Past, Present and Future Ways of Bounding Hard Power and War: An Eight-Part Blog

Photo: Steve Drolet

This week and the next, the ISN website will be concentrating on the problem of future forecasting. If the international system today is indeed undergoing core-level changes, then trying to understand where these changes might be taking us becomes important – not just in general, but in the case of how future belligerents might use what has become popularly known as hard power.

We know, however, that a robust contemplation of the future must be grounded in the past. Effective futurology, in other words, requires context. That is why before I contemplate the future of organized violence I’d like to perform a little history – i.e., I’d like to begin with a proposition that will also serve as my core theme over the next eight blog posts.

It goes as follows: Up through the late 20th century, concepts of military or hard power were inescapably entangled with the two characterizations of war that have dominated the modern era – 1) the “rational” pseudo-scientific approach of Renaissance and Enlightenment thinkers, and 2) the “irrational,” 19th century approach of military romantics. Both approaches are not totally “reality inclusive,” and because they first – and naturally – focused on the collision of hostile armies over disputed territory, they eventually trapped those who thought about the utility (or not) of war within a prison house of language. That trap lasted at least until the 1990s, at which point new ways of characterizing hard power appeared. These new ways, however, represented (and still do) a way back to the future, if anything else.

ISN Editorial Plan Starts: Future Forecasting

The future is this way. Photo: Michelle Bartholomew/flickr

Dear Colleagues:

Last week we provided a General Introduction to the three-part Editorial Plan we would like to explore on the ISN website in the weeks and months ahead. Well, our plan begins today and our first broad area of inquiry will be on the macroscopic structural changes we are experiencing in the international system. To analyze this large-scale topic properly, over the next 14 weeks we plan on exploring the 8 supporting sub-topics we identified in Part 1 of the General Introduction, including what many have come to call “futurology”:


A Quick Introduction to the Upcoming ISN Editorial Plan

The earth viewed from space. Photo: NASA Goddard/flickr

Dear valued members of the ISN community:

As of next Monday, 14 November, you are going to see something slightly different on the ISN webpage. Yes, you will continue to see many of the features we already provide. We are, however, going to embark on an experiment – a new Editorial Plan.

One of the temptations of being exclusively current events-oriented is that you can be “all over the map.” To try and avoid this problem, and to provide a service that few other websites of ISN’s type provide, we are going to implement an Editorial Plan. The title may infer something grand but all we actually want to do is tell a story. We want to walk through a three-part narrative that stops and thinks about some of the enduring issues that define international relations and security studies today.

The following slides depict what our story will focus on and how we will walk through it. Frankly, there is nothing complex about the three-part narrative of this tale, which is as follows.