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Thread: Is there a difference between strategy and tactics?

  1. #1

    Default Is there a difference between strategy and tactics?

    Was wondering if it might be possible to come up with valid definitions -or at least some better examples- for strategy and tactics. We often hear that strategy and tactics are not interchangeable, yet there are many instances in strategic planning -including historical instances- where they often appear to overlap.

    Some definitions & perspectives:

    Layman’s definitions (1):

    • Strategy defines your long-term goals and how you’re planning to achieve them. In other words, your strategy gives you the path you need toward achieving your organization’s mission.
    • Tactics are much more concrete and are often oriented toward smaller steps and a shorter time frame along the way. They involve best practices, specific plans, resources, etc. They’re also called “initiatives.”

    Example: How to get to X on a map



    Commentary:
    Upon intense scrutiny, layman’s definitions really don’t help us distinguish strategy from tactics. Big picture view, macro goals, and long term principles and plans found in strategy are still means to an end, and do not exactly distinguish themselves from the micro principles found in tactics. Both strategy and tactics take place in the realm of time, space, and planning, both involve specific developments, resources, and arrangements of tools towards a common goal, and neither one can claim to be any more or less important than the other. While it is true – when using the above definitions- that tactics are often considered subordinate to strategy (because strategy claims to be the goal, and tactics a method), it is hardly true to say that best practices and so called “initiatives” are radically different than the steps and execution styles strategy proposes to achieve an organization’s goals. The result then are cases where tactics can be substituted for strategy, and vice versa, or it could also be that strategy and tactics are just synonyms for one another.


    DoD definitions and military view(2):

    Strategy — A prudent idea or set of ideas for employing the instruments of national power in a synchronized and integrated fashion to achieve theater, national, and/or multinational objectives. (JP 3-0)

    Tactics — The employment and ordered arrangement of forces in relation to each other. See also procedures; techniques. (CJCSM 5120.01)

    “Strategy is defined as the art of planning and directing overall military operations as opposed to tactics - the control of armies in battle.” – USAF, Presentation on Making Strategy.

    Commentary:
    A problem with the military definition -and view- is that the arrangement of forces is still an instrument of national power. Techniques and procedures of military forces are also not radically different than a set of ideas found in strategy, including doctrine. However, the DoD definition, to its credit, does try to separate tactics from strategy with command and control, whereas strategy would perhaps be more about operational art and creative policy, rather than the direct control and science of units in the field. Tactics then is not concerned with goals or objectives, or even planning as far as operations and resources go, rather it is strictly the movement and positioning of units in battle. To the DoD’s credit, modern military theory also usually divides war into strategic, operational, and tactical levels. The confusion, and overlap happens when strategy describes the specific movements and arrangements of units during operations planning. However, these plans (while also correctly conceived as means) are an envisioned end state, where as tactics, being in real-time, are not imaginary ends in themselves.


    Opinions from Strategic Thinkers:

    Strategy: “The art of waging war upon a map” – Jomini
    Strategy: “the employment of battles to gain the end of war” – Clausewitz
    Strategy: “the art of distributing and applying military means to fulfill the ends of policy” – Liddell Hart
    Strategy: “the art of making use of time and space” – Napoleon
    Strategy = (Ends + Ways + Means) – Army War College
    “Good tactics can save even the worst strategy. Bad tactics will destroy even the best strategy.” - George Patton
    “Strategy without tactics is the slowest route to victory. Tactics without strategy is the noise before defeat.” – Sun Tzu

    1)https://www.clearpointstrategy.com/s...s-tactics/amp/
    2)https://www.jcs.mil/Portals/36/Docum...dictionary.pdf
    Last edited by Dick Cheney.; April 18, 2019 at 06:24 AM.
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  2. #2

    Default Re: Is there a difference between strategy and tactics?

    I'd say that the difference is that tactics are done in the field and strategy in the HQ.

  3. #3

    Default Re: Is there a difference between strategy and tactics?

    Quote Originally Posted by Sar1n View Post
    I'd say that the difference is that tactics are done in the field and strategy in the HQ.
    This is probably my view too. A loss of continuity occurs then when trying to apply strategy and tactics to the sports and business world, which wasn't the original arena for strategy and tactics.
    Last edited by Dick Cheney.; April 17, 2019 at 12:32 PM.
    "It's not the size of the dog in a fight that counts, but your willingness to murder that dog's family if it loses." - VP Dick Cheney
    For record: I did not vote for Trump/Hillary.

  4. #4
    paleologos's Avatar You need burrito love!!
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    Default Re: Is there a difference between strategy and tactics?

