Did strategy drive war or did war drive strategy in early modern and modern France?
The question on whether it was strategy that drove the war or war that drove strategy can only be answered by first examining the assertions of the question. In staking the claim that it was indeed strategy that drove the war, the basic assumption is that there was superior strategy that could dictate the outcome of the war. This presupposes that the resulting war was a product of keen strategy. In asserting the second part of the claim, strategy is seen as a component of war in that the unpredictable outcome of war necessitated the employment of strategy for victory.
While it seems that neither of these statements can co-exist, the reality is that there was a time when strategy did drive the war in early modern and modern France and there was also a time when it could be gainsaid that war did drive strategy. In modern French warfare, it will be noted that Joffre, the leading French strategist during the First World War, maintained and promoted an offensive strategy with the French army.
He was convinced that the only way to assure victory was to adopt an offensive strategy and this is what drove the war and brought France to the brink of disaster. His steadfast adherence to his strategy despite his recognition of the changing war scenario made it difficult to pursue any progress. It is through this same example, however, that having war drive strategy becomes clear. If Joffre had not been able to adjust his strategy according to the dictates of war, the French would have surely suffered disastrous losses at the Champagne Offensive.
There is no arguing the statement that indeed strategy may sometimes be an illusion. While the statement of Betts may hold true, it overlooks the fact that both states of strategy may exist, as a driver and as driven. In the first case, strategy initially drives any war, before the occurrence it influences the initiative. Once it has begun, however, there is a need to adjust in case the outcome does not conform to the predictions of the strategy. There is no hard and fast rule for this as the case of Joffre has shown.