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Strategic Thoughts and Other Delusions

20 Feb 24

373 pages

Peter Hore

Fifty years ago, the young Lars Wedin was challenged by a senior naval officer for his unusual ability to read and write. Nevertheless, Wedin went on to command fast patrol boats and to serve in destroyers in the Royal Swedish Navy, graduated from both the Swedish and French naval war colleges, became a military adviser to the Swedish Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and was chief of staff of the concepts division of the EU military staff in Brussels. His latest book is Strategic Thoughts and Other Delusions.

Wedin has been one of the leading lights of Kungliga Örlogsmannasällskapet or the Royal Society of Naval Sciences, one of the oldest such societies in the world and whose history bears the comparison to The Naval Review. Founded in 1771 by King Gustav III, the Royal Society of Naval Sciences has its genesis in the ideas of the Enlightenment, which emphasised educational reforms and the value of vocational and professional qualifications. Like The Naval Review, the young officers who founded the society wished to assert the position of the navy in the debate on defence policy and understood that they must study and so gain a deeper knowledge of their own profession. Almost from its inception, the society adopted academic traditions and was incorporated into Sweden’s Royal Academy (which had been established in 1739).

Wedin was for some years editor of the society’s quarterly journal Tidskrift i Sjöväsendet which is directly comparable to the quarterly Naval Review, but was founded some years before, in 1835. For over 50 years he has been a contributor, the earliest article written in the mid-1970s, and the latest only in the summer of last year (2023).

Wedin’s other books are Maritime Strategies for the 21st Century: The Contribution by Admiral Castex (2017) which builds on the writings of Raoul Castex, who the blurb characterises as France’s greatest naval strategist, and From Sun Tzu to Hyperwar – a Strategic Encyclopaedia (2019) an examination development of strategy from the antiquity to the present day and of the strategic domains of air, land, sea and cyber space.

The reader unfamiliar with the history of the Baltic ought to start with the chapter on 500 years of naval history since 1522 when Gustav Vasa bought a fleet in order to force the occupying Danes out of Stockholm. The chapter is entitled The Baltic and West Sea Dilemma in Naval Strategic and Operational Perspective 1522 to the Present (2022).

The rest of Strategy Thoughts and Other Delusions is a superb collection of essays, which have been refined and some rewritten since the mid-1970s, including a classic statement on the nature of seapower, The Sea as a Strategic Domain(2016). Some essays deal with contemporary issues, more address problems of the 21st century.

Wedin draws on a wider range of sources than many Anglophone commentators. There are his fellow Swedes like Anton Baeckström (a contemporary of Philip Colomb) and others whose names will be wholly unknown to Anglophones. There are, of course, Clausewitz, Jomini, Manhan and Corbett, as well as the more contemporary John Hattendorf, Colin Gray, and Andrew Lambert. However, Wedin has studied in France, so there are plenty of references to many French writers, including Castex.

Together these essays comprise a sweeping review of naval strategy, a review which is remarkable in its range, its breadth and detail. Inevitably some issues are seen from the Swedish end of a telescope, but other essays contain new insights and universal truths. Some essays are all too clearly translations from French or Swedish and would have benefitted from an English editor, there is little mention of logistics as it impacts strategy, the book lacks an index, and it is a great pity that no mainstream publisher could be found – but it is highly recommended reading and is available on Amazon.

This collection of essays has the power to lift Wedin from the byways of rural France where he lives into a leading proponent of naval strategy and whose writings deserve much greater attention.