Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Key tenets of American grand strategy

NOTE: The original links to the paper quoted in this post is no longer active. However the paper has been published in a pdf document here: Finding Our Way: Debating American Grand Strategy (link no longer active)

I've been reading through some papers from the American Grand Strategy Solarium over the past few days and have been posting some excerpts about grand strategy that I found worth thinking about. I find it interesting that I haven't seen a single reference to Tom Barnett in any of these papers. From Frederick Kagan comes a list of what he identifies as the key tenets of American grand strategy that have achieved general consensus since the end of WW2. So if we agree on, as he says, "90% of America's grand strategic requirements" then what is it that constitutes the contested 10%?

"The purpose of this historical excursion has been to show the tremendous continuity of American
grand strategy over the past six decades, from which it is possible to deduce a number of core
grand strategic objectives on which there has been general consensus. American grand strategy
focuses most heavily on protecting vital interests from perceived threats. Ideology and moralism
infuses the perception of those threats by American decision-makers (as with all decision-
makers), but it rarely defines them. Americans do feel moral obligations to help the victimized, to
support democracy and oppose tyranny, and a variety of other things, but rarely act on them on a
large scale unless doing so coincides with the defense of a perceived vital interest.
The key tenets of American grand strategy over the past sixty years are thus both clear and
widely embraced:
• The US must protect its homeland and citizens from attack;
• American political and economic interests are fundamentally threatened by serious
instability in Europe, the Middle East, and Asia;
• Maintaining global free trade is critical to the well-being of the American economy;
• The promotion of democracy in non-democratic states is generally seen as both morally
right and as supporting American interests;
• Helping the helpless and stopping bloodshed have broad support in general, but usually
motivate American action only when they coincide with other vital interests;
• The US desires no increase in territory and aims for no particular gain in relative
economic power beyond that which it believes will accrue naturally from the superiority
of its system;
• Americans want to preserve their civil liberties and way of life;
• Americans desire the support of allies, alliances, and international organizations,
although they do not feel constrained to inaction by the absence of such support;
• Americans like the idea of international law and the peaceful resolution of conflicts, but
also see themselves as holding a unique position that transcends both (and this view
has been shared equally by Democratic and Republican internationalists--NATO
operations in Kosovo were conducted without international sanction or support and were
thus technically violations of international law despite the fact that our European allies
joined us in the endeavor; both Democratic and Republican administrations have
insisted upon provisions in many treaties giving the US special status);
• The US aims to maintain its current relative advantage in military power and fears the
rise of "peer competitors," hostile alliances, or the development of "asymmetric" threats
that might erode that relative advantage;
• The US seeks actively to deter the proliferation and use of weapons of mass destruction
of all varieties;
• Many Americans see expanding gender equality and eliminating racial and religious
discrimination as positive goals; and
• Americans increasingly believe that the US must act unilaterally and in conjunction with
the international community to address climate change.

These goals and desires, which have had broad bipartisan support for decades, define around
90% of America's grand strategic requirements when examined within any particular international
context. Debates about American grand strategy have generally focused on the relative priorities
and, above all, means used to achieve these aims rather than on the aims themselves.
Confusion about the nature of those debates, particularly over the past seven years, has led
many to see a much greater divide over US grand strategy than exists, as well as to see a much larger gap between the basic goal of the Bush administration and those of its predecessors and likely successors."


Jay@Soob said...

It's interesting how he conflates the vision of the American people and the tactics of our government at times. I suppose this makes sense as the people do, to a slight degree, hold sway over foreign policy both at the ballot box and via the media.

Kagan seems to be saying that while the overall goals for American GS aren't all that different per political stripe, rather the 10% is how we achieve those goals.

Interesting series of round ups lately.

phil said...

Hey Soob

"It's interesting how he conflates the vision of the American people and the tactics of our government at times."

Yeah, I suppose that because grand strategy is in that intermediary position where on the one side you have the American people and what they are willing to support and their more general beliefs and then on the other side the instruments of national power that they kind of fold into each other to some degree. But some of these things just seem very obvious like: "The US must protect its homeland and citizens from attack". Well, of course it must. I do think that there are some things that are held in common regardless of party or president and so one of the lines of inquiry I'm pursuing now is the intellectual and political history of some of those ideas and inclinations.