In a dangerous era of great power competition, the stakes were high. A deeply indebted nation was extracting itself from a less-than-decisive war, and its future economic prosperity was challenged. Its main rival was a continental power with the world’s largest economy, vast resources, and three times its population. The adversary sponsored proxy forces and terrorists that attacked along the periphery of its partner’s frontier. The country’s political leadership was divided on which threat was the most important and how to respond. The nation could not do it all, and it had no coherent strategy for building up and using its armed forces.
This may sound like today, but it actually is drawn from one of history’s great strategic rivalries: the conflict between Great Britain and France in the mid-18th century known as the Seven Years’ War—or, in the North American theater as the French and Indian War. Recent scholarship in strategic rivalries often overlooks this example.1
1. At least three current histories overlook it: Williamson Murray, McGregor Knox, and Alvin Bernstein (eds.), The Making of Strategy (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2001); James C. Lacey (ed.), Great Strategic Rivalries: From the Classical World to the Cold War (New York: Oxford University Press, 2016); and Williamson Murray and Richard Hart Sinnreich, (eds.), Successful Strategies: Triumphing in War and Peace from Antiquity to the Present (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2014).
2. Lawrence Freedman, Strategy: A History (New York: Oxford University Press, 2013), xii.
3. Adapted from Alfred Thayer Mahan, The Influence of Sea Power upon History, 1660–1783 (New York: Dover, 1987), 296.
4. Romanticized by Francis Parkman, Montcalm and Wolfe (New York: Modern Library, 1999).
5. John B. Hattendorf, “The Struggle with France, 1689–1815,” in J. R. Hill (ed.), The Oxford Illustrated History of the Royal Navy (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1995), 99.
6. Walter R. Borneman, The French and Indian War: Deciding the Fate of North America (New York: HarperCollins, 2006), 221.
7. Guy Fregault, quoted in Daniel Baugh, The Global Seven Years War, 1754–1763 (Harlow, UK: Pearson, 2011), 420.
8. Fred Anderson, Crucible of War: The Seven Years’ War and the Fate of Empire in British North America, 1754–1766 (New York: Vintage, 2001), 381.
9. Andrew J. Graff, “Chaos Under Control: Lessons from Quiberon Bay,” U.S. Naval Institute Proceedings 144 no. 2, (February 2018): 40; Anderson, Crucible of War, 377–83.
10. Mahan, Influence of Sea Power, 304.
11. Brian James, “The Battle That Gave Birth to an Empire,” History Today, (December 2009), 26–32.
12. Frank McLynn, 1759: The Year Britain Became Master of the World (New York: Atlantic Monthly Press, 2004).
13. Thomas Mahnken (ed.), Competitive Strategies for the 21st Century: Theory, History, and Practice (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2012).
14. For an overview of the naval position, see N. A. M. Rodgers, The Command of the Ocean: A Naval History of Britain, 1649–1815 (New York: Norton, 2005).
15. Mahan, Influence of Sea Power, 291.
16. Julian S. Corbett, England in the Seven Years’ War: A Study in Combined Strategy, vol. 1 (London: Longmans, Green, 1918), 148.
17. Mahan, Influence of Sea Power, 296.
18. Rogers, Command of the Ocean, 271.
19. Rogers, 281.
20. Quoted in Arthur Herman, To Rule the Waves: How the British Navy Shaped the World (New York: Harper, 2004), 292.
21. William R. Nester, The First Global War, Britain, France, and the Fate of North America, 1756–1775 (Westport, CT: Praeger, 2000).
22. Mahan, Influence of Sea Power, 291.
23. Geoffrey Till, Seapower: A Guide for the Twenty-first Century 3rd ed. (Oxon, UK: Routledge, 2013), 339.
24. ADM James Stavridis, USN (Ret.), Sea Power: The History and Geopolitics of the World’s Oceans, (New York: Penguin, 2017), 342.