Churchill and the World Crisis

Churchill believes that, in trying retrospectively to untangle the complex knot of causation, it is critical to appreciate one primary, dynamic element – the deeply engrained Franco-German antagonism, a polarity that forced other nations, out of fear, opportunism, or both, to choose sides.  Britain was the last and most reluctant great European power to do so, and even at the last moment it was not clear, to outsiders at least, whether her choice would hold. 

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JQA, Chronicles of an American Diplomat: Dispatch 8

The process of receiving diplomatic recognition in Europe, even in the best of circumstances, was often complex and convoluted. Each country had its own traditions and procedures. It was easy for an envoy, especially a novice, to commit some indiscretion that would offend or at least delay the proceedings. John Quincy was determined to tread carefully.

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The Sage of Singapore

Lee Kuan Yew is often referred to as “the Sage of Singapore.” The Cambridge University-educated Lee was the founding father of that modern independent city-state.  He served as its prime minister from 1959 to 1990, overseeing its rise as the first of the Southeast Asian “tigers.”  He was also one of the region’s most influential international statesmen, renowned for his geopolitical acumen as well as his far-sighted economic vision. When Harry Lee spoke, people listened.

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Colin Gray’s Geopolitics — Then and Now

Colin Gray's influential 1977 monograph, "The Geopolitics of the Nuclear Era, Heartland, Rimlands, and the Technological Revolution," helped to revive an understanding of international politics that had been largely discredited by its association with the Nazis and the German geopolitik of Karl Haushofer. Gray maintained this foundational assessment of international politics throughout his career, which took him through the end of the Cold War, the so-called post-Cold War, and what is now called the era of great power competition.

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JQA, Chronicles of an American Diplomat: Dispatch 7

John Quincy undoubtedly realized that Jay’s treaty would receive a difficult reception from his countrymen. Before he had left America, he sensed the general expectation that the talks would be highly favorable to the United States. The final results were bound to be disappointing to friends of the administration and inflammatory to its opponents. John Quincy thought it imperative to provide his father with a first-hand assessment as soon as possible, even if he could not go into details for reasons of propriety and security. The vice president would not have a vote in the Senate when the agreement was submitted for that body’s consent, but John Adams’ views would surely be solicited.

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JQA, Chronicles of an American Diplomat: Dispatch 6

Jay and Pinckney admitted to John Quincy they thought the proposed treaty was “far from being satisfactory,” even with improvements they still had in mind to propose. All that said, they told John Quincy they believed it was still preferable to war. Jay asked John Quincy for his opinion. John Quincy said he “suggested such ideas as occurred to me upon the subject. My observations were made with the diffidence which naturally arose from my situation; and were treated with all the attention, that I could expect or desire.”

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Kissinger and China

Ten years after publication of Kissinger's On China, the reader is invited to assess Kissinger’s judgment in light of such events as the unwinding of the global financial crisis and increased Chinese assertiveness, the shift in American foreign policy towards a great power competition framework, and Covid-19. His book appeared shortly before Graham Allison’s influential and controversial work on the Thucydides trap. I extrapolated from his argument at the time — perhaps inaccurately, but worthy of consideration — that Kissinger concluded the rise of China towards its historic position as the Middle Kingdom, if accommodated properly to a globalized world, is more or less inevitable and, rightly understood, desirable.

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The Maritime Classics and the New Eurasian Age

In another recent book and article, Geoffrey Gresh has addressed what he characterizes as the real competition that has emerged in recent years across maritime Eurasia between the continent’s main rivals—China, Russia, and India—as they vie to achieve great power status and to expand beyond their regional seas. He argues that the rising competition will dominate and shape the upcoming century as each power increases its geoeconomic, geopolitical, and naval embrace of maritime Eurasia from the Baltic, Black, and Mediterranean Seas to the Indian Ocean, Pacific Asia, and the Arctic. In his introduction, he reviews the relevance of Mahan and Corbett to this discussion. But in Gresh's view, what Mahan and geographer Nicholas Spykman never imagined was the melting of the Arctic, the subsequent growing unification of maritime Eurasia’s disparate regions, and the emerging competition between Eurasia’s land powers at sea. That said, Gresh contends that the study of Mahan does have its utility in this context. None of the three Eurasian land powers he examined have achieved global maritime dominance similar to that of the United States today or Great Britain at the end of the nineteenth century, but the work of Mahan in his opus The Influence of Seapower upon History, 1660–1783 helps contextualize those characteristics that assist a great power in achieving global preeminence on the high seas.

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JQA, Chronicles of an American Diplomat: Dispatch 5

The passage to England was fast but precarious “considering the flimsy, crazy conditions of the old ship, her uncommon dullness of sailing, and the mistakes of our Captain.” On September 24, there was an extremely violent squall in the night and the Alfred was nearly run down by another ship. John Quincy was convinced that another heavy gale would have sent the ship straight to the bottom. He vowed never to sail on such an “eggshell” again.

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Mahan, Choke Points, and the Panama Canal

The recent blockage of the Suez Canal by the container ship Ever Given is a reminder of the importance of maritime choke points as they concern international commerce and national security. Choke points are primarily the effect of natural geography, which is one of the critical dimensions of strategy. In some cases, however, human agency, especially technology, can affect the strategic importance of natural geographic features and relationships. The shift from sail to steam, then from coal to oil-fired ships. From roads to railways. From horses to internal combustion engines. From the ground to the skies — aircraft to ballistic missiles, to drones, and hypersonic vehicles. Another human agency is the construction of canals in a way that significantly alters the geopolitical terrain.

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