Reconceptualizing Grand Strategy: A Comparative and Relational Framework 

The literature on Grand Strategy has been overwhelmingly populated by work that operates from a rationalist ontology and epistemology. Yet, curiously, it has not employed the methods of systematic comparison often associated with positivist notions of theory building and testing. Scholars employing ideational approaches on issues such as strategic culture and critical theorists have employed comparative approaches in other, sometimes orthogonally related subfields of International Relations. But constructivists, with few exceptions, have remained marginal in the field of grand strategy. They too have not offered a generalized framework for comparison. Fundamentally, the field thus lacks a framework for the systematic study of grand strategy. In this paper we seek to begin to fill that lacunae, employing an ideational, arguably constructivist, ontology and epistemology. First, we briefly describe the gap in the literature and its theoretical importance. Second, we then identify a new, contrasting set of assumptions to those employed in the rationalist literature. Third, we use them to construct a framework that will potentially allow scholars to study national grand strategies – systematically, comparatively and relationally. Initiating work on the basis of such a framework, we argue, may subsequently help develop an understanding of underlying causative relations, expand the universe of cases of grand strategy well beyond that recognized from a rationalist perspective, acknowledge the ideational and relational character of grand strategies.

Thierry Balzacq is Professor of Political Science at Sciences Po and Professorial Fellow at CERI-Sciences Po, Paris. He is the director of graduate studies for international relations at the School of Research at the same university. He was formerly Scientific Director at the French Ministry of Defense (2014-2016), where he contributed to the development of a multi-million euro program to support the study of security in France.  In 2016, Balzacq was awarded a Francqui Research Chair (Belgium’s highest academic title) at the University of Namur. Balzacq was Honorary Professorial Fellow at the University of Edinburgh (2012-2015). In 2015, he was awarded a Tier 1 Canada Research Chair in Diplomacy and International Security (“Tier 1 Chairs are for outstanding researchers acknowledged by their peers as world leaders in their fields”). He has held various appointments at the Australian National University (ANU), McGill, the LSE, the National University of Singapore (NUS), the Diplomatic Academy of Vietnam, The International Relations Institute of Cameroon (IRIC), Aberystwyth (Marie Curie Visiting Professor), the University of Niamey (Niger), and ENA. He has published over a hundred and fifty books, articles and book chapters on comparative grand strategy, theories of security (including securitization theories), and diplomatic studies. His most recent books include The Oxford Handbook of Grand Strategy (2021 co-ed., with Ron Krebs); Comparative Grand Strategy: A Framework and Cases (Oxford University Press, 2019 – co-ed. with Peter Dombrowski and Simon Reich), Théories de la sécurité (Presses de Sciences Po, 2016). He co-edits the Oxford Studies in Grand Strategy book series. Thierry Balzacq holds a PhD from the University of Cambridge and completed his postdoctoral studies at Harvard University. He sits on the editorial boards of Security Studies, The Hague Journal of Diplomacy, Critical Studies on Security. He is currently working on two books.