Foreign Policy Research Institute A Nation Must Think Before it Acts Presenting the Winter 2015 Issue of Orbis

Presenting the Winter 2015 Issue of Orbis

Presenting the Winter 2015 Issue of Orbis

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 the Elsevier website. FPRI members at the $150 level or above receive a complimentary subscription (for individuals, not institutions). For membership information, visit the FPRI member’s page


We kick off the winter issue of Orbis with Robert George’s recent Templeton Lecture on the importance of religious freedom. Religious liberty is something that Americans take for granted but it is a rare commodity worldwide. Professor George explains why the lack of religious freedom in much of the world should be a matter of concern for all of us.

As the U.S. disengages from the two wars it has fought over the last decade and a half, some foreign policy thinkers have advanced a grand strategy of “offshore balancing,” an approach that was once called a strategy of limited liability. Williamson Murray and Peter Mansoor argue that given the uncertain future created by a rapidly changing, and increasingly multipolar global environment, any viable U.S. grand strategy demands restoration of the economy at home and the strengthening of alliances abroad.

Benedetta Berti and Yoel Guzansky note that the upheavals created by the so-called Arab Awakening have, by and large, left the Gulf monarchies intact. But, they ask, is this resilience likely to last? They go on to analyze the characteristics that have allowed these monarchies to weather the storm, focusing on both pre-existing structural and cultural factors, as well as political responses to the unfolding regional protests.

Our first cluster of articles examines responses to the so-called rise of China. In the first, Jake Bebber contends that what we are seeing is not really a permanent rise of Chinese power, but a surge—a temporary situation of perhaps 20 to 30 years.  He argues that demographic, economic, and political factors will all combine to create a ceiling on Chinese power and ultimately cause it to decline. To sustain American influence well into the twenty-first century and beyond, the United States needs to develop military capabilities that will prepare it for the coming strategic window, along with the economic and political initiatives that will enable it to influence events in the region. In the second article, Toshi Yoshihara argues that the key to Japan’s response to the Chinese threat to maritime Asia is to turn Beijing’s anti-access operational concept on itself.

Our second cluster addresses the issue of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), colloquially called “drones.” Michael Boyle examines the prospect of a gradually emerging drones arms race, which, he argues, will have some important and potentially dangerous consequences for the international system. Given these risks, he contends, it is in Washington’s interest to take a leading role in slowing the global race for drones and in developing strict legal or normative mechanisms to govern drone usage and sales in the future. Lindsay Warrior addresses a frequently ignored aspect of reliance on armed drones: how their use, targeting, justification, and accountability affect the people and the organizations that operate the drones. She examines the costs to the operators and the military organization of increased reliance on drones, arguing that the government and the public need to come to terms with the human costs—both foreign and American—of increased use of unmanned systems.

Michael Kenney seeks to “dial down the rhetoric” on “cyber-terrorism.” He contends that it is necessary to distinguish cyber-terrorism from other cyber events, for example, cyber-attacks, cyber-war, use of the Internet by terrorists, and “hacktivism.” When such distinctions are made, he contends, the threat of cyber-terrorism is overstated.  Finally, Jacob Stokes reviews books that consider the emerging geopolitical contest between the United States and China.