The Fleet was Ready

When Winston Churchill became First Lord of the Admiralty in 1911, he oversaw major revisions to the Admiralty’s basic strategic concept for European war, and in the suite of war plans associated with this concept. A shift in the probable enemy of a future war—to Germany from France, for instance—necessitated these changes and, hence, necessitated a change in the strategic naval front, from the South to the East Coast, and from the Channel to the North Sea.  

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The Fleet was Ready

When Winston Churchill became First Lord of the Admiralty in 1911, he oversaw major revisions to the Admiralty’s basic strategic concept for European war, and in the suite of war plans associated with this concept. A shift in the probable enemy of a future war—to Germany from France, for instance—necessitated these changes and, hence, necessitated a change in the strategic naval front, from the South to the East Coast, and from the Channel to the North Sea.  

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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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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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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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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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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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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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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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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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Cicero on Justice, Empire, and the Exceptional Republic

Cicero played no significant commanding role in the civil wars that marked the end of the Roman Republic. Nor could he boast of a distinguished military or diplomatic carreer prior to that chaotic period. Cicero had risen from an obscure family to the height of consular power in Rome, through his forensic and rhetorical ability and by forging a link between Rome’s old aristocracy and the equestrian class. Cicero could claim neither conquest of Gaul, nor subjugation of a foreign enemy like Carthage as grounds for posterity considering him an authority on grand strategy. Despite this, we find in Cicero’s moral and philosophic works a powerful theoretical framework for understanding (and justifying) the strategy and policy of an imperial republic such as Rome. Within this framework are serious thoughts about the relationship between power, interest, and the values of a republican polity. Not only are these thoughts profound and worthy of consideration in their own right, but they proved deeply influential to later thinkers. Importantly, these ideas would ultimately inform the ideological self-image of the Roman Empire.

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Cicero on Justice, Empire, and the Exceptional Republic

Cicero played no significant commanding role in the civil wars that marked the end of the Roman Republic. Nor could he boast of a distinguished military or diplomatic carreer prior to that chaotic period. Cicero had risen from an obscure family to the height of consular power in Rome, through his forensic and rhetorical ability and by forging a link between Rome’s old aristocracy and the equestrian class. Cicero could claim neither conquest of Gaul, nor subjugation of a foreign enemy like Carthage as grounds for posterity considering him an authority on grand strategy. Despite this, we find in Cicero’s moral and philosophic works a powerful theoretical framework for understanding (and justifying) the strategy and policy of an imperial republic such as Rome. Within this framework are serious thoughts about the relationship between power, interest, and the values of a republican polity. Not only are these thoughts profound and worthy of consideration in their own right, but they proved deeply influential to later thinkers. Importantly, these ideas would ultimately inform the ideological self-image of the Roman Empire.

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Commentary on Books and Other Works Useful in the Study of International Relations

International relations is an arena where politics is exercised by nations and other entities to accomplish goals and secure interests. The study of politics in that arena is a study of history: what has happened, how it came to happen with its consequences and therefore a guide to what can happen. The twentieth century so recently passed, provides vivid illustrations and experience of the exercise of politics whose consequences were monumental and painful and sometimes so decisive as to seem irreversible, or nearly so. Yet the great clashes of will that characterized the twentieth century did not originate the day before the century began but years and centuries before. What happened yesterday, is happening now and is about to happen can be better understood through the study of history.

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Commentary on Books and Other Works Useful in the Study of International Relations

International relations is an arena where politics is exercised by nations and other entities to accomplish goals and secure interests. The study of politics in that arena is a study of history: what has happened, how it came to happen with its consequences and therefore a guide to what can happen. The twentieth century so recently passed, provides vivid illustrations and experience of the exercise of politics whose consequences were monumental and painful and sometimes so decisive as to seem irreversible, or nearly so. Yet the great clashes of will that characterized the twentieth century did not originate the day before the century began but years and centuries before. What happened yesterday, is happening now and is about to happen can be better understood through the study of history.

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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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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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Aristotle and Foreign Policy: An Examination of the Common Good and its Effects in International Affairs

The purpose of this essay is not to give Aristotelian warrant for some crude version of Realpolitik. Its purpose is to show the deep significance of the political common good, and that acting morally requires a robust notion of the common good. The implication, I believe, is that we cannot approach international politics from the neutral standpoint of an outside observer, but from the standpoint of citizens and statesmen within real and existing political communities which have their needs, desires, and fears. Abstraction from this standpoint, according to Aristotle, is a kind of abstraction from political and ethical thinking. Likewise, it is difficult to see how one can actually approach the problems of the international system as a citizen of the world, say, rather than as a citizen of a real place. Acting justly and prudently has to do with how we act toward our fellow citizens first and foremost, rather than the great undifferentiated mass of humanity.   Aristotle, then, gives a different account than Morgenthau regarding the place of the national interest. For while Morgenthau himself makes a deeply impassioned argument on behalf of the national interest with an eye toward alleviating the misery of totalizing war, Aristotle would remind us the fundamental purpose of the political community: the achievement of the common good. He reminds us that that pursuing the political common good is not the lesser of two evils, but rather a choiceworthy end, perhaps the most choiceworthy end.

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Aristotle and Foreign Policy: An Examination of the Common Good and its Effects in International Affairs

The purpose of this essay is not to give Aristotelian warrant for some crude version of Realpolitik. Its purpose is to show the deep significance of the political common good, and that acting morally requires a robust notion of the common good. The implication, I believe, is that we cannot approach international politics from the neutral standpoint of an outside observer, but from the standpoint of citizens and statesmen within real and existing political communities which have their needs, desires, and fears. Abstraction from this standpoint, according to Aristotle, is a kind of abstraction from political and ethical thinking. Likewise, it is difficult to see how one can actually approach the problems of the international system as a citizen of the world, say, rather than as a citizen of a real place. Acting justly and prudently has to do with how we act toward our fellow citizens first and foremost, rather than the great undifferentiated mass of humanity.   Aristotle, then, gives a different account than Morgenthau regarding the place of the national interest. For while Morgenthau himself makes a deeply impassioned argument on behalf of the national interest with an eye toward alleviating the misery of totalizing war, Aristotle would remind us the fundamental purpose of the political community: the achievement of the common good. He reminds us that that pursuing the political common good is not the lesser of two evils, but rather a choiceworthy end, perhaps the most choiceworthy end.

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