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Current Affairs

Vol. 2 No. 1 | Winter 2015
Avatars of Chec...

Avatars of Checkbook Diplomacy:

From the Afghan Jihad to the Arab Spring

Ibrahim Warde | 02 February 2015


The United States and Saudi Arabia lavished money and weapons on unsavory characters during the anti-Soviet jihad of the 1980s, giving little thought to the possibility of a blowback or boomerang effect—that they would in effect be funding and arming their future enemies. It is indeed ironic that the principal bankrollers of the jihad later became the main targets of offshoots of that jihad. A non-negligible part of the money and weapons sent by the United States to Iraq, in particular as part of the “Sunni awakening”, is now in the hands of extremists.With the near-exclusive focus on military developments, the financial front of the war on terror is all but ignored. This article traces the evolution of checkbook diplomacy in conflicts involving the Islamic world. 


As a longer article, this piece will only be offered in PDF format for easier reading. Download the PDF to read more.

Ibrahim Warde 


Ibrahim Warde is an adjunct professor at the Fletcher School where he teaches courses on Islam and Politics, Islamic Finance, and Informal and Underground Finance. He is the author of The Price of Fear: The Truth behind the Financial War on Terror (University of California Press 2008) and Islamic Finance in the Global Economy (Edinburgh University Press 2010), and was a Carnegie Scholar working on informal financial networks in the Islamic world.

Enough to Go A...

Enough to Go Around?

Money Matters Complicate

U.S. Strategic Rebalance to Asia-Pacific

Leon Whyte & Richard Weitz | 29 January 2015

I.  State of the "Asia Pivot"


The U.S. Strategic Rebalance to Asia – also known as the “Asia Pivot” – has been a cornerstone of the Obama administration’s foreign policy since 2011. Hillary Clinton offered a detailed explaination of the concept in a 2011 Foreign Policy article.[1] The basic idea behind the Rebalance is that many U.S. core economic and security interests are increasingly centered in the Asia-Pacific region, so the United States needs to allocate more diplomatic, economic, military, and other assets towards the region.


The Strategic Rebalance would do just that. The Defence Strategic Guidance relaeased by the Defence Department in January 2012 made supporting the rebalance a key Pentagon objective. The Obama Administration accordingly plans to increase the percentage of naval assets in the Pacific to 60 percent by 2020[2] in addition to stationing 2,500 Marines in Darwin, Australia, and 4 littoral combat ships in Singapore.[3][4] Given the region’s economic importance, this makes sense. The Asia-Pacific region accounted for 40 percent of global economic growth in 2013. In 2012, the U.S. exports to the region totaled $555 billion, which supported 2.8 million U.S. jobs.[5]


The economic and security aspects of the rebalance policy are interconnected. The U.S. strategic presence in the region has contributed to the stability that has enabled the amazing growth of Asian economies over the past 60 years. As U.S. Deputy Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter noted in 2012: “If that (U.S.) security were ever to go away… all of the people in the Asia-Pacific region that have been lifted up into prosperity in the post-War period, would be set back significantly. The global economy would be set back significantly... that is partly why we are rebalancing our efforts in the region.”[6] If the Rebalance works as promised, then the United States would continue to provide the region with security, which would in turn promote stability and continued economic growth, a significant win-win for the United States and its Asian partners.


However, U.S. economic weaknesses and the Budget Control Act of 2011 – which mandates cuts in U.S. government spending (known as “sequestration”) – have constrained the U.S. government’s ability to resource the Rebalance adequately and meet its regional security commitments.[7] The sequestration process was deliberately devised to present the Congress with an unacceptable outcome if the mebers failed to balance the budget through a combination of tax hikes and targeted spending cuts. But the congressional compromise has failed to occur, and now sequestration is threatening to wreck havoc throughout the government with arbitrary percentage-driven spending cuts. Complicating matters further in the defense domain are the Taliban’s resilience in Afghanistan and the stunning emergence of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria. During the initial planning and unveiling of the Rebalance, the United States assumed it would be possible to shift more resources to Asia as it curtailed its commitments in the Middle East and South Asia,[8] yet U.S. engagement in these areas is steadying or growing. New challenges have also emerged in Europe due to Russian aggression against Ukraine.


