[eDebate] "Grand Strategy" FYI

Stefan Bauschard stefan.bauschard
Fri Dec 26 20:03:05 CST 2008

McDonough, Orbis, Winter 2009, Beyond Primacy: Hegemony and 'Security

Addiction' in U.S. Grand Strategy

Debating American Grand Strategy

The United States emerged from the Cold War with its formidable

military capabilities and globe-spanning network of allies largely intact.

Strategic thinkers had an unprecedented opportunity to reassess the U.S.

in the world. Yet decision-makers found it difficult to maintain discipline

the many different interests, priorities and goals that competed for scarce

resources. There was little consensus on the contours of grand strategy:

are vital U.S. interests in the post-Cold War period? What are the
challenges to

these interests? What means should be used to respond to these threats and

secure these goals?

Of course, grand strategy is fundamentally about finding answers to

these questions. It involves a theoretically informed relationship of ends

means that identifies and prioritizes national interests, potential threats

resources and/or means to meet these threats. The goal is to develop a

''conceptual road map'' and ''set of policy prescriptions'' on issues of

security.1 Containment was one such road map and it proved to be remarkably

Beyond Primacy

1 Colin Dueck, Reluctant Crusaders: Power, Culture, and Change in American

Strategy (Princeton and Oxford: Princeton University Press, 2006), pp.

resilient. The post-Cold War period, while marked by a vigorous debate over

grand strategy, has proven to be a far more difficult terrain to chart an

upon course.

Barry Posen and Andrew Ross have summarized four alternative grand

strategies.2 Neo-isolationism advocates a significant reduction in U.S.

commitments, including the dismantlement of NATO and other alliances,

and the avoidance of international engagement. This grand strategy has an

essentially benign account of the security environment. ''Strategic
immunity'' is

guaranteed by the U.S. nuclear arsenal and geostrategic location;

would facilitate the rise of stable regional balances and reduce the

hostility often generated by U.S. hegemony and interventionism.3

This approach was, however, largely dismissed as an unwise and essentially

infeasible option. As Posen and Ross note, ''Neo-isolationists seem willing

to trade away considerable international influence for a relatively modest

improvement in domestic welfare.''4

In contrast, selective engagement envisions a more restrained strategy

that forgoes significant humanitarian or policing duties, and instead
focuses on

prudential application of American power to maintain regional balances and

great power peace. The United States should therefore be concerned with

maintaining military commitments in Europe and Asia, as well as a presence

the Persian Gulf to forestall competition for its energy resources. Yet it
can be

criticized for being an explicitly ''realist'' strategy that remains
ill-suited for a

Republic that has historically been concerned with ''liberal'' principles as

as power. One can also question whether this approach can ever be selective

its implementation. There is little agreed-upon criteria for what

''national interests,'' and current commitments will ensure a significant

global presence for the foreseeable future. Some prominent advocates have

even adopted a ''realpolitik plus'' strategy that, by including

and environmental activism, illustrates the potential temptation of an

definition of selectivity.5

Neo-isolationism may complement the historic American proclivity for

''limited liability'' and ''prudence'' in its international commitments.


2 Barry Posen and Andrew Ross, ''Competing Visions for US Grand Strategy,''

Security, Winter 1996/97, pp. 5-53.

3 For an excellent account of neo-isolationism, see Eugene Gholtz, Daryl
Press and Harvey

Sapolsky, ''Come Home, America: The Strategy of Restraint in the Face of

International Security, Spring 1997, pp. 5-48.

4 Posen and Ross, ''Competing Visions of US Grand Strategy,'' p. 16. An
additional benefit of

the neo-isolationist approach is in the reduced probability of a nuclear or
biological weapon

attack on American cities ? though such an attack is perhaps one of the few
scenarios that might

actually trigger such ''restraint.'' See Douglas Ross, ''Nuclear Weapons and
American Grand

Strategy: Essential Pillar or Terminal Liability?'' International Journal,
Autumn 2008.

5 Robert J. Art, ''Geopolitics Updated: The Strategy of Selective
Engagement.'' International

Security, Winter 1998/1999, pp. 79-113.

engagement is meanwhile rooted in the present unipolar environment,

particularly the need to conserve scarce resources and preserve the

remaining strategic advantage. But neither approach meets the structural and

cultural conditions necessary for a stable strategic adjustment.6 American

preponderance makes any return to a neo-isolationist posture highly

while its liberal impulses have always made explicitly realist strategies

inherently suspect and ultimately short-lived.

