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By Naval War College Current Strategy Forum Speakers
Review by Francis P. Sempa, Contributing Editor

On June 17-18, 2014, the U.S. Naval War College hosted its 65th annual Current Strategy Forum at the Spruance Auditorium with the theme of “American Grand Strategy and Seapower: Challenges and Choices.” I was privileged to be an invited guest at the two-day event in Newport, Rhode Island. Keynote speakers at the event included Chief of Naval Operations Admiral Jonathan Greenert; Sir Lawrence Freedman of King’s College in London; acclaimed author and geopolitical theorist Robert D. Kaplan; Dr. Peter W. Singer of the Brookings Institution; and Professor Geoffrey Till on King’s College.

Panelists who participated included Dr. Hal Brands of Duke University; Dr. Aaron Friedberg of Princeton University; Dr. John Maurer of the Naval War College; Dr. Paul Bracken of Yale University; Dr. Andrea Dew of the Naval War College; Dr. Emily Goldman of U.S. Cyber Command; Vice Admiral John P. Currier of the U.S. Coast Guard; Frank Hoffman of the National Defense University; Retired Vice Admiral John Morgan; and Dr. Kori Schake of Stanford University.

The speakers identified current and future geopolitical challenges to U.S. global predominance, including the rise of China, Russian assertiveness in eastern Europe; the so-called Arab Spring; non-state terrorist organizations; political division at home; fiscal restraints on the defense budget; and the lack of an effective U.S. grand strategy. There was also considerable discussion of the need to meld strategy with operations at sea.

Several of the speakers and panelists debated whether China needs to be engaged or contained. The significance of the “pivot” to the Asia-Pacific region in light of recent events in Ukraine, Syria, and Iraq was also discussed.

Dr. John Maurer of the Naval War College compared the current U.S.-China relationship to the inter-war relationship between a declining British Empire and a rising Japanese Empire. Robert Kaplan explored the geopolitical aspects of U.S.-Chinese interests in the South China Sea. Dr. Aaron Friedberg and Frank Hoffman warned that China was attempting to displace the U.S. as the chief power in the Asia-Pacific region. Peter Singer and Dr. Emily Goldman discussed the threat of cyber warfare and urged policymakers to include cyber defense in any U.S. grand strategy.

Frank Hoffman reviewed proposed grand strategies of the left and right, including retrenchment, offshore balancing, selective engagement, and assertive internationalism, and found them all wanting in certain respects. Hoffman suggested instead a strategy of forward partnering.

All of the participants recognized the important role that seapower must continue to play in undergirding any U.S. grand strategy. The Naval War College, in the tradition of its most famous lecturer and president Alfred Thayer Mahan, once again has demonstrated its intellectual firepower in the effort to protect and promote U.S. interests around the world.

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