Among other steps, the Obama Administration will need to find common ground with the new Republican-controlled Congress to reassure allies that U.S. strategic commitments will be matched with U.S. means based on strategic considerations, rather than domestic partisan battles.



II.  Reassuring Allies in a Time of Austerity


In 2011, President Barack Obama told the Australian parliament that “reductions in U.S. defense spending will not – I repeat, will not – come at the expense of the Asia-Pacific.”[9] U.S. Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel has reaffirmed this commitment on several occasions, including at the AUSMIN talks in Sydney in June 2014, when Hagel signed the Forces Posture Agreement that will see US military assets expand in Australia for the next 25 years.[10]


This reassurance is important, as countries in Asia have come to depend on the United States to provide security and stability in the region. If they believe the United States is no longer capable of fulfilling this role, the chances of Asian states engaging in destabilizing regional arms races increases.[11] In 2012, Asia outspent Europe on defense for the first time, and that ratio is increasing.[12] South Korea announced a 5.3 percent increase in defense spending for 2015, which is the highest rate of defense growth since 2011.[13] In Japan, the Abe Administration is prioritizing Japanese defense capabilities, as evidenced by its submission of the largest ever defense budget request this year.[14] This increased defense spending can trigger a regional security dilemma. This is especially true in the case of Japan, which has historical antagonisms with both Koreas and China dating from Japan’s colonial period and World War II-era atrocities.[15] However, China spends more on its military than Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, and Vietnam combined, and is continuing to increase military spending.[16] [17]


The U.S. defense cuts are coming at a time when regional tensions are high. South Korea faces a provocative North Korea. Since 2010, North Korea has: sunk the Cheonan, a South Korean submarine, killing 46 seamen; shelled Yeonpyong, a South Korean Island, killing four South Koreans; and threatened to turn Seoul into a sea of fire.[18] China’s assertive actions in the East China Sea have presented a significant strategic threat to Japan. Tensions are centered over competing territorial claims over what the Japanese call the Senkaku Islands. In November 2013, China without warning declared a new Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ) in the East China Sea that encompassed the disputed islands and overlapped both Japan and South Korea’s previously established ADIZs.[19] In the South China Seas, there is threat that territorial disputes between China and other countries will erupt into conflict.[20] 



III.  Budget Cuts and Sequestration: What's at Stake?


In 2014, Katrina McFarland, the U.S. Assistant Secretary of Defense for Acquisition, declared that due to budget constraints “the pivot is being looked at again, because candidly it can’t happen.”[21] The next day, MacFarland withdrew her statement, but there are genuine concerns about U.S. ability to continue strengthen commitments to Asia while managing other worldwide crises as defense resources shrink. For example, despite his many assurances to Asian allies about the rebalance policy, Hagel warned in 2014 that, if the sequestration cuts continued as planned, the military would become a “hollow force… not capable of fulfilling assigned missions.”[22] Under current plans, the United States will reduce its military budget by $487 billion in planned cuts over the next ten years on top of a potential additional $500 billion in cuts mandated by sequestration.[23] A further concern is that the U.S. military will have to reallocate resources to carry out new missions in Iraq, Syria, Europe, and other locations.[24]


Another important aspect of the defense cut is the plan to reduce the overall size of the active duty U.S. Army to fewer than 450,000 soldiers, which would be its smallest size since before WWII.[25] For Seoul, these reductions are of particular concern because any major Korean contingency in the event of a North Korean invasion or collapse would require a massive ground force to stabilize the peninsula.[26] For Japan and South East Asian countries, the U.S. Navy presence is a major concern since much of the disputed territory in the region is maritime. Even if the Navy moves 60 percent of their fleet to the Pacific by 2020, continuing current cuts may result in a smaller force. For example, the 2015 Department of Defense budget reduced funding for U.S. Navy shipbuilding from $17.9 billion to $14.4 billion.[27]


