A Roadmap for American Grand Strategy
Image Credit: Flickr (MVI)

A Roadmap for American Grand Strategy


(Please see Part I of our three part series on American Grand Strategy: America's Dangerous Drift.)

Part Two: The United States desperately needs to formulate a grand strategy that reinforces the domestic foundations of American power while providing strategic guidance and direction to the nation’s actions in foreign policy. America must adapt with new ideas, tools and innovations if it is going to meet the opportunities and challenges of a rapidly changing world. To be successful, this strategy must embrace several overarching themes. 

First, the United States must remain committed to playing a leadership role. While a deep and painful economic downturn followed by a slow recovery has dimmed the American public’s interest in global leadership, the costs of inaction are simply too great to contemplate. America has led in building the global order that we see today, but the image of a world without strong American engagement is equally dismal and potentially catastrophic.

Consider the chaos enveloping Libya, Egypt, and Syria. Or, consider Iran’s nuclear ambitions, North Korea’s ballistic missile tests, or the pressure on states in Eurasia as Russia and China become increasingly assertive. The list of foreign policy problems calling for American leadership is long and growing ever longer. 

Americans, however, have good reason to be tired of carrying the mantle of global leadership. Peoples around the world continue to benefit from the public goods that America contributes in countless ways. Now, the nation has arrived at a crossroads where America must engage others in the task of leadership. From global terrorism to climate change, the world’s problems are too great for America to confront alone.

As rising nations gain regional and global influence, the international community must ask more from them. America must engage growing powers such as China to take on increased global responsibility. Worryingly, there is a long list of cases in which the United States has drifted without a grand strategy. But a grand strategy is precisely what America needs if its foreign policy is to provide clear direction and exercise leadership.

Second, American grand strategy must promote a positive, hopeful, and optimistic vision for the world that it seeks to build. It cannot rest simply on what the nation wants to prevent, such as proliferation or genocide or extremism, which invoke reaction and crisis management. Instead, Americans must focus on ‘achieving.’ For too long, U.S. policy has emphasized preventing or responding to such problems as extremism, proliferation, and roguish behavior. We must return to the time in America’s history when the nation sought to achieve peace and prosperity, democracy and free markets, shared responsibility among nations, and the will to tackle pressing problems.

As with earlier eras, the United States has not been and cannot credibly be a proponent of radical change or policies that seek to redefine the international order. Even in the face of a monolithic ideological adversary during the Cold War, Washington was the defender of the status quo values based on democracy, freedom and prosperity. In effect, grand strategy should call for more than solving problems; it must advance an agenda that builds peace and security.

This logic holds today. American grand strategy must promote a world in which states are permitted and encouraged to pursue peace and prosperity. As the hallmark of such an era, Washington’s grand strategy must be governed by both moderation and balance.

March 16, 2013 at 21:10

[...] Become Criminals (Spiegel) • Splendid Visions (Orion) • A Roadmap for American Grand Strategy (The Diplomat) • OTL: Michael Jordan Has Not Left The Building (ESPN) • When we peer into the fog of the deep [...]

John Hildebrand
March 9, 2013 at 09:29

This is exactly my thought on the matter. If we run a great country, people will want to be like the US and invite us to assist them.

Mark Thomason
March 7, 2013 at 03:41

Our goal ought not to be running the world.  Our goal ought to be a better America.

This can be achieved by a clear view of American interests, not as this article suggests seeking pure power devoted to running the world.

This is not selfish.  What America ought to offer is a good example, once known as the light on the hill.  

Don't try to force it on other people, just do it here the best way, and let it be seen.  That would be far more successful than doing it poorly here and killing people who do not follow our instructions on our presumed example.        

wayne kramer
March 7, 2013 at 02:27

since the 1500's the various nations of the planet have, for better of worse, taken turns leading, (or dominating) the others. Since WWII, this has been the role of the United States.  We are the biggest gorilla in the valley so to speak.  One of the duties of the biggest gorilla is to keep the peace among the other gorillas and to lead the gorilla tribe as a whole into the future.  Likewise it is now the duty of the United States to lead the world's nations and to keep the peace and to help all nations go forward into the future with peace and prosperity.  Right now, for better or worse, we are the only nation capable of maintaining a worldwide military presence.  And our economy, while weak, is still the largest in the world. In my opinion, we are abdicating our leadereship responsibilities.  The result is a power vacuum that other nations are filling.  Many not our friends.  Chaos will result if we continue to

believe we are "one of many"  and refuse to fill our role as world leader.  We are not "one of many", we are Americans!

