In light of today's enormous domestic and international challenges, the United States today needs, more than ever, an effective grand strategy. Without one, the nation is in a dangerous state of drift.
In the aftermath of the recent U.S. presidential elections and in the midst of grueling battles over spending and deficit crises, American politics is highly polarized with the electorate and their policymakers deeply divided on domestic issues.
Turning to foreign policy, the picture is equally troubling. The United States struggles without a coherent grand strategy, while the American people, its friends and allies, and competitors wonder what principles guide Washington's foreign policy. What, they must ask, does the United States want to achieve in its foreign policy, and what leadership role does it seek to play in this rapidly evolving world order.
Worse, many fail to grasp that grand strategy involves far more than foreign and national security matters. Grand strategy is precisely about the broader, if often ignored, context of building and reinforcing the domestic political and economic foundations of American national power.
Knowing full well the serious challenges facing the United States, there is no more pressing problem for the nation than to develop a grand strategy that gives policymakers and the public a clear, positive, and bipartisan vision of the principles and ideas that guide U.S. foreign policy. This strategy must articulate a vision for the U.S. that is more than the sum of the challenges the nation faces.
To be effective, America’s new strategy must reinforce the domestic foundations of American power, reassure friends and allies that American foreign policy embraces a prudent balance between our principles and ideals, and avoid the twin perils of strategic overreach or neglect.
While the challenges are daunting, failure is not an option.
In a series of essays over the next several weeks, I will discuss the current void in American grand strategy at precisely the moment when the world faces increasingly dangerous sources of disorder. These essays will define the purposes American grand strategy should strive to achieve, as the nation deals with a new set of international challenges. Next, the series will outline the main principles that define a new grand strategy for the United States, and then discuss how to put those principles into practice. Lastly, this series proposes that despite great challenges, America nevertheless has the will and determination to move toward greater clarity of purpose in its foreign policy.
Why America Needs a Grand Strategy
Simply put, grand strategy is a broad set of principles, beliefs, or ideas that govern the decisions and actions of a nation’s policymakers with public support on foreign policy. The need for grand strategy is particularly acute in the case of the United States today. Its extraordinary power and influence make it more necessary than ever for American actions to be guided by a coherent grand strategy. The logic is inescapable: no nation can operate without a grand strategy. Without one, the nation faces a singular danger: when its policymakers are tempted to take actions without the guidance that a clear, purposeful strategic framework provides, we will see confusion, shifting policies, and “drift.”
The failure to define a grand strategy and the problems it causes are not new, but the challenge is more urgent than ever. With the end of the Cold War, scholars and policymakers failed to formulate a successor to the grand strategy of containment. Policymakers instead adopted policies that relied on the residue of containment or, more commonly, on piecemeal, ad-hoc solutions to problems. The danger is that adhering to the obsolete strategy of containment will contribute to foreign policy failures.