Most Read War on the Rocks Articles of 2021

2021 Review

December 2021 feels a lot like December 2020. COVID-19 remains a threat as it spreads through the United States and much of the rest of the world. Relations between Russia and the West remain tense, Iran is making progress on its nuclear program, and Britain is still Brexiting.

In other important respects, though, this year feels radically different. Vaccines have changed the nature of the pandemic, and few of us will forget where we were when the U.S. Capitol was overrun on Jan. 6. In terms of tone and in many policy areas, the Biden administration marks a departure from its predecessor. For the first time in two decades, the U.S. military has no presence in Afghanistan.

At War on the Rocks, elements of continuity and change are reflected in our list of the most-read articles. We remain a seafaring tribe. Two of our most popular articles sound the alarm on the Navy’s “strategic bankruptcy” and the service’s plans to invest in unmanned surface platforms. We are also a spacefaring community, it seems. The most-read article of the year walks us through the physics of conflict in space, and argues that policymakers need a realistic understanding of how space warfare might play out.

In the future, 2021 might be remembered as the year that War on the Rocks pivoted to the Indo-Pacific. Nearly half of the articles on the list focus on this key region. China, it seems, is the pacing threat for our community, not just the Defense Department. More broadly, the articles below have a more international focus than in the past. After a year that included a tumultuous presidential election, a national reckoning over race, and a deadly pandemic, perhaps it’s unsurprising that our authors and readers looked beyond America’s borders for answers.



1. Rebecca Reesman and James Wilson, “Physics Gets a Vote: No Starcruisers for Space Force

2. Ian Ona Johnson, “How an International Order Died: Lessons from the Interwar Era

3. Michael Shurkin, “Kill the Homothetic Army: Gen. Guy Hubin’s Vision of the Future Battlefield

4. David Alman, “A Japanese Seaplane Could Be the Difference Maker

5. Christopher Dougherty, “Gradually and Then Suddenly: Explaining the Navy’s Strategic Bankruptcy

6. Alex Vershinin, “Feeding the Bear: A Closer Look at Russian Army Logistics and the Fait Accompli

7. Sharon E. Burke, “The Arctic Threat That Must Not Be Named

8. Jeffrey W. Hornung, “The United States and Japan Should Prepare for War with China

9. Christopher Colley, “A Future Chinese Indian Ocean Fleet?

10. C. Lee Shea, “The Longest Telegram: A Visionary Blueprint for the Comprehensive Grand Strategy Against China We Need

11. Ulrike Franke, “A Millennial Considers the New German Problem

12. Paul van Hooft, “Don’t Knock Yourself Out: How America Can Turn the Tables on China by Giving Up the Fight for Command of the Seas

13. Yun Sun, “A Reluctant Embrace: China’s New Relationship with the Taliban

14. Matthew Flynn, “What Napoleon Can Teach Us About the South China Sea

15. Nathan Fleischaker and Shawna Sinnott, “The Marine Corps Under the Nuclear Shadow: A Great-Power Problem

16. René Balletta, “The Royal Navy in the Indo-Pacific: Don’t Use a Sledgehammer to Crack a Nut

17. Michael Kofman, Aaron Stein, and Yun Sun, “After Withdrawal: How China, Turkey, and Russia Will Respond to the Taliban

18. Robert C. Rubel, “Whispers from Wargames About the Gray Zone

19. Jeff Becker, “A Starcruiser for Space Force: Thinking Through the Imminent Transformation of Spacepower

20. Tim Ball, “Talking the Talk: Language Capabilities for U.S. Army Special Forces

21. Michael A. Hunzeker, “Taiwan’s Defense Plans Are Going Off the Rails

22. Jonathan Panter and Johnathan Falcone, “The Unplanned Costs of an Unmanned Fleet

23. Evan S. Medeiros and Jude Blanchette, “Beyond Colossus or Collapse: Five Myths Driving American Debates about China

24. Tobias Switzer, “Into Thin Air: Aviation Security Force Assistance in Iraq and Afghanistan

25. E.M. Liddick, “No Legal Objection, Per Se


Image: U.S. Navy (Photo by Mass Communication Spc. 2nd Class Ryan M. Breeden)