Students of strategy tend to assume the classic works were all written long ago by people with German or Chinese names. That does an injustice to contemporary thinkers who push the field’s conceptual frontiers outward. Strategist Edward Luttwak is one such thinker. Indeed, his Strategy is a treatise U.S. naval commanders and their political overseers should consult when contemplating how to force entry into maritime Asia in wartime.
And regaining access will be a must. The last installment in this series pointed out that while the People’s Liberation Army can dispute U.S. command of the maritime commons, it will be unable to shut U.S. and allied forces out of Asia altogether. Contested command, a.k.a. a mess, will typify the early phases of war. While allied forces will have options, however, U.S. reinforcements must ultimately fight their way into the region to concentrate enough combat power to defeat China on China’s turf.
For Luttwak the “great choice” in offensive theater strategy is “between the broad advance that only the very strong may employ”—for otherwise the advancing force will find itself outnumbered everywhere—“and the narrow advance that offers the opportunity of victory even to the weak.” By focusing ships, aircraft, weaponry, and manpower at select places on the map, that is, the weaker contender can amass superior strength at points of contact with enemy forces. The downside: a belligerent that risks a narrow advance courts danger by weakening itself away from the main line of advance. It could be clobbered along vulnerable flanks or other places where its defenses are feeble.
The very strong can afford the broad approach. It leaves no flanks exposed. Caution, oddly, is the province of commanders of dominant forces. The not-so-strong lack that margin of material superiority. They must dare all to gain all, accepting risk in hopes of a lavish payoff. Luttwak portrays blitzkrieg as a prototypical narrow-front strategy. It’s about punching “pencil-thin penetrations” through enemy frontiers, sending columns rapidly through the gaps, and sowing mayhem in enemy rear areas. It is “part adventure and part confidence trick,” and not for the faint of heart.