The U.S. Air Force, which would be important in any conflict in the Asia-Pacific, has suffered critical budget cuts relating to its readiness, force structure, and modernization accounts.[28] These defense cutbacks has led the head of U.S. Pacific Command, Adm. Locklear, to state that “The ability for the services to provide the type of maritime coverage, the air coverage of some of the key elements that we’ve historically needed in this part of the world for crisis response, have not been available to the level that I would consider acceptable risk [due to recent budget cutbacks],” a response bound to leave U.S. allies uneasy as tensions remain high in East Asia.[29] U.S. efforts to revitalize the U.S. nuclear weapons establishment or develop new non-nuclear technologies, such as through the Pentagon’s new Offset Strategy, are also constrained by limited funding.



IV.  Rebalancing the Rebalance


It is normal for countries to decrease defense spending after ending wars. In addition, in a period of American austerity, it is beneficial for American allies to contribute more, especially rich ones like South Korea and Japan. Yet, the United States must remain the dominant security force in Asia, as its continued presence as an offshore power is less likely to ignite a security dilemma than, for example, a rapidly rearming Japan. Asia’s continued peace and prosperity requires a secure and stable environment, which only the United States is currently able to provide. Sequestration under the Budget Control Act is a blunt tool that reduces U.S. ability to plan strategically. Currently the United States is at an impasse where the amount of funding requested for FY 2015 does not meet stated U.S. national security strategy laid out in the 2014 Quadrennial Defense Review.[30] The Bipartisan Budget Act in 2013 reduced the effects of sequestration on defense spending for FY2014 and FY2015 by about $30 billion.[31]  Still, additional legislation is needed to prevent the cuts from returning in full force in FY2016.


President Obama and the new Congress should make funding the Strategic Rebalance a bipartisan priority. There is some hope that greater clarity and cooperation between the Obama administration and Congress, the 2015 National Defense Authorization Act included a new provision that requires the DOD to submit an Asian strategy report to Congress.[32] The Congress should use this report as an opportunity to be more involved with the Rebalance strategy because without their involvement it cannot be funded adaquetly. The U.S. national interest and a well-planned strategy should guide the “Asia Pivot,” not the arbitrary and irrational dictates of the Budget Control Act of 2011.


* The authors would like to thank Paul Bleakley and William Karpie for providing research assistance for this text, as well as FSR Editors Travis Wheeler and Andrew Koch for their further input.

[1] Hillary Clinton, “America’s Pacific Century,” Foreign Policy, October 11, 2011,

[2] Deputy Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter, “The U.S. Strategic Rebalance to Asia: A Defense Perspective,” Speech Delivered at The Asia Society, New York, August 1, 2012.

[3] Bill Gertz, “Inside the Ring: Pentagon reevaluating Obama’s pivot to Asia,” Washington Times, March 5, 2014,

[4] Cindy Thebaud, “Enhancing regional security with littoral combat ships,” Today Online, May 7, 2014,

[5] Strategic Digest: United Nations Command, U.S.-ROK Combined Forces Command, U.S. Forces Korea, Spring 2014, p. 7,

[6] Deputy Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter, “The U.S. Strategic Rebalance to Asia: A Defense Perspective,” Speech Delivered at The Asia Society, New York, August 1, 2012.

[7] Bruce Klingner, “Asia's Big Fear: Is America Emboldening China and North Korea?,” The Heritage Foundation, July 17, 2014,

[8] Hillary Clinton, “America’s Pacific Century,” Foreign Policy, October 11, 2011,

[9] “Remarks By President Obama to the Australian Parliament,” The White House, November 17, 2011,


[11] Bonnie S. Glaser, “Armed Clash in the South China Sea: Contingency Planning Memorandum No. 14,” Council on Foreign Relations, April 2012,

[12] Seth Cropsey, “The Rebalance to Asia: What Are Its Security Aims and What Is Required of U.S. Policy?,” Hudson Institute, June 2014, 18.