    According to what I have been taught both in ROTC and in Business school, the major differences between tactics and strategy are to be found in the scope and form of their respective objectives and consequently the resources available and necessary to achieve said goals.

    The goals of strategic planing usually take the form of achieving or preventing a specific shift in the balance (or imbalance) of power.
    Strategy is worked upon and carried out all the time, in both peace and war and employs all of a nations, or organization's assets of power (political, economic, industrial, scientific, social, spiritual, psychological, diplomatic, subterfuge/intelligence gathering and dissemination/manipulation and military).

    Power is defined as the capability to make one's will come to pass, regardless of -and occasionally in spite of- other actors free will and disposition.
    In that respect assets of power are all those resources that may enable one actor to impose their will on other actors.

    So the art-and-science of strategy is about how to best align those assets of power so that optimal synergies emerge and their combined effect is optimized in a given setting of strategic balance.
    Take note of the choice of words, "optimal" and "optimized" in the stead of "maximal" and "maximized": politics is always integral to strategy and if one actor push their agenda too forcefully, they may provoke fear to and alienate other actors that would preferably remain friendly or neutral.

    There is a difference of approach as one might expect between strategy in time of peace and strategy in time of war:
    In war strategy works by maximizing one's assets of power while destroying/wearing out the assets of the adversary's power.
    Eventually the side that lose the ability to impose their will on their opponents, or lose the ability to defend themselves from the forceful imposition of foreign will, are considered to have "lost".
    In peace strategy works by bringing about such a situation that the choices the adversary consider optimal are the ones the strategist wanted.
    Ultimately, a strategy is considered successful when the adversary is persuaded to accept terms of coexistence that the strategic planner finds more agreeable.


    On the other hand, the scope of tactics is much more limited.
    In the military context, the question tacticians are usually called upon to answer takes the form of how to best utilize available resources when required to accomplish a limited battlefield objective someone else has decided.
    For example, if the objective is to take a hill that is occupied by enemy troops, the tactician may be allowed to decide between calling a bombardment before an infantry sweep, or attempt a direct infantry assault by means of fire and movement.
    In the business context, tactics may take the form of what method to use in order to cajole customers (gifts, discounts, superior service) or a "gentleman's" agreement between competitors on how to fix prices in such a way that they don't look fixed.


    Connecting the strategic with the tactical there is the field of operational planning which is usually about the manipulation of the layout of forces on a battlefield so as to outmaneuver the adversary, or mislead them about the intended actions in the near future, or for the sake of overcoming limitations to strategy.
    For example, Alexander the Great, when moving through unmapped territory would almost invariably choose to march his troops along rivers, for the sake of a reliable water supply.
    Last edited by paleologos; April 17, 2019 at 12:05 PM.

  5. #5

    Default Re: Is there a difference between strategy and tactics?

    Actually, the difference between tactics and strategy is mostly scope, as well as the fact that tactics are often dependent on real time, which strategy usually is not.
    A strategic decision is for example to deploy X units to a field of battle. The precise decisions to defeat him on the battlefield are tactical.

    But strategic decisions do deal with e.g. logistics and similar.
    The example by OP with the boat is thus incorrect, as it'd be more of a strategic decision.

    I'd also point to the fact that strategy and tactics form two extremes, and it's become typical to assign a third (operational) level in between.
    Earlier times had even more degrees inbetween (grand tactics, minor strategy, etc.). But generally those 3 variations suffice.

    TL;DR:
    Tactics:
    Limited in scope
    Real time decisions
    Executes goals defined by strategy, with the resources allocated for that

    Strategy:
    Not limited in scope
    Decisions are usually not made under time constraints
    Sets goals whose execution is done on the tactical level, as well as allocating resources for those

    In between:
    Operational level
    A mix of both
    Typically contends with one theatre of war
    Refines strategic goals for tactics as well as influencing their execution

  6. #6
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    Default Re: Is there a difference between strategy and tactics?

    A worthwhile discussion.

    Further to OP's definitions the OED says (i have picked out the relevant entries):

    Strategy:

    1. The office or command of a strategos

    and

    4.a
    The art or practice of planning or directing the larger movements or long-term objectives of a battle, military campaign, etc. Often distinguished from tactics, considered as the art of directing forces engaged in action or in the immediate presence of the enemy.


    Tactics:

    1.The art or science of deploying military or naval forces in order of battle, and of performing warlike evolutions and manœuvres.

    The etymology for both is classical Greek, with strategy meaning "general's (or top level military leader's) work" and tactics meaning "putting things in order". The meanings do shade into one another but its still a reasonable distinction to be made between "macro" and micro", as well as "comprehensive" vs "applied".

