by Avi Nardia 2017
The difference between strategy and tactics: strategy is done above the shoulders, tactics are done below the shoulders
About 2,500 years ago, Chinese military strategist Sun Tzu wrote “The Art of War.” In it, he said, “Strategy without tactics is the slowest route to victory. Tactics without strategy is the noise before defeat.” Tactics and strategy are not at odds with one another—they’re must be on the same team. (And they have been for many centuries!)
Strategy defines your long-term goals and how you’re planning to achieve them. In other words, your strategy gives you the path you need toward achieving your mission.
Tactics are much more concrete and are often oriented toward smaller steps and shorter timeframes along the way. They involve best practices, specific plans, resources, etc. They’re also called “initiatives.”
Strategy and tactics must work in tandem; without it your mission cannot efficiently achieve goals. If you have strategy without tactics you have big thinkers and no action. If you have tactics without strategy, you have disorder.
In military usage, a military tactic is used by a military unit of no larger than a division to implement a specific mission and achieve a specific objective, or to advance toward a specific target.
The terms tactic and strategy are often confused: tactics are the actual means used to gain an objective, while strategy is the overall campaign plan, which may involve complex operational patterns, activity, and decision-making that govern tactical execution. The United States Department of Defense Dictionary of Military Terms defines the tactical level as “the level of war at which battles and engagements are planned and executed to accomplish military objectives assigned to tactical units or task forces. Activities at this level focus on the ordered arrangement and maneuver of combat elements in relation to each other and to the enemy to achieve combat objectives.”
If, for example, the overall goal is to win a war against another country, one strategy might be to undermine the other nation’s ability to wage war by preemptively annihilating their military forces. The tactics involved might describe specific actions taken in specific locations, like surprise attacks on military facilities, missile attacks on offensive weapon stockpiles, and the specific techniques involved in accomplishing such objectives.
Military tactics are the science and art of organizing a military force, and the techniques for combining and using weapons and military units to engage and defeat an enemy in battle.Changes in philosophy and technology have been reflected in changes to military tactics.
In contemporary military science, tactics are the lowest of three planning levels: strategic, operational, and tactical. The highest level of planning is strategy: how force is translated into political objectives by bridging the means and ends of war. The intermediate level, operational, the conversion of strategy into tactics, deals with formations of units. In the vernacular, tactical decisions are those made to achieve the greatest immediate value; strategic decisions are those made to achieve the greatest overall value, irrespective of the immediate results of a tactical decision.
Strategy (from Greek στρατηγία stratēgia, “art of troop leader; office of general, command, generalship” is a high level plan to achieve one or more goals under conditions of uncertainty. In the sense of the “art of the general”, which included several subsets of skills including “tactics”, siegecraft, logistics etc., the term came into use in the 6th century C.E. in East Roman terminology, and was translated into Western vernacular languages only in the 18th century. From then until the 20th century, the word “strategy” came to denote “a comprehensive way to try to pursue political ends, including the threat or actual use of force, in a dialectic of wills” in a military conflict, in which both adversaries interact.
Strategy is important because the resources available to achieve these goals are usually limited. Strategy generally involves setting goals, determining actions to achieve the goals, and mobilizing resources to execute the actions. A strategy describes how the ends (goals) will be achieved by the means (resources). This is generally tasked with determining strategy. Strategy can be intended or can emerge as a pattern of activity as the organization adapts to its environment or competes. It involves activities such as strategic planning and strategic thinking.
In military theory, strategy is “the utilization during both peace and war, of all of the nation’s forces, through large scale, long-range planning and development, to ensure security and victory”
The father of Western modern strategic study, Carl von Clausewitz, defined military strategy as “the employment of battles to gain the end of war.” B. H. Liddell Hart’s definition put less emphasis on battles, defining strategy as “the art of distributing and applying military means to fulfill the ends of policy”. Hence, both gave the pre-eminence to political aims over military goals. U.S. Naval War College instructor Andrew Wilson defined strategy as the “process by which political purpose is translated into military action.”
Eastern military philosophy dates back much further, with examples such as The Art of War by Sun Tzu dated around 500 B.C.