Foreign Policy Research Institute A Nation Must Think Before it Acts Presenting the Spring 2014 Issue of Orbis

Presenting the Spring 2014 Issue of Orbis

  • April 9, 2014

Presenting the Spring 2014 Issue of Orbis

  • April 9, 2014

By Mackubin T. Owens, Editor

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).

Orbis is published for the Foreign Policy Research Institute by Elsevier. For subscription or other information, visit:

China’s “Peaceful Rise’ Enters Turbulence

Recent actions by China, including its declaration of an air defense identification zone (ADIZ) that includes areas in dispute with Japan, have generated a great deal of concern by China’s neighbors. Arthur Waldron argues that the reaction of East Asian countries to the unilateral declaration of the ADIZ is typical of what China may expect in the future. The fact is, contends Waldron, that while China’s military “rise” is a reality, the People’s Republic of China has adopted an unrealistic strategy of intimidation that is already eliciting counter-reactions, which will make achieving its apparent goals increasingly difficult. As a result of this strategy’s likely failure, China will confront unwelcome choices about how far to take her use of force. Thus, the “rise” of China is now encountering turbulence that may undo it.

Is Realism Dead?  Academic Myths and Asia’s International Politics

Nicholas Khoo analyzes two academic non-realist theses that purport to explain Asia’s recent foreign policy. He contends that a careful examination of the academic debate on Asia’s international relations over the past decade demonstrates the futility of attempts to reconcile non-realist theories of international relations with the actual policies of Asian states.

U.S. Strategy in a Transitioning Middle East: Reviving ‘State Responsibility’

Here, in the first of a three article cluster on the Middle East and Islam, Barak Mendelsohn argues that U.S. decision-makers must rethink their strategy for the region, given the uncertainty arising from the Arab Awakening and the apparent inability of the United States to shape the process of transition.  He contends that American interests in the Middle East are best achieved by reducing U.S. involvement in the region and letting the dust settle.  At the same time, since the risk of negative externalities that accompany transition must be kept in check, the United States, together with other powers, should lead the international community in reviving the principle of “state responsibility,” as a productive way to reduce spillover of conflicts and even provide incentives for actors in the region to limit violence.

The Middle East: Learning from the Past

David T. Jones examines the dismal record of American attempts to broker a peace between the state of Israel and Palestinian Arabs. The most recent effort by the Obama Administration illustrates the wisdom of Dr. Samuel Johnson’s adage that a second marriage represents the triumph of hope over experience. Although the Middle East is hardly the only divided land—Korea remains divided as does Cyprus—“peace” is not a trivial accomplishment. Many Israelis and Palestinian Arabs would gladly settle for something along the lines of both the Korean peninsula and Cyprus in the hopes of achieving something more permanent.

Cycles of Jihadist Movements and the Role of Irrationality

Anthony N. Celso argues that Islamist terror is driven by irrational forces. He analyzes jihadist values and the doctrines that animate Islamic revolutionaries, contending that jihadist movements go through a cycle of mobilization, extremism, implosion and re-creation. Using the cases of Iraq and Algeria, he assesses the prospects for jihadist revitalization, extremism, and decline in Syria and the Sahel.

Combating Asymmetric Threats: The Interplay of Offense and Defense

Since the end of the Cold War, much has been written about “asymmetric threats.” This is sometimes hard to fathom. After all, there are only two types of strategy: asymmetric and stupid. No strategy worth the name does anything other than attempt to pit strength against weakness, the very essence of asymmetry. Fighting on the enemy’s terms, scoring short-term wins at unjustifiably high costs in lives, treasure and lost opportunities is simply unacceptable. Lani Kass and J. Phillip London drive this observation home by examining the ways and means by which the United States could exploit the asymmetric battle-space and win against the ever-changing array of threats posed by both states and non-state actors in the international arena.

Benign Neglect: America’s Threat to the Anglo-American Alliance

Since the end of World War II, America’s steadiest and most loyal ally has been Great Britain, to the extent that the Anglo-American alliance has been described as a “special relationship.” While the United States can ill afford to lose the loyalty of any ally, it can least afford to lose one that has proven itself over and over again. Yet according to Alan Dobson and Steve Marsh, this appears to be exactly what is happening with regard to the United Kingdom. The United States must do more to nurture this alliance, which is, indeed, a special one.

International Convention for the Peaceful Use of Cyberspace

Edward M Roche and Michael J. Blaine argue that the United States is currently engaged in a cyber arms race, analogous to previous arms races: the naval arms races of the early twentieth century and the nuclear arms race and space race of the Cold War. In order to avoid miscalculations and escalating costs, the authors recommend the creation of an international convention to govern the use of cyberspace. 

The Real ‘Forever’ War

Finally, Frank Hoffman reviews a new book that reexamines the generalship of William Westmoreland in Vietnam, reminding us, as did the fall 2013 issue of Orbis, that debates about that unhappy conflict continue unabated.

(This preview of Orbis, as presented in the Editor’s Corner, is followed by the Editor’s reflections on “The Revenge of Force Planning.”)