One hundred years ago this month, just four years after the end of World War I, the magazine Foreign Affairs made its debut. It is the journal of the American foreign policy establishment, published by the Council on Foreign Relations. The inaugural issue featured articles by former Secretary of War and Secretary of State Elihu Root on popular diplomacy; Harvard University President Emeritus Charles William Eliot on America’s contributions to civilization; future Secretary of State John Foster Dulles on allied war debts; Czechoslovakian President Edvard Beneš on Europe’s Little Entente; and future French Prime Minister André Tardieu on France’s postwar foreign policy. That was just the beginning.
Foreign Affairs can rightly claim to be the most influential foreign policy journal in the United States, and its influence has extended to all of the world’s continents and nations. The journal’s first editor was Archibald Cary Coolidge, a history professor at Harvard and a former American diplomat. He was succeeded by Hamilton Fish Armstrong, who edited the journal from 1928–1972. When Armstrong died, William P. Bundy, who had served in foreign policy positions in the Kennedy and Johnson administrations, became editor until 1984. Bundy was succeeded by William G. Hyland, a former member of the National Security Council under Presidents Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford, who served as editor until 1992. The journal’s next two editors were James F. Hoge Jr. (1992–2010) and Gideon Rose (2010–2021). The current editor is Daniel Kurtz-Phelan.
In introducing the centennial issue, Kurtz-Phelan writes that Foreign Affairs “for good or ill, helped set the course of U.S. foreign policy and international relations.” The print journal is published six times per year, but new articles appear on the website daily. The articles are invariably well-written, often contentious, almost always interesting, and sometimes seminal and profound. Contributors over the past 100 years have included Walter Lippmann, H.G. Wells, Arnold J. Toynbee, Henry L. Stimson, Isaiah Berlin, Hans Morgenthau, Henry Kissinger, William F. Buckley Jr., Richard Pipes, Zbigniew Brzezinski, Irving Kristol, and so many other distinguished writers, officeholders, and scholars.
The Council on Foreign Relations is very much a globalist enterprise, and most of the articles in Foreign Affairs reflect that fact. Over the years, populists have disdained the journal for its internationalist outlook and positions on foreign policy issues. Some fringe groups have periodically claimed that the council and its leading journal are tools of a vast international conspiracy designed to end American sovereignty in favor of world rule by global elites. To be sure, Foreign Affairs is very much a journal that opens its pages to global elites and attempts to influence governments throughout the world. In that respect, it is similar to the Economist, the Atlantic, the Financial Times, and the editorial pages of the New York Times. The editors of and contributors to Foreign Affairs are not exactly “America Firsters,” and most of them likely hate former President Donald Trump. (READ MORE from Francis Sempa: They Always Blame America First)
At its worst, Foreign Affairs reads like a mouthpiece of conventional wisdom on foreign policy issues, whether on climate change, multinational solutions to global problems, or the quest for “global governance.” But at its best, Foreign Affairs has published some of the most important and influential articles of the past century. Five stand out from the rest.
First, in the July 1943 issue, the great British geopolitical theorist Sir Halford J. Mackinder wrote “The Round World and the Winning of the Peace,” which updated his “Heartland” concept and predicted a future global balance between an Atlantic alliance (six years before NATO was formed) and a Eurasian landmass dominated by Soviet power. Mackinder’s geopolitical concepts influenced America’s Cold War foreign policies right up to the end years of the Cold War in 1989–91. Indeed, Mackinder’s ideas continue to influence Western foreign policies with the rise of China as the most powerful nation in Eurasia.
Second, in the July 1947 issue, with the Cold War percolating, George F. Kennan’s article “The Sources of Soviet Conduct” (written under the pseudonym “X” because Kennan was then director of the Department of State’s Policy Planning Staff) explained Soviet foreign policy motives and likely goals, and it suggested that the United States should adopt a policy of “containment” in order to block Soviet aggression and to allow for internal vulnerabilities to gradually weaken Soviet power. Though Kennan later tried to distance himself from containment, his Foreign Affairs article set the nation on a mostly consistent foreign policy course for the next four decades.
Third, in January 1959, in the wake of Sputnik, Albert Wohlstetter in “The Delicate Balance of Terror” explained the complicated elements of deterrence in the nuclear age. Wohlstetter’s article was a seminal contribution to the field of “strategic studies,” which sought to think about the unthinkable (nuclear war) and suggest ways to strengthen deterrence while avoiding war. All subsequent articles and books on the United States–Soviet arms race, policy proposals for nuclear-weapons development and deployments, and arms-control agreements had to engage with Wohlstetter’s “delicate balance of terror.” And as China and Russia both are modernizing and increasing their nuclear arsenals, Wohlstetter’s ideas are once again relevant.
Fourth, in the spring 1980 issue, Soviet dissident and writer Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn wrote “Misconceptions About Russia Are a Threat to America,” which urged American policymakers to distinguish between Soviet rulers and their Russian subjects. The ordinary Russians — and the ordinary Poles, Czechs, Slovaks, Hungarians, Romanians, and people of other Soviet satellite countries — were natural allies of the West. Solzhenitsyn explained that detente only extended the life of the Soviet empire, which could only be defeated by “force from without or by disintegration from within.” And he warned America and the West against viewing communist China as a long-term ally in the “global battle between world communism and world humanity.” The West, he wrote, must ally “itself with the captive peoples of the communist world” in order to win the Cold War — and this is precisely what President Ronald Reagan did during the next decade.
And fifth, in the summer of 1993, in the wake of the end of the Cold War and as Western statesmen talked about enjoying a “peace dividend,” Harvard professor Samuel Huntington wrote “The Clash of Civilizations,” which warned against notions that global conflict had ended and predicted — Toynbee-like — that the post–Cold War world would witness a clash of civilizations that “will dominate global politics.” The future, Huntington wrote, will be a struggle for power “between the West and the Rest,” including the Muslim world, Russia (Slavic-Orthodox), and a China-dominated Asia-Pacific (Confucian). Huntington thus foresaw the underlying civilizational causes of the 9/11 attacks, as well as the current Western conflicts with Russia over Ukraine and China in the Indo-Pacific region.