Essays & Reviews

Not your Father’s Geopolitics

Those of us of a Classical bent are occasionally jarred by references to “geopolitics” that do not seem to square with the understanding we gained from reading authorities such as Mahan, Mackinder, and Spykman.  Although we felt that we were properly critical of particular aspects of these geopolitical teachings, were are reminded that in recent years, something formally called “critical geopolitics” has emerged – a postmodern understanding of space, “identity,” and politics. 

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Essays & Reviews

A Contemporary Hat Tip to Makers of Modern Strategy

In "Revising U.S. Grand Strategy Toward China," Robert Blackwill and Ashley J. Tellis argue that because the American effort to “integrate” China into the liberal international order has now generated new threats to U.S. primacy in Asia—and could result in a consequential challenge to American power globally—Washington needs a new grand strategy toward China that centers on balancing the rise of Chinese power rather than continuing to assist its ascendancy.

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Essays & Reviews

Churchill: Literature in the Service of Grand Strategy

Churchill develops a continuity of principle from the Magna Carta and the Bill of Rights (Glorious Revolution) through the Declaration of Independence and the American Constitution, a continuity that extended to joint cooperation in the fight against Hitler and in the Cold War.  One might object that, as a matter of fact, the Declaration formally divided the two great branches of the English-speaking peoples.  But Churchill was getting at something deeper than mere history.  This was literature in the service of the Grandest Strategy.

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Essays & Reviews

Edward Mead Earle’s Critique of Spykman

Earle wrote a surprisingly negative review in the Political Science Quarterly (March 1943) of Nicholas Spykman's America's Strategy in World Politics: The United States and the Balance of Power (1942), which is generally considered to have been highly influential among the set of individuals who composed Makers of Modern Strategy. Earle "found Spykman's focus on a narrow concept of power as the sole basis of international affairs unpersuasive and out of line with American traditions.

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Essays & Reviews

The Thucydides Trap: Does it Exist?

In 2012, Harvard’s Graham Allison posed this question: Can China and the US escape Thucydides’s trap?  According to Allison: “The historian’s metaphor reminds us of the dangers two parties face when a rising power rivals a ruling power – as Athens did in 5th century BC and Germany did at the end of the 19th century. Most such challenges have ended in war. Peaceful cases required huge adjustments in the attitudes and actions of the governments and the societies of both countries involved.”  Athens’ dramatic rise in the Greek work shocked the then-leading power, Sparta.  Fear compelled its leaders to respond. Threat and counter-threat produced competition, then confrontation and finally conflict. At the end of 30 years of war, both states had been destroyed. Thucydides wrote of these events: “It was the rise of Athens and the fear that this inspired in Sparta that made war inevitable.”

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Essays & Reviews

Young Churchill on the North-West Frontier: The More Things Change

Francis P. Sempa discusses young Winston Churchill’s time in India as a military officer and journalist. The two occupations famously combined when Churchill accompanied a military expedition to deal with tribal upheaval on the North-West frontier (present day Pakistan-Afghanistan).  As a result, Churchill was mentioned in dispatches – and wrote a series of newspaper articles that were published as his first book, The Story of the Malakand Field Force (1898).

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Essays & Reviews

Bridging the “George Gap:” Recalling reflections by Peter Feaver and John Gaddis on Grand Strategy

For those of us with an interest in the classics of strategy and diplomacy, we face a particular challenge: how can historical documents, speeches and memoirs – many of them considered musty, some long forgotten – contribute, directly or indirectly, to intelligent discourse about policy, much less to policy-making itself?  Compared, for instance, to wisdom purveyed by the latest trendy theory; or to the frequent insistence that in the real world, the best we can do is pragmatically muddle through.  As Harold W. Rood once wrote: "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."

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Essays & Reviews

Lee Kuan Yew: Some Resources & Perspectives

Lee Kuan Yew was the founder of the modern nation-state of Singapore and a statesman whose views about international politics were valued for decades by his counterparts around the globe. Harvard’s Graham Allison praised Lee as “one of two certifiable grand masters of international strategy in the last half century (Henry Kissinger being the other), and a wise counselor to the world.” Such favorable views were not universal.  Lee was criticized as being the founder of a form of autocracy based on a pernicious distinction between Western and Asian (Confucian) values, which has inspired the development of repressive regimes in Russia, China, and Turkey, among others.

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Essays & Reviews

More on Niebuhr: Should Strategy Be Un-Grand?

Clausen and Nurnus believe that Niebuhr’s writing can be read as a cautionary tale about the perils of Grand Strategy – at least when it reaches the extremes of idealism or hubris. Democracy keeps us away from the hubris of grand forms of strategy that can lead to calamities on grand scales.  Thus, what lies at the heart of Niebuhr’s philosophy can make up the core of a new un-Grand Strategy tradition. This core would be based on pragmatism, empirical skepticism, and emotional maturity.

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