Revisiting Grand Strategy

Journal of Political Risk, Vol. 8, No. 5, May 2020

John T. Kuehn, Ph.D.,  Professor of Military History
U.S. Army Command and General Staff College
Fort Leavenworth, Kansas

The General Board of the U.S. Navy meets in 1932 in Washington D.C. This board existed as an advisory body to the Secretary of the Navy from 1900-1950, and was involved in long range strategic planning focused on the maritime security component of U.S. grand strategy. Its members included the Chief of Naval Operations, President of the Naval War College, Commandant of the Marine Corps and head of naval intelligence. Source: Naval Historical Center.

A recent article in Foreign Affairs by Daniel W. Drezner, Ronald R. Krebs, and Randall Schweller hoisted the white flag: “The End of Grand Strategy: America Must Think Small.”   The article implies that an American attempt to develop a grand strategy, or to support the current grand strategy in vogue, are both vain pursuits.

One reaction to prescriptions of this sort, or rather proscriptions, is to examine what the authors mean exactly by “grand strategy,” what is their definition?

Perhaps their definition is so different from other accepted definitions of this concept that there is no need to worry, maybe they are talking about something else.  After all, this author wrote on the topic ten years ago, bemoaning that the problem was rooted in, although not limited to, a general lack of understanding of the meaning of the term, especially by military professionals in the nation’s service and war colleges.   It might be useful to compare my definition with that consigned to the dust bin by the FA authors.

Carl von Clausewitz has written that as military campaigns proceed, the war as a whole replaces the campaign, and the whole country the theater of operations. In other words, grand strategy is “the next stage,” which encompasses the strategic considerations for “the whole country.”

But the authors argue that, “A grand strategy is a road map for how to match means with ends.”

That settles nothing, although I prefer mine to theirs, which could apply at just about any level of conflict, from a platoon fight in Helmand Province to a 40-year Cold War.  So what do the authors think the “wrong” grand strategy — or whatever it is the US executes as policy—might be?  The authors characterize the current American grand strategy as to “…sustain and expand a global order that promoted open markets, open polities, and multilateral institutions.”   These flowery words have been characterized by MIT political scientist Barry Posen as “liberal hegemony.”  Hegemony infers a hegemon, and that hegemon, of course, is supposedly the United States—the actor employing the verbs of this approach. The authors’ real complaint is with that grand strategy—liberal hegemony—and its state of disrepair under the current administration of the United States.

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The Recurring Intellectual Plague of Globalization

Journal of Political Risk, Vol. 8, No. 5, May 2020

By William R. Hawkins

A rear view of a businessman as he tries to sort out the mess of geopolitical events. Map source material courtesy of https://images.nasa.gov/ Getty

In the public mind, the outsourcing of jobs to China, which built the conveyer belt that carried Covid-19 from Wuhan to the world, was the fault of soulless transnational corporations. Greedy business tycoons were willing to deal with anyone in the pursuit of profit, regardless of larger consequences (of which the current pandemic is not the most dire). What cannot be overlooked, however, is that these private actors were given moral cover by intellectuals who assured them that they were fulfilling a higher purpose by spreading liberal values and promoting peace in a new era of globalization. As late as 2011, President Barack Obama could tell American and Chinese business leaders, meeting on the edge of his January summit with Chinese President Hu Jintao, that he depended on them to keep good relations between the two powers. This was in the wake of the military confrontations that had dominated the second half of 2010 after a North Korean submarine sank a South Korean warship. Major naval shows of force were conducted by the U.S., Japan, China, and Russia around the volatile peninsula. President Obama thought container ships could calm the waters.

Though the term globalization originated earlier, it became popular in the 1990’s during the post-Cold War euphoria that spawned hopes of a “new world order” devoted to economic development. The ideals of democracy and free enterprise promoted by the victorious United States would envelope the entire world and set humanity on a progressive course. The collapse of the Soviet Union and a wave of economic reforms in China seemed to confirm that the values of the West were becoming universal. The threat of large-scale conflict was no more. Yet, these sentiments were not new. They were rooted in the school of classical liberalism which had gained influence in another post-war era nearly two centuries earlier at the end of the decades-long conflicts of the French Revolution and Napoleon. Continue reading

The “We Chinese” Problem

Journal of Political Risk, Vol. 8, No. 4, April 2020

By Conal Boyce, Century College

Eighth century poem by Li Bai 李白. Source: Baidu.

