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Title: Keeping Britannia afloat : the challenges of maintaining a proportionate grand strategy
Author: James, William David
ISNI:       0000 0004 8503 0208
Awarding Body: University of Oxford
Current Institution: University of Oxford
Date of Award: 2019
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Why do states fail to adjust to changes in the relative distribution of power? Some overreact against perceived threats and find themselves overstretched; they may have committed an excessive amount of limited resources to tackle the threat, become party to a burdensome number of entangling alliances, or simply taken on too many adversaries. In contrast, others underreach and pursue overly conservative goals that are not commensurate with their security interests. Their forces might be too few or ill-prepared for the threat they face, or they may lack a sufficient number of allies. This thesis therefore seeks to explain the poor quality of states' grand strategies and why they often end up doing too much or too little. Unfortunately, the literature on grand strategy is not up to the task. Using a neoclassical realist framework, I argue that we must look inside the "black box" of the state if we are to understand how policymakers perceive and respond to changes in the international environment. The thesis employs a range of qualitative methods, including archival research and process tracing, in order to highlight the importance of unit-level intervening variables, such as individual biases and domestic veto players, on the process of grand strategy. I look at three past cases of British grand strategy: the Second World War, the withdrawal from East of Suez, and the 2003 Iraq War. I argue that the imminence and proximity of external threats shapes who makes decisions and how effectively they do so. A proportionate grand strategy is more likely when the state faces an existential challenge. In contrast, decision-makers in benign security environments are more likely to become distracted and focus on parochial interests. The thesis concludes with policy recommendations and a call to action for greater engagement with strategic studies in the United Kingdom.
Supervisor: Johnson, Dominic ; Johnson, Rob Sponsor: Economic and Social Research Council
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available