Foreign Policy Research Institute A Nation Must Think Before it Acts Presenting the Fall 2012 Issue of Orbis

Presenting the Fall 2012 Issue of Orbis

  • October 16, 2012

Presenting the Fall 2012 Issue of Orbis

  • October 16, 2012

by Mackubin T. Owens

Mackubin “Mac” Owens is Editor of Orbis, FPRI’s quarterly journal of international affairs, and Senior Fellow at its Program on National Security. He is also Professor of National Security Affairs at the Naval War College in Newport, Rhode Island. He served as a Marine infantry platoon commander in Vietnam (1968-69), where he was twice wounded and awarded the Silver Star medal. He retired from the Marine Corps Reserve as a Colonel in 1994. Dr. Owens earned his Ph.D. from the University of Dallas. He is co-editor of the textbook Strategy and Force Planning, now in its fourth edition, and author of  Abraham Lincoln: Leadership and Democratic Statesmanship in Wartime (FPRI E-Book, 2009) and U.S. Civil-Military Relations After 9/11 (2011). The report below is taken from his introduction to the current issue of Orbis. To access articles from Orbis, visit:

This issue of Orbis features three timely article clusters on Europe, counterinsurgency, and Asia. In the first article of the Europe cluster, Jakub Grygiel argues that the current crisis afflicting the European Union (EU) is the result of a flawed understanding of Europe’s political development, which reverses cause and effect. The founding assumption of the EU was that a common market and a common currency would lead to a unified polity. But the fact is that Europe represents a cultural idea that Europeans have largely discarded. Focusing on the euro has led to a fraying Europe rather than a Europe whole, secure, and free.

John Deni contends that rather than seeking to build partner capacity among the newest North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) members or aspirants, the United States needs to refocus its military-to-military engagement programs on those allies that are adaptive and innovative, deployable and expeditionary, and capable of full spectrum operations—that is, allies such as France, Italy, Germany, the Netherlands and the United Kingdom.

Ilai Saltzman claims that Washington policymakers must understand that Russia’s grand strategy is aimed at undercutting U.S. primacy and that in order to achieve its goals, Moscow is willing to apply limited military force. The United States should engage Russia, but be prepared to confront it if necessary.

Turning to counterinsurgency, T.X. Hammes makes the point that despite what many national security specialists may argue, counter-insurgency is not a strategy itself but a capability that is part of an overarching strategy, one that the United States is obliged to retain. He examines the drivers of modern insurgency as well as the range of counterinsurgency approaches that have worked globally, using illustrative case studies to suggest how the United States might improve its counterinsurgency activity in the future.

Chris Harmon examines a case of a state’s defeating an armed group: Spain’s apparent victory over the terrorist organization, “Basque Fatherland & Liberty” (ETA). He attributes Madrid’s success to three factors. First, in the late 1970s Spain agreed to limited autonomy for Basque-dominated provinces, thus contributing to a decline in Basque militancy.  Second, Spain and France have forged a strong counterinsurgency bond that made it harder for ETA gunmen to hide among French Basques.  Third, Spanish policing is now excellent. Thus, a resilient Spanish democracy offers a case study in how terrorist groups may end.

Leading off the Asia cluster, Jacques deLisle looks at China’s claims to the South China Sea, arguing that the cost-benefit equation favors China in a confrontation with the United States, especially if smaller states in the region choose to “bandwagon” with Beijing.

John Maurer draws an analogy between the rise of China today and that of Japan during the 1930s. Just as the Japanese sought a “game changer” in carrier-based aviation to defeat the United States and Britain in the Pacific, the Chinese seek one today, making it potentially difficult for American leaders to manage the rise of Chinese power.

The final two articles of this issue address the diverse topics of the Arab Spring and deterrence. First, Peter Schraeder argues that the activities of prodemocracy activists in the Middle East and North Africa have ushered in a period of substantial change.  He asks if the actions of the international community in promoting democratic transition will contribute to the further strengthening of the “Arab Spring” or a return to an “Arab Winter” of authoritarianism. He sees reason for optimism based on the fact that each wave of global democratization over the last 200 years has contributed to the further strengthening of the international democratic imperative. Thus, he claims, the Arab Spring will, with time, likely to lead to an “Arab Summer,” in which democratic processes and institutions are consolidated throughout the region.

Finally, Robert Rubel offers a critique of “tailored” deterrence, which he claims is based on a flawed assumption: that the United States operates from a position of strength relative to its potential adversaries. Rubel contends that the tacit assumption of strength is too narrow and can lead to actions that result in effects opposite of those intended. Deterrence, rightly understood, is a component of a conflict management strategy which implies a degree of weakness on the part of the state that employs it.

Bruce Kuklick’s review essay in this issue discusses four new books about George Kennan.