On Sunday, March 26, 2023, at 1:30-3:00 PM Eastern U.S. Time, Mr. Francis P. Sempa presented an Introduction to a white paper, Strategic Sequencing: How Great Powers Avoid Multi-Front War, written by A. Wess Mitchell of the Marathon Initiative. Mr. Sempa’s presentation kicked off our discussion of how great powers have deployed strategic sequencing to avoid a multi-front war.
Abstract: The United States today is confronted by simultaneous challenges from China in the western Pacific and across Eurasia-Africa, Russia in Eastern Europe, and Iran in the Middle East. Each of the challenges is real and important, but we are not a nation of inexhaustible resources and limitless power. There is a need, therefore, for prioritizing threats, allocating resources, adjusting commitments. There is a need, in other words, for strategy. The featured report on the Marathon Initiative’s website is Strategic Sequencing: How Great Powers Avoid Multi-Front War, a 90-page paper written by A. Wess Mitchell for the Pentagon’s Office of Net Assessment in September 2020. Mitchell uses the examples of the Byzantine Empire, the Venetian Republic, the Austrian Habsburgs, and Great Britain before the outbreak of World War I to assess how those powers confronted simultaneous challenges to their interests by rival great powers — what he calls the “problem of omnidirectional danger.”
It was Walter Lippmann who wrote in the midst of World War II that an effective and competent foreign policy is one that aligns the nation’s commitments with its resources. Germany tried and failed to do strategic sequencing in both World Wars–and ended up fighting two-front wars in Europe and bringing the United States into the wars. We did “strategic sequencing” in World War II–we called it a “Europe first” policy–recognizing that Hitler was the greater threat than imperial Japan. Strategic sequencing is necessary for an effective foreign policy both in times of peace and times of war.
Biography: Francis P. Sempa is the author of Geopolitics: From the Cold War to the 21st Century, America’s Global Role: Essays and Reviews on National Security, Geopolitics and War, and Somewhere in France, Somewhere in Germany: A Combat Soldiers Journey Through the Second World War. He has written lengthy introductions to Mahan’s “The Problem of Asia” and “The Interest of America in International Conditions,” William Bullitt’s “The Great Globe Itself,” and Nicholas Spykman’s “America’s Strategy in World Politics.” His articles on history, geopolitics, and foreign policy have appeared in The American Spectator, The Asian Review of Books, the New York Journal of Books, the University Bookman, The National Interest, Real Clear Defense, Real Clear History, and other journals.
Reading: A. Wess Mitchell, Strategic Sequencing: How Great Powers Avoid Multi-Front War.