In a 1995 interview Robert Strausz-Hupé – the University of Pennsylvania professor, strategic studies specialist, former foreign policy advisor to Republican presidential hopefuls, and United States ambassador – stated that he took pride in the predictions he had made about the future during his long career. ‘I’ve been fairly consistently on the right side…’ he reported, ‘I can say that I’ve seen the world fairly clearly.’ (Hughes, 2006: 157) Predictions of the future were the theme of his 1945 book The Balance of Tomorrow, and in future years Strausz-Hupé was credited with foreseeing the rise of China and India that would ’tilt the balance of power towards Asia.’ (Sempa, 2015) Unfortunately, while segments of the book are capable of being quoted to give this impression, that was not actually the argument that he made.

 Robert Strausz-Hupé was born in Austria in 1903 to a wealthy family that lost its fortune with the breakup of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Following a stay in Munich, he moved to the United States to work in finance. It was during this period that he claimed to have learnt about how communism worked via White Russian émigrés in New York. A consistent anti-fascist, albeit a conservative one, he joined the magazine Current History in the late 1930s, and became a regular writer and lecturer on European issues. With the entry of the United States into the War he was involved in war work in a unit dealing with geopolitics, receiving his doctorate in Political Science from the University in Pennsylvania towards the end of the War. After the War he moved into University lecturing, and soon obtained a permanent position at Pennsylvania, where he established the Foreign Policy Research Institute (FPRI) in 1955. In the 1970s and 1980s he served as a United States Ambassador. He died in 2002 just short of his 99th birthday. A public intellectual, he is best known for his work on geopolitics, his strong anti-communism, opposition to the Nuclear Test Ban Treaty, and the nurturing of a generation of US strategic studies specialists through FPRI and the journal Orbis.

Operation_Crossroads_Baker_Edit Bikini Atoll Public Domain In The Balance of Tomorrow Strausz-Hupé sought to understand how power in foreign policy was shifting by looking at several key indicators of power. These included the ‘crude indices’ of population size and raw materials, as well as the nature of political, economic, and military organization found in different societies. He also made much of the role of industry and the spread of technology. The interactions between these elements were crucial to his analysis. For example, while he saw a large population as a necessary precondition for world power, ‘without developed industries and natural resources a large population is a source of military weakness.’ (Strausz-Hupé , 1945: 48). That said, declining population in Western European societies would, he argued, lead to the eclipse of Western Europe as a source of great powers. His extrapolation of the populations of Western European countries up to 1970, based on current trends, showed steep declines. For example, he predicted that Britain’s population would fall from 47 million in 1945 to 42-38 million by 1970 (Strausz-Hupé, 1945: 65). Britain’s actual population in 1970 was 55.66 million.

To be fair to Strausz-Hupé one of the reasons (but not the only one) that post-war Britain saw a rise in population was due to a factor that he supported, but thought would be resisted. Strausz-Hupé had foreseen the importance of immigration as a positive force in the development of a society’s power. As an immigrant himself, he remained a strong advocate of more liberal immigration policies. (Strausz-Hupé & Possonby, 1950: 107; Strausz-Hupé, 1945: 114-5) Other factors that undermined Strausz-Hupé’s predictions for Western Europe included improvements in life expectancy and lower infant mortality, something he was later to acknowledge as one of a series of factors that had changed the world (Strausz-Hupé, 1956: 78). Missing from his discussion of population, however, is any discussion of women and changing gender roles.

Population also played a role in his predictions for India and China. Both are seen as having the population needed to be centres of power, but Strausz-Hupé is sceptical. ‘China and India’ he states ‘are really geographical expressions rather than political units.’ (Strausz-Hupé, 1945: 51) With the prospect of the defeat of Japan in 1945, and continued fragmentation in the Yellow Sea region of China, he concluded that ‘the inequalities of nature slate the Far East for a secondary role in the making of world politics.’ Rather the two potential Asian powerhouses will be Soviet Asia (‘bound to exert a strong pull upon the Far East’), and India. While he predicted that India would be ‘Asia’s industrial powerhouse of tomorrow’, he saw it as developing as part of the British Empire. (Strausz-Hupé, 1945: 164-7, 259) Thus, as far as Asian predictions went, Strausz-Hupé missed the Japanese miracle, underestimated China, overestimated the Asian Soviet Union, and assumed that a booming India would be tied to Britain.

