Strategy Shelved

The Collapse of Cold War Naval Strategic Planning

  • Subject: Strategy
  • Format:
  • Pages:
  • Published:
    August 15, 2021
  • ISBN-10:
  • ISBN-13:
  • Product Dimensions:
    9 × 6 × 1 in
  • Product Weight:
    40 oz
Hardcover $46.95
Member Price $37.56 Save 20%
Book: Cover Type


As U.S. strategy shifts to focus on great power competition, Strategy Shelved provides a valuable, analytic look back to the Cold War era by examining the rise and eventual fall of the U.S. Navy’s strategy system from post–World War II to 1994. Steven T. Wills draws some important conclusions that have relevance to the ongoing strategic debates of today.  


His analysis focuses on the 1970s and 1980s as a period when U.S. Navy strategic thought was rebuilt after a period of stagnation during the Vietnam conflict and its high-water mark in the form of the 1980s’ Maritime Strategy and its attendant six hundred–ship navy force structure. He traces the collapse of this earlier system by identifying several contributing factors: the provisions of the Goldwater Nichols Act of 1986, the aftermath of the First Gulf War of 1991, the early 1990s revolution in military affairs, and the changes to the Chief of Naval Operations staff in 1992 following the end of the Cold War. All of these conditions served to undermine the existing naval strategy system.  


Wills concludes his analysis with an assessment of the return of naval strategy documents in 2007 and 2015 and speculates on the potential for success of current Navy strategies, including the latest tri-service maritime strategy.  

About the Author

Editorial Reviews

Strategy Shelved is an extraordinary, timely, and much-needed addition to the strategic literature of the U.S. Navy. Wills argues convincingly that institutional self-knowledge is critical for success in strategy especially in periods of fundamental strategic, technological, and organizational change such as the Navy now finds itself. It is a must-read for naval leaders, strategists, and scholars alike.” —Capt. Peter D. Haynes, USN (Ret.), author of Toward a New Maritime Strategy: American Naval Thinking in the Post-Cold War Era
“The end of the Cold War transformed the Navy in ways not yet fully understood. Navy veteran Steve Wills has done us all a great service by putting his historian’s talents to work unearthing and chronicling the changes and their context, and analyzing their roots and effects.” –Capt. Peter M. Swartz (Ret.), senior CNA strategy analyst and former Cold War U.S. Navy strategist
“Navies need strategy to guide what they buy, how they train, and how they will fight. Without it, bureaucratic inertia defaults to 'programs of record' to make choices better left to theorists. In Strategy Shelved, Steven Wills shows how the Cold War U.S. Navy successfully used strategy to guide its planning, then lost that ability after 1990. For historians, it opens up the world of an understudied set of thinkers, while serving as a cautionary tale to uniformed and civilian force planners.” —Sarandis Papadopoulos, PhD., historian and co-author of Pentagon 9/11
“There are two kinds of strategists, civilian policy wonks or uniformed leaders.The first have usually never been to sea or heard a shot fired in anger. The latter are often combat veterans and salty warriors of great experience but limited literary skills. Steve Wills is that very rare exception with years of command at sea but also a doctorate who writes clear and elegant prose. He has produced a compelling account of how and why good strategy won the Cold War, and bad strategy lost three successive wars in the mid-East. It is a must-read.” —John Lehman, former Secretary of the Navy, author of Oceans Ventured and Winning the Cold War at Sea
“In Strategy Shelved, Steve Wills provides a critical examination of the navy staff’s organization (OPNAV), leadership, and ‘thinking’ processes from the period of the development of the Maritime Strategy to the early 1990s. Wills examines how naval leaders in the 1980s were able to create a staff culture that fostered a bottom-up process of creative thinking but was effectively disassembled  by the Goldwater-Nichols Defense Reorganization Act (1986), leading to a mentality of  ‘chasing the POM’, vice thinking critically. Officials, analysts, and defense institutions the world over should read this account to discover one of those rare instances in time when a planning process succeeded in producing a coherent force structure.” —Thomas-Durell Young, senior lecturer, Institute for Security Governance Naval Postgraduate School, Monterey, California
“Steven Wills combines an advanced understanding of current and historic U.S. defense policy making, a flawless grasp of past legislative mistakes, and a superb appreciation of strategy itself to show the obstacles to U.S. naval strategic thought since the Cold War’s end. The book is exceptionally timely as Chinese and Russian actions return the world to its traditional state of great power competition. Advanced strategic thought—and action—demand that the US respond accordingly. Dr. Wills’ book ought to be required reading for anyone who wants to understand the turbulence in which naval strategy finds itself today.” —Seth Cropsey, senior fellow & director, Center for American Seapower, Hudson Institute
Strategy Shelved provides an excellent history of US maritime strategy during the Cold War as well as the challenge of formulating a modern naval strategy in a post-Cold War world…. This book should be required reading for anyone looking to understand the importance of a clear strategic vision in setting national policy and defining military capabilities.” —Armchair General
“The United States is in the midst of conceiving a new strategic stance for its Navy, and Dr. Wills offers a uniquely insightful examination of how such thinking is done.” —StrategyPage
“This is an essential read for understanding the collapse of the Global West, instigated through the polices of avaricious privatization. [1] That set the West on the road to [gilded] serfdom, [2] as certainly as Marxism did for the Soviet command economy of the 1920s. A vital summer read.” —The NAVY
Strategy Shelved discusses the military debates of the Cold War and aftermath about how to implement effective maritime strategy. The book laments the inability to maintain a global, strategic outlook, particularly after the Cold War, and Wills exposes his contempt for strategy that is unnecessarily curtailed by structural issues.” —The Naval Review
Strategy Shelved is an essential reference.” —Naval War College Review
“In Strategy Shelved, U.S. Navy Captain (Ret.) Steven Wills argues that the Navy's strategy community was unable to produce a global maritime strategy after the Cold War…. Wills has described a problem the U.S. security community desperately needs to think about—strategy on a global scale…. Strategy Shelved deserves as broad an audience as possible.” —Michigan War Studies Review
“The history offered is accurate and the writing excellent…. Strategy Shelved is an essential reference.” —Naval War College Review
Strategy Shelved is an important, timely, and well-researched analysis of how the U.S. Navy (and, by extension, the rest of the U.S. military) “got here” after the Cold War. While perhaps intended for policymakers, analysts, and scholars, this book is highly recommended to anyone with an interest in the recent debate over the formulation of strategic policy in the United States military. — Journal of Military History
"Steven Wills’ Strategy Shelved: The Collapse of Cold War Naval Strategic Planning is a must read regarding the history and creation of the Maritime Strategy before eventual shelving of the strategy and the art of strategic thinking within the US Navy with the dissolution of the Soviet peer competitor. Overall Wills’ book is fantastic for understanding the history of Goldwater-Nichols and the current climate as the US Navy is working towards rebuilding naval strategy talent. What sets Strategy Shelved apart is that enlightened old hands may take this as an opportunity to be creative in how the future of naval strategy can be reawakened, especially with the recent conclusion of the American Sea Power Project and the potential for conflict with China or Russia."—Tuesday Tidings (National Maritime Historical Society)