GRAND STRATEgY

Ideas and Challenges in a Complex World

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

The Domestic Foundations of American Grand Strategy
Working Group on Foreign Policy and Grand Strategy www.hoover.org/taskforces/foreign-policy

A GR AND STR ATEGY ES SAY

People seeking to understand American grand strategy—or even trying to weigh whether the concept of a “grand strategy” has much analytical value—will no doubt need to consider the United States’ strategic posture, the health of our alliances, our strategies to disrupt terrorist organizations and manage geopolitical rivalries, and our trade relationships and foreign policy goals. My purpose here is to focus attention on four issues that should also loom especially large in that discussion, in part because of the impact they can exert on all of the aforementioned factors. The issues are education, immigration, fiscal policy, and the capacity and efficacy of organizations managing transnational threats. All lie at the juncture of domestic and international affairs. My conclusion that these particular issues matter so much rests on three assumptions. First, a country’s wealth helps determine its global position. Second, even countries with comparable wealth differ with respect to the capacity of their public organizations to perform effectively. Third, the best way to advance our values is to live them. Scholars of a neo-realist bent have traditionally described a country’s “grand strategy” in terms of its diplomatic and military priorities. Robert Art, for example, offers a fairly typical definition. He considers the concept to reflect the conjunction of a country’s foreign policy goals and its military posture.1 There is something parsimonious and even elegant about this formulation. It readily incorporates, for instance, the relevance of geography (which is all but inseparable from discussions of military posture), and highlights the interdependence of foreign policy objectives and military realities.

working group on foreign policy and grand strategy

by Mariano-Florentino Cuéllar

For all its virtues, though, this kind of definition offers little analytical traction for understanding the various instrumentalities available for advancing foreign policy goals. Nor does it fully acknowledge how a country’s internal priorities can shape its political and economic fortunes. Plainly, not every domestic priority matters equally to a country’s international position. Decisions about urban infrastructure, mental health policy, and white collar criminal enforcement, for example, are not entirely irrelevant to the United States’ capacity to advance its interests globally. But it would strain credulity to place these on the same plane as, for instance, the nation’s capacity to decide on and execute a responsible fiscal policy, or its ability to forge an education system capable of serving the needs of 50 million public school students. Observers who give weight to the concept of “grand strategy” may often readily concede that its scope must include the domestic sources of national strength. The capacity of the United States to advance its interests and shape its international environment nonetheless reflects far more than conventional military and foreign affairs matters. Whatever definition one chooses for the words “grand strategy,” it would border on madness for policymakers not to consider how well the United States is equipped, domestically, to take advantage of the country’s distinctive attributes and to address its distinctive challenges so it can better advance its national interests. Given their considerable role in shaping the country’s material conditions, its security, and domestic and international perceptions, the following four issues would loom especially large in the resulting discussion.

Education
During the last half-century or so, American policymakers have often professed a commitment to providing high-quality education to all school-age residents in the country. Other countries take this imperative seriously, and the US has taken some strides in recent decades towards better assessing education achievement (or its absence) and making the education sector somewhat more flexible and capable of innovation. In the main, however, policymakers’ professed commitment to equity and excellence in education is not one the country has honored. In math, the average African American eighth-grader is performing at the 19th percentile relative to white students, and the average Latino student is at the 26th percentile. Given these inequities and the rigidities in the American education system, it is perhaps not entirely surprising that the OECD’s Program for International Student Assessment ranked the United States twenty-seventh in mathematics, for example. Education thus helps explain not only income inequality in the United States, but also the country’s changing economic fortunes.

Mariano-Florentino Cuéllar

The Domestic Foundations of American Grand Strategy

2

Hoover Institution

Stanford University

These outcomes are not easy to change given some of the structural realities of American education. The American education system is shaped by existence of differing priorities across 15,000 school districts. Students are often affected by inequities in teacher quality, funding, and curricular standards. Longstanding practices affecting matters such as the school calendar, teacher compensation, and preparation also pose difficulties. But change is nonetheless eminently possible. It depends on factors that are increasingly well-understood after two decades of research and policy experimentation—carefullytargeted funding and measures of accountability, enhancing the performance of teachers, greater attention to curricular equity, leveraging charter schools and other reforms to the traditional structure of public education, and delivering quality preschool education to a diverse population with limited access to it. Without steps in this direction, the United States risks eroding its own economic prospects, growing social cleavages, and diminished influence in the world. It also risks its influence as a compelling example of how a country can offer broad-based opportunities to its citizens. In contrast, according to research cited by the US Department of Education’s congressionally-chartered Equity and Excellence Commission, if the United States made the performance of its public school students comparable with that of Canadian students in mathematics over the next twenty years, the likely improvement would exceed the equivalent of $70 trillion.2 More effective and accountable schools can also turn into better settings to engage students in preparing for the responsibilities of democratic citizenship in an evolving and complicated world.

