Tag Archives: Graham Webster

Does 'grand strategy' still matter?

At NBR, my interview with Carnegie Endowment’s Ashley Tellis recently went live. Perhaps my favorite exchange from the talk was his response to my question about the value of “grand strategy,” which it seems to me can mean different things to different people.

I think Tellis makes a reasonable argument for taking a broad view in policymaking, but I still wonder whether humans can handle the complexity inherent in something like the international system. I will hold for another day my thoughts about the tenuous relationship between assumptions of an international system of sovereign states and the reality of utterly complex political life.

Here’s that exchange. Full interview here.

A lot of people might be skeptical of the idea of grand strategy, thinking that perhaps globalization, regionalization, or a hub-and-spoke network of bilateral ties produces a more fractured reality. Why is grand strategy still an important way to understand and act in world affairs?

What you are saying is that the traditional way of managing grand strategy has become more complicated, and I fully agree. It is no longer sufficient to think of grand strategy as operating entirely in the realm of politics or strategic affairs. Globalization has reminded us that the foundation of politics and strategy is ultimately economics, and that the productive capacity of a state is the motor that provides the resources that enable it to acquire national power. To that degree, grand strategy has to integrate elements that previously might have been neglected.

I think a good grand strategy has always had room for integrating the economic components of state power. Even before globalization, in a world that was relatively autarkic, states had to think about their material capacities and how they stacked up relative to other actors. The biggest change since globalization is that states must manage competitors and adversaries even while remaining deeply intertwined with them economically. This change has not made grand strategy irrelevant; indeed, it has become even more relevant, as well as a lot more complicated.

Can we get anywhere near a “grand strategic” understanding of the world as complexity (or our information about complexity) increases?

A Trans-American move for Transpacifica

Most readers who would find this news important already have heard, but for the under-informed and those who don’t care, I offer an update on moves in my life.

In May, I finished my master’s degree in Regional Studies–East Asia at Harvard. This month, after a long summer of travel, freelancing, research, and high-intensity relaxation, I will begin a Ph.D. in the Political Science Department at the University of Washington in Seattle.

Thus I have moved from Somerville to Seattle, where I welcome proximity to the Pacific itself, to mountains, and to excellent coffee and beer. I am also honored to join the UW’s community of scholars on East Asia and global affairs, both as a member of my new department and as an associate of the China Program at the Jackson School of International Studies.

That’s all for now, but look out soon for some news regarding my contributions to other blogs, and watch this fall for some academic work of mine to weasel its way into the public eye.

Finally, if you’re in Seattle, or if you’re coming through, drop me a line!

And now, a preview of my new digs: