The CSS Blog

Offshore Balancing, US Retreat and Strategic Disorder

Waiting to board

The sun sets behind a C-17 Globemaster III as Soldiers wait to board the aircraft. Courtesy the US Army/Flickr

This article was originally published by the Australian Strategic Policy Institute’s The Strategist on 28 June 2016.

John Mearsheimer’s and Stephen Walt’s recent Foreign Affairs article advocating a return to offshore balancing is certainly generating a debate amongst the doyens of US foreign policy. Tom Switzer, for example, clearly likes their arguments. Dan Drezner doesn’t. So perhaps I ought to begin by outlining my own position. I accept the starting point for the Mearsheimer/Walt argument: the strategic mainstream is starting to fracture as America reprioritises its domestic agenda. But I don’t accept that offshore balancing—a strategy under which the US stays ‘offshore’ from Eurasia for as long as possible and, even when it comes onshore, makes its allies carry as much of the weight as possible—would lead to favourable outcomes for either the world or America.

Despite the Mearsheimer/Walt argument that ‘by husbanding US strength, an offshore-balancing strategy would preserve US primacy well into the future’, I don’t see how international observers would perceive offshore balancing as anything other than US retreat. And those perceptions would, in turn, fundamentally weaken the credibility of US security assurances to allies and partners. Critics would paint it as the waning of the Pax Americana, and not entirely without reason.

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Effective Minilateralism for the EU: What, When and How

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Courtesy Don/flickr

This article was originally published by the European Union Institute for Security Studies (EUISS) in June 2016.

Transnational challenges – including terrorism, instability stemming from regional conflicts and fragile states, nuclear proliferation, climate change, trade protectionism and pandemics – cannot be tackled without successful collaboration on a global level. But while the need for more effective cooperation between states remains acute, multilateral talks at the United Nations have often failed, stalled, under-achieved or lacked financing and commitment in recent years.

Large, bureaucratic institutions such as the UN, the EU, NATO and the World Trade Organisation (WTO) cannot be as innovative or responsive as they would always like. They are composed of diverse groups of countries with distinct world-views, resources, objectives and perspectives on threats to security. Frameworks created by such institutions risk becoming inflexible. Attempts to reach agreements between member states can be time-, resource- and energy-intensive. As a result, decision-making can prove cumbersome and slow-paced and lead to watered-down results, often requiring member states to cede control.

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A Greater Military Role for Germany?

Reichstag building Berlin view from west before sunset

Reichstag building Berlin view from west before sunset, Courtesey of Wikimedia Commons, Jürgen Matern

This article was originally published by Carnegie Europe on 7 June 2016.

The German government will soon publish a new defense white paper, a strategy document setting out guidelines for German defense policy, the first since 2006.

This paper has already received some attention abroad, mainly in the UK in the context of the country’s referendum on EU membership on June 23, due to extensive press coverage of Germany’s alleged ambition to build an “EU army.” However, the improbable rhetorical aim of a European defense union obscures the more interesting aspects of Germany’s evolving defense policy and its growing significance for European defense.

Germany has long had difficult debates about its military role in European and global security, going back to the Social Democratic–Green government’s support for the NATO intervention in Kosovo in 1999. Germany’s military contributions since then have fluctuated from strong support for the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) mission in Afghanistan during the 2000s to its abstention from the UN Security Council resolution preceding NATO’s military intervention in Libya in 2011.

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Eurocentrism and the Global Strategy: How Do Others Perceive the EU’s Role in the World?

Euro Blog

The Eifel tower lit up with the EU flag, courtesy looking4poetry/flickr

This article was originally published by European Geostrategy on 3 June 2016.

The idea of eurocentrism has been both debated and somewhat discredited in recent years. Philosophically, a realisation that European Enlightenment thought was perhaps more hegemonic than universal has led to a wider appreciation of alternative knowledge systems from further afield. Politically, a similar shift in the centre of gravity has displaced ‘the West’ as the paradigm of progress and development, helped by the economic rise of ‘the rest’. And on a more profane level, the navel-gazing of European policy-makers has also been challenged as too inward-focused in an increasingly competitive world.

As the European Union (EU) prepares to launch the new Global Strategy, it is worth examining how much it really has moved on; has it managed to come to terms with an increasingly non-eurocentric order? Can it craft a strategy which is assertively European yet realistically conscious of its external partners? A key consideration in gauging this is examining how these partners view Europe – what they think of its global role and how they see it developing. Such perceptions, although not fundamental drivers of policy formulation, nevertheless shape the reality within which decisions are taken, and are arguably often overlooked in the study of international relations.

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Grappling with the Fait Accompli: A Classical Tactic in the Modern Strategic Landscape

Note stating 'It's a fate accompli'

Note stating ‘It’s a fate accompli’, courtesy Adamina/Flickr

This article was originally published by War on the Rocks on 31 May 2016.

Good scholarship doesn’t need to fit within a 2×2 matrix, but it sure helps make sense of things when it does. It’s in this spirit of conceptual clarity that I developed the diagram below depicting variations in the fait accompli, an age-old but underappreciated tactic of the disgruntled and strategically minded. Rather than the naked use of force or threat-making alone—situations whose logics are straightforward even if the best responses aren’t—the fait accompli is a move that pursues an advantage by making it difficult for a competitor to retaliate or counter.

Variations of the Fair Accompli

Variations of the Fait Accompli Table, courtesy Van Jackson/War on the Rocks

This 2×2 diagram is part of a lecture I give at the Asia-Pacific Center for Security Studies on revisionist tactics short of war — what many now call “gray zone” conflicts. Although most security studies scholars and analysts understand broadly what a fait accompli is — literally an “accomplished fact” — the tactic itself has rarely been an object of analysis (two recent rare exceptions are discussed more below). This is a serious oversight, because in the so-called “gray zone” of conflict, the fait accompli is a common means by which states pursue revisionist agendas.

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