The absence of the concept and practice of grand strategy in Nigeria’s policymaking is responsible for many of the problems and crises the country has faced. On many crucial occasions, the left hand of the government did not know what the right was doing. As a result of this fundamental weakness, we followed flawed policies that caused grave damage to our security and economic well-being.
The numerous security and developmental crisis the country is dealing with today are the most telling example of the lack of coherence in our political, economic, diplomatic and security policies.
In contrast, grand strategy aims to bring into a coherent whole a country’s political, economic, security and diplomatic policies to serve its best interests. It goes without saying that grand strategy must be based on an in-depth analysis of the evolving global and regional security environments, and our own historical experience.
Unfortunately, some Nigerian analysts believe that grand strategy is the exclusive preserve of great powers and that, therefore, our policymakers need not concern themselves with its intricacies. Nothing could be further from the truth. Grand strategy simply operates on a higher plane than military strategy, and is as relevant to medium-size countries as it is to great powers.
According to military historian Liddell Hart, “…Military strategy needs to be guided by the longer and wider view from the higher plane of grand strategy.” Grand strategy provides the overall framework within which a country’s political, economic; security and diplomatic policies should function. It carries the advantage of providing long-term direction to policymakers. Further, since grand strategy is evolved through the synthesis of these four critical areas of policy, it ensures that policymakers do not function at cross purposes. Whereas strategy is concerned with the conduct of war and seeks victory through battle or otherwise, a country’s grand strategy should aim at a better peace than what is available for its security.
A comprehensive approach, prudence and caution should be the hallmarks of grand strategy. Rapid economic growth is obviously desirable for the people’s welfare and prosperity, but it is also imperative that a country — in the interest of long-term security — grow economically at a higher rate than its enemy or rival. Economic stagnation or a slower growth rate than that of an opponent would put a country at a growing disadvantage with the passage of time and, thus, pose a long-term security threat. This is precisely Nigeria’s current position; its growth rate has generally been slower than her potentials.
The greatest error in grand strategy is strategic overstretch, which is the direct consequence of pursuing goals that are far beyond the reach of the nation’s resources. It leads to a state of strategic exhaustion and national demoralisation. To quote Liddell Hart again, “The experience of history brings ample evidence that the downfall of civilised states tends to come not from the direct assaults of foes but from internal decay, combined with the consequences of exhaustion in war.” The disintegration of the Soviet Union bears testimony to this fundamental principle.
The adoption and practice of grand strategy would require the establishment of a government agency — directly under the President — with the responsibility of synthesising inputs from political institutions, economic ministries, the military establishment, and the Ministry for Foreign Affairs into a coherent whole, and submit viable policy options for the government’s consideration. The absence of the institutional framework to perform this role in Nigeria is perhaps the greatest obstacle to the formulation of a viable grand strategy.
The linchpin of Nigeria’s grand strategy — taking into account the national situation, and the regional and global security environments — should be to make the goal of rapid economic growth our top priority, and subordinate everything else in the pursuit of this supreme national objective. This would require single-minded focus on and maximum possible allocation of resources to the task. It is imperative, therefore, to have peace in our neighbourhood and avoid major armed conflict to allow us to allocate the lion’s share of our resources to economic development while maintaining a credible security deterrent at the lowest level of forces and armaments.
The pursuit of a low-risk and non-adventurist foreign policy is a must for this purpose. This conclusion has direct relevance to our sub-regional, continental and global policies. Foreign policy objectives that are overly ambitious must be avoided as we can’t let ourselves fall into the trap of the strategic overstretch and exhaustion in which we seem to be caught at the moment.