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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Canary In The Coal Mine: The US Navy’s Dilemmas As An Indication Of A Culminating Point In National Grand Strategy

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

By Captain Robert C. Rubel USN (Ret)


June 20, 2000 – The U.S.S. Abraham Lincoln Battle Group and ships from Australia, Chile, Japan, Canada, and Korea steam alongside one another for a Carrier Battle Group Photo during RIMPAC 2000. US Navy.

From a resource point of view, the US Navy has not been doing well lately, its program to expand fleet size to 355 ships, a number that seems to be accepted by the Administration and Congress, has been suffering a series of setbacks.  Whether being raided for money to build a border wall, forced to fund the replacement ballistic missile submarine program or constricted due to the need to bolster current readiness, the Navy’s shipbuilding budget is under tremendous pressure, and Congress, despite a desire for a bigger fleet, has not increased the Navy’s top line sufficiently to accelerate ship construction.  Moreover, and perhaps worse, the Navy has been unable to produce a fleet structure assessment (FSA) that passes muster with the Secretary of Defense, who doubts the validity of a key assumption that underpins the study.[1]

Many, including a number of my colleagues, feel that the answer is a significantly increased Navy budget, as if the only problem is money.  While there is no doubt that a bigger budget would lubricate shipbuilding, it would not necessarily solve the bigger problem of fleet structure analysis and fleet design; how many of what kinds of ships should the Navy have in the future and the uses of each kind.  But more money does not seem to be in the cards, and correcting assumptions about the effectiveness of the Navy’s principal force generation process, the Optimized Fleet Response Plan (OFRP) does not bode well for what an adjusted FSA would reveal.  The Navy is facing a no-win situation, and to find a way out, we have to engage in a deeper strategic diagnosis of the problem. Continue reading

Defeating China: Five Strategies

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

By Anders Corr, Ph.D.

Fighter jets of the U.S. Navy Blue Angels demonstration squadron fly over the Lincoln Memorial during the Fourth of July Celebration ‘Salute to America’ event in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Thursday, July 4, 2019. Al Drago/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Since 1989, when China massacred thousands of its own people in Tiananmen Square to stop a pro-democracy protest, the country has arguably grown into the world’s most powerful and centralized state. China’s GDP by purchasing power parity (PPP) is approximately $25.4 trillion, while the U.S. GDP PPP is only about $20.5 trillion.[1] One man, Chinese President Xi Jinping, has almost total control of China’s economy and a leadership position for life. China’s authoritarian system, most recently, allowed the COVID-19 virus to become a pandemic. By the time it is controlled, it may have killed up to millions of people.

Compared to Xi Jinping, political leaders in democracies have comparatively little economic power. U.S. President Donald Trump, for example, has only partial control of the smaller (by purchasing power parity when compared to China) U.S. economy, and must be reelected in 2020 to continue his tenure for a maximum of an additional four years.

China’s accelerating economy has fueled its military spending, which increased approximately three-fold since 2008 to $177.5 billion in 2019,[2] not including substantial programs hidden from public sight. Military and political analysts estimate that in the South China Sea and environs, China’s military capabilities already match or exceed those of the United States in many respects, as does China’s diplomatic influence. This puts pressure on the U.S. military to withdraw from the region, claimed as territory by Beijing. Over the next 30 years, China’s global military capabilities could exceed those of the United States, which would make it difficult for the U.S. to pose a credible threat against China’s already ongoing territorial expansion. Europe and Japan are similarly militarily weak when compared with their near competitors, Russia and China respectively. [3]

China’s actions are now indistinguishable from those that would serve a goal of China’s global rule in perpetuity. Hopes for engagement as a strategy to turn China into a democracy have now been dashed. Instead of us changing them, they are changing us through influencing our own political and economic leadership. There is a danger that as China ascends to the world’s most powerful nation, other nations will follow its lead through bandwagoning. The dual and increasing danger of bandwagoning and China’s influence means that a shift in strategy is needed.

Engagement should give way to a more aggressive strategy against China in order to defend freedom, democracy and human rights globally, and to incentivize allies and potential allies to declare themselves on the right side of the dispute before they enter the gravitational field of China’s economic influence.[4]

As argued below, this should include labeling China as not just a competitor, which would imply that all play by the same rules, but as an adversary or even an enemy. Strategies must be calibrated accordingly to defeat the country, and more specifically, its guiding organization, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP).

There are at least five interrelated and overlapping strategies required to defeat the CCP: 1) Defend, 2) Ally, 3) Contain, 4) Divide, and 5) Democratize. Many of these strategies are overlapping, and have been proposed previously by a range of authors, cited here. They are all underway to some extent in various countries, however they are not being implemented at the scale and intensity needed to win. That should change now, or we risk continued relative weakening against the enemy.

