GRAND STRATEgY

Ideas and Challenges in a Complex World

Hoover Institution’s Working Group on Foreign Policy and Grand Strategy

Thoughts on US Strategy
Working Group on Foreign Policy and Grand Strategy www.hoover.org/taskforces/foreign-policy

A GR AND STR ATEGY ES SAY

The 2010 National Security Strategy of the United States (the most recent NSS ) identifies four “enduring” national interests:
• The security of the United States, its citizens, and its allies and partners; • A strong, innovative, and growing economy in an open international economic

system that promotes opportunity and prosperity;
• Respect for universal values at home and around the world; and • An international order advanced by US leadership that promotes peace,

security, and opportunity through stronger cooperation to meet global challenges. This articulation of American interests has been consistent since the days of the Cold War. The Reagan Administration’s 1988 NSS (the first National Security Strategy document produced), for example, listed five “key” national interests: 1) The survival of the United States as a free and independent nation, with its fundamental values intact and its institutions and people secure; 2) a healthy and growing economy to provide opportunity for individual prosperity and a resource base for our national endeavors; 3) a stable and secure world, free of major threats to US interests; 4) the growth of human freedom, democratic institutions, and free market economies throughout the world, linked by a fair and open international trading system; and 5) healthy and vigorous alliance relationships. However, whereas the national interests (or ends) of the 1988 and 2010 (or contemporary) strategies are similar (though packaged and framed somewhat

working group on foreign policy and grand strategy

by Karl W. Eikenberry

differently), the context is not. Briefly, the earlier and later reports differ significantly in the following ways:
• Threat analysis: From emphasis on the Soviet Union, Iran, and WMD proliferation

to focus on the spread of WMD, terrorism, disruption of space and cyberspace capabilities, environmental issues (climate change and pandemic disease), failing states, and criminal networks.
• Distribution of global power: From US–Free World economic dominance

alongside US-Soviet military parity to a world in which the United States has “the largest economy and most powerful military, strong alliances and a vibrant cultural appeal” but is faced with “more actors [that] exert power and influence.” Moreover, in one of the sharpest departures from the 1988 report, which assumes American economic strength, the 2010 report warns US “competitiveness has been set back in recent years” and that the country is “recovering from underinvestment in the areas that are central to [its] strength.”
• Level of confidence in predicting the future: From an assumption that the Soviet

Union will indefinitely remain the most serious US security threat to “a world in which the international architecture of the 20th century is buckling under the weight of new threats, the global economy has accelerated the competition facing our people and businesses, and the universal aspiration for freedom and dignity contends with new obstacles.” The 2010 report identifies potential state actor competitors, but with few exceptions (Iran and North Korea) does not argue for containment or confrontation. In fact, it is assumed that confronting major states, such as China, would diminish prospects for addressing various serious global threats such as WMD proliferation or climate change. Given these very different environments separated by only 22 years, a comparison of the ways and means emphasized in the respective NSS documents to advance “enduring” US national interests (ends) is instructive. The 1988 NSS places a premium on US and allied military capability and readiness to deter the Soviet Union and its proxies, and deal with other contingencies. US economic strength is taken for granted, though the document makes clear the requirements: 1) to maintain a robust national mobilization base to enable future

Karl W. Eikenberry

Thoughts on US Strategy

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Hoover Institution

Stanford University

military power, and 2) to guarantee an open global trading system. The promotion of human freedom and democratic institutions is, for the most part, viewed through the prism of the ideological contest between the free and Communist worlds. The Obama Administration’s 2010 National Security Strategy, on the other hand, prioritizes strengthening the domestic foundation underpinning comprehensive national power to a degree not evident in any previous NSS. It lists as key tasks: enhancing science and innovation, providing quality education, transforming the energy economy to power new jobs, lowering health care costs, and reducing the federal deficit, all of this in turn (the argument goes) increasing America’s competitiveness and limiting incentives to “overreach.” Preference is given to collective and collaborative efforts to address a wide array of global and regional problems and to strengthen related institutions (albeit this activity facilitated by US leadership). The need to maintain military superiority over all other actors is made clear. Yet the relative role of the armed forces in the full mix of national ways and means is less than that postulated in the Reagan 1988 NSS and the attributes of requisite military power are dramatically different—from nuclear deterrence to counter-proliferation, and from massive global conventional war fighting capabilities including those needed for major land campaigns to achieving domain dominance (maritime, space, information, cyberspace, etc.). [Note: the Obama Administration’s 2012 Defense Strategic Guidance elaborates on these points.] Lastly, there remains a stated commitment to the promotion of democratic values, realized not only through the orientation and attributes of state governing structures but through advocacy of “economic opportunity as a human right, and . . . promoting the dignity of all men and women through [US] support for global health, food security, and cooperatives [sic] responses to humanitarian crises.” After comparing the late–Cold War NSS, made seemingly more coherent and elegant by the ordering principle of containment, with its recent 2010 counterpart, one might conclude that the United States is now in an era making impossible the design of an effective grand strategy: threats are difficult to define and counter, resources problematic, and support from major actors in the international system only available on an ad hoc issue-specific basis (to mention only several of the requirements identified in Stephen Krasner’s and Amy Zegart’s June 21, 2013, working paper on grand strategy).

