One corollary to the principle of greater multilateralism in American grand strategy is that Washington should no longer view challenges as essentially “American problems.” The new lens through which to view American grand strategy is to strengthen alliances and partnerships so that more nations, and not just the United States, work to solve the world’s greatest problems.
We all know, if occasionally ignore, that American power is limited. Policymakers in Washington will learn that they can accomplish vastly more once they enshrine American grand strategy with the value of collaborating with states and institutions who share a commitment to building a peaceful, stable, and secure world.
Whether diminishing nuclear proliferation, preventing genocide, providing humanitarian assistance, restraining extremism, or confronting economic policies that threaten the global economy, the United States and its allies will be better able to build a more secure and prosperous world when they work together.Enjoying this article? Click here to subscribe for full access. Just $5 a month.
Policymakers and the public should not forget the eminently practical and straightforward reason for building stronger alliances and partnerships. In practice, it is no longer necessary or appropriate for Washington’s grand strategy to rely on diplomatic domination or playing the role of referee of last resort.
In reality, the United States cannot afford to exempt itself from global leadership. The time has come, despite being mired in an anemic and slow recovery from the "Great Recession," for the United States to exercise greater world leadership. This is crucial when one looks at the challenges posed by China, Russia, Iran, Syria, North Korea, and Venezuela – and increasingly Egypt in the highly unstable Middle East.
However, the counterpoint to this principle of leadership is eminently practical: the United States does not have unlimited power – it cannot do everything, everywhere, all of the time, for the rest of the world. Attempts to “do everything” only further erode the American public’s support, as the public asks why the nation is carrying the burden while other states apparently get a “free ride.”
The two extremes – where America engages less, as expressed by “leading from behind,” or where America takes the lead on all issues – are equally unacceptable and impractical. This is the precisely right time, after nearly seven decades, for America to reinforce its alliances and partnerships – new and old – so that other states and institutions can rise to the occasion to share the responsibility and burden of leadership. The United States rebuilt states and regions after World War II and has protected them for fifty years, now is the time for those states to join in efforts to resolve global problems.
The practical challenge for U.S. grand strategy is how to balance working in concert with others in the international community, while keeping one’s options open in those crucial moments when the United States might decide that it is necessary to act alone.
Grand strategy, if it is to be effective, must use principles such as these to help build a world in which states are permitted and encouraged to pursue peace and prosperity.
Toward Building Peace and Security
Ultimately, the central question is toward what ends should the United States rebuild the domestic foundations of its power, exercise stronger leadership, and collaborate with alliances and partnerships? Put another way, what is the fundamental goal for American grand strategy?
When reflecting on American history, my strongest inclination is that the primary goals of American foreign policy are and always have been to build peace and security. Such a world is the greatest legacy that the United States can aspire to achieve.
This logic holds today. For now, however, the nation does not have the resources or domestic support to build democracy and freedom in other nations. This is especially true as America pivots away from entanglements and nation building episodes in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Since World War II, America has taken the lead in creating a more peaceful world order. One reason is selfish: a peaceful international system, which keeps threats and sources of disorder to a minimum, permits the United States to pursue its vital national interest in seeing democracies grow, prosper, and build a vibrant global order.
Let us remember the world that FDR envisioned when he outlined his iconic four freedoms: freedom of speech, freedom of worship, freedom from want, and freedom from fear. In declaring freedom from fear to be a human right, FDR positioned the United States to lead in efforts to reduce armaments and dissuade aggressive nations from threatening and bringing harm to peaceful states.
American political and economic power and diplomatic and military might are essential instruments in building the peace and security that must prevail if Americans and all states are to strive to live in a world, as FDR envisioned, free from fear.
These principles of grand strategy are designed to build such a world.