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Time To Bring Taiwan In From The Cold: Start Working Towards A Normalization Of Relations

Journal of Political Risk, Vol. 8, No. 2, February 2020

By Gerrit van der Wees

Taiwan into the UN rally held in front of the PRC Mission to the UN in New York City, September 22, 2018. Photo: Gerrit van der Wees.

A recent episode in Prague illustrates in two important ways that China’s relations with the West are changing fast.  It shows the need for the US and Western Europe to reimagine relations with Taiwan, bring Taiwan in from the cold of political isolation, start working towards a normalization of relations, and find a rightful place for that democratic country in the international family of nations.

A Prague Spring in the offing?

First, consider that policymakers in the Czech Republic are increasingly pushing back against the way China has been attempting to isolate Taiwan internationally. Led by the new mayor of Prague Zdeněk Hřib, elected in November 2018, and his up-and-coming Pirate Party, the city last year broke off sister-city ties with Beijing – which had imposed unacceptable “One China” conditions on the arrangement – and established ties with Taiwan’s capital Taipei.

To be sure, at the national level, key policymakers like President Miloš Zeman and Prime Minister Andrej Babiš, both associated with the right of center business community, are still very much in Beijing’s pocket. But observers in Prague indicate that a new Prague Spring is in the offing. Continue reading

An Oligarch, A Think Tank And The Rise Of American Kleptocracy?

Journal of Political Risk, Vol. 7, No. 10, October 2019

By Bertie Harrison-Broninski

Industrialist Len Blavatnik, left, and former U.S. President Bill Clinton speak at the Film Society of Lincoln Center 40th Anniversary Chaplin Award Gala at Lincoln Center in New York, U.S., on Monday, April 22, 2013. Clinton presented Barbra Streisand with the award honoring her work in film. Photographer: Amanda Gordon/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Ukrainian-born billionaire Lenonard Blavatnik has ignited controversy once again with his lavish donations to British and American institutions. This time, it is by giving $12 million to the Council of Foreign Relations (CFR), an influential thinktank with close ties to senior business, government, intelligence and foreign-policy communities in the US.

The move has prompted a series of open letters signed by “U.S., European and Russian foreign policy experts and anti-corruption activists”, who fear that such donations are “a means by which Blavatnik exports Russian kleptocratic practices to the West”. Many of them are CFR members themselves, and their letters are rounded off with footnotes demonstrating Blavatnik’s links to Putin’s inner circle and questioning the sources of his wealth. Their second letter states that the impact of the donation “extends far beyond the potential value of the money…beyond even CFR. That impact will touch upon the health of American democracy.”

None of this will come as any surprise to those who have followed Blavatnik’s spending over the past 15 years. While his philanthropy has seen him knighted by the Queen in the UK and hailed by some as one of the world’s most generous benefactors, his donations within political and educational spheres have repeatedly led to scrutiny and protest.

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Withdrawing from Afghanistan, Without Leaving a Vacuum

Journal of Political Risk, Vol. 7, No. 8, August 2019

By William R. Hawkins

Foreign Minister of Uzbekistan, Abdulaziz Kamilov (L3), Foreign Minister of India Sushma Swaraj (C), Foreign Minister of Tajikistan Sirojiddin Muhriddin (R2), Foreign Minister of Kyrgyzstan Chingiz Aidarbekov (L2), Foreign Minsiter of Turkmenistan Rashid Meredov (R), Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Kazakhstan Beibut Atamkulov (L) and Foreign Minister of Afghanistan Salahuddin Rabbani (R3) participate in the ‘Ministerial Meeting of the India-Central Asia-Afghanistan Dialogue’ held within the ‘India-Central Asia Dialogue’ Foreign Ministers’ meeting in Samarkand, Uzbekistan on January 13, 2019.
(Photo by Bahtiyar Abdukerimov/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)

Some years ago, I spent an afternoon in New Delhi meeting with a group of retired senior members of India’s military and intelligence communities. A central topic was Afghanistan. The Indians were adamant that the Taliban must not be allowed to take over the country. They saw the Taliban as agents of Pakistan. The absorption of Afghanistan by the Islamabad regime would pose a threat to India. Afghanistan would be a rich recruiting ground for the terrorist/insurgent forces Pakistan uses to destabilize Kashmir. And in case of another open war, Afghanistan would give Islamabad “strategic depth” which could be used in several possible ways.

The Islamabad-Kashmir area is at the narrowest part of Pakistan. It’s only 228 miles from Islamabad to Kabul. But the terrain is bad to the west and Pakistan has more important areas to defend to the south. Even so, pulling troops back to Peshawar, where they could be supplied/reinforced from Afghanistan, could serve as a counter-attack force if Islamabad was under siege. Pakistan has an arsenal of mobile short and medium-range ballistic missiles with conventional warheads and is adding cruise missiles. However, only some of these models could reach India if redeployed to Afghanistan to avoid preemption. More attractive would be Afghan airbases which could support Pakistani operations along the northern border but at a distance that would make it harder for Indian airstrikes to suppress. During the February clash, Pakistan intercepted Indian airstrikes in the Kashmir area and shot down two fighters, including an F-16. Deeper airstrikes could be problematical for New Delhi.

