Best Defense

Thomas E. Ricks' daily take on national security.

Could we learn more about grand strategy from the Frenchies than from the English?

That question had never occurred to me until I was driving along the Mass Pike yesterday to the Motel 6 in Springfield, and thinking about Paul Kennedy’s analysis of the strategic positions of France and England in the 17th century. The British strategic situation was relatively easy to discern: As an island, it was clear ...

Flickr
Flickr
Flickr

That question had never occurred to me until I was driving along the Mass Pike yesterday to the Motel 6 in Springfield, and thinking about Paul Kennedy's analysis of the strategic positions of France and England in the 17th century.

The British strategic situation was relatively easy to discern: As an island, it was clear that it had foremost had to be a seapower. But France had both land and sea to consider. Moreover, like the United States, it had to weigh how to protect two major non-continuous coasts. The result for France, writes Kennedy, "was to cause an ambivalence in national strategy for the next few centuries, for it was never clear to her leaders how much attention could be devoted to building up sea power as opposed to land power."

Anyone know of a good essay that explores this dilemma in the context of the French and the Americans? Does the United States need to be foremost a seapower or a landpower (or an airpower or a cyberpower)? It is like we have five coasts.

That question had never occurred to me until I was driving along the Mass Pike yesterday to the Motel 6 in Springfield, and thinking about Paul Kennedy’s analysis of the strategic positions of France and England in the 17th century.

The British strategic situation was relatively easy to discern: As an island, it was clear that it had foremost had to be a seapower. But France had both land and sea to consider. Moreover, like the United States, it had to weigh how to protect two major non-continuous coasts. The result for France, writes Kennedy, "was to cause an ambivalence in national strategy for the next few centuries, for it was never clear to her leaders how much attention could be devoted to building up sea power as opposed to land power."

Anyone know of a good essay that explores this dilemma in the context of the French and the Americans? Does the United States need to be foremost a seapower or a landpower (or an airpower or a cyberpower)? It is like we have five coasts.

Thomas E. Ricks covered the U.S. military from 1991 to 2008 for the Wall Street Journal and then the Washington Post. He can be reached at ricksblogcomment@gmail.com. Twitter: @tomricks1

More from Foreign Policy

An illustration shows George Kennan, the father of Cold War containment strategy.
An illustration shows George Kennan, the father of Cold War containment strategy.

Is Cold War Inevitable?

A new biography of George Kennan, the father of containment, raises questions about whether the old Cold War—and the emerging one with China—could have been avoided.

U.S. President Joe Biden speaks on the DISCLOSE Act.
U.S. President Joe Biden speaks on the DISCLOSE Act.

So You Want to Buy an Ambassadorship

The United States is the only Western government that routinely rewards mega-donors with top diplomatic posts.

Chinese President Xi jinping  toasts the guests during a banquet marking the 70th anniversary of the founding of the People's Republic of China on September 30, 2019 in Beijing, China.
Chinese President Xi jinping toasts the guests during a banquet marking the 70th anniversary of the founding of the People's Republic of China on September 30, 2019 in Beijing, China.

Can China Pull Off Its Charm Offensive?

Why Beijing’s foreign-policy reset will—or won’t—work out.

Turkish Defense Minister Hulusi Akar chairs a meeting in Ankara, Turkey on Nov. 21, 2022.
Turkish Defense Minister Hulusi Akar chairs a meeting in Ankara, Turkey on Nov. 21, 2022.

Turkey’s Problem Isn’t Sweden. It’s the United States.

Erdogan has focused on Stockholm’s stance toward Kurdish exile groups, but Ankara’s real demand is the end of U.S. support for Kurds in Syria.