The last--and lowest--level of strategy is the technical level. As its name implies, this level is all about technology--weapons, communications, transportation, and the like.
Needless to say, technology has been important in every period of warfare. Greek fire gave the Byzantines a key naval advantage. In the American Civil War, the railroads, telegraph communications, and ironclad warships helped tip the balance in favor of the Union. In World War II, cryptography gave the Allies the power to eavesdrop on German and Japanese communications.
You can come up with dozens of examples of how technology re-shaped warfare, and at the same time, how military concerns drove innovation. A generation of physicists--Einstein, Heisenberg, Fermi, Oppenheimer, etc.--not only re-wrote the rules of modern warfare, but also transformed the international system, and even US presidential politics. The first A-bombs begat H-bombs, bombers begat intercontinental missiles, ICBMS begat submarine-launched missiles, missile-armed submarines inspired new ways to detect and kill submarines...The list of innovations goes on.
The technical level is so easy to explain, and the examples so handy, that it seems like belaboring the point to describe it at all. The first step into military affairs you took probably had some connection to the technical level. Some WWII history buffs become experts in the relative merits of German, Soviet, British, Italian, Japanese, and American tanks. Some of us, as children and adolescents, built models of military aircraft, warships, or tanks. Many of us got drawn into the interesting discussions during the first Gulf War about Patriot missiles, M1A1 tanks, satellite imagery, and other pieces of equipment in the impressive US arsenal.
All good reasons why I made this level the last one to discuss. By working our way down the hierarchy of strategy--grand strategic, theater, operational, tactical, technical--we can see how easily we can overvalue the technical level. Every soldier wants the best weapon available. Unfortunately, not even the best rifle, tank, fighter, or submarine can save the day if the other levels of strategy aren't working.
Going back to my last post, I'll belabor another point. Yes, the United States has superbly-trained troops, armed with some of the best military hardware in the world. (The same compliment should be extended to our coalition partners, too.) However, we're in the thick of a crisis where the best troops with the best equipment can't deliver victory.
On the electronic battlefield, GPS and other technologies give a commander the exact position of every soldier in his unit. That's an extraordinary achievement, something every commander from Themistocles to Zhukov would have wanted, if it had been available. But are these soldiers in the right places, doing the right things? As I've argued in earlier posts, there are serious defects in every level of strategy above the technical and the tactical, in both the war in Iraq and the war against al Qaeda. (Again, these are two separate wars. Even if Iraq had been the wellspring of international terrorism, you don't fight Iraqi insurgents the same way you stop the terrorist threat.) If the strategies at these levels aren't working, it doesn't matter how well trained a soldier is, or how impressive is the equipment he carries.
We've also been maneuvered--or more tragically, maneuvered ourselves--into a position where our tactical and technical edge is severely blunted. In the first Gulf War, US tanks outranged their Iraqi counterparts. In an average armored combat, the Iraqis didn't even get a chance to fire a shot before their tedchnically superior enemies knocked them out. In the current war, not only is the battlefield empty of enemy tanks, but armor is worse than useless in counterinsurgency warfare. An M1A1 tank can give "force protection" to infantry under fire, but it can't win "hearts and minds" by blowing up apartment buildings.
Anyone could have made the previous observation without understanding the levels of strategy. Therefore, I hope this discussion made two contributions, above and beyond what common sense could have supplied: (1) you can now see the technological side of warfare in a new (and slightly dimmer) light; and (2) this discussion has illuminated more clearly what else needs to be fixed before our technical and tactical strengths can be put to good use.