    I think we can all keep using these terms usefully: its even useful to distinguish further (I like the terms "Grand Strategy" (the overall military posture and planning) vs "Strategy" (the specific plan of campaign for a war), and "Grand Tactics" (the overall ordering of a battle) vs "Tactics" (the ordering of individuals, units and subsets of an army within a battle).

    So we can discuss Alexander III's quite insane Grand Strategy ("Conquer. Everything.") along with his sound strategy ("take the land route though Asia Minor and carefully befriend Persian satraps on the way so the Phoenician fleet can't cut supply line until we take Phoencia to remove the threat to the homeland, then reduce the Persians one province at a time, to force a decisive battle where the Persian Shah-in-Shah can be personally defeated"-10/10 would murder Parmenion again).

    We can discuss Wellington's Grand tactics and Tactics at Waterloo (let's not talk about his strategic showing in 1815, its embarrassing), with his GT being "hold...steady...hold...steady..." and his tactics being a wonderful dance juggling squares, lines and skirmishers, mixing frail and robust regiments and balancing his generally solid infantry with his harebrained cavalry and precisely sited arty.

    We an meaningfully discuss the tension between Hitler's truly insane Grand Strategy (and pretty dodgy strategy) and the Wehrmacht's quite awesome tactical showing (and how the latter made up for the many failings of the former).

    The terms have different derivations and different applications and while there is overlap, the "heart" of each word is located in a different sphere. Strategy is more about high level planing, tactics is more about applied training.
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    LaMuerte's Avatar Senator
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    Default Re: Is there a difference between strategy and tactics?

    Quote Originally Posted by paleologos View Post
    The goals of strategic planing usually take the form of achieving or preventing a specific shift in the balance (or imbalance) of power.
    A practical example of preventing a shift in the imbalance of power would be the Habsburg Empire in the 18th century. Surrounded on all sides by stronger major powers(France,Prussia,the Ottoman Empire, the Spanish empire), they had to develop a grand strategy which would allow them enough time to deal with a war on multiple fronts.

    The problem the Habsburg empire faced was the following : whenever any of the great powers declared war on her, others would join the fray because the Habsburg empire was deemed the weakest. In a scenario where the French, the Prussians and the Ottomans declared war, the empire was too weak to send armies to all fronts. They just didn't have the recources nor the manpower for that. If they faced one invasion with their entire army, the other fronts had to be neglected. If they split their armies, defeat in detail was assured. On paper it would seem the Habsburg empire was doomed when faced with a hostile coalition.

    So how does an empire deal with such an inherent weakness/imbalance of power? The Habsburg grand strategy focused on diplomacy, creating chokepoints, and using its internal lines.

    Diplomacy when used correctly is the mightiest of weapons, something the Habsburgers understood well before they became imperial grandees. And they were really the best at it at times. Prussia left more than one coalition at the outbreak of a major war because they got offered an underdeveloped slice of Silezia, insignificant and far away from the Habsburg heartlands. On more than one occasion the Ottomans were kept out of a war due to the diligent work of imperial ambassadors at the porte in Istanbul.(Much to the chagrin of the French) Those are bargains considering what's at stake during some of these wars : the very survival of the empire itself.

    Chokepoints: Due to the mountainous nature of the Habsburg heartlands(Alps and Carpathians), enemy movement was more constrained and somewhat predictable. The best places to conduct defensive battles were identified well in advance. Accurate mapmaking and the scientific principles of the day made sure of that. The weakest spots were identified and fortresses built on solid scientific principles were constructed.

    Which brings us to our next point: internal lines. By clever use of its internal lines, especially its waterways, the Habsburg empire was able to keep their gears of war going. Which goes back to the basics of warfare: The moving of men and material. The empire made sure it could react quickly in a manner of its own choosing. An enemy army either had to grind through a ring of forts, or would face a well prepared imperial army. But it would be the imperials deciding the type of engagement. Or so was the grand strategy.

    On the implementation of that grand strategy, I'm just gonna quote A.Wess Mitchell. It more typifies the Habsburg empire as we know it. I'm sure my fellow TWC'ers will agree.
    (I can recommend The Grand Strategy of the Habsburg Empire he wrote if you're interested in the matter.)

    'Constrained by a constitutional and financial straightjacket, Habsburg rulers developed an approach to power that more often than not, did not try to "overcome contradictions but instead covered and composed them in an ever professional equilibrium, allowing them substantially to go as they are and, if anything, playing them off against each other". The preference for fortwursteln(muddling through) ... evolved not from principled restraint but rather necessity, as the only sustainable method of governance for such a complicated realm.'

