Sunday, July 27, 2008

"Grand Strategy as Liberal Order Building"

Here's another paper by John Ikenberry on grand strategy (PDF):

The grand strategy I am proposing can be called “liberal order building.” It is essentially a 21st
century version of the strategy that the United States pursued after World War II in the shadow of
the Cold War – a strategy which produced the liberal hegemonic order that has provided the
framework for the Western and global system ever since. This is a strategy in which the United
States leads the way in the creation and operation of a loose rule-based international order. The
United States provides public goods and solves global collection action problems. American
“rule” is established through the provisioning of international rules and institutions and its
willingness to operate within them. American power is put in the service of an agreed upon
system of Western-oriented global governance. American power is made acceptable to the world
because it is embedded in these agreed upon rules and institutions. The system itself leverages
resources and fosters cooperation that makes the actual functioning of the order one that solves
problems, creates stability, and allows democracy and capitalism to flourish. Liberal order
building is America’s distinctive contribution to world politics – and it is a grand strategy that it
should return to in the post-Bush era.
The United States should seek to
consolidate a global order where other countries bandwagon rather than balance against it – and
where it remains at the center of a prosperous and secure democratic-capitalist order which in
turn provides the architecture and axis points around which the wider global system turns. But to
reestablish this desired world order, the United States is going to need to invest in re-creating the
basic governance institutions of the system – investing in alliances, partnerships, multilateral
institutions, special relationships, great power concerts, cooperative security pacts, and
democratic security communities.

Two types of grand strategy:

It is useful to distinguish between two types of grand strategies – positional and milieu-oriented.
A “positional” grand strategy is where a great power seeks to counter, undercut, contain, and
limit the power and threats of a specific challenger state or group of states. Nazi Germany,
Imperial Japan, the Soviet bloc, and perhaps – in the future – Greater China. A “milieu” grand
strategy is where a great power does not target a specific state but seeks to structure its general
international environment in ways that are congenial with its long-term security. This might entail
building the infrastructure of international cooperation, promoting trade and democracy in various
regions of the world, establishing partnerships that might be useful for various contingencies.
The point I want to make is that under conditions of unipolarity, in a world of diffuse threats, and
with pervasive uncertainty over what the specific security challenges will be in the future – this
milieu-basic approach to grand strategy is needed.

Four arguments:

This paper makes four arguments. I start with an argument about the character of America’s
security environment in the decades to come. The United States does not confront a first-order
security threat as it has in the past. It faces a variety of decentralized, complex, and deeply
rooted threats. It does not face a singular threat – a great power or violent global movement –
that deserves primacy in the organization of national security. The temptation is to prioritize the
marshaling of American resources against a threat such as jihadist terrorism or rogue states, but
this is both an intellectual and political mistake.
Second, these more diffuse, shifting, and uncertain threats require a different sort of grand
strategy than those aimed at countering a specific enemy such as a rival great power or a radical
terrorist group. Rather, the United States needs to lead in the recreation of the global
architecture of governance, rebuilding its leadership position and the institutional frameworks
through which it pursues its interests and cooperates with others to provide security. Above all, it
needs to create resources and capacities for the collective confrontation of a wide array of
dangers and challenges. That is, America needs a grand strategy of “multitasking” – creating
shared capacities to respond to a wide variety of contingencies. In the 21st century threat
environment, a premium will be placed on mechanisms for collective action and sustained
commitments to problem solving.

Third, America does have a legacy of liberal order building – it knows how to do it and doing it in
the past has made America strong and secure. It needs to rediscover and renew this strategy of
liberal order building. During the decades after World War II, the United States did not just fight
the Cold War, it created a liberal international order of multilayered pacts and partnerships that
served to open markets, bind democracies together, and create a trans-regional security
community. The United States provided security, championed mutually agreed upon rules and
institutions, and led in the management of an open world economy, and in return other states
affiliated with and supported the United States as it led the larger order. It was an American-led
hegemonic order with liberal characteristics. There is still no alternative model of international
order that is better suited to American interests or stable global governance. But there are deep
shifts in the global system that make it harder for the United States to act as it did in the past –
as a global provider of goods and a liberal hegemon willing to both restrain and commit itself.
Unipolarity and the erosion of norms of state sovereignty – among other long-term shifts – make
the American pursuit of a liberal order building strategy both more difficult and more essential.

Finally, the new agenda for liberal order building involves an array of efforts to strengthen and
rebuild global architecture. These initiatives include: building a “protective infrastructure” for
preventing and responding to socioeconomic catastrophe, renewal of the Cold War-era alliances,
reform the United Nations, and the creation of new multilateral mechanisms for cooperation in
East Asia and among the democracies. In the background, the United States will need to
renegotiate and renew its grand bargains with Europe and East Asia. In these bargains, the
United States will need to signal a new willingness to restrain and commit its power,
accommodate rising states, and operate within reconfigured and agreed upon global rules and
Grand strategy is about setting priorities but it is
also about diversifying risks and avoiding surprises.
This is where the pursuit of a milieu-based grand strategy is attractive. The objective is to shape
the international environment to maximize your capacities to protect the nation from uncertain,
diffuse, and shifting threats. You engage in liberal order building. This means investment in
international cooperative frameworks – that is, rules, institutions, partnerships, networks, standby
capacities, social knowledge, etc. – in which the United States operates.

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