International Journal of Political Science and Development

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International Journal of Political Science and Development

Vol. 3(2), pp. 6378, February, 2015.  

DOI: 10.14662/IJPSD2015.005

ISSN: 2360-784X



Research Paper



Principal-Agent Problems:  Why War Strategy Doesn’t Always Match Policy Aims1


Bryan Groves


201 Science Drive, Durham, NC 27708. E-mail: bryan.groves@duke.edu


Accepted 7 February 2015


1 The views expressed herein are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the position of the U.S. Department of Defense, the Department of the Army, the Combined Arms Center or the School of Advanced Military Studies at Fort Leavenworth, or Duke University.




Policy-strategy alignment in war gives the military the best chance of accomplishing national objectives without wasting lives. Thus, ensuring military endeavors are synchronized within the nation’s broader political goals—not working at cross purposes—is vital. However, mismatches between American policy and strategy have occurred, sometimes due to principal-agent problems. This paper demonstrates that in the most important Post-Cold War cases, when the principal (the president) failed to control the agent (the military), the country failed to align its military strategy with its policy objectives. More importantly, this failure appears to correspond with less successful war outcomes. The unique contribution of this paper is two-fold. First, it provides a critical cross case comparison of policy-strategy linkage through the lens of principal-agent theory, and its impact on war outcomes. Second, it offers a menu of possible policy prescriptions to address principal-agent problems to include biannual congressional hearings, multiple advocacy, and increased civil-military interactions. Implementation of these recommendations will: (1) improve the civil-military principal-agent relationship, (2) facilitate the connection of wartime strategy with its corresponding policy, and (3) provide the best opportunity for successful war outcomes.

Key Words: United States foreign policy, military strategy, principal-agent problems, policy-strategy matches and mismatches


Cite This Article As: Groves B (2015). Principal-Agent Problems: Why War Strategy Doesn’t Always Match Policy Aims. Inter. J. Polit. Sci. Develop. 3(2): 63-78.







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