As they have since antiquity, geopolitical factors will continue to shape and constrain world affairs in our digital age. Emerging technologies will only up the ante—as underscored by global debates on Huawei’s involvement in the roll-out of 5G, and China-US trade disputes over data localization. Applying a geopolitical lens to events like these will be an essential first step to crafting good strategy to respond.
Frontier zones are the most complex and interesting of regions. They have been explored as wild badlands of smuggling and insurgency in the international system in many recent books from Niall Ferguson, George Friedman, Robert Kaplan, and David Kilcullen. In this vein, Scott MacEachern takes a microscopic view of one relatively small frontier area around the Mandara Mountains on the Cameroon-Nigeria border and describe its’ inhabitants’ cultural evolution over seven millennia.
One cannot go far wrong by employing Thucydides as a foundation for any model, as General George Marshall reminded us. But Marshall surely did not mean for policymakers to end their studies with the Peloponnesian War. Rather, Thucydides is but a starting point for a much wider historical study aimed at revealing the true nature of strategic rivalries and the character of their ensuing conflicts.
It was America’s good fortune—Manifest Destiny if you will—to rise on a temperate continent with abundant resources. Great Britain ceded its empire in part because it could trust and rely on the United States. America does not share this luxury. Pragmatism must be America’s watchword, for neither isolationism nor unilateralism will work.
Thucydides’s account of the Peloponnesian War provides for a range of lessons about the nature of strategy applicable to a wide audience. The period demonstrates the inherent complexity in understanding the concept of strategy, a concept that remains devoid of a coherent, agreed, and universal definition. What the Periclean strategy does provide, however, is insight into the importance of understanding the implications of the political objective, strategy and military culture, and geography and operating environment and their influence on the nature of strategy.
We live in an era of instant connection and instant communication. For instance, when news of a military incident breaks, within seconds it can be rebroadcast around the world. Within minutes commentators demand that something must be done. Yet the speed at which the news breaks means that in an era where information flow has made it is easy for a military’s higher headquarters to be kept abreast of every tactical incident, we forget that the flow of information vastly outpaces than the speed of military deployment.