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Strategy and Grand Strategy in Theory and Practice


Admission requirements

Admission to the MA International Relations. Students who are interested in taking this course, but who are not admitted to the mentioned master programmes are requested to contact the co-ordinator of studies.


Military strategy is the threat or use of force for political purposes. It encompasses the logic of adversarial interaction as well as the logic of instrumentality. Grand strategy expands the available toolset beyond just military force to include economic, diplomatic, and other instruments of power. The purpose of this course is to understand the challenging and difficult-to-practice mode of thought which is strategy, by approaching it thematically.

The course begins with the foundational assumptions of strategic studies before transitioning to the two most important strategic thinkers of all time, Carl von Clausewitz and Sun Tzu, and then to other perspectives on strategy: particularly geography/geopolitics and culture. Following from these perspectives are the various forms of military power—land (and military operations), sea, air, nuclear, cyber—followed by consideration of special operations and intelligence. Students discuss and analyze these themes in real-life context using recent as well as older historical examples. Using these themes as a basis, students spend the next two weeks examining defense planning and how planners try to think about strategy absent an enemy, followed by grand strategy and the expansion of the toolset available to the strategist for achieving his purposes.

In the final lesson, students take all that they have learned in the course and apply it in practice in an all-day strategic simulation/war game with and against their fellow classmates. The game challenges students to engage with one of the most vital aspects of strategy, being able to translate the abstract concepts of strategic theory to the actual practice of strategy, to make strategic decisions and then to conduct military operations to fulfill the performative aspect of strategy’s instrumental logic within the greater context of adversarial interaction. After all, simply learning about strategic concepts and strategic history is one thing, but fully appreciating the difficulties actually of doing strategy in practice is another. They prepare for this all-day experience by drafting a war plan and subsequently reflect in an after action report on what the war game taught them about strategy in light of what they have learned in class.

An understanding of the tenets of strategy, an ability to think strategically oneself, and a cognizance of the likely strategic mindset of others are all crucial qualities for persons interested in a wide range of careers, including within strategic studies, the defense sector, as well as more broadly in international relations. In this highly interactive seminar course students challenge each other to acquire such skills.

Course Objectives

By the end of the course, students should be able to:

  • understand the concept of strategy and its basic component parts

  • evaluate the key debates in strategic studies

  • analyze real world practice of strategy


The timetables are available through My Timetable.

Mode of instruction


Assessment Method

Presentation 20%
War Plan 10%
After Action Report 20%
Final Paper 50%


The final mark for the course is established by determining the weighted average.


The resit for the final examined element is only available to students whose mark of the final examined element is insufficient.

Inspection and feedback

How and when an exam review will take place will be disclosed together with the publication of the exam results at the latest. If a student requests a review within 30 days after publication of the exam results, an exam review will have to be organized.

Reading list



Enrolment through My Studymap is mandatory.


  • For substantive questions, contact the lecturer listed in the right information bar.

  • For questions about enrolment, admission, etc, contact the Education Administration Office: Huizinga


not applicable