Mazda 1960s
A big trend to miss

Even in 1945, with the flush of Allied unity still in full flow, Strausz-Hupé predicted conflict between the United States and the Soviet Union, and the necessity for the United States to become the nurturer of a reinvigorated western civilization. As a purely military alliance, he predicted the end of the ideological truce between the wartime Allies, and he advocated the absorption of the Western European colonial empires into the US-led orbit as the outer defences of the United States. To this end  Strausz-Hupé favoured maintaining the colonial status quo, even praising the British Empire as ‘the most perfect form of international cooperation yet devised.’ (Strausz-Hupé, 1945: 257-71. The quote comes from p. 260) Strausz-Hupé’s positive opinion of colonialism continued into the 1950s, and led to his failure to predict decolonization. Indeed, in 1958 – just two years away from the major spate of declarations of independence in the British and French colonial empires — Strausz-Hupé co-edited a collection of essays that were critical of what Strausz-Hupé’s long-time collaborator Stefan Possony termed ‘extreme anticolonialism’. Indeed, Possony’s chapter was critical of many aspirations for independence and decolonization. (Possonby, 1958: 17-43)

Ghana independence 1957
Underestimating decolonization

The Balance of Tomorrow borrowed heavily from the kind of racialized geopolitical analysis made popular by Admiral A. T. Mahan. Mahan had seen the underlying long-term global conflict being between a white/European West that relied on ‘velocity’ and a superior spirit for its power, and a non-European world whose power rested on the ‘mass’ of its population. (Ashworth, 2014: 103-6) In Strausz-Hupé’s work the overtly racialized language and categories of Mahan are dropped – except for a lapse in which he refers to ‘damming the human tide of Asia’ (Strausz-Hupé, 1945: 85) – but the split between technology and population remains. Here, it is the centres of India and the Yellow Sea basin that have the population, but lack the technology to turn the high population into global power. Western Europe has the technology, but faces declining population. The major difference between Mahan and Strausz-Hupé on this issue is that the latter did not see the European technological advantage in racial terms, seeing the adoption of the new technologies by Indians and Chinese as a catching up using a science that could no longer be seen as specific to a particular culture. Having said that, Strausz-Hupé’s use of Mahan’s structure carried elements of Mahan’s racial siege mentality into Strausz-Hupé’s analysis. (Strausz-Hupé, 1945: 88, 91) This is at its clearest in Strausz-Hupé’s attitudes to colonialism, and his fears of ‘Asian despotism’.

The Balance of Tomorrow is also marked by occasional organic analogies for the state that appear to be borrowed from the geopolitics of Rudolf Kjellén. A prime example is Strausz-Hupé’s comparison of the foreign policy of ageing verses younger populations. With an eye on the comparison between the declining populations of Western Europe and the growing ones of Asia, he makes the claim that ageing populations favour stability and security, and therefore as a rule are not war-making nations. In contrast, he claims, younger populations are more adventurous and aggressive. (Strausz-Hupé, 1945, 79-84) This argument is thrown out as an assertion, but with little evidence to back it up. It does, though, add to a Mahan-style panic about population decline, even if Strausz-Hupé strongly advocates immigration as a possible solution to the imbalance.

So not that monolithic after all

Strausz-Hupé was a strong anti-communist. Indeed, it was his belief that the defining reality of twentieth century international relations was the conflict between freedom and communism. His anti-communism led him to miss the Sino-Soviet split in the late 1950s. Central to his analysis in Protracted War was the idea that there was no difference between Soviet foreign policy and communism, despite his often contradictory assertions that Soviet foreign policy was a continuation of a Tsarist legacy. (Strausz-Hupé, 1947: 322-330; 1945: 267-8) At the end of the day he was just oblivious to the very real divisions between Beijing and Moscow, seeing communism as an undifferentiated monolithic bloc. (Strausz-Hupé et al, 1959: 143)

From The Balance of Tomorrow onwards Strausz-Hupé’s longer-term prediction is that the nation-state will give way to a global order, and that the road to this development will come about through first Western European union, then the union of the Atlantic world and the West, and finally a global order hopefully brought about by the West’s victory over communism and the Soviet Union. His starting point for this analysis is an argument that he took from the geographer Derwent Whittlesey: that the boundaries of European states were formed for the conveniences of the stage-coach and canal age, and that in the modern world only the United States and the Soviet Union were large enough to be self-sufficient. (Strausz-Hupé, 1945: 155-159; Strausz-Hupé & Possonby, 1950: 54-5) Like Whittlesey he saw the trend of the times as being towards larger political units. (Strausz-Hupé & Possonby, 1950: 55)  