It’s just the evil Chinese Communist Party (CCP), right? Not so fast. It has been said that we Americans ‘deserve the government we have’; but could it be that the Chinese, similarly, deserve the government they have? Let’s have a look at a phenomenon that I call the ‘We Chinese’ syndrome. It speaks of a psychic illness that runs far deeper than any one regime, such as that of the Pooh-Bear.

In the Chinese media and in Weibo tweets, the phrase ‘Wǒmen Zhōngguórén 我们中国人’ (“We Chinese”) occurs often. By convention, it is translated blandly as ‘[the] Chinese [people]’ but what it actually says is this: ‘We Chinese’. Lest you imagine that ‘We Chinese’ is a term focused on things primarily cultural rather than racial or jingoistic, please consider this closely related phrase that occurs with equal frequency:

Zhōngguó tóngbāo 中国同胞

This latter phrase is regularly translated as ‘overseas Chinese’, but what it really says is the following:

“[Those of us] Chinese [from the] same womb
[who are temporarily abroad, not on the mainland of the Chinese motherland, hence ‘overseas’].” Continue reading

Turkish Breakup with the U.S. and NATO: The Illogical Logics

Journal of Political Risk, Vol. 7, No. 5, May 2019 

Dr. Jahara Matisek and Dr. Buddhika Jayamaha
U.S. Air Force Academy

Change of command ceremony is held at NATO’s Allied Land Command in Izmir, Turkey on August 03, 2018. Evren Atalay/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

Abstract: With decades of debate about Turkey leaving NATO, the Turkish purchase (and delivery) of a Russian air defense system may be crossing the Rubicon. The Syrian Civil War, combined with how the U.S. and NATO decided to back Kurdish proxies in the fight against the Islamic State, has fed into the domestic logic of survival for Turkish political elites. With President Erdoğan and his revisionist political party ruling over Turkey the last decade, they appear to have finally refashioned the Turkish state by purging secularists from the government and military since the coup hoax of 2016. This new consolidation of political power has created a Turkish state with values incompatible with the West and strategies irreconcilable with NATO. However, these efforts by Erdoğan are undermining the long-term economic viability of the Turkish state, as established norms concerning the rule of law and property rights deteriorate, risking Turkey’s status as a reliable and stable ally in the region. We make these judgements on Turkey provoking its own expulsion from NATO based on interviews and fieldwork in Kurdistan and Turkey.

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Why Chaos Is Here To Stay

Journal of Political Risk, Vol. 7, No. 5, May 2019

By Laurent Chamontin

A confusing traffic light system with multiple signal heads. Getty

The 2010s are characterized by an exceptional amount of political volatility (e.g., Brexit, and Donald Trump’s election). This volatility resulted from an unprecedented level of complexity, whether at the level of individuals, nations, or the world, generating outbursts of populism, loss of long-term orientation, dysfunctional newspeak, and decay of international institutions. To overcome this challenge, democracies must rethink their education policies and promote a redesign of multilateral institutions to better coexist with the nation state.

If the purpose of politics is to provide mankind with the consideration of perspectives for the purpose of organization, then indeed we are experiencing a world-scale political crisis. Any nostalgia for supposedly more stable eras put aside, political volatility has increased to a level unprecedented since the collapse of the Soviet Union. Continue reading

Paratrooper: Following in my Father’s Footsteps

Journal of Political Risk, Vol. 7, No. 2, February 2019

By Heath Hansen


CPL Richard Hansen – 12th Special Forces Group (Airborne) collects his parachute after jumping from a C-130 in May 1987. The author, Heath Hansen when four years old, holds his father’s reserve parachute.

I looked up into the big, blue sky. Far in the distance, I spotted a C-130 Hercules headed towards the open grass field I waited upon. For a few moments, I watched as the plane continued in my direction; suddenly, from the tail-end of the aircraft, paratroopers jumped out into the open air. The parachutes expanded sideways as they became caught in the wind and fully inflated, pulling the soldiers swiftly with them. Dozens of troops poured out of the fuselage and descended to the ground. I saw the first jumper hit the grass and quickly sprinted to him.

“Dad?” I asked.  “No kid, your dad is still coming down; we put a white band on his helmet so you could recognize him.” Looking up, he extended his arm and pointed to a spot about 200 feet in the air at a fast descending grunt with white sports tape lining the outside of his helmet. “There he is.”

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