Karl W. Eikenberry

Thoughts on US Strategy

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Hoover Institution

Stanford University

Against this, however, as noted above, America’s national security interests have remained remarkably consistent since 1988—and actually since 1945. But what has changed is that globally dominant US economic strength is no longer taken as a given. Moreover, US risk aversion to armed intervention is also higher as the logic and utility of applying military force are less clear in the contemporary environment. Lastly, with the exception perhaps of the Eisenhower and Nixon eras, no US administration, until that of President Obama, has been faced with a pressing need to recalibrate commitments and bring them in line with available means. Part of the difficulty, then, of developing a coherent grand strategy (if this can be done at all), is that contemporary US policymakers and strategists are:
• Disinclined to give full play to the domestic underpinnings of national power in a

document on international security strategy, though certainly major American political leaders from the 1780s through the mid-20th century would find this odd, as would, say, the leaders of the Chinese Communist Party in Beijing who stress the importance of maintaining an international order conducive to the development of their domestic economy and implementation of their preferred political and social reforms. In other words, the short shrift given over the past sixty years by the US national security community to the domestic wellsprings of comprehensive power in formulating an effective national security strategy seems an anomaly unique to the peculiar circumstances of the Cold War and two decades of subsequent US global dominance, which over time came to be taken as a given.
• Uncertain about the costs and benefits of investments in military, intelligence, and

homeland security capabilities.
• Vexed when contemplating the degree of economic and military primacy America

can realistically hope to retain in the coming decades. That is, should the United States reduce commitments assuming a world in which it will have less relative influence, or should it strive to regenerate its strength in order to remain globally dominant? Is this a moment calling for the tactical corrections made by the Eisenhower and Nixon administrations, or is a major strategic reorientation required such as the United Kingdom implemented with its East of Suez Policy?

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Hoover Institution

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It may be that the United States is unable in the contemporary era to formulate a compelling grand strategy, but before reaching that conclusion we will want to ensure we: 1. Are in agreement on enduring national interests (and the various NSS reports offer a good starting point); 2. Make clear our assumptions about America’s ability to significantly influence the future distribution of world power; and 3. Fully consider available ways and means to achieve strategic ends, especially: a) The domestic sources of comprehensive power and their synergistic relationships with an effective national security strategy; b) The specific role of military power.

Karl W. Eikenberry

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Hoover Institution

Stanford University

Copyright © 2013 by the Board of Trustees of the Leland Stanford Junior University

The publisher has made an online version of this work available under a Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivs license 3.0. To view a copy of this license, visit http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nd/3.0. First printing 2013 20 19 18 17 16 15 14    8 7 6 5 4 3 2

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Working Group on Foreign Policy and Grand Strategy
The certainties of the Cold War, such as they were, have disappeared. The United States now confronts several historically unique challenges, including the rise of a potential peer competitor, a rate of technological change unseen since the 19th century, the proliferation of nuclear and biological capabilities, and the possible joining of these capabilities with transnational terrorist movements. There has been no consensus on a grand strategy or even a set of principles to address specific problems. Reactive and ad hoc measures are not adequate. The Hoover Institution’s Working Group on Foreign Policy and Grand Strategy will explore an array of foreign policy topics over a two-year period. Our goal is to develop orienting principles about the most important policy challenges to better serve America’s interests.
Karl W. Eikenberry Karl W. Eikenberry is the William J. Perry Fellow in International Security at the Center for International Security and Cooperation and a distinguished fellow with the Shorenstein Asia-Pacific Research Center at Stanford University. He served as the US ambassador to Afghanistan from May 2009 until July 2011 and had a thirty-five-year career in the US Army, retiring with the rank of lieutenant general.

About the Author

For more information about the Working Group on Foreign Policy and Grand Strategy, visit us online at www.hoover.org/taskforces/ foreign-policy.

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