During the May 2022 forum that the Project for the Study of the 21st Century convened on “The Future of Conflict,” Nigel Inkster, the former Director for Operations and Intelligence of the UK Secret Intelligence Service, and Doug Ollivant, Director for Iraq on the National Security Council during the Bush and Obama administrations (and a Senior Fellow in FPRI’s Middle East program), discussed how the Russian invasion of Ukraine ended Europe’s “holiday from history.” This term, which political columnist Charles Krauthammer coined to describe the United States after the 9/11 attacks, is used as a riposte to those who confidently assert that dramatic changes—in politics, economics, or technology—have rendered obsolete older assumptions about war, peace, and even human nature, particularly in the conduct of international affairs.
Several recent issues of Orbis were forward-looking in their orientation, predicting future challenges and developments and their impact on US national security. In the Summer 2022 issue, we want to take stock of past events and milestones that continue to be relevant for the problems we currently confront.
This year we commemorate the 60th anniversary of the Cuban Missile Crisis, which brought the two superpowers to the brink of nuclear war. Alongside “Munich” and “Vietnam,” “Cuba” has become a shorthand that policymakers and analysts alike use to discuss and interpret current events—most recently following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Arthur Cyr offers a retrospective look at the events of 1962 and their relevance for us today. We also asked Bruce Riedel to reflect on the “other” crisis of 1962—the Sino-Indian clash. The aftereffects of this conflict continue to define South and East Asian politics and have left a complicated legacy that will impact how the US pivot to the Indo-Pacific basin occurs.
Historian Colin Dueck takes us back to “the beginning,” when the United States began to view itself as an emerging great power in hemispheric terms, and through that shift in understanding began to articulate interests beyond the North American landmass across transoceanic regions. His narrative of this transformation at the start of the last century bookends a discussion of US strategy with Ashley Tellis’s review of Elbridge Colby’s Strategy of Denial. The book seeks to reformulate and update the American approach to prioritize coping with the China challenge—with a renewed focus on different regions of the world and where America’s priorities must lie. Dov Zakheim’s review of Paul Kennedy’s Victory at Sea revisits some of the maritime areas pivotal to the Allied success in World War II that Colby argues we will need to secure again for a mid-twenty-first-century competition with China.
If one legacy of the Cold War was the “Cuba” paradigm—especially with its warnings about moving military infrastructure too close to the heartland of another major power—a different one was the “domino theory”: that the “fall” of one country in a particular region to communism would lead inevitably to the spread of Soviet influence throughout the area. An updated version of that theory, reworked to describe China’s international economic engagement as a tool of great power competition, is addressed by Dong Jung Kim’s essay. Kim advises twenty-first-century policymakers not to make similar mistakes in overestimating the impact of China’s overseas investment. However, in their article, Rick Fawn and Jason Bruder contend that the West should take advantage of developing an “on-ramp” to China’s Belt and Road Initiative in the strategically important keystone zone of the South Caucasus—where the major east-west and north-south axes of global trade converge.
History has certainly returned in Central Asia, where it is back to the future—with Central Asian governments experiencing deja vu with a Taliban-controlled Afghanistan. How these states will cope with Taliban 2.0—and learn from the lessons of their engagement with Taliban 1.0, as well as twenty years of the US-led mission to forge something different in Afghanistan—is the subject of Erica Marat’s article. Finally, Ariel Ahram and Ranj Alaaldin consider the United Arab Emirates’ way of “proxy warfare.”
The Winter 2022 issue of Orbis focused on the prophetically relevant question of the Russian shadow overhanging Europe, and the Spring 2022 edition—which went to press as the Russian Federation commenced its Ukraine invasion—featured timely commentary directly connected to Russian action written by Dov Zakheim and Andrew Michta, among others. In this issue, as the fighting continues, we wanted to look at the first impacts resonating on the larger international system. Giula Lanza examines the role of international criminal law in addressing crimes committed during the invasion, while Jacques deLisle appraises China’s uneasy balancing between Russia and Ukraine—and what this portends for the international system as a whole.
Forthcoming issues of the journal will continue to explore the parameters of the world system in the aftermath of COVID-19 and the invasion of Ukraine, while remembering that the past still has relevant lessons for us to learn.
I closed the Spring 2022 Editor’s Corner by observing that we are trying to “determine the contour of global affairs shaped by technological and environmental change and the re-emergence of great power competition.” This perspective reflects that of the founding editor of Orbis, Amb. Robert Strausz-Hupé, who, as historian Walter McDougall noted in 1999, saw how technology and global economic integration accelerated history anew, altered geography itself, and would “drive men’s thoughts about the world’s political organization into yet untried channels.”
The forthcoming fall issue will mark 65 years since Orbis began publication. Strausz-Hupé launched this new journal with a title that expressed his optimism that, after the destructiveness of two World Wars and the protracted challenge of the Cold War, a new world might emerge.
We look to the future, recognizing that we have reached the end of a thirty-year cycle in world events where geopolitical, economic, and technological shifts are rewriting the source code of international affairs. Again, we face a situation where the familiar landmarks and lodestones are eroding, with growing uncertainty as to what will replace them. Strausz-Hupé entitled his inaugural contribution “A Balance for Tomorrow,” and, having lived through a tomorrow which he largely predicted and anticipated, with the end of the Cold War, our charge is to imagine once again what a balance for tomorrow for the 21st century might encompass.