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

Presenting the Fall 2014 Issue of Orbis

  • October 1, 2014

Presenting the Fall 2014 Issue of Orbis

  • October 1, 2014

By Mackubin T. Owens

Mac Owens is Editor of Orbis, FPRI’s quarterly journal of international affairs, and Senior Fellow in our Program on National Security. Orbis is published for the Foreign Policy Research Institute by Elsevier. For subscription or other information, visit:

In 1986, Congress mandated that new administrations were required to produce a “national security strategy,” envisioned as a public pronouncement of U.S. grand strategy. While some of the early ones were worthwhile, recent national security strategy documents have become little more than platitudinous expressions of aspirations, without any true discussion of the interlocking elements of grand strategy: how to apply limited national resources in order to best achieve the goals of national policy.

In our lead article for this issue of Orbis, FPRI Senior Fellow Frank Hoffman addresses the complexities associated with building a robust strategy that effectively integrates all elements of national power within a complex bureaucracy. Perhaps most critically, grand strategy cannot exclude politics. To do so contradicts our understanding of war and conflict.  Hoffman’s essay represents a serious effort to build a competitive strategy that can be sustained over time. 

In the late summer and fall of 2014, we mark the centennial of the outbreak of World War I. Earlier this year, FPRI and the Reserve Officers Association (ROA) held a workshop to address the issue of the war’s origins. To mark the centenary of the Great War, we publish one of the papers from that workshop as well as a second essay from another FPRI event.

Michael Neiberg of the Army War College, author of Dance of the Furies: Europe and the Outbreak of World War I, explores the ways that analogies to 1914 have been used—and misused—to attempt to understand present-day policy problems. As he does in his book, Neiberg criticizes several traditional ways of viewing 1914, focusing instead on the conflation of unusual and unexpected circumstances that came to pass during that fateful summer. The article concludes by discussing some of the dangers inherent in simplifying history, looking closely at the ways that historians tend to use the past to develop insights for the present.

John H. Maurer, my colleague at the Naval War College and predecessor as editor of Orbis, examines the strategic decisions that led to the struggle between Britain and Germany, exploring how a great war involving Europe’s leading powers could come to pass.  He points out that in 1914, there were no forces beyond the control of decision makers pushing them into the war. Indeed, those horrors resulted from poor policy and strategic choices made by the leaders of the great powers.  Disagreeing with Neiberg to a certain extent, Maurer draws parallels between the great power struggle of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries between Great Britain and Germany and today’s strategic competition between the United States and China. British statesmen failed to convince Germany’s leaders to exercise self-restraint in the lead-up to the war. He argues that it will take great strategic acumen by American statesmen in the years ahead to shape the internal debate within China in a way that Britain failed to do in the case of Germany. 

Daniel R. Green argues that unmanned aerial drone strikes in Yemen against al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) are insufficient in the long run to defeat the group. Instead, he contends that the United States should adopt a “forward strategy” focused on mobilizing the local population to confront AQAP while providing communities with realistic good governance, development, and reconstruction initiatives. Austin Long argues that since special operations forces (SOF) have become increasingly central to the wars of the twenty-first century, NATO should make a concerted effort to coordinate the SOF of its various countries.

Anna Simons addresses the effort by the Department of Defense to better employ the social sciences in response to threats emanating from the non-West. She points out that this effort runs up against several challenges: an inability to “model” non-Western minds; and the impossibility of devising a methodology that will accurately capture contingency.  Instead of spending large sums on trying to devise more comprehensive models, methodologies, and metrics, DoD should invest more heavily in individuals who already have an affinity for—and interest in—the non-West and who show promise as future commanders and talented analysts. 

Sibylle Scheipers examines the origins of the West’s treatment of irregular fighters in the war on terror. She argues that irregular fighters became such a vital issue post-9/11 not because the war on terror was a new kind of war, but because these fighters reflected an identity that was the polar opposite of the West’s regular armed forces at the start of the twenty-first century. 

John R. Haines writes that the contentious triangle of the Sea of Okhotsk, a marginal sea bounded by Russia’s Kamchatka peninsula, Sakhalin Island, and the Kuril Islands archipelago represents a churning security environment equal to those of the East and the South China Seas. Like the latter, the Sea of Okhotsk is also characterized by manifold territorial disputes that perennially threaten to escalate into wider and much hotter conflicts.

Kevin Marsh analyzes the 2014 Quadrennial Defense Review (QDR) report, addressing the degree to which it is able to support a defense strategy and a budget capable of reversing U.S. power decline, defending core U.S. national security interests, and countering the emerging threat posed by rising challenger states. Finally, Charles Edel reviews Emile Simpson’s well-received book, War From the Ground Up: Twenty First Century Combat as Politics.