As the Munich Security Conference (MSC) anticipates likely developments in international security over the coming decade, it concludes in a 2020 report: “Characteristics of the new environment include the weakening of an international order built up over decades, the rise of China, and a return to power politics that defies international norms. Besides, climate change and rapid technological transition are having drastic consequences.” The MSC echoes predictions that Orbis editorial board member Janine Davidson expressed four years ago at the Naval War College’s Current Strategy Forum. There, she predicted that we would see the international system challenged, would need to cope with the impacts of a global pandemic, navigate shifts in the climate and economic shocks, and address other major powers seeking revision or change in the global balance of power.
We continue our conversation from Fall 2020 Orbis, jointly produced by the Foreign Policy Research Institute and Georgia Institute of Technology. That volume was devoted to questions of how emerging technologies will impact national security. Guest Editor Lawrence Rubin wrote, “The intensifying competition to acquire capabilities to dominate or to pace an adversary has profound geo-political implications, including arms racing, inadvertent and intentional escalation, or even conflict. Uncertainty about others’ intentions and capabilities is a central driver.” In this issue, Rubin’s query about the intentions and capabilities of others in emerging technology is addressed with a look at Russia’s moves in artificial intelligence, thanks to the work of Stephanie Petrella, Chris Miller, and Ben Cooper. Meanwhile, Thomas Shattuck examines the China question in light of Taiwan’s semiconductor industry and the future of cross-strait relationships.
This issue is being published at a time when the global pandemic has entered its another resurgence. Indeed, its overarching theme is the challenges that we may face in a post-pandemic world. Will the dislocations caused by COVID-19 accelerate and amplify geopolitical tensions, or will they cause countries to come together in a common purpose? Damjan Krnjevic-Miskovic looks at the return of geopolitical competition to the world stage, while Amitai Etzioni assesses factors that have decreased cooperation and solidarity around the world. Frank Hoffman addresses national security in a post-pandemic era, while Jacques deLisle begins a two-issue assessment of where U.S.-China relations are headed in the aftermath of COVID-19.
Geopolitics is also highlighted in a discussion between Elbridge Colby and Ian Brzezinski about the role the North Atlantic alliance ought to be playing in this competition with Russia and China—whether China is a challenge for European security and whether the Atlantic partnership ought to extend into the Pacific, or strengthen its resilience to operate in the greater European neighborhood with less U.S. backing. This theme is further explored in Charles Edel’s review of a new work on Asian geopolitics. And a pair of Iran articles— one by Ray Takeyh looking backward to the myths of 1953, and one by Ofira Seliktar looking forward to Iran’s ability to asymmetrically compete in the Middle East—remind us that old problems and old conflicts are not over or superseded by newer developments.
Sometimes, future solutions are drawn from past experiences. Dov Zakheim offers his assessment of Robert Zoellick’s new book and finds it to be a useful primer for the type of diplomacy we will be conducting in the twenty-first century. And opening this issue is Robert Kaplan’s warnings about the perils of forecasting—at a time when the MSC offers the observation that we stand at a zeitenwende, a turning of the age—where we might be on the verge of major discontinuities in world affairs which will make the recent past an unpredictable guide to developments that we may witness in the near future.
Overall, this issue touches on questions of transitions—in technologies, in world affairs, and in key regions. We hope that the conversations that have begun in this issue will continue, both in Spring 2021 Orbis as well as in a new feature, “Revisiting Orbis”—hosted on the Foreign Policy Research Institute’s website, www.fpri.org, which takes a “second look” at pieces which have been published in the journal.
Kaplan notes in his essay that it is the job of analysts and strategic forecasters to divine where the world is headed, and to avoid the trap of presentism or the need to “grandstand about their own cleverness.” And while I appreciate both the cleverness of our authors and the clarity of their prose, I hope that you, the reader, will find the analysis useful and the questions they pose provocative. My fervent wish is that what you read here will in fact lead to constructive debate. This is the mission Orbis has undertaken since 1957, and my editorial lodestar.