Strategy and Tactics

The Finnish Yearbook of International Law, Volume 21, p. 193-229

37 Pages Posted: 4 Sep 2011 Last revised: 23 Dec 2012

See all articles by Robert Knox

Robert Knox

University of Liverpool - School of Law & Social Justice; London School of Economics & Political Science (LSE)

Date Written: December 13, 2012


Critical international legal scholars have long grappled with the question of how to intervene in legal and political debates. In recent years the dominant trend has been to argue that it is necessary to intervene ‘strategically’ in such debates. However, what is meant by ‘strategically’ in this instance is an essentially pragmatic intervention focused on winning the debate in the short term. In the usual language, such an intervention would be called tactical as opposed to strategic, with ‘strategy’ referring to one’s longer term, structural objectives. This article argues that contemporary critical scholarship has lost sight of the distinction between strategy and tactics, resulting in the systematic exclusion of the former from political and theoretical discourse. This article begins by reconstructing the division between strategy and tactics. Following this, it proposes what a strategic objective for critical international lawyers might look like. However, it is then argued that in actual fact interventions in debates have been purely tactical interventions couched in the language of ‘strategy’. The article then traces the problems that flow from this – arguing that a perpetual focus on short term, conjunctural considerations turns a supposedly ‘strategic’ adoption of liberal legalism into a capitulation to it. The article next traces how the Marxist tradition has understood the intimate relationship between strategy and tactics, and its usage of these terms to navigate the debate around reform and revolution. Finally, the piece attempts to reconstruct a specifically legal strategy that draws on the insights provided by the Marxist tradition.

Keywords: strategy, Marxism, international law, critical legal studies

Suggested Citation

Knox, Robert and Knox, Robert, Strategy and Tactics (December 13, 2012). The Finnish Yearbook of International Law, Volume 21, p. 193-229, Available at SSRN: or

Robert Knox (Contact Author)

London School of Economics & Political Science (LSE) ( email )

Houghton Street
London, WC2A 2AE
United Kingdom

University of Liverpool - School of Law & Social Justice ( email )

Brownlow Hill
Liverpool, L69 3BX
United Kingdom

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