modern Strategy deals with the argument that strategy, operations, and tactics aren’t really hierarchical and “not wholly distinctive”. It also takes into account both the explanation of why culture and the human dimension of strategy are often overlooked and the role of technology in warfare.

2 thoughts on “Colin S. Gray

  1. A sad loss for all students and scholars of strategic history and geopolitics. Prof. Gray commanded a vast knowledge on these subjects, and was able to write about them in a clear and elegant way. His skepticism towards “presentism” and post-modern approaches to geopolitics has had a strong impact upon my research and understanding of the matter, and his view that history is the only real guide we have to analyze the present is one I thoroughly approve of.

    1. yes, it is a very sad loss. I think that his view on history as the only real guide to present strategic problems is one of his most important idea.

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