[13] Craig Caffrey, “South Korea announces 5.3% boost in defence spending,” IHS Jane’s, October 2, 2014,

[14] “Japan defence ministry makes largest-ever budget request,” BBC News, August 29, 2014,

[15] Cheng Xiaohe, “Japan’s Foreign Policy toward Northeast Asia as Seen in Chinese Publications,” The Asan Forum, October 21, 2014,

[16] Zachary Keck, “China’s Military Spending VS Asia’s Military Spending,” The Diplomat, February 6, 2014,

[17] “At the double,” The Economist, March 15, 2014,

[18] Yong Kwon, “Maritime Tensions Reveal Troubling Status Quo in Inter-Korean Relations,” The Diplomat, May 23, 2014,

[19] Jun Osawa, “China’s ADIZ over the East China Sea: A “Great Wall in the Sky”?,” Brookings Institute, December 17, 2013,

[20] Abraham M. Denmark, “Could Tensions in the South China Sea Spark a War?,” The National Interest, May 31, 2014,

[21] Zachary Keck, “Can the US Afford the Asia Pivot?,” The Diplomat, March 5, 2014,

[22] “Remarks by Secretary Hagel and Gen. Dempsey on the fiscal year 2015 budget preview in the Pentagon Briefing Room,” February 24, 2014,

[23] Kristina Wong, “Dempsey, Hagel arrive in South Korea as part of military pivot to Asia,” The Washington Times, September 29, 2013, For details of th effects of these cuts see: US Department of Defense, “Estimated Impacts of Sequestration Level Funding,” pril 2014,

[24] Avaneesh Pandey, “War On ISIS In Iraq, Syria Has Cost US $1.1B Since June: Pentagon,” International Business Times, October 7, 2014,

[25] Ernesto Londoño, “Pentagon blueprint would cut Army size as military adjusts to leaner budgets,” The Washington Post, February 24, 2014,

[26] Song Sang-ho, “U.S. troop cuts raise unease over peninsular security,” The Korea Herald, February 26, 2014,

[27] Seth Cropsey, “The Rebalance to Asia: What Are Its Security Aims and What Is Required of U.S. Policy?,” Hudson Institute, June 2014, 14.

[28] Claudette Roulo, “Every Budget Decision Hurts, Air Force Chief of Staff Says,” American Forces Press Service, March 14, 2014,

[29] Jon Harper, “Budget Cuts Could Limit Military's Pacific Pivot,” Stars and Stripes, March 25, 2014,

[30] Todd Harrison, “Analysis of the FY 2015 Defense Budget,” Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments, September 4, 2014, 3.

[31] Brendan McGarry, “Lawmakers Agree to Undo Some Sequestration Cuts,” News, December 11, 2013,

[32] Michael J. Green, Zack Cooper, and Mira Rapp Hooper, “Defense: Explaining and Resourcing

the Rebalance,” in Pivot 2.0” How the Administration and Congress Can Work Together to Sustain American Engagement in Asia to 2016, ed. Michael J. Green and Nicholas Szechenyi, CSIS, January 5, 2015,

Leon Whyte 


Leon Whyte is a second year master candidate at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University as well as the Senior Editor for the Current Affairs section of the Fletcher Security Review. His research interests include transnational security and U.S. alliances in East Asia.

Richard Weitz 


Richard Weitz is Senior Fellow and Director of the Center for Political-Military Analysis at Hudson Institute. His current research includes regional security developments relating to Europe, Eurasia, and East Asia as well as U.S. foreign and defense policies. Dr. Weitz is also an Expert at Wikistrat and a non-resident Adjunct Senior Fellow at the Center for a New American Security (CNAS).


