IISS: Strategic Survey 2013
Strategic Survey 2013: The Annual Review of World Affairs, Prospectives
The abiding impression of international affairs in 2013 was of a constant flow of events that political leaders, governments, international organisations, opinion formers and people of all kinds were doing their best to manage. It was the year of living tactically.
Frustration was regularly expressed about the insolubility of conflicts, the iterative management of international tensions and the quick fixes that at best bought time for other unsatisfactory approaches. This amounted to a loud lament that strategy, let alone ‘grand strategy’, was now impossible. It was not only that the 24-hour news cycle and the dominance of social media commentary bled away the capacity for perspective and long-term planning. The lack of strategy derived also from a failure of leadership and a reluctance to pursue grander designs that might deliver longer-term or more lasting dividends.
This was the year in which the United States confirmed the developing tendency to see foreign policy as a series of procedures to be carried out, rather than as a means either definitively to solve problems or to mark new directions with strategic purpose. That tendency emerged not just out of weariness with the wars of the first decade of the twenty-first century, but from an analytical judgement that most foreign-policy problems fell into the ‘too hard’ category. Attempts by other countries to fill the gap in decisive leadership only confirmed how slim were the chances of success in any given case.
The next year, too, will be a year of living tactically. However, there are developments on the horizon of potential strategic consequence that will call out for larger, more coordinated, designs. In their absence, the sense that we live in a state of sublimated strategic anarchy will persist.