The Grand Strategy of Philip II

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9780300082739: The Grand Strategy of Philip II

From 1556 until his death in 1598, Philip II of Spain ruled the first global empire in history, yet no one so far has analyzed precisely how he accomplished this feat. The author investigates the strengths and weaknesses of Philip’s strategic vision, the priorities that underlay his policies, the practices and prejudices that influenced his decision-making, and the external factors that affected the achievement of his goals.

Geoffrey Parker begins by defining the characteristics of Spain’s strategic culture: the king’s distinctive system of government, the “information overload” that threatened to engulf it, and the various strategic priorities and assumptions used to overcome the disparity between aims and means. He then explores the surviving documentation (from the Habsburgs, their allies, and their adversaries) on the formation of strategy in three crucial case studies: Philip’s unsuccessful efforts to maintain his authority in the Netherlands, his defective peacetime management of foreign relations with Scotland and England, and his failed Armada campaign against England. Finally Parker examines the small but fatal flaws in the execution of Philip’s Grand Strategy, assesses the response of the king and his ministers to their failures, and questions whether the outcome might have been different with other policy options, another ruler, or a different strategic culture. Pointing to modern parallels between Philip’s problems of governance and those facing Hitler and Churchill, or Kennedy and Johnson, this powerfully argued book provides a fascinating commentary on the nature of empires and the decision-making process as practiced by great powers.

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Review:

In the second half of the 16th century, Spain's Philip II ruled over the original empire on which the sun never set. In Europe alone, he held power over Portugal, the Netherlands, and about half of Italy (including Sicily, the Duchy of Milan, and the Kingdom of Naples). On the African shores of the Mediterranean, he controlled Tunis and Tangier; further south were Guinea and Angola. There were holdings in India and--well, naturally--the Philippines, and in the Western hemisphere, there were Florida, Cuba, Brazil, Peru, and "New Spain," which occupied the modern American Southwest and all of Mexico and Central America.

Most historians have claimed that, in overseeing this empire, Philip had no "Grand Strategy," but instead occupied himself with perpetual reaction to events. But Geoffrey Parker believes that there was a "strategic culture" that influenced Philip's reign, and he makes extensive use of surviving correspondence from the period to demonstrate how that culture revealed itself in Spain's attempts to hang onto the Netherlands and in its relationship--diplomatic and martial--to England. The Grand Strategy of Philip II is a richly detailed history, which will reward any student of modern statecraft with its insights into geopolitical power.

About the Author:

Geoffrey Parker is Andreas Dorpalen Professor of History at The Ohio State University.

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