Accountability for Armed Contractors

Dr. Ian Ralby | 12 January 2015

On 16 September 2007, the accountability of private armed contractors became a global concern.  A team of armed guards from the US company Blackwater Worldwide, operating on a US State Department contract, opened fire that day in Baghdad’s Nisor Square, killing seventeen Iraqi civilians and injuring an additional twenty.  It took more than seven years before four of the individuals responsible were ultimately convicted of either first degree murder or voluntary manslaughter by a jury in a U.S. Federal District Court.  A fifth member of the Blackwater team had previously pleaded guilty to manslaughter.[1]  The initial lack of consequences and the slow speed of justice provided the watchful world with strong evidence that armed contractors operate in a zone of legal twilight, devoid of accountability.

The rise of private armed contracting was one of the most distinctive operational developments of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Erik Prince, founder of Blackwater, famously stated: “Our corporate goal is to do for the national security apparatus what FedEx did to the postal service.”[2]  Throughout both conflicts, the hiring policies of several Western governments, particularly those of the United States, helped Blackwater and numerous other companies move toward that goal. By December 2008, for example, 69% of the United States’ total force in Afghanistan was comprised of private contractors, roughly 15% of which were armed.[3]  While there are no reliable statistics on the size of the global private armed security industry, there is little doubt that it has grown and contracted with the surge and decline of Western engagement in armed conflict.  New conflicts on the horizon, however, suggest the possibility of a resurgence of the industry, reigniting concerns about accountability. 


The proliferation of private armed security companies has coincided with a proliferation of initiatives aimed at developing accountability for the industry.  Numerous codes, standards, mechanisms and proposals – developed by governments, international organizations, civil society groups, private companies, trade associations, individuals, academics and multi-stakeholder bodies – have sought to address different issues surrounding armed contractors.  Most of them, however, have been developed in response to incidents that already occurred.  This reactive approach to accountability, while useful for addressing past problems, may leave the industry exposed to future problems.  In other words, a code, standard or mechanism set up to prevent another Nisor Square incident may be very effective in doing so, but may fail to prevent a different and even more worrying incident in the future. 


This article begins with a brief overview of the most credible accountability initiatives, suggesting that the resulting collection forms a patchwork, rather than a framework for governing the conduct of armed contractors.  The analysis then focuses on the process of selecting contractors, with a particular emphasis on the US Government.  While cost has been a key factor in determining selection, the various initiatives discussed have made it possible for accountability and quality to be added as essential metrics.  Ultimately, however, the failure of the accountability initiatives to remain current, much less forward-looking, means that the objective determinants of ‘accountability and quality’ may not be fit for purpose as the US and other Western powers begin to engage the services of armed contractors for assistance in new conflicts... 

As a longer article, this piece will only be offered in PDF format for easier reading. Download the PDF to read more.

[1] Matt Apuzzo, Blackwater Guards Found Guilty in 2007 Iraq Killings, N.Y. Times, 22 Oct. 2014, available at

[2] Jeremy Scahill, Blackwater: The Rise of the World’s Most Powerful Mercenary Army, 55 (2007).

[3] Moshe Schwartz, Department of Defense Contractors in Iraq and Afghanistan: Background

and Analysis, CONGRESSIONAL RESEARCH SURVEY, 14 (2 July 2010), available at

Dr. Ian Ralby 


Dr. Ian Ralby is a recognized expert on the regulation, governance and oversight of private security companies and has been advising governments on the subject for over five years.  As a lawyer, he advises clients on a range of international law, international relations and transnational security matters.  He holds a J.D. from William & Mary Law School and a Ph.D. in Politics and International Studies from the University of Cambridge.

Embattled Sup...

Embattled Superpowers

Dr. John H. Maurer | 26 January 2015

On the eve of the Second World War, the noted journalist John Gunther could still maintain that: “Great Britain, as everyone knows, is the greatest Asiatic power.”[1] The British Empire in Asia controlled a vast territory and large population, sweeping in a great arc from New Zealand and Australia in the South Pacific, to Southeast Asia and South China, and on to India and the Middle East. Britain stood as a superpower with economic interests and security commitments stretching around the globe, much as the United States stands today.


