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Civil-Military Relations: Huntington’s World, or No?

“It’s an Eliot Cohen world.” This judgment, rendered by former Under Secretary of Defense for Policy Michèle Flournoy at New America’s Future of War Conference, according to Thomas E. Ricks, has to do with the proper understanding of American civil-military relations. The traditional post-World War II understanding was articulated by the late Samuel P. Huntington in The Soldier and the State (1957). Huntington’s theory of “objective control” was challenged in 2002 by Eliot A. Cohen in his Supreme Command: Soldiers, Statesmen, and Leadership in Wartime.

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Is Putin Another Metternich?

Mitchell A. Orenstein, Professor and Chair of the Department of Political Science at Northeastern University, offers the provocative thesis that Vladimir Putin is an aspiring Metternich. At first glance, this seems a rather odd comparison, in temperament and style, certainly.  In foreign policy terms, Metternich would seem to be the consummate conservative, wedded to the idea of a stable European balance of power in which Austria could maximize its waning power; Putin, the foreign policy revolutionary, who seeks to kick over the table in order for Russia to maximize its waning power.

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The Original Grotian Moment

in February 1603, in which ships commanded by Jacob van Heemskerk of the Dutch East India Company seized the Santa Catarina, a Portuguese merchant ship, without explicit authorization to do so. To defend the seizure, the Dutch hired a 26-year old lawyer named Hugo Grotius, who claimed that it was a legitimate challenge to Portugal’s monopoly on commerce with Asia.  The incident happened off Singapore’s upper east coast, near Changi, where the Santa Catarina was anchored after sailing from Macau to Malacca. Grotius' opinion would subsequently be published in Mare Liberum (The Free Sea) and De Jure Praedae (On the Law of Prize and Booty).  Grotius’ arguments about the freedom of the seas, and just war, would be folded into his corporate works that became the foundation of the modern law of nations.

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Paul D. Miller on Niebuhr & Contemporary Realism

During the run-up to the 2008 presidential campaign, Barack Obama cited the influence of Protestant theologian Reinhold Niebuhr on his own thinking. This presumably included Niebuhr’s views on foreign policy – so-called Christian realism, which coincided with the strategic (Nicholas Spykman), diplomatic (George Kennan), academic (Hans Morgenthau) and journalistic (Walter Lippmann) views of “realism” that were circulating in intellectual and policy circles. Niebuhr rejected the notion that Christianity mandated pacifism in the face of tyranny (he supported World War II and resistance to Soviet communism, but opposed the Vietnam War). His views remain a source of inspiration and contention, specifically when it comes to the promotion of democracy.

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Is Strategy an Illusion? Karl Walling reflects on Richard Betts

From time to time in history, the very notion of “strategy” has come into question. Strategy, in this sense, means the ability to exercise some degree of “reflection and choice” in international politics and warfare; of being able to bring about a rational relationship between the exercise of power, especially military power, and policy objectives. Strategic skeptics, or in extreme cases, strategic atheists, if we may term them that, point to the recent failures of the United States in the Middle East (and before that, in Vietnam), and of the Soviet Union in the 1980s, as evidence that beyond a very limited point, policymakers’ efforts to exercise “strategy" points in the direction of imperial overstretch.

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Starship Troopers? A Military Reading List from Down Under

Many of the books listed here deal with the history of war (for war knows no nationality), and of Australians at war and of the Australian Army. History provides us with an understanding of where we have come from as individuals and institutions, and offers intellectual tools to help us analyse and understand the issues and problems of our own time within their context. The study of history also helps soldiers understand the shape and nature of war; the great Prussian theorist, Carl von Clausewitz, observed that ‘war changes far less frequently and significantly than most people appreciate ... because the material culture of war, which tends to be the focus of attention, is less important than its social, cultural and political contexts and enablers’. The attainment of professional mastery lies in understanding and appreciating war in all its manifestations and dimensions.

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The Role of Military History in the Contemporary Academy (Tami Davis Biddle and Robert M. Citino)

Tami Davis Biddle and Robert M. Citino published a white paper for the Society for Military History, “The Role of Military History in the Contemporary Academy.” The white paper provides an account of military history’s revitalization over the past four decades and assesses its current place in American higher education. According to the authors, in addition to the sub-field’s maturation in academic terms, its enduring popularity with the public and college students makes it an ideal lure for history departments concerned about course enrollments and the recruitment of majors and minors. Knowledge of the uses, abuses, and costs of war should also constitute a part of the education of future American leaders. 

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India’s Arthashastra: A Combination of Machiavelli and Clausewitz?

The Arthashastra describes the guiding principles necessary to secure the goals of the state within this circle of states. These include: a ruler ought to develop his state by augmenting and exploiting its resources and power; the state ought to try and eliminate enemy states; those who help in this objective are friends; a state ought to stick to a prudent course; a ruler’s behavior must appear just; and peace is preferable to war in attaining a goal. Under the framework of these principles, the Arthashastra describes six methods of foreign policy, all of which are designed to enhance the power of one’s state relative to other states and, if possible, to conquer or dominate them.

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