The two remaining grand strategies, cooperative security and primacy,

provide the most ambitious blueprints for a U.S. global role. Cooperative

security differs from the other approaches by being founded on unadulterated

liberal principles; humanitarianism is to be prescribed and armed aggression

prohibited. Supporters of this strategy have an optimistic view on the

for institutions like NATO or the UN to coordinate ''the deterrence and

of aggression,'' 7 and for arms control and confidence-building measures

to minimize security dilemmas and buttress strategic nuclear stability. Yet

cooperative security also posits a high level of ''strategic independence''

connects U.S. national security to any number of disputes abroad. With the

pressing need to build credibility, the United States and its allies must be

willing to undertake humanitarian interventions and proactive

of weapons of mass destruction (WMD).

Many United States allies, wedded to notions of ''human security'' and

multilateralism, will likely embrace a U.S. shift towards cooperative
security. It

is, however, unlikely that allies will be able to resist the ''free-riding''

and adequately reinvest in military assets. The United States will have to

bear the primary burden for any such project. It is also uncertain whether

United States has the appetite to sustain the imperial policing role needed

''regulate regional peace, discipline violators of civilized norms, and

democracy and world order.''8

Primacists, on the other hand, have placed their trust in the overwhelming

American strategic preponderance that underpins international

institutions. The ultimate objective is the preservation of U.S. supremacy

and the prevention of any serious challenger to this hegemonic order. Allies

and more amicable regional powers are to be discouraged from developing

an independent global role, through a mixture of coercion and robust

security guarantees. More aggressive near-peer competitors are to be

contained. While eschewing the multilateralism of its more ''cooperative''

cousin, primacy does envision a vigorous (and likely unilateral) effort to

stem WMD proliferation, which could otherwise curtail U.S. freedom of action

and facilitate the rearming of potential competitors.

Beyond Primacy

6 Dueck, Reluctant Crusaders, Chapter 5.

7 Posen and Ross, ''Competing Visions of US Grand Strategy,'' p. 25.

8 Richard Betts, ''A Disciplined Defense: How to Regain Strategic
Solvency,'' Foreign Affairs,

Nov./Dec. 2007, pp. 67-80.

Primacy is firmly rooted in key realist assumptions. ''Primacists are

hawkish and hard-line, with a keen appreciation for the role of power,

conflict, and national self-interest in international relations.''9 But this

controversial choice is also optimistic on the potential for both indefinite

U.S. preponderance and the successful suppression of strategic rivals and

WMD-armed regional powers. Primacy supporters either underestimate or

simply ignore the possibility that other countries may resent such

hubris.'' This stems partly from the U.S. liberal exceptionalism that posits

benign and more acceptable sort of hegemony, and partly from the difficulty

balancing against a superpower.

The George H.W. Bush administration showed a strong inclination

to adopt primacy after the Soviet Union's collapse. The draft Defense

Planning Guidance (DPG) for 1994-1999 featured explicit calls for indefinite

military preponderance and the prevention of a new strategic rival. The

DPG was publically disavowed by the administration after it was leaked

to the press in 1992. But a redrafted version, authored by I. ''Scooter''

Libby under Dick Cheney's guidance, contained even more ambitious

calls to shape ''the future security environment'' and dissuade rivals from

contemplating military competition. This document's statement on overall

strategy was subsequently released in 1993 as the Defense Strategy for

the 1990s.10

The Clinton administration came into office eager to adopt a grand

strategy more attuned to notions of cooperative security. Multilateral

institutions like the United Nations were given significant responsibilities

for peacebuilding and post-conflict reconstruction, while the United States

recommitted itself to a number of multilateral economic arrangements. Yet

more astute observers of the United States also detected a growing

over the efficacy of international institutions. With the exception of

NATO, multilateral organizations were shown to be disastrously unprepared

to manage the civil conflicts and stabilization operations in Somalia,

and Rwanda. The sincere desire for an institutional order conducive to

achieving true cooperative security was balanced by the recognition that

U.S. leadership and strategic power were essential to fulfill this vision.

multilateral organizations often dithering over such crises as Yugoslavia's

dissolution, the United States rediscovered the burden of being the

''indispensible nation.''