That position of leadership, however, was endangered. The emergence of major new industrial great powers was transforming the international landscape. These challengers, as they converted their growing economic strength into military power, confronted Britain’s leaders with uncomfortable strategic choices. In Asia, one of those rising challengers, imperial Japan, posed a dangerous threat to Britain’s standing as a world power after it embarked on a policy of expansion.


We know the outcome of Japan’s challenge: war and the catastrophic breakdown of Britain’s standing in Asia. The collapse of British power was in part brought about by dynamic changes in technology and the lethality of modern weaponry, particularly the advent of naval aviation, which shifted the naval balance in Japan’s favor. On the eve of war, Britain sought to deter Japan by forming a naval force in the Pacific, known to history as Force Z, consisting of the battleship Prince of Wales and battle cruiser Repulse. Even as Force Z steamed eastward, the Admiralty could spare none of its aircraft carriers, to protect it from air attack.  Nor did the Royal Air Force have enough modern aircraft based in the Far East to offer adequate protection for Force Z. Britain’s inability to control the skies meant the Royal Navy could not command the seas, and this permitted the Japanese to land ground forces in Malaya and seize Singapore, the strategic pivot of British defenses in Asia. Not since Yorktown had Britain suffered such a crushing setback. The world’s leading naval power had been bested by a challenger that exploited innovations in technology and doctrine to gain a marked qualitative edge in fighting power.


As far back as the 1920s, British decision makers and naval planners had foreseen the dangers posed by an expansionist Japan to Britain’s strategic position in Asia. British analysts and commentators took note of Japan’s industrial development, with exports employing a growing number of workers. Since the home islands were poor in natural resources, Japan’s industrial growth generated an increasing demand for imports of raw materials. British naval planners feared that this increased demand would, in turn, lead Japan to seek direct control over sources of supply by expansion in Asia.[2] The British Admiralty maintained that “the need of outlets for the population and for increased commerce and markets, especially new sources of self-supply, will probably be among the most compelling reasons for Japan to push a policy of penetration, expansion and aggression.”[3]


One astute British naval officer observed a struggle between a “section of the [Japanese] ruling classes” who favored cooperation with the West and the “military party, who have hitherto dominated Japan’s policy, [and] do not take kindly to these new ideas which, as a very minimum, presuppose the subordination of armies and navies to civilian direction.” Britain feared that a group of militarists, intent on exploiting nationalist sentiments, could emerge the winners in Japan’s internal power struggle. To prepare for this conflict, the Admiralty sought to recapitalize the naval force, and develop the logistical infrastructure to forward deploy a powerful fleet to the Pacific.


Plans to complete a strategic pivot to Asia as a hedge against an aggressive Japan confronted harsh economic realities in Britain, however. Britain suffered from sluggish economic performance throughout the interwar period: unemployment remained stubbornly high with older, staple industries no longer as competitive on world markets. In Asian markets, Japan posed a formidable trading competitor to Britain. With an overvalued currency, a heavy debt burden, and growing entitlement costs, Britain’s international competitive position weakened. The press baron Lord Rothermere complained: “It really looks [as if] every economic thing in England is going wrong. We are ... quite unsuited to the era of intensive competition which is now setting in.”[4]


Confronted by straitened economic circumstances, Britain’s political leaders opted to run risks in the strategic arena rather than rearm and jeopardize the economy’s prospects. Successive British governments during the 1920s and early 1930s curtailed the spending requests put forward by the Royal Navy for warship construction, operational readiness, and base development to protect Britain’s interests in Asia. In naval aviation, a key element in determining command at sea, Britain was also falling behind its rivals Japan and the United States. As a consequence, by the 1920s Britain had become a “frugal superpower” and could ill afford an arms race against a rising great power competitor.[5]


Could a reversal of fortune of this magnitude—the world’s leading naval power being soundly defeated by a rising challenger—happen again? The sad answer, of course, is that it most certainly could. Britain’s strategic predicament—as “the embattled superpower”—offers insight into the strategic challenges that currently face the United States. The end of Britain’s standing as a superpower conjures up a frightening scenario of how a post-American world might come about: not through a gradual, managed, “elegant decline,” but through sudden defeat at sea.[6]


What might Americans of today learn from studying the collapse of an earlier superpower? Let me put forward just two sobering thoughts.


