Orrin Luc posted an articleMichael E. O’Hanlon Has Counseled ‘Resolute Restraint’ in an Age of Peace. But Has That Age Come to an End?Michael E. O’Hanlon’s most recent volume of strategy recommendations emphasizes restraint. see more
The Art of War in an Age of Peace
U.S. Grand Strategy and Resolute Restraint
By Michael E. O’Hanlon
Yale University Press
Reviewed by Steven Boyd Saum
Published last year, Michael E. O’Hanlon’s most recent volume of strategy recommendations for U.S. global engagement has a title that’s been overtaken by events: In this “age of peace,” Russia has launched the largest invasion of another country since World War II. The gist of O’Hanlon’s counsel is “resolute restraint” with “an equal emphasis on both words.” That means avoiding overextension without retrenchment; either would make the world less stable and more dangerous. How does that counsel square with the current U.S. grand strategy? Essentially, there hasn’t been a consensus on one since the end of the Cold War, O’Hanlon argues. That’s the problem.
“Restraint should characterize the nation’s decisions on the use of force, including whether to go to war and whether to escalate once involved in combat,” he writes. Resoluteness, in addition to defining commitments to the security interests of allies, “should also characterize the country’s commitment to a global rules-based order that promotes interdependence among nations while strongly opposing interstate conflict or the pursuit of territorial aggrandizement by other powers. We can be more patient, and accept incremental progress, on building a more liberal order (featuring more democracies and greater universal respect for human rights). The liberal or progressive agenda can and should be pursued but largely through diplomatic and other soft-power instruments of statecraft.”
But as 2022 has made clear, the Putin regime explicitly intends to upend that rules-based order.
The U.S. has a responsibility to provide leadership, O’Hanlon notes, “guided by moral principles, strong institutions in Washington and throughout the country, a supportive citizenry, and good judgment on the part of leaders.” Yet he acknowledges that governments — including that of the United States — “can still make major mistakes ... in situations characterized by sycophantic aides, groupthink, or narcissistic leaders.”
Michael O’Hanlon adds “a second dimension of 4+1 threats,” which are “nuclear, biological and pandemic, digital, climactic, and internal-societal dangers ... The last on the list is America’s own social and economic and political cohesion.”
O’Hanlon is a fellow at the Brookings Institution and served as a Peace Corps Volunteer in the former Zaire, now the Democratic Republic of the Congo, 1982–84. Writing in Foreign Affairs, Lawrence D. Freedman suggests this book “could serve as a guide for U.S. President Joe Biden’s national security team as they prepare for the challenges of the next few years.” Those challenges, as O’Hanlon outlines, include the “4+1” list the Pentagon has identified: Russia, China, North Korea, Iran, and transnational violent extremism. O’Hanlon adds “a second dimension of 4+1 threats,” which are “nuclear, biological and pandemic, digital, climactic, and internal-societal dangers ... The last on the list is America’s own social and economic and political cohesion.”
That last one is the wild card in dealing with everything else on both lists. And perhaps it holds the key to whether peace can again define this new era we’re entering. Months before Putin amassed 130,00-plus troops on the borders of Ukraine, O’Hanlon assessed, “The world is becoming more dangerous again today.” Indeed, O’Hanlon has more than a little to say about Russia, and where a policy of resolute restraint might guide actions taken by the United States, NATO, and the European Union. “A strategy of deterrence by punishment can still work,” he argued, notiing, “So far at least, there are no brazen invasions of huge landmasses.”
But now there have been exactly such a brazen invasion — one that has wrought destruction unlike anything Europe has seen since the Second World War. And we have already seen atrocities that give lie to the mantra “never again.”
In the opening pages of his book, O’Hanlon cites President Kennedy’s estimation that “there could be 20 nuclear-weapons states by the mid-1960s and perhaps as many as 25 by the 1970s.” But, Hanlon notes, “Two decades into the 21st century, there are only nine countries in possession of the bomb.” One of them is of course Russia, which makes great power conflict particularly fraught. One of them used to be Ukraine — which gave up its nuclear arsenal in the mid-1990s in exchange for security and territorial assurances by the U.S. and Russia. That’s one reason, O’Hanlon and many others note, we owe a debt of gratitude — and responsibility — to Ukraine.
A shorter version of this review appears in the special 2022 Books Edition of WorldView magazine. This story was updated April 30, 2022.
Steven Boyd Saum is the editor of WorldView.