Colin Dueck has noted that the Clinton administration's liberal

internationalist assumptions were balanced by ''a strong dose of primacy,''


9 Dueck, Reluctant Crusaders, p. 121.

10 The original DPG document was written by Zalmay Khalizad under the
guidance of then

Secretary of Defense Dick Cheney and Under Secretary of Defense for Policy
Paul Wolfowitz.

See Michael Mann, Rise of the Vulcans: The History of Bush's War Cabinet (New
York: Penguin

Books, 2004), Chapter 13.

as demonstrated by the explicit rejection of ''dovish'' prescriptions to

''America's forward strategic presence.''11 Indeed, President Clinton had

frequently resorted to an ''assertive multilateralism'' that relies on

allies towards military action, and thereby acquiring at least a semblance

multilateral legitimacy for these operations. Posen and Ross have also

an additional emphasis on selectivity and concluded that this mismatched

approach should be termed ''selective (but cooperative) primacy.''12 This

grand strategic amalgamation may not satisfy the more hardline adherents

of the Project for the New American Century (PNAC), but there should be

doubt that the Clinton foreign policy team's lofty multilateral rhetoric was

used to soften otherwise tough primacist policies.

Posen and Ross's four-fold typology of strategic choices offers an

admirable clarification of the key positions of an otherwise esoteric

Yet the reification of these options carries the danger that similarities

be overlooked. Christopher Layne, for example, argues that American

grand strategy has essentially been concerned with maintaining U.S.

strategic preponderance. Selective engagement still envisions a forward

strategic presence to balance potential competitors and preserve American

hegemony, and cooperative security would only further reify an American

institutional order. A grand strategy of ''offshore balancing,'' which

incorporates neo-isolationist prescriptions with a more active role as the

''balancer of last resort,'' is advocated as an antidote to visions of

grandeur. Layne's vision is decidedly optimistic on the potential benefits

an eventual multipolar environment, even as it prescribes a smaller,

oriented military and the dismantlement of entangling alliances.13

It is difficult to deny that both primacy and selective engagement take

the preservation of American strategic preponderance as a conceptual

point. Primacists are simply more optimistic on the continued vitality of

American power, and are, therefore, reluctant to rely on other countries to

provide regional counterweights to any challenger. Even supporters of

security have grown to share this appreciation for American hegemony.

In this light, the Clinton administration's willingness to embrace elements

these different approaches, rather than an aberration from an undisciplined

presidency, seems to be a more natural condition arising from conflating

American unipolarity and its liberal strategic culture.

It would be imprudent, however, to simply dismiss the post-Cold War

grand strategy debate. All three of these strategic options began with

points of disagreement on the necessary means to achieve American security?

primacists rely on U.S. supremacy, cooperative security advocates rely on

Dueck, Reluctant Crusaders, p. 132.

12 Posen and Ross, ''Competing Visions for US Grand Strategy.'' pp. 44-50.

13 Christopher Layne, ''From Preponderance to Offshore Balancing: America's
Future Grand

Strategy,'' International Security, Summer 1997, pp. 86-124.

multilateral institutions, and selective engagers rely on extra-regional

These differences lessened during the Clinton administration, as cooperative

security and selective engagement slowly blended into a more

multilateral version of primacy. The 9/11 attacks later crystallized a

approach that was both aggressively unilateral and, with its democratization

campaign in the Middle East, also virulently liberal.

The debate over American strategic options has narrowed considerably

in the post-9/11 period. ''The new debate on U.S. grand strategy is

essentially about which variant of a hegemonic strategy the United States

should pursue.''14 Posen labeled these two variants of primacy ''national

liberalism'' and ''liberal internationalism.''15 The former is essentially

current administration's unilateral approach, while the latter has been

embraced by a Democratic Party eager to demonstrate its competence in

national security affairs. President Bush's strategy does not represent a

change when compared to its predecessor, but it does represent the

culmination of a strategic adjustment process that has effectively settled

primacy?in one form or another?for the post-9/11 period.

The vagaries of U.S. domestic politics and the shock of the 9/11 attacks

had given neoconservative strategists an opportunity to implement their

aggressive primacist vision. Primacy is, however, a more stable strategic

than many critics of the current administration are likely to admit. It will

continue to guide American strategy long after the Republican

have left the executive branch. Any calls for strategic restraint are

to be heeded by either major party in the current strategic climate.
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