First, the United States must reverse its policy course and increase its defense budget. Current trends provide cause for worry, and unless the U.S. Navy can find a way to produce more force for less money, its capability to meet new threats in the Pacific will decline. The Obama administration’s budget proposals would see defense spending drop to three percent of gross domestic product (GDP) by 2016. That measure of defense effort would continue to decline and is projected to drop to 2.3 percent of GDP by 2023.[7] Britain’s melancholy example underscores for American decision-makers that large defense cuts may undermine the stability of the regional order if a challenger is ready to take advantage.


Of particular concern, China’s rising military effort calls into question the strategic wisdom of further cuts to spending. Defense reductions by the United States—when coupled with China’s growing capabilities—portend a rapid and unwelcome shift in the international strategic landscape. To guide renewed defense efforts, Americans must first forge a consensus on an overall grand strategy. The United States needs to recapitalize its forces by undertaking programs for nuclear modernization, and to stay ahead of challengers in the aerospace, cyber, and maritime commons.


Second, a policy of seeking to accommodate the ambitions of rising challengers is fraught with difficulties and dangers. Britain faced four serious great power challengers in the early twentieth century: Germany, Japan, Russia (Czarist and Soviet), and the United States. Britain’s attempts to appease these rising powers proved unsuccessful. The result was war, and the British world order being supplanted by one put in place by the strongest challenger, the United States. Despite the economic benefits these challengers enjoyed under the existing international order, their leaders were dissatisfied with Britain’s leadership of that system. And, with increasing wealth at their disposal, the authoritarian rulers of Germany, Japan, and Russia armed their nations and adopted offensive strategies to pursue dreams of conquest.


American decision makers need to take seriously the demands of challengers that seek to change the existing global order through arms buildups and assertive behavior. Henry Kissinger, for one, hopes that the leaders of China and the United States can forestall a contest for mastery in Asia by sustained diplomatic engagement. Still, he fears how events might unfold if the “triumphalists”—ardent nationalists within China who seek to reassert their country’s former position as the dominant power in Asia—gain the upper hand in Beijing. As Kissinger warns, resurgent nationalism in China would likely prompt a containment strategy from the United States in response, but “[s]ooner or later, one side or the other would miscalculate.”[8] Whether the United States can decisively influence the deliberations among China’s rulers, policy advisors, and defense planners to encourage restraint in their foreign policy objectives, remains to be seen. For American leaders and academics to think they can “manage” China’s aspirations and actions might well be the great illusion of the twenty-first century.

[1] John Gunther, Inside Asia (New York: Harper, 1939), p. x.

[2] Notes by the Naval Staff, “Consequences of Suspending Work at Singapore,” April 28, 1924, in B. McL. Ranft, ed., The Beatty Papers, vol. 2: 1916-1927 (Aldershot: Scolar Press for the Navy Records Society, 1993), pp. 393-397.

[3] Martin Gilbert, Winston S. Churchill, vol. 5: Prophet of Truth, 1922-1939 (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1977), p. 103.

[4] Lord Rothermere to Churchill, February 12, 1925, Martin Gilbert, ed., Winston S. Churchill, vol. 5, Companion Part 1: The Exchequer Years, 1922-1929 (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1981), p. 389.

[5] Michael Mandelbaum, The Frugal Superpower: America’s Global Leadership in a Cash-Strapped Era (New York: Public Affairs, 2010).

