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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For those of us with an interest in the classics of strategy and diplomacy, we face a particular challenge: how can historical documents, speeches and memoirs – many of them considered musty, some long forgotten – contribute, directly or indirectly, to intelligent discourse about policy, much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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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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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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A Russian Academic’s Perspective on China and the Heartland Hypothesis

Lukin notes that Beijing is seeking to (re)create the Silk Road that is envisioned as Eurasia’s superhighway – running through the Heartland and reliably linking China with other parts of the continent, such as Europe, the Middle East, Southeast and South Asia. In this respect, we may see if Mackinder is finally proven right in his argument that railways would be the decisive revolution in transportation that would overcome the advantages once held by seaborne means of transportation. China, Lukin observes, is rapidly expanding its own railway network and has become the world’s leader in building high-speed lines, while expanding standard rail lines (and pipelines and other associated infrastructure) into neighboring countries, especially in Central Asia.

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Christopher Fettweis’ Critique of Classical Geopolitics

Christopher Fettweis of Tulane University offers a frontal assault on the utility of classical notions of geopolitics, such as those advocated by Mahan, Mackinder and Spykman (and on those who employ those notions today, including Robert Kaplan and Colin Gray). He argues that geopolitics fails, often spectacularly, along three key dimensions of theory: description (explaining the way in which the world works); prediction (extending this explanation into the future); and prescription (providing policymakers with advice regarding how to proceed). 

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U.S. Naval (Maritime) Strategy: Then (1889) and Now

The U.S. sea services, under the auspices of the Department of the Navy, have released a new maritime strategy, “A Cooperative Strategy for 21st Century Seapower: Forward, Engaged, Ready.” The strategy attempts to account for changes in the global security environment, new strategic guidance, and a changed fiscal environment. The document revises that of the 2007 iteration, and includes a new function called "all domain access" which underscores the challenges forces face in accessing and operating in contested environments.  The new strategy has two particular emphases: the need to operate forward and to strengthen alliances and partnerships, especially in the Indo-Asia-Pacific region.

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Resources on Lee Kuan Yew, 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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Morrisey and Mahoney on de Gaulle, Geopolitics, and Democracy

Churchill stood at the head of a maritime nation while de Gaulle led a land power situated on the dangerous northern European plain; Churchill enjoyed a stable political foundation and concentrated his attention on its defense while de Gaulle needed first to build such a foundation, even as he defended ill-founded regimes. Both leaders understood their supreme task to be the protection of their citizens as civil or political beings who should not be subject to tyranny. Although geopolitics focuses the attention of statesmen on political realities, Churchill and de Gaulle believed that moral principle and prudence can continue to widen the scope of human liberty.

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Alex Deep on Putin, Clausewitz, and Ukraine

According to Deep, Putin is attempting to balance the trinity of passion, military means, and political aims in executing a plan that relies on friction and mass to succeed on the ground; and to use war as a way of achieving political ends.  However, the real question might not be whether Putin’s strategy is Clausewitzian, but whether he is choosing the correct means by which to accomplish the goal of increasing Russian influence along its borders.

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