Foreign Policy Research Institute A Nation Must Think Before it Acts Presenting the Fall 2015 Orbis: Understanding Geopolitics on FPRI’s 60th Anniversary
Presenting the Fall 2015 Orbis: Understanding Geopolitics on FPRI’s 60th Anniversary

Presenting the Fall 2015 Orbis: Understanding Geopolitics on FPRI’s 60th Anniversary

Presenting the Fall 2015 Orbis: Understanding Geopolitics on FPRI’s 60th Anniversary

By Mackubin Thomas Owens

Orbis Fall 2015 CoverMac 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, please click here. To view this issue online, click here.


2015 marks the 60th anniversary of the Foreign Policy Research Institute. FPRI was founded by the influential strategic thinker, Robert Strausz-Hupé. This issue of Orbis is dedicated to the legacy of Strausz-Hupé, most notably his role in rehabilitating the study of geopolitics. To this end we begin the issue by republishing three essays, including Strausz-Hupé’s inaugural essay from Orbis in 1957, in which he provides a profound window into his conception of the role of geopolitics in thinking about international affairs.

We next excerpt a chapter from Robert Kaplan’s influential book, The Revenge of Geography, in which he rejects the “idealist” view that the importance of geography has been diminished by technology and a political ideology that stresses cooperation rather than competition in international affairs. Finally we include my article from the Naval War College Review in 1999, defending classical geopolitics as articulated by Halford Mackinder, Nicholas Spykman, and Strausz-Hupé, and making predictions about international relations based on geopolitical reasoning.

This fall issue features a cluster of four articles based on FPRI’s Stanley and Arlene Ginsburg Family Foundation Lecture Series. The first of these by Ronald Granieri is general in nature, tracing the intellectual roots of FPRI’s approach to Geopolitics, as initially formulated by its founder Strausz-Hupé, and discussing how this approach contrasts with other intellectual traditions.

The remaining three Ginsburg essays take a regional focus. In the first article, Jakub Grygiel examines the geopolitics of Europe, contending that “Europe” is a term that describes a geographic reality that aspires to be a political one, while highlighting Europe’s illusions of unity and its delusions of international harmony permeating its politics today. 

Next, June Teufel Dreyer explores the rise of China and its assertive actions in the East China and South China seas, noting that efforts by neighboring states to form a countervailing coalition have thus far proved ineffective. Nonetheless, she contends, although Beijing’s tactics have been successful thus far, China’s financial, structural, and resource weaknesses suggest that its effort to control the area will ultimately fail.  

In the final article of the Ginsburg series, Adam Garfinkle discusses the limitations to geopolitics as applied to the contemporary Middle East. The problem is, he argues, that geopolitics’ analytical spotlight focuses on “states” but in the Middle East, “states” lack real decisional agency, a problem that lies at the core of the region’s instability. 

Tally Helfont also addresses the Middle East and what many see as a decline of U.S. influence in the region. She contends that while the U.S. ability to project power and assert influence in the Middle East has waned over the past few years, the United States should be able to capitalize on the emergence of a strong pro-Western geopolitical alliance bloc poised to confront Iran and other subversive actors in the region.

John Haines writes about the geopolitics of energy as he evaluates Russia’s network of natural gas pipelines and ethnic enclaves in its near abroad in the interest of exploring whether and how the two intersect.

Michael Noonan catalogues the problems arising from the changing geopolitical landscape and the failure of the United States to adapt to those changes. U.S. instruments of power lag behind changes in the global environment. If the United States is to maintain its position in the world, it must be able to exploit more easily opportunities when they arise, using all the tools of national power and applying a blend of direct and indirect strategies to advance its interests and to counter those of competitors. 

The final article of the issue takes us back to the genesis of geopolitical thought. Here, Francis Sempa outlines the “roots” of Sir Halford Mackinder’s worldview that are visible in his lesser-known early writings. These writings make it clear that a frequent charge against geopolitics, that it is merely geographic determinism, is false.