[6] Robert D. Kaplan, “America’s Elegant Decline,” The Atlantic, vol. 300, no. 4 (November 2007), pp. 104-116. Online at

[7] Online at

[8] Henry Kissinger, On China (New York: Penguin, 2011), p. 521.

Photo of the fast attack submarine USS Tucson (SSN 770), the guided-missile cruisers USS Lake Erie (CG 70) and USS Port Royal (CG 73), the guided-missile destroyers USS Chung-Hoon (DDG 93), USS Russell (DDG 59), USS Chafee (DDG 90) and the Military Sealift Command fleet replenishment oiler USNS Yukon (T-AO 202) transit in waters surrounding the island of Oahu during the Koa Kai 11-2 naval exercise. By MC2 Mark Logico; US Navy (05 Apr 2011). Some rights reserved.

Professor John H. Maurer 


Professor John H. Maurer is a Senior Fellow of FPRI’s Program on National Security, sits on the Board of Editors for FPRI’s journal, Orbis, and serves as the Chair of the Strategy and Policy Department at the Naval War College in Newport, Rhode Island. He is a graduate of Yale University and holds an M.A.L.D. and Ph.D. in International Relations from the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, Tufts University. Before joining the faculty of the Naval War College, he served as executive editor of Orbis: A Journal of World Affairs, and held the position of senior research fellow at the Foreign Policy Research Institute. He served on the Secretary of the Navy’s advisory committee on naval history. In addition, he is the author or editor of books examining the outbreak of the First World War, military interventions in the developing world, naval arms control between the two world wars, and a study about Winston Churchill’s views on British foreign policy and strategy. His current research includes work on Winston Churchill and Great Britain’s decline as a world power. At the College, he teaches an elective course on Churchill and grand strategy. In June 2001, he received the U.S. Navy’s Meritorious Civilian Service Award.

*The views expressed in this article are those of the author alone.

North Korea: Th...

North Korea:

The Myth of Maxed-Out Sanctions

Joshua Stanton | 21 January 2015

On December 19, 2014, President Obama publicly blamed North Korea for the cyberattack against Sony Pictures and for the subsequent cyberterrorism against the American people, and promised to "respond proportionally." Almost immediately thereafter, one could hear a familiar narrative repeated, typified by New York Times correspondent David Sanger, who wrote that "North Korea is under so many sanctions already that adding more seems futile." One could have heard similar arguments in 2006, after North Korea's first nuclear test, and in 2013, after its third nuclear test. A variation of this argument is that “Washington … can do little ... without the cooperation of China.”

For years, journalists have quoted “experts” who insisted that U.S. sanctions options against North Korea were exhausted and had failed as an instrument of policy. As a matter of both fact and law, however, that is false; it even suggests that these experts have not read and understood the sanctions authorities. Why does this view persist, then? Some scholars may accept and propagate it because they oppose sanctions as a matter of policy. Others have simply ceased to question a myth that has entered the received wisdom.


A true understanding of the potential effectiveness of sanctions first requires an understanding of what these sanctions are, what they are not, and how they work. This article will first summarize the sanctions authorities – U.N. Security Council resolutions, and the U.S. sanctions that should be an important part of the effective enforcement of the measures that the U.N. Security Council has adopted. It will also explain the role of the Treasury Department in regulating the international financial system, and the power this gives the United States to isolate the North Korean government from that system. It will explain which U.S. and U.N. sanctions against North Korea have succeeded and failed, and why. Finally, it will explain what current U.S. national sanctions do, and what they do not do. Only after one understands how little the current sanctions do – and how much they could do – can one begin to understand how to strengthen them into an effective part of a coherent foreign policy...

As a longer article, this piece will only be offered in PDF format for easier reading. Download the PDF to read more.

Joshua Stanton 


Joshua Stanton, an attorney in Washington, D.C., has advised the House Foreign Affairs Committee on North Korea-related legislation, including the North Korea Sanctions Enforcement Act, and blogs at OneFreeKorea. The views expressed are solely his own.

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