Our winter issue of Orbis offers an eclectic selection of topics. We start with a discussion of “offshore balancing,” a strategy that recently has attracted a great deal of attention among both scholars and policy makers as an alternative to the more interventionist strategies that the United States has pursued since 9/11. Colin Dueck argues that the Republican administrations of the 1920s and early 1930s, contrary to the conventional wisdom, did not pursue a deliberate strategy of offshore balancing in the sense that the term is used today. Although the strategy was certainly “offshore,” in the sense that it avoided alliance commitments, it did not involve great power balancing. On the contrary, Republican administrations hoped to develop a new, demilitarized and economically interdependent world order, thereby transcending the necessity for balance of power politics altogether.
Isabelle Duyvesteyn and Jeffrey H. Michaels call for a revitalization of Strategic Studies, contending that the field has fallen on hard times and shows no signs of recovery. Revitalizing the field requires a fundamental re-evaluation of long-standing strategic concepts in light of present realities.
John R. Deni writes that the United States relies on Europe as its most capable military partner for dealing with the world’s vexing security challenges. While evidence on European defense spending, capabilities, and willingness is mixed, he contends that there are positive trends along with the negative ones.
As the United States has wound down its commitments in Iraq and Afghanistan, the emphasis has shifted to raising and mentoring the security forces of these two states. T.X. Hammes argues that despite allocating massive resources for both countries, U.S. planners failed to understand the cultural and political environments in which these forces would have to operate. Thus, the United States attempted to build ministries and forces based on U.S. models that simply were not appropriate for either Iraq or Afghanistan.
Some observers have argued that there are parallels between governing the Catholic Church and governing the party-state in China. Deborah Brown and Tun-jen Cheng contend that while there are some similarities between the two, there are also significant differences, which if not recognized by policy makers, can lead them astray.
It is a matter of faith among many scholars that a major source of conflict in developing states is a struggle among contending groups for control of resources and that a way of achieving peace is the regulation of those resources. Michael Beevers argues that, on the contrary, the struggle to control natural resources is not the primary cause of conflict. Thus, those who seek to mitigate conflict in developing states must look for opportunities for reconciliation, cooperation and confidence building rather than trying to regulate domestic resources.
Many observers have expressed concern about a potential Russo-Chinese partnership, which could threaten U.S. interests in Asia. Stephen Blank and Younkyoo Kim argue that although the Russo-Chinese relationship is one of the most important relationships in both Asian and international security, it is fundamentally unstable. Indeed, the authors write that Russia is increasingly unable to compete with China and indeed is becoming more dependent upon it.
Viljar Veebel and Raul Markus examine the objectives of the European Union’s sanctions against Russia, comparing the expectations of the politicians, media and the public with the views expressed in theoretical debates and experiences gained from historical lessons. They seek to understand what sanctions can realistically achieve and what lies beyond their reach.
Thomas McCabe assesses U.S. efforts against ISIS foreign fighters and how they largely have failed because, until very recently, the government has underestimated the malignance of ISIS recruits. His article proposes a modified strategy but admits that these efforts will only be a partial fix for the vastly larger problems of jihadism and radical Islam.
After several years doing yeoman work as the book review editor of Orbis, Mike Horowitz has now stepped down. We thank Mike for his labors. Beginning with the spring 2016, FPRI Fellow Chris Miller will become our new book review editor. He is Editor of FPRI’s new Baltic Bulletin and Associate Director of the Grand Strategy Program at Yale, where he received his Ph.D. in history. Since we are in transition with this current edition, we have asked our FPRI scholars and advisors to write short reviews of what they believe are the most important books on security affairs for this issue. Their offerings conclude this issue.
Impromptus and Asides: Reaping What We Sow
The Obama Administration clearly is reaping what it has sown in the world, as it has made the choice to disengage. As a result, a dangerous world is getting more dangerous: we see a resurgent Russia; an aggressive China; an Iran intent on dominating the greater Middle East; and, of course, the rise of ISIS. The assumption underlying this disengagement was that our allies and friends would step forward as the United States retrenched. But they have failed to do so, leaving our adversaries to fill the vacuum, which they have done with a vengeance.
Meanwhile the administration refuses to fund national defense adequately. For instance, President Obama recently vetoed the 2016 National Defense Authorization Act that passed with bipartisan support because it would raise defense spending without a concomitant increase in domestic spending. As Gordon Adams, a defense budget expert and professor emeritus at American University and a supporter of reduced defense spending said after the veto, “The president decided some time ago to take the defense bill and the defense budget hostage,” to enforce the “principle [of] spending-increase equality.” Of course, non-defense spending is the main source of the soaring national debt.
The recently released Heritage Foundation 2016 Index of U.S. Military Strength paints a bleak picture of the current and future state of the U.S. military. The decline in funding, and consequent force reductions, have placed the U.S. military under extreme stress. For example, equipment maintenance continues to be deferred. Old equipment is being extended and cycled through more deployments for longer periods of time. “The cumulative effect of these factors has resulted in a U.S. military that is marginally able to meet the demands of defending America’s vital national interests.”
The U.S. Army has borne most of the cost of force reductions and, indeed, the Index assesses the state of the Army as “weak.” However, the capabilities of the other services have deteriorated, as well. In the case of the U.S. Navy, force structure reductions have encouraged China to take steps designed to deny the United States access to the Western Pacific. Chinese anti-ship ballistic missiles and emerging hypersonic weapons could raise the risk of U.S. Navy operations in the Western Pacific to unacceptable levels.
But what should be of greater concern is the trend in U.S. military power. For example, both the Army and the Air Force dropped to a lower level in a single year, the former from “marginal” to “weak” and the latter from “strong” to “marginal.” The Index attributes this rapid decline to the combination of inadequate funding during a time of increased operational tempo and policies that have traded long-term health for near-term readiness.
Much of this is the result of the Pollyannaish view that state vs. state conflict is a thing of the past. Who can forget President Barack Obama’s mocking of former Governor Mitt Romney during the 2012 presidential campaign for the latter’s argument that Russia was this country’s preeminent geopolitical adversary? Or Secretary of State John Kerry’s suggestion that Russia’s actions in Ukraine were more appropriate to the nineteenth century than to the twenty-first century?
Declining defense budgets and reduced force structure are both the consequences of the Obama Administration’s decision to abandon seven decades of a bipartisan foreign policy the goal of which was to underwrite the security of a free and prosperous world. As U.S. force structure declines and challenges multiply, we observe the consequences of U.S. disengagement: a more turbulent and dangerous world.