On the first point Strausz-Hupé seems to align with David Mitrany’s functional approach – where the nation-state is seen as no longer capable of containing a distinct social life, and therefore needs to be replaced with governance that goes beyond boundaries. However in his assertion of the need for larger political units Strausz-Hupé clearly rejects the more networked world of Mitrany. This is no surprise, since Mitrany’s concept of a function-based ‘working peace system’ was (in a similar war to the power approach of the classical realists) specifically designed to overcome the ideological splits of the East-West struggle. Strausz-Hupé, by contrast, sees the ideological struggle of the Cold War as the basic reality of late twentieth century global politics. He rejects the logic of functionalism in favour of a more state-based federalism that Mitrany had earlier rejected as impractical. Having rejected the functionalist alternative, Strausz-Hupé then sets up a contrast between what he sees as the alternative plans for global integration coming from the West and the East: the US led West offers ‘Anglo-Saxon federalism’ as the basis of the inevitable global unity, while communism offers ‘Asian despotic centralism’. ( Strausz-Hupé, 1956: 84)

On balance Strausz-Hupé seems to do no better, but also perhaps no worse, in predicting the future than other pundits both before and after him. Perhaps the only difference is that later admirers of Strausz-Hupé were to claim that he predicted the rise of China and India. This is clearly not so. Like most seers he assumed some things were permanent that would instead rapidly change, and assumed a secular trend for some changes that proved to be more resilient to change than predicted. In the first category he missed the rise of Japanese industrial strength, decolonization, and the Sino-Soviet split. In the second were his off-the-mark conclusions about Western European population, his predicted rise of Soviet Asia, and the weakness of the nation state in the face of globalizing trends. Like most seers his predictions also suffered from the tendency to project his own views and biases into the future. Thus Strausz-Hupé’s future reflects his conservative anti-communist anxieties. Yet, despite the spottiness of his predictions, Strausz-Hupé remains (for good or ill) an influential figure in the development of strategic studies and foreign affairs. As a public intellectual and mentor he helped shape the form and future of strategic studies in the United States

There were bigger problems than which way the guns were pointing

Interestingly these predictions may not be the first time Strausz-Hupé was wrong and yet had a powerful influence on later perceptions of a topic. At the conclusion of his influential 1942 book Geopolitics he quotes from an article by the German geopolitician Haushofer claiming that the gun batteries defending the British base of Singapore looked ‘seaward’ and were subsequently ‘pointed “in the wrong direction.”’ (Strausz-Hupé, 1942: 264) Strausz-Hupé used this example as the final flourish in support of Mackinder’s (and Haushofer’s) view of the superiority of land power. After the success of Geopolitics this cautionary tale became a popular one among armchair strategists (indeed, the ‘guns pointing out to sea’ myth can still be found in online discussions). Like Aesop’s one-eyed deer, the British had misunderstood where the attack would come from.  The big problem with this story is that it is not true. Singapore is an island, and the naval base is inside the Johore Strait opposite the Malay mainland. The guns did not point out to sea. Once again Strausz-Hupé was wrong, but this did not stop his error being influential.


Ashworth, L. M. (2014) A History of International Thought. From the Origins of the Modern State to Academic International Relations. London: Routledge.

Hughes, S. (2006) ‘Smoke and Steel. Robert Strausz-Hupé’, in Penn in Ink. Pathfinders, Swashbucklers, Scribblers and Sages. Portraits from the Pennsylvania Gazette. Xlibris: Bloomington Ind.

Possonby, S. T. (1958) ‘Colonial Problems in Perspective’ in R. Strausz-Hupé & H. W. Hazard (eds),  The Idea of Colonialism. New York: Frederick A. Praeger. 17-43.

Sempa, F. P. (2015) ‘Robert Strausz-Hupé and the Balance of Tomrrow’, The Diplomat. 1 August.  Accessed 30 April 2018.

Strausz-Hupé, R. (1942) Geopolitics. The Struggle for Space and Power. New York: G. T. Putnam.

Strausz-Hupé, R. (1945) The Balance of Tomorrow. Power and Foreign Policy in the United States. New York: G. P. Putnam’s.

Strausz-Hupé, R. (1947) ‘The Western Frontiers of Russia’, The Review of Politics. 9(3), 322-330.

Strausz-Hupé, R. (1956) Power and Community. New York: Praeger.

Strausz-Hupé, R., W. R. Kintner, J. E. Dogherty, & A. J. Cottrell (1959) Protracted Conflict. New York: Harper Brothers.

Strausz-Hupé, R & S. Possony (1950) International Relations in the Age of the Conflict Between Democracy and Dictatorship. New York: McGraw-Hill.


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