Mackinder Forum Seminar #26: “Colin S. Gray: Master of Strategy and Geopolitics”

      Comments Off on Mackinder Forum Seminar #26: “Colin S. Gray: Master of Strategy and Geopolitics”

Mackinder Forum Seminar #26, “Colin S. Gray: Master of Strategy and Geopolitics” took place on Sunday, February 28, 2021, 1:30-3:00 p.m. Eastern US Time.

This Mackinder Forum event was devoted to honoring the ideas of Professor Colin S. Gray who passed away a year ago.

Professor Gray was a master of strategy and geopolitics, two essential fields for the formulation and implementation of national security policies.

Professor Gray was the Professor of Politics and International Relations at the University of Reading until 2014, at which point he was awarded Emeritus status. However, he was no mere armchair theorist. He not only is considered to have been one of the formulators of anti-Soviet policies while serving from 1982-1987 in the Reagan White House, but also advised the Labor Government of P.M. Tony Blair on defense matters. We honor Professor Gray as a founder of the Mackinder Forum and as a pioneering and influential strategic thinker.

Mrs. Valerie Gray commented on her husband’s life and thought at the outset of the seminar. Here are her comments:

Thank you very much Len and Geoff for inviting Antonia and I to join your meeting today. Colin died a year ago yesterday, but his vital presence has been with me all year as we have received many tributes from people whose lives he touched. ‘Strategy’ is a word which can encompass a multitude of fields. For example, Colin and Geoff Sloan edited a book entitled Geopolitics: Geography and Strategy in 1999.  Colin found almost any aspect of military/naval strategy of interest. I met Colin in our 2nd year at the University of Manchester in 1963, so I have been around to experience many of his adventures. My subject was History, so we complemented one another.

Colin had Scots/Irish blood. He always enjoyed being by the sea. He grew up in the Medway towns of Kent, and went to King’s School, Rochester which was founded in 604 AD. His classroom overlooked Rochester Castle and the River Medway. Every day he passed the Chatham naval dockyards on his way to school. He always enjoyed travel and had a weakness for islands. Many of our holidays were spent on islands far and near, including, off the top of my head, Mull and Skye, Guernsey, Bermuda, Vancouver Island, several Hawaiian islands, Tasmania and the Isle of Wight!

If this is not conclusive evidence,  glance at his scholarly output of books, chapters in books and articles and it takes but a moment to realize his deep interest in matters nautical, and geopolitical, for example, The Geopolitics of the Nuclear Era: Heartland, Rimlands and the Technological Revolution (1977), The Geopolitics of Superpower (1988) and Maritime Strategy, Geopolitics, and the Defense of the West (1986) – in Colin’s copy I found a letter from Vice Admiral H.C. Mustin of the U.S. Navy, who wrote, ‘I have followed with interest your other works, in particular those which appeared over the last year or so in Naval Institute Proceedings I must say that your arguments raised the tone of the discussion by several orders of magnitude’.  Antonia and I recently compiled a list of about fifty items, his output in the realm of seapower and geopolitics and you will be happy to know that I sent it to the US Naval War College in Newport, RI, to assist in the compilation of their special tribute to Colin issue of the Naval War College Review, which is about to be published in March.

Colin also enjoyed nautical novels.  He particularly liked the books by Julian Stockwin. He eagerly followed the naval career and worldwide adventures of a certain Thomas Kydd during the late 18th and early 19th centuries. If possible, Colin always preferred travelling by ship.

And finally in closing, may I draw your attention to the fact that, according to his wish, we have sent the bulk of Colin’s personal working library, with many handwritten comments, to the US Modern War Institute at West Point Military Academy in New York. We hope it will assist and amuse all manner of military students and teachers in future generations.

Valerie Gray, 28th February 2021

Three panelists discussed the contributions and influence of Colin Gray:

*Admiral Chris Parry, PhD (UK, ret.): “Colin Gray’s Influence on Defence Thinking—The One That Got Away”

*Dr. Kenton White: “The Practice of Strategy: Two Case Studies from British History

*Professor Geoff Sloan: “A Phoenix from the Ashes: Colin Gray and Classical Geopolitics” [This essay originally appeared in the Texas National Security Review.]

Suggested Readings: Professor Geoff Sloan suggested the following background readings:

Colin S. Gray, “Concept Failure? COIN, Counterinsurgency, and Strategic Theory,” Prism 3, 3, pp. 17-32.

Colin S. Gray, “Strategic Sense – Missing from Action,” Military Strategy Magazine 5, 3 (Fall 2016), 4-8.

Colin S. Gray, “Thucydides Was Right: Defining the Future Threat,” Advancing Strategic Thought Series (Carlisle, PA: Strategic Studies Institute, April 2015), 1-60.

Further readings with regard to Colin Gray’s contribution to strategic studies may be found at the Naval War College Review 74 (1), Winter 2021, here.