Introducing Joseph Cerami
Joseph (Joe) Cerami joined the Bush School of Government and Public Service at Texas A&M University in 2001. He holds a PhD from Penn State University’s School of Public Affairs, and teaches courses in national security policy and leadership studies in the Master’s Program in International Affairs. Dr Cerami was appointed as the founding director of the Bush School’s Public Service Leadership Program in 2002.
During a 30 year military career (1971-2001), Colonel Cerami served in Germany, the Republic of Korea, and the United States — as a Field Artillery officer; regional and theater operations, war and exercise planner; acquisition systems manager; and Army strategist. His last assignment was from 1998-2001, serving as the Chairman of the Department of National Security and Strategy at the U.S. Army War College, Carlisle Barracks, Pennsylvania. Dr Cerami also served as an Assistant Professor of Political Science, in the Department of Social Sciences, at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, from 1980-1983.
He holds a BS in Engineering from the US Military Academy at West Point; an MA in Government from the University of Texas at Austin; and an MMAS from the School of Advanced Military Studies at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas. He also earned certificates from the US Army War College; the US Army Command and General Staff College; and the Harvard Kennedy School’s program for Senior Officials in National Security.
In 2010 Dr. Cerami published entries on “Leadership in International Affairs”, “Military Science”, “Strategic and Net Assessments” and “International Security” for the section International Relations of the Oxford Bibliographies Online project. In 2011 he was named to the Founding Editorial Board and Standing Editorial Board of this International Relations section.
Your relationship with geopolitics
At what age did you discover geopolitics and what attracted you to it?
My study of geography started with a New York City high school education (way back in the mid-1960s) when we were required to take a geography course. At the US Military Academy at West Point we also had a required geography course in the freshman year, but I guess because of the high school course I qualified for an elective in the Geography of the Soviet Union.
For the majority of my graduate level work in studying government, national security and international affairs, frankly, knowledge of geopolitics was generally assumed rather than addressed directly. None of my graduate studies included courses in geography or geopolitics. For instance, in reading Kissinger’s book “Diplomacy”‘s chapter on “Foreign Policy as Geopolitics” he refers to Nixon’s “powerful analytical skills and extraordinary geopolitical intuition” (1994, p. 705), but discusses geopolitics in general terms, mainly regarding great power relations in various regions of particular interest during the Cold War timeframe. Similarly, Aaron Friedberg’s book on Cold War Grand Strategy (“In the Shadow of the Garrison State “, 2000, p. 64) includes geography as one of the three external determinants of power creation (along with technology and politics), but again primarily focuses on great power relationships.
Both are important books but there is a need to expand my and my students’ knowledge through a more in-depth understanding of geopolitics. So, I am actually a relative newcomer to the study of the interrelationships among geography, politics, strategy and international affairs.
I should add that during my military education and training geography was always essential from the tactical level (map reading and tactics) though the operational level (terrain and intelligence preparation of the battlefield in campaign planning) to the strategic level (diplomatic, informational, economic, and military, including air-land-sea-space-cyber, elements of power; regional assessments; and theater campaign planning). So the details of geopolitics were fully incorporated in my military education.
As I am implying, the interdisciplinary study of international relations should include a more formal study of geopolitics along with economics, diplomacy and history of course.
2. Which geopolitical topics have your focus and why did you choose especially these?
More recently, 9/11 sparked a renewed interest in the relationship of geography to politics. I recall being interested in the events of the 1979 Iranian Revolution and Zbigniew Brzezinski’s writing and speaking about the arc of crisis from Southwest Asia across the Middle East and Northern Africa.
Samuel Huntington’s post-Cold War Clash of Civilizations article and book contributed to thinking critically about geography, politics, culture and religion.
And, of course, the post 9/11 wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have required a more in depth focus on geopolitical topics for national security affairs, including the 3 D’s of defense, diplomacy and development. Counterinsurgencies, humanitarian interventions, human security, are all now routinely considered security issues – and all are enhanced with a more in depth understanding of geopolitics.
3. What do you consider your most important contribution to geopolitics?
Our department’s work at the Army War College included extensive regional studies taught by real experts — highly trained and experienced Army foreign area officers, diplomats, and comparative politics academics. Teaching the regional strategic appraisal was a core requirement at Carlisle Barracks throughout the 1990s.
Now, in our university graduate program, being relatively new to the in-depth academic study of geopolitics, means my contributions will be in the future. I am currently examining the literature to use geopolitics to understand international relations in Southern Europe, the Middle East and North Africa (MENA). During the Cold War there were experts and a literature on NATO’s “southern flank.” So far I have found that most of those research efforts ended in the academic community with the end of the Cold War. Given the Arab Awakening I think renewed attention should be paid for southern flank and related US-European-MENA research.
Your geopolitical preferences
4. What is your favourite definition of geopolitics?
A wise professor encouraged new graduate students who had not studied international relations at the undergraduate level to look at the leading textbooks (but to not cite them in their literature reviews and other research papers).
That said, I am currently reading Saul Bernard Cohen’s textbook, “Geopolitics: The Geography of International Relations” (2009). He initially defines geopolitics as the analysis of the interaction between geographical settings and perspectives and political processes. His introduction of stages and structures — from the geostrategic, geopolitical regions, nation states to the micro level — is a logical, analytical framework.
For a more theoretical perspective I am also looking into Colin Flint and Peter Taylor’s “Political Geography” (2007) text and their conceptualization based on world systems theory. Important to me is noting that they include John Gaddis’s notion of geopolitical codes from his book “Strategies of Containment” (1982). Similarly, one chapter from Cohen cites a mixture of sources, including Alfred Mahan, Peter Drucker, Edward Said, and Immanuel Wallerstein.
In brief, the interdisciplinary nature of the study of geopolitics is fascinating to me.
5. Which geopolitical scientist do you admire the most?
I have greatly appreciated the early guidance and assistance that I have received my faculty colleague, Professor Peter Hugill, here in the Department of Geography at Texas A&M University.
6. What is your favourite geopolitical book?
So far, I have found the Cohen text (“Geopolitics: The Geography of International Relations”) to be most helpful.
From the newer scholars, I am looking forward to reading Jakub Grygiel’s “Great Powers and Geopolitical Changes” (2006). Again, I appreciate the use of history for adding breadth, depth and context to the study of international relations.
7. What is your favourite geopolitical website?
I keep track of geopolitics by subscribing to the regional centers of the major think tanks. I find the Council on Foreign Relations; Brookings Institution; and Carnegie Endowment for International Peace (new Global Think Tank format) websites particularly interesting.
Given the explosion of web based resources it is increasingly difficult to keep track of all the very important research and studies. Still for the study of grand and national security strategy in a global era, it is hard for me to specialize and narrow my focus.
The geopolitical future
8. In what direction(s) will geopolitical science be heading the coming decades?
Again, I am encouraged by the interdisciplinary nature of the geopolitics research. For someone coming from the study of the “subfields” of national security, public policy and management, it is important to be able to draw on perspectives that are global in nature.
9. Which geopolitical subject has been too little in the spotlight and needs further research?
As I mentioned above, world systems frameworks are important to develop a deeper understanding of international relations, especially in an era of change. So, I also have William Thompson’s “Systemic Transitions” (2008) on my reading list.
10. What will be the largest geopolitical challenge for the world in the 21st century?
I am tempted to say ‘world peace’. I don’t mean to trivialize that notion, but in Cohen’s terms, setting the conditions for ‘shatterbelts’ to become ‘gateways’ in the Middle East, Sub-Saharan Africa, Southwest Asia and other regions is worthy of much attention – in geopolitics and all the disciplines of international affairs.