Communications Intern posted an articleFrom Owls of the Eastern Ice by biologist Jonathan Slaght see more
From Owls of the Eastern Ice
By Jonathan Slaght
Photo: Blakiston’s Fish Owl chick in Primorye, Russia. Photo by Jonathan Slaght
A revelatory tale from biologist Jonathan Slaght. Among the many accolades for Owls of the Eastern Ice: It was longlisted for the National Book Award and won the Times of London best nature book of the year. It appeared on numerous best books of the year lists, from NPR to the Wall Street Journal.
Slaght was a Peace Corps Volunteer in Russia’s Far East 1999–2002.
I SAW MY FIRST Blakiston’s fish owl in the Russian province of Primorye, a coastal talon of land hooking south into the belly of Northeast Asia. This is a remote corner of the world, not far from where Russia, China, and North Korea meet in a tangle of mountains and barbed wire. On a hike in the forest there in 2000, a companion and I unexpectedly flushed an enormous and panicked bird. Taking to the air with labored flaps, it hooted its displeasure, then landed for a moment in the bare canopy perhaps a dozen meters above our heads. This disheveled mass of wood-chip brown regarded us warily with electric-yellow eyes. We were uncertain at first which bird, actually, we’d come across. It was clearly an owl, but bigger than any I’d seen, about the size of an eagle but fluffier and more portly, with enormous ear tufts. Backlit by the hazy gray of a winter sky, it seemed almost too big and too comical to be a real bird, as if someone had hastily glued fistfuls of feathers to a yearling bear, then propped the dazed beast in the tree. Having decided that we were a threat, the creature pivoted to escape, crashing through the trees as its two-meter wingspan clipped the lattice of branches. Flakes of displaced bark spiraled down as the bird flew out of sight.
Backlit by the hazy gray of a winter sky, it seemed almost too big and too comical to be a real bird, as if someone had hastily glued fistfuls of feathers to a yearling bear, then propped the dazed beast in the tree.
I’d been coming to Primorye for five years at this point. I’d spent most of my early life in cities, and my vision of the world was dominated by human-crafted landscapes. Then, flying from Moscow the summer I was nineteen, accompanying my father on a business trip, I saw the sun glinting off a sea of rolling green mountains: lush, thick, and unbroken. Dramatic ridges rose high, then drooped into low valleys, waves that scrolled past for kilometer after kilometer as I watched, transfixed. I saw no villages, no roads, and no people. This was Primorye. I fell in love.
”Jonathan Slaght has the best author photograph I’ve ever seen,” wrote Helen Macdonald for The Guardian. Behold author and owl. Photo by Sergey Avdeyuk.
After that initial short visit, I returned to Primorye for six months of study as an undergraduate and then spent three years there in the Peace Corps. I was only a casual bird-watcher at first; it was a hobby I’d picked up in college. Each trip to Russia’s Far East, however, fueled my fascination with Primorye’s wildness. I became more interested and more focused on its birds. In the Peace Corps I befriended local ornithologists, further developed my Russian-language skills, and spent countless hours of my free time tagging along with them to learn birdsongs and assist on various research projects. This was when I saw my first fish owl and realized my pastime could become a profession.
A female fish owl near the village of Vetka. Pairs of fish owls vocalize in duets — a low-frequency sound that penetrates deep forest. Photo by Sergey Sermach.
I’d known about fish owls for almost as long as I’d known about Primorye. For me, fish owls were like a beautiful thought I couldn’t quite articulate. They evoked the same wondrous longing as some distant place I’d always wanted to visit but didn’t really know much about. I pondered fish owls and felt cool from the canopy shadows they hid in and smelled moss clinging to riverside stones.
Immediately after scaring off the owl, I scanned through my dog-eared field guide, but no species seemed to fit. The fish owl painted there reminded me more of a dour trash can than the defiant, floppy goblin we’d just seen, and neither matched the fish owl in my mind. I didn’t have to guess too long about what species I’d spotted, though: I’d taken photos. My grainy shots eventually made their way to an ornithologist in Vladivostok named Sergey Surmach, the only person working with fish owls in the region. It turned out that no scientist had seen a Blakiston’s fish owl so far south in a hundred years, and my photographs were evidence that this rare, reclusive species still persisted.
Gone fishing: fish owl at work. Photo by Sergey Gafitskii.
From Owls of the Eastern Ice by Jonathan Slaght. Copyright © 2020 by Jonathan Slaght. Reprinted by permission of Farrar, Straus and Giroux.