Mackinder Forum Virtual Seminars #47, #48, and #49, A discussion of Elbridge Colby’s new book, The Strategy of Denial.

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The first three Mackinder Forum Seminars of 2022 were held on January 9, January 23, and February 6. Elbridge Colby’s new book, The Strategy of Denial, was discussed by participants of the Mackinder Forum. Here is how we structured the readings and the conversation:

Sunday, January 9, 1:30-3:00 p.m, Eastern US Time: Preface and Chapters 1-6, introduction by Professor John Mearsheimer, University of Chicago.

Ch. 1: Purposes of American Strategy

Ch. 2: Favorable Regional Balances of Power

Ch. 3: Alliance and their effective, credible defense

Ch. 4: Defining the defense perimeter.

Sunday, January 23, 1:30-3:00 p.m., Eastern US Time, Chapters 5-8, introduced by Mr. Rodger Baker, Strategic Forecasting, Inc.

Ch. 5: Military Strategy in Limited Wars

Ch. 6: Focusing on an Opponent’s Best Strategies

Ch. 7: Beijing’s Best Strategy

Ch. 8: Denial Defense

Sunday, February 6, 1:30-3:00 p.m., Eastern US Time, Chapters 9-12, introduced by Mr. David P. Goldman,  Asia Times.

Ch. 9: Limited War after an Effective Denial Defense

Ch. 10: The Binding Strategy 

Ch. 11: Implications

Ch. 12: A Decent Place

Justifications: According to the biographical blurb on the dust jacket of the book, the author “served as deputy assistant secretary of defense for strategy and force development from 2017 through 2018, during which time he led the development of the 2018 National Defense Strategy.”  In addition to Colby’s past position in the Pentagon, there were at least four reasons why his book is important:

First, it highlights the geopolitical flash points between China and the US and what might be done to avoid conflict and how a conflict might be a limited should one occur.

Second, it addresses IR (international relations) realist theories but in a geopolitical and geostrategic regional context.   Thus, facts on the ground are related to the theory in a fashion that some Mackinder Forum participants may find congenial.

Third, by suggesting that “denial” is the operative expression of American strategy (while maintaining a “favorable regional balance of power”), Colby calls to mind several recent seminar discussions that turn on how realism as a theoretical construct should be understood and implemented.  

Fourth, Colby insists that US power must now focus on the China threat and not be committed to defend against threats in other regions of the world.  He offers a modern reflection on how maritime commercial republics should respond to threats from a would-be regional and a potential global hegemon.  Thus, a geopolitical comparison once again emerges with Thucydides and the Peloponnesian War.

Fifth, the author introduces values in the equation of why security communities, i.e. states, go to war.  Colby wants a future where our way of life (as an ultimate, transcendent value?) in the United States is preserved.  The question arises: to the extent Colby introduces values into the equation, is he a realist?  And if he is, what sort of realist?

[LJH]