March 6, 2013 at 22:10

"…majority of states in the world all reject the U.S unipolar world."

Back your words with numbers

March 6, 2013 at 12:27

The attitude that U.S must be the dominant power in the world forever is the most dangerous idea of our times. It will lead to war.

Because majority of states in the world all reject the U.S unipolar world.

[...] Submitted by William C. Martel of TheDiplomat.com, [...]

[...] Should And Must Remain Engaged William C. Martel holds a view opposite to Hoffman and argues that the US must ”remain committed to playing a leadership role” [...]

[...] Submitted by William C. Martel of TheDiplomat.com, [...]

[...] Submitted by William C. Martel of TheDiplomat.com, [...]

PJ. Wilcox
March 6, 2013 at 05:39

Dr. Humbertus Hoffman of World Security Network spoke at USMA at West Point last week and made a profound statement that shook my thinking. He stated "The current foreign policy is predominately passive dominated by talking and not doing. We lose influence and do not support the forces of freedom with deeds but just empty words as in the Arabellion. His book on Dr. Fritz Kraemer describes how passion are necessary in foreign affairs similar to Steve Jobs describing the basis for his sucess founding Apple



March 6, 2013 at 05:35



Attitudes of global peace, security, and free enterprise? Or did you have something more specific in mind?

March 6, 2013 at 01:15

Some thoughts for China!

",,,,,,China's outgoing premier Wen Jiabao has warned that the world's second largest economy faced mounting social problems and "unbalanced, unco-ordinated and unsustainable" growth as he said farewell after a decade in power.

…..Amid growing public dissatisfaction about the challenges the country faces after years of high-octane growth – from pollution and inequality to staggering levels of corruption – Wen urged: "We must make ensuring and improving people's wellbeing the starting point and goal of all the government's work, give entire priority to it and strive to strengthen social development."

….In an indication of government anxieties about unrest, Wen stressed the need to improve the system for assessing the risks that major policy decisions might pose to social stability.

……The budget published on Tuesday also shows that China will spend more on domestic security than the military for a third year in a row, with an 8.7% funding increase to 769bn yuan.

"Even though the party has decided to limit the political clout of the security apparatus by excluding its leader from the politburo standing committee, the role of the police remains central in a political system based in part on suppression of dissent," said Nicholas Bequelin, senior Asia researcher at Human Rights Watch.

"The weight of the domestic security budget reflects the central role that the security apparatus plays in the eyes of the party as it braces for a predicted uptick in social protests in the coming years."

Military expenditure will see another double-digit hike, but the 10.7% rise – to 740.6bn yuan – is below last year's increase, which was projected at 11.2% and ultimately came in at 18.5%…

(China's Wen Jiabao signs off with growth warning

Outgoing premier says second largest economy faces mounting social problems and should prioritise citizens' wellbeing.—-Tania Branigan—Tuesday 5 March 2013 05.40 EST—The Guardian)

George Bruno
March 6, 2013 at 00:38

A US foreign policy Grand Startegy is needed.  I don't disagree with the articles main points, but there are several obstacles to be addressed along the way.  Too often the US winds up lecturing others, "do as we say, instead of do as we do".  Eg, the US is hardly in a postion to tell Greece and Italy to get its fiscal house in order while the US tries to deal with our sequester and debt ceiling; or tell Pakistan to control its borders against Taliban raids into Afghanistan when we have a much simpler lingering problem on our southern border; or tell Egypt that the Morsi government should be more inclusive when our own Congress is deadlocked; or tell Syria that it should respect human rights when we have an unchecked drone policy and waterboarding torture in the background with no one held accountable – should I go on.  So our moral authority, perhaps our greatest strength, has been severely weakened in recent years.  On major task toward a meaningful foreign policy is to put our own house in order, lead by example and acknowledge that a secure nation is more than just a strong military.

March 5, 2013 at 22:37

@klee – Contrary to popular belief, America doesn't have a money tree to pay for all the social safety nets that you espouse that we should have.  I hate to burst your utopian bubble but nobody owes you anything.  You live in a relatively free country that provides you with numerous opportunities to improve your lot in life. It's time for you and others like you to take some personal responsibility for providing for your own needs. People who count on politicians to provide them with free stuff is one of the major reasons why America is its current fiscal predicament. 

Tom F
March 5, 2013 at 19:54

@toumanbeg "Absense makes the heart grow fonder"

Dear John…

Taiwan, Japan, Vietnam, Philipine come knocking….you've been away far too long John

Share your thoughts

Your Name
Your Email
required, but not published
Your Comment

Sign up for our weekly newsletter
The Diplomat Brief