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

Presenting the Spring 2015 Issue of Orbis

Presenting the Spring 2015 Issue of Orbis

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 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 membership page

We kick off the spring issue of Orbis with a very important article by Arthur Waldron, who contends that China’s adoption of a more forward policy militarily and a deeply revisionist approach diplomatically, especially since 2010, took the United States and its allies by surprise because American assumptions about China have been far too optimistic. Waldron surveys the new situation and concludes that neither we, nor our allies, understand the origins of the present situation, and accordingly how to deal with it. He believes that the situation can be managed and retrieved, but not without some major and quite unexpected changes.

Artyom Lukin and Rens Lee argue that Russia’s Far East (RFE), like much of eastern Asia, is at risk of becoming a de facto appendage of a powerful and assertive Chinese state. This outcome is accelerated by Russia’s deteriorating relations with the West and a host of associated economic problems, increasing the likelihood that the People’s Republic of China will shape the region’s development trajectory to its advantage. Such a strong and controlling Chinese presence in the RFE, including preferential access to the region’s resource base and perhaps a measure of political control, could greatly increase China’s geopolitical weight, relative to its neighbors, enhancing its prospects for regional hegemony in East and Northeast Asia.

Thomas F. Lynch argues that the promised post-2014 U.S./NATO military presence in Afghanistan is short of barely serious because it fails to provide sufficient intelligence presence and operational agility in an area rife with insurgency and terrorist organizations. He advocates a policy and force that is better postured to provide these capabilities.[1]

Harsh Pant and Frank O’Donnell address the concern that while India continues to build its material capabilities, it still falls short in its ability to direct these capabilities toward the service of a grand strategy. They argue that a key feature of current Indian defense reform efforts must be to develop an integrative defense policymaking structure that is able to correct this deficiency. 

Arthur Cyr disagrees with the claim that Turkey’s recent history has placed it at odds with Europe and the United States, and that Ankara has become an unreliable ally. He considers recent developments, but attempts to place Turkish policies into their historical and geographical context, concluding that Turkey remains geo-strategically important to both Europe and the United States.

Christopher Fettweis takes aim at geopolitical thought as developed by such writers as Sir Halford Mackinder and Nicholas Spykman, and its recent revival in the works of such authors as Colin Gray and Robert Kaplan. He argues that to the extent that classical geopolitics was ever applicable to international relations, it has long been negated by advances in technology. More fundamentally, he contends that geopolitical reasoning fails to meet the requirements of theory: description, prediction, and prescription. 


Anthony Celso examines takfiri jihadist groups like Boko Haram in Nigeria and the Islamic State in the context of Jeffrey Kaplan’s “fifth wave of terror” theory. Nonetheless he contends that, contrary to Kaplan, such Islamist groups are, indeed, part of the fifth wave.

Paul Carrese rejects the usual academic practice of trying to shoehorn U.S. foreign policy into the distinctly European theories of liberalism, realism, or nationalism, as taught in International Relations courses.  He shows that there is continuity in America’s grand strategy that can be traced to Washington’s Farewell Address in 1796, which blended such views in a distinctly American way.  Washington’s legacy is evident nearly two centuries later in Eisenhower’s Farewell Address in 1961.  Together these statesments embody the distinctive quality of American strategy that bends and balances interests and justice, prudence and principles, and power and pacific benevolence.

In our book review essay, Furman Daniel discusses three recent works on grand strategy.


[1] This essay was published in condensed form as an FPRI E-Note under the title “There is Still Time to Keep Afghanistan from Going the Way of Iraq – If Drawdown Plans are Significantly Modified,” (March 2015).