Great Strategic Rivalries From The Classical World To The Cold War, edited by James Lacey
As someone who greatly enjoys the study of strategy, there was a great deal that I found enjoyable in these essays. This is by no means a short book or an easy one to read, at more than 500 pages of discussion about grand strategy involving geopolitical rivalries across a broad span of space and time from the ancient world to today. To be sure, the writers focused on some generally familiar examples, as it would have perhaps been more enjoyable to read about strategic rivalries that were less familiar, like the long conflict between the clashing Vasa dynasties of Sweden or Poland or the Scandinavian rivalry between Sweden and Denmark, among others. The essays themselves are somewhat uneven, some of them being very worthwhile and enjoyable and some of them being a bit tedious and somewhat sloppily organized. Even so, if you like the study of strategic rivalries and you are willing to accept that a book of this kind is not going to be obscure or unfamiliar in its examination of those rivalries (there is, alas, no discussion of the long rivalry between Burma and Thailand over supremacy in Southeast Asia that went on for centuries and how that rivalry was ended only by the arrival of outside imperial powers, namely Great Britain and France), then you will find much to appreciate here even if it leaves you wanting more.
The contents of this book are divided into sixteen chapters. After an introduction by the editor, we have an essay by Paul A. Rahe about the struggle between Athens and Sparta for the domination of Greece (1), and the struggle between Rome and Carthage during the Punic Wars by Barry S. Strauss (2). Then we have a discussion of the long war between Rome and Parthia and Sassanid Persia by Kenneth W. Harl (3) and three chapters that deal with the warfare between England/Great Britain and France during the Hundred Years’ War by Kelly De Vries (4), during the colonial wars between 1689 and 1783 by Matt J. Schumann (8), and the Napoleonic Wars by Michael V. Leggiere (9). There are essays about the struggle for domination between Venice and Genoa by Christine Shaw and to a lesser extent Pisa (5) as well as the strategic rivalry between the Spanish Hapsburgs and their enemies (6) by Geoffrey Parker. The fight between the Ottomans and the Austrian Hapsburgs is reviewed by Andrew Wheatcroft (7) and Geoffrey Wawro discusses the Franco-German rivalry in the 19th and early 20th centuries (10). Kathleen Burk discusses the peaceful resolution of the strategic rivalry in the 19th century between Great Britain and the United States (11), Britain’s rivalry with Germany from the time of Wilhelm II is discussed by Williamson Murray (12), and the book closes with essays dealing with the Pacific conflict between China, Russia, and Japan by S.C.M. Paine, the Russo-German competition after 1871 by Robert Citino, Japanese and American rivalry for Pacific dominance by William Morgan, and an essay by James H. Anderson on the Cold War and ongoing conflict between the United States and Russia.
Although the essays provided are sprawling and sometimes not very well organized, there are some insights that can be gained from the various essays, even if they are focused on largely familiar subjects. For one, it would appear as if the authors greatly underestimate the number of worthwhile rivalries from which data can be gleaned, since there are many rivalries not discussed that are at least as important as the Venetian-Genoese or Athenian-Spartan rivalry, which would only require that one deal with regional powers or even fairly minor powers in an interesting area. For another, it would appear as if rivalries come about when powers have a certain freedom to maneuver in the absence of a struggle against a dominating power over them and have some degree of friction with a rivalry for honor, land, and economic power. Likewise, such rivalries are likely to continue until there is a point of mutual exhaustion, one of the rivals has been defeated, or the rivalries bury the hatchet in the face of new strategic rivalries. None of this inspires confidence that these issues will be any less problematic in our time than in the previous course of human history.