Introducing War on the Rocks


In 1792, Lord Castlereagh wrote a lengthy letter to a partisan of Irish independence. Castlereagh argued that Ireland apart from Great Britain would be weak and economically unstable as Ireland’s trade with Europe was only robust with the backing of the Royal Navy.  He continued:

I am afraid the Powers of Europe might possibly receive an Irish ambassador…with less respect… The language of Reason of enlarged and enlightened Policy has not yet permeated thoroughly the Cabinet of Princes.  Power and Importance is necessary almost to procure a hearing.  I am afraid we should cut a sorry figure and exhibit an appearance not very imposing, were we to appear before them simply clad in the part of our own Insular Dignity and abstracted Freedom.

Castlereagh went on to become War Secretary then Foreign Secretary during a crucial period in European history.  He played a key role in orchestrating the defeat of Napoleon, the drastic growth of the British Army, and the Concert of Europe – a balance of power that survived (more or less) for a hundred years.

Welcome to War on the Rocks – a web publication that serves as a platform for analysis, commentary, and debate on foreign policy and national security issues through a realist lens. It features articles, book reviews, and podcasts produced by an array of writers with deep experience in these matters: top notch scholars who study war, those who have served or worked in war zones, and more than a few who have done it all.

This is what sets us apart from similar platforms and publications: experience. In fact, I am confident that no other web-based publication on war and foreign policy has been blessed with this much experience from its collection of regular contributors and its editorial team.

Among our regular contributors are people who have worked on every continent in the world (aside from Antarctica, so far). They have commanded ships, bargained with militias, led patrols, managed alliances, called for fires (ten of them are combat veterans), and negotiated treaties. They include former diplomats, officers, NCOs, intelligence professionals, and some of the most established scholars in the world studying war, conflict, and international politics.

Our contributors ascribe to a loosely realist perspective of foreign policy, a broad term that encompasses people of many opinions from all party stripes.  Our realism is not theoretical, but is rather a perspective earned through experience and reasoning.  We are not reasoning backwards from a blind ideological position.

We primarily look to fear, honor, and interest to understand international affairs, the dynamics of which are shaped by states’ struggles for power.  À la Morgenthau, we understand power as “anything that establishes and maintains the power of man over man …. from physical violence to the most subtle psychological ties by which one mind controls another.”  As such, while we will often focus on the threat and use of armed force, we do not dismiss ideas and social control as mechanisms for power.  Indeed, despite his reputation, Castlereagh was committed to Enlightenment ideals, but was contemptuous of those who proceeded as if all were equally committed to the same.  Such a course endangers Enlightenment values rather than advances them.

Now as then, we have in us a strand of idealism in our view of the world that, in the words of Reinhold Niebuhr, is “too certain that there is a straight path toward the goal of human happiness; too confident of the wisdom and idealism which prompt men and nations toward that goal; and too blind to the curious compounds of good and evil in which the actions of the best men and nations abound.”

Today – our launch day – we feature a book review by Admiral James Stavridis and a podcast interview with WOTR contributors Bill Rosenau, Will McCants, and Afshon Ostrovar.  Later this week, expect articles about “causal realism” by Jason Fritz, the Kashmiri conflict by Stephen Tankel, rebellion and intervention by Mark Stout, how Syria imperils the “Asia pivot” by Sean Kay, a book review by Frank Hoffman, and more.

Thank you for joining us. We hope you will be come regular, active readers.