The Geopolitics Of Super Power

The Geopolitics Of Super Power

COLIN S. GRAY
Copyright Date: 1988
Pages: 288
https://www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctt130j73h
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  • Book Info
    The Geopolitics Of Super Power
    Book Description:

    What is Soviet-American competition all about? Is the Soviet Union a security problem that the United States must solve? Or is it an insecurity condition with which the U.S. must learn to live -- and if so, on what terms? What kind of a player is the United States in the great game of power politics? InThe Geopolitics of Super Power, one of our most respected strategic theorists answers these and other questions.

    In geopolitical terms, Colin Gray sees the Soviet-American antagonism as an enduring contest between a continental empire and a maritime coalition, each with its distinctive character and purposes. Gray explores the roots of the American style in foreign policy and strategy, and how that style relates to defense options.

    He identifies four broad alternatives for U.S. national security policy: passive and active means of containment, disengagement from foreign security commitments, and the "rollback" of the Soviet empire. Gray argues vigorously for active containment, for the systematic deemphasis of nuclear weapons, and for the intelligent use, for deterrence and defense purposes, of the West's great competitive strengths in the political, economic, and technological spheres.

    eISBN: 978-0-8131-5805-1
    Subjects: Political Science, Technology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-vii)
  3. List of Maps
    (pp. viii-viii)
  4. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-x)
  5. 1 Introduction
    (pp. 1-3)

    This is an old-fashioned book about U.S. national security policy. Had the long-hallowed British verbal formula of “grand strategy” not been expropriated to such persuasive effect by Edward Luttwak,¹ this book might have been calledThe Grand Strategy of the United States.²Grand strategy, and indeed national security policy or strategy, is readily discernible in the words used by senior officials to put a gloss of verbal coherence on the multifarious activities of government with respect to external security.³ The security objectives that American officials tend actually to pursue with some tenacity can be shown to reflect healthily a mix...

  6. 2 Sir Halford Mackinder and Geopolitics
    (pp. 4-12)

    The geopolitical ideas of the British geographer Sir Halford Mackinder have been accorded the first-echelon theoretical role in this book because they provide an intellectual architecture, far superior to rival conceptions, for understanding the principal international security issues. Geopolitics is about “the relation of international political power to the geographical setting.”¹ It is about the “high politics” of security and international order; about the influence of enduring spatial relationships for the rise and decline of power centers; and about the implications of technological, political-organizational, and demographic trends for relations of relative influence. Mackinder was the intellectual father of U.S. containment...

  7. 3 The Problem of Security
    (pp. 13-27)

    Governments and their advisors seek security through such certainty as they can procure. Since few policy matters in time of peace, and even fewer in war, are truly certain, magic formulas have a way of substituting, de facto, for an unattainable predictability. Prior to the rise of Imperial Germany after the Treaty of Frankfurt (1871), Great Britain had, in its balance-of-power policy and its understanding of the utility of the “Ushant Position” for naval deployment, probably as close an approximation to a political-military formula to guarantee national security as any country could ask. But geostrategic conditions change, and old formulas...

  8. 4 Statecraft: Retrospect and Prospect
    (pp. 28-38)

    In the public debate over U.S. (and, more generally, Western) national security policy there are voices, reflecting what Michael Howard has generously called a “naive innocence,” urging radical solutions to current problems.¹ Sundry physicians, psychologists, lawyers, and scholars of international relations urge the view that the United States could and should conduct its foreign relations and see to its security in ways fundamentally different from those practiced at present.

    Millennarian visions have had a long history in the thought and social movements of Western civilization.² From Kant with hisPermanent Peaceand Lenin with his communist society bereft of states...

  9. 5 Geopolitics and Strategic Culture
    (pp. 39-52)

    Because of its geography the United States has an insular perspective on international politics. Serious external challenge to its integrity as a distinct polity was concluded by 1814, though admittedly this is a judgment easier to offer from twentieth than from early nineteenth-century perspective.¹ Geographical distance and the Royal Navy combined to leave the United States at liberty to solve continental problems and seize continental opportunities substantially without reference to the interests and preferences of the European powers. The accident or good fortune of an isolated geography understandably came to be confused in the minds of many Americans with a...

  10. 6 The American Way
    (pp. 53-65)

    Ken Booth has argued that to divorce strategic studies from area studies is largely to think in a void.¹ Obvious truth though that is, it is a fair indictment of the community of scholars and scholar-officials who have influenced and helped execute U.S. national security policy in recent decades. Cultural parochialism is far from unique to the United States, of course. The Soviet Union/Russia, long suspicious and fearful of foreign influence, is an order of magnitude less empathetic to alien perspectives than is the United States—notwithstanding the importation of the alien western European doctrine of Marxism, which V.I. Lenin...