  8. #8

    Default Re: Is there a difference between strategy and tactics?

    Quote Originally Posted by LaMuerte View Post
    A practical example of preventing a shift in the imbalance of power would be the Habsburg Empire in the 18th century. Surrounded on all sides by stronger major powers(France,Prussia,the Ottoman Empire, the Spanish empire), they had to develop a grand strategy which would allow them enough time to deal with a war on multiple fronts.

    The problem the Habsburg empire faced was the following : whenever any of the great powers declared war on her, others would join the fray because the Habsburg empire was deemed the weakest. In a scenario where the French, the Prussians and the Ottomans declared war, the empire was too weak to send armies to all fronts. They just didn't have the recources nor the manpower for that. If they faced one invasion with their entire army, the other fronts had to be neglected. If they split their armies, defeat in detail was assured. On paper it would seem the Habsburg empire was doomed when faced with a hostile coalition.

    So how does an empire deal with such an inherent weakness/imbalance of power? The Habsburg grand strategy focused on diplomacy, creating chokepoints, and using its internal lines.

    Diplomacy when used correctly is the mightiest of weapons, something the Habsburgers understood well before they became imperial grandees. And they were really the best at it at times. Prussia left more than one coalition at the outbreak of a major war because they got offered an underdeveloped slice of Silezia, insignificant and far away from the Habsburg heartlands. On more than one occasion the Ottomans were kept out of a war due to the diligent work of imperial ambassadors at the porte in Istanbul.(Much to the chagrin of the French) Those are bargains considering what's at stake during some of these wars : the very survival of the empire itself.

    Chokepoints: Due to the mountainous nature of the Habsburg heartlands(Alps and Carpathians), enemy movement was more constrained and somewhat predictable. The best places to conduct defensive battles were identified well in advance. Accurate mapmaking and the scientific principles of the day made sure of that. The weakest spots were identified and fortresses built on solid scientific principles were constructed.

    Which brings us to our next point: internal lines. By clever use of its internal lines, especially its waterways, the Habsburg empire was able to keep their gears of war going. Which goes back to the basics of warfare: The moving of men and material. The empire made sure it could react quickly in a manner of its own choosing. An enemy army either had to grind through a ring of forts, or would face a well prepared imperial army. But it would be the imperials deciding the type of engagement. Or so was the grand strategy.

    On the implementation of that grand strategy, I'm just gonna quote A.Wess Mitchell. It more typifies the Habsburg empire as we know it. I'm sure my fellow TWC'ers will agree.
    (I can recommend The Grand Strategy of the Habsburg Empire he wrote if you're interested in the matter.)

    'Constrained by a constitutional and financial straightjacket, Habsburg rulers developed an approach to power that more often than not, did not try to "overcome contradictions but instead covered and composed them in an ever professional equilibrium, allowing them substantially to go as they are and, if anything, playing them off against each other". The preference for fortwursteln(muddling through) ... evolved not from principled restraint but rather necessity, as the only sustainable method of governance for such a complicated realm.'
    I'm sorry that I have to be mean, but whilst reading this I really found myself in awe as to how someone could get basically everything wrong.
    Habsburg fought very few two-front wars. When it did, it did so as part of the empire. Meaning it had the rest of the German states not only supporting it, but also acting as a buffer, and defending Western Austrian territories while at it. That in addition to many others.

    The "slithers of insignificant territories" it gave away, especially Silesia, which was huge, but also the Western and Italian territories plus in the Balkans, weren't insignificant, they were very rich and exactly what the Prussians and French were going for.

    The irony triples once one considers the fact that not only did Habsburg rarely find itself at the receiving end of a coalition, it was the expert at dishing those out, and still failing spectacularly.
    When the Ottomans were soundly beaten by the Persians and the Russians, the Austrians still somehow managed to be soundly beaten, having to hand the Turks huge territories in the Balkans. When the Austrians somehow managed to form a huge coalition against Prussia in the 7-years war, and Prussia being on the verge of annihilation, Austrian "diplomacy" made the Russians, who were the ones winning the war for them, leave it. This left Silesia with Prussia for good.

    And btw: The Prussians were able to use the effect of the inner lines effectively - especially in the 7 years war.
    Habsburg, because of its size as well as almost never having to fight those wars anyway, to my knowledge never did.
    Fortresses? Didn't go that well for Habsburg. I mean one has merely to look at what the French did to them again and again.

    Habsburg "diplomacy" focused on those opportunities always, and always depended on others to fight for it.
    That list just goes on and on.

    So in a weird way and to end on a consiliatory note: Yep, Austria is a good example for some of those things you mentioned. Just not in a good way.

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