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Xi Killed Convergence: the American China Consensus is Gone

Journal of Political Risk, Vol. 7, No. 7, July 2019

By Paul S. Giarra

Chris Ware illustration of Xi Jinping. (MCT via Getty Images)

Two open letters to the President on China strategy have appeared recently. The first, “China is not an enemy”,[1] was published in the Washington Post on July 3rd. The second, “Stay the Course on China: An Open Letter to President Trump”, appeared in these pages on July 18th.[2] The former argued that considering China as an enemy would be a self-fulfilling prophecy. The second posited that we had already turned that corner with China, and that the president should continue with his hard line policies toward Beijing (Full disclosure: the author signed the latter open letter).

There’s more to these letters, but they do not represent an argument; rather, they are a transition from an old conventional wisdom to a new reality. As Nikki Haley wrote in Foreign Affairs last week [3], the theory of convergence with China expressed in the Washington Post letter and practiced in the United States for 30 years has been fully discredited. “Let’s face it: Xi has killed the notion of convergence.”

Why it has taken so long to get to this point will have to be left to the social historians, but the China policy transition now underway has been reverberating throughout the Washington policy community for some time. Continue reading

Stay the Course on China: An Open Letter to President Trump

The US Constitution and flag. Photo: Daniel Bendjy/Getty Images

Dear President Trump,

Over America’s exceptional history, successive generations have risen to the challenge of protecting and furthering our founding principles, and defeating existential threats to our liberties and those of our allies. Today, our generation is challenged to do the same by a virulent and increasingly dangerous threat to human freedoms – the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) through the nation it misrules:  the People’s Republic of China (PRC).

The Chinese Communists’ stated ambitions are antithetical to America’s strategic interests, and the PRC is increasingly taking actions that imperil the United States and our allies. The past forty years during which America pursued an open policy of “engagement” with the PRC have contributed materially to the incremental erosion of U.S. national security.

This cannot be permitted to continue.

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Democratizing China Should Be The U.S. Priority

Journal of Political Risk, Vol. 7, No. 7, July 2019

By Anders Corr

Protestors hold placards and illuminated smartphones beside a large banner calling for democracy during a protest in Hong Kong, China, on June 26, 2019. Some protesters held signs calling on U.S. President Donald Trump to save Hong Kong. Paul Yeung/Bloomberg via Getty Images

U.S. goals in relation to China, our biggest national security threat, tend to array along three main axes: military, diplomatic, and economic. But in deference to the failed strategy of engagement, we don’t use the significant normative and ideological power of democratization as a multiplier on these battlefields, nor does the prospect of democratizing China factor sufficiently in our cost-benefit analyses.

Militarily, we prioritize defense from China, but other than ongoing military support to Taiwan and the Tibet campaign of 1957-72,[1] we have not used our substantial military resources to promote democracy in China, for example in the rebellious zones of Xinjiang or Hong Kong. Economically, we prioritize U.S. market share in China, IP protection, and beating China’s GDP, technology and industrial strength. But we don’t condition our China trade on our lowest priorities, human rights and democracy.

In the short term our military and economic priorities are correct, but given the Chinese Communist Party’s growing strength globally, we must increase the prioritization of democracy as a long-term end goal in China, and we need to reevaluate opportunities to use our still substantial but relatively diminishing military and economic power to bring democracy to China. Continue reading

Geopolitics and the Western Pacific: An Interview with Leszek Buszynski

The book cover of Geopolitics and the Western Pacific: China, Japan and the US, by Dr. Leszek Buszynski. Routledge, 2019.

Journal of Political Risk, Vol. 7, No. 6, June 2019

This interview with Dr. Leszek Buszynski, author of Geopolitics and the Western Pacific: China, Japan and the U.S. (Routledge, 2019), took place by email with Dr. Anders Corr between May 31 and June 12.

Anders: What are some of your recommendations in the book?

Leszek: The recommendations are in the final chapter and have been written from the perspective of Australia as a a middle power and ally of the US.  Basically, the U.S. relies excessively on military power to counter China but this is creating the fear of a US-China clash in the region from which China benefits, particularly within ASEAN.  Scuttling the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) was a mistake because it is a way of bringing together the states of the region into cooperation with the U.S., Japan and Australia in a way which would offset Chinese influence.

Anders: Don’t you think that China is also creating fear with its military buildup? Wouldn’t countries like Japan and South Korea be even more fearful if they did not have the U.S. military there to protect them?

Leszek: This is not the issue, the answer is of course. But without a broader US presence in the region, one that is not just military based, regional countries such as those in ASEAN would feel the pressure to gravitate to China.  China has a way of undermining the U.S. presence and its alliance system by playing on regional fears of conflict and instability, the Philippines under Rodrigo Duterte is a case in point. America has to counteract that. Continue reading