  11. 7 Of National Interests
    (pp. 66-74)

    If the United States is overcommitted abroad to a column of allegedly vital interests and has fallen victim to uncritical universalist thinking, it is far from self-evident that the U.S. problem really reposes in the length of the list. When one considers the respective assets and vulnerabilities of the rival power centers, the U.S. problem tends to devolve upon issues of grand strategy and strategy. The more perceptive writers on the subject of means and ends—that is, strategy—in U.S. national security policy, do not appear to suggest that the United States should engage in a mere accountancy exercise.¹...

  12. 8 Organizing the Rimland
    (pp. 75-92)

    A defense community perpetually immersed in the taxing effort to maintain a multilateral alliance structure typically finds little leisure and less incentive to reflect upon the purpose of the coalition enterprise. To an important and generally healthy degree, U.S. policy toward its alliance partners in peripheral Eurasia is on automatic pilot. Its practical day-by-day purpose is system maintenance. Gregory Treverton’s choice of title for his recent study of NATO was exactly correct:Making the Alliance Work.¹

    A potential problem for a policy that is fueled more by inertia than by explicit and careful understanding of U.S. security interests is that...

  13. 9 The Course of Soviet Empire
    (pp. 93-112)

    In common with its systemic complement, balance-of-power analysis,¹ geopolitical analysis is impartial as between one or another political system or philosophy. This book is decidedly partial in that I am interested in advancing the security interests of the Western world in general and the United States in particular.

    The Soviet Union is identified overwhelmingly as the principal direct and indirect source of security problems for the West at the present time. However, it should be understood that this focus upon the Soviet adversary is entirely a matter of historical circumstance. Viewed in historical perspective, the Soviet state is not uniquely...

  14. 10 Containment
    (pp. 113-131)

    The range of prudent choice open to statesmen is typically far more restricted than they would like. Politicians running for public office often proclaim, assuming a historically illiterate audience, that their objective is to “end the nuclear arms race” or to achieve “lasting peace.” The nuclear arms race can be ended—or perhaps interrupted—by war, but a unilateral decision by the United States to stop competing would not halt the miscalled arms race. In the absence of an active American competitor, the U.S.S.R. could be trusted to press on to secure a more and more splendid degree of military...

  15. 11 Dynamic Containment
    (pp. 132-143)

    The worth of an ideal lies not in the number of people who achieve it but in its value as a standard for performance. Dynamic containment is presented less as an identifiable discrete option for national security policy than as a standard against which policy performance in the practice of containment should be measured.¹

    Like the generally passive containment policy practiced historically, a policy of dynamic containment would endeavor to compete with Soviet power and influence by means of the organization and, where necessary, the arming of actual and potential resistance around the Rimlands of Eurasia and in the extended...

  16. 12 Disengagement
    (pp. 144-164)

    Given the current structure of responsibilities and allocation of military contributions, it is probably fair to say that the NATO Alliance is living dangerously on borrowed time. The danger is two-edged. First, the absence of reform of a strategy (or its material basis) that reflects a very different era of assumptions about the military balance means that the mismatch between plans and expectations on one side and prospective crisis or wartime reality on the other grows ever wider.¹ The theories of deterrence that undergird flexible response and controlled escalation resolved the dilemma of U.S. assumption of survival-level risks on behalf...

  17. 13 Rollback
    (pp. 165-174)

    As a concept for the guidance of national security policy, “rollback” lends itself to a wide range of definitions. In principle it could refer to a policy of political warfare scarcely distinguishable from that announced by President Reagan in his Westminster speech of June 8,1982,¹ or it could denote a determination to effect a shrinkage in the scale of the Soviet empire by whatever means are found to be necessary.

    Three elements of the Soviet empire that might be targeted for rollback or destabilization comprise the ethnically non-Great Russian areas of the Soviet Union;² the eastern European countries first liberated...

  18. 14 Strategy and Military Power
    (pp. 175-192)

    One is obliged to agree with Secretary of Defense Caspar Weinberger when he writes: “By a truly gargantuan effort—now consuming more than 15 percent of its gross national product—the Soviet Union has become a one-dimensional [i.e., military] superpower. The issue today is whether the United States and its allies are prepared to permit the Soviet Union to establish military superiority it can use for territorial or political advantage.”¹ There are grounds for debate over how much deterring Soviet leaders may need, but there is no basis for disputing the proposition that to the degree to which the Soviet...

  19. 15 Conclusions
    (pp. 193-199)

    This book has explained that U.S. national security policy first, must be responsive to geopolitical realities; second, must be tolerable for American political and strategic culture; and third, sets requirements for strategy which, in its turn, has implications for the force posture and deployment that must implement strategy. In addition, this book has explained that basic national security concepts reflect fundamental judgments concerning the identity and worth of those national interests that merit military support in the last resort. Ideally, national security policy, strategy, and military force would interrelate harmoniously, but in practice there is often disharmony. It might be...

  20. Notes
    (pp. 200-264)
  21. Index
    (pp. 265-276)