Immigration
Earning roughly an additional $3.5 trillion a year over the next two decades would perhaps help make the United States into a fiscal super-power. But on immigration, the United States is already a distinctive kind of super-power. About 13% of American residents are foreign-born, up from 6% 20 years ago.3 The United States integrates immigrants more quickly and effectively than most countries. The figure below compares the size of the American population to that in a number of other large, industrialized countries. Because of immigration, the United States is among only a small number of large, advanced industrialized countries with a growing population— a population capable of contributing to economic growth and supporting what would otherwise be a rapidly aging demographic distribution. In sharp contrast, advanced industrialized countries with low birthrates and negligible immigration are facing stark demographic challenges. In Japan, for example, standard projections suggest that the median age will be well over 50 by 2050 (and considerably higher in some estimates) if current trends continue.4

Mariano-Florentino Cuéllar

The Domestic Foundations of American Grand Strategy

3

Hoover Institution

Stanford University

FIGURE 1: Population Size by Year (1980–2011)
350000

300000

250000 United States 200000 Germany Japan 150000 Russia

100000

50000

0
1980 1981 1982 1983 1984 1985 1986 1987 1988 1989 1990 1991 1992 1993 1994 1995 1996 1997 1998 1999 2000 2001 2002 2003 2004 2005 2006 2007 2008 2009 2010 2011

Source: Adapted from OECD 2013 Factbook.

Most Americans, moreover, saw their incomes grow because of immigration over a recent ten-year period, because of greater demand for goods and services and the economic benefits of different skill sets among immigrants—compared to native-born workers in the United States.5 Immigrants also help drive the innovation economy in the United States. The proportion of immigrants in the population of a local area (a county) is associated with higher patent filings (even controlling for other demographic factors). Immigrants often retain economically-useful ties to regions around the world. In addition, immigration shapes the values and character of the nation by connecting the United States to the world and facilitating public diplomacy, and reflecting the country’s commitment to humanitarianism and family unification. In recent decades, however, less laudable aspects of the American immigration system have undermined these relatively positive attributes. Existing immigration laws were not written to make enforcement realistic in many cases. This quality, combined with the relative inflexibility of existing visa allocation schemes, has resulted in an undocumented population of over 11 million in the United States. The result can breed frustration among the public because of an apparent lack of efficacy in the enforcement and administration of immigration law, and a daunting system for prospective immigrants, whether they are scientists and engineers applying for an employment-based visa or prospective family-based immigrants with backlogged

Mariano-Florentino Cuéllar

The Domestic Foundations of American Grand Strategy

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Hoover Institution

Stanford University

applications. Perhaps not surprisingly, many Americans believe that the United States can implement an immigration system that more effectively meets the country’s needs. Indeed, in many respects, the American legislative process has already designed such a system, as reflected in the bipartisan reform bill that recently passed the United States Senate.6 Among other things, the bill has a strong focus on the immigrationeconomics connection (employment and merit-based visas go from 14% to about 40%). The bill increases H1B visas and creates a new agricultural worker program to channel immigrant flows through legal channels, and creates new entrepreneur visas. It also incorporates a reasonable system for addressing unlawful migration, involving screening of unlawful migrants and phasing in changes to avoid creating a permanent disenfranchised class. Legalized immigrants will earn more, be more integrated into civic life, and be more likely to work with law enforcement when the need arises. It builds in more flexibility in immigration law, getting rid of national quotas and allowing for slight executive branch adjustment in total visas depending on economic conditions. And it moves to align law with reality and public expectations by allowing higher total numbers of legal immigrants (for a total of about 1.7 million a year by one estimate), and making enforcement more reliable and efficient.

Fiscal and Economic Policy
Aligning the law (and, in this case, the lawmaking process) with reality is also important in the fiscal realm. Between roughly World War II and the end of the Cold War, lawmakers acted in relatively predictable fashion with respect to the budget and associated fiscal policy issues. Fiscal policy was at least as much the subject of compromise as conflict, and Congress acted strategically and in bipartisan fashion to protect the legislature’s prerogatives in the budget process (as occurred immediately after Watergate). For a variety of reasons likely including long-term trends weakening the power of national political parties, greater polarization, and districting practices in the House of Representatives, fiscal policy has now become a domain of enormous conflict, creating new and unnecessarily greater uncertainty about the United States’ public finances and its role in the global economy. Such conflict has made it more difficult to pursue a sensible fiscal bargain that can support long-term prospects for economic growth, appropriately restrain spending on entitlements and health care, allow the United States to invest sufficiently in basic research and education, and cement the pivotal position of the American economy in the world.

Building Effective Public Organizations to Manage Transnational Threats
Americans confront a series of problems straddling the domestic-international distinction—involving the security of critical infrastructure and computer systems, gathering information about actual or potential adversaries, the management of crossborder public health threats, and the disruption of transnational criminal organizations. These threats rarely implicate conventional cross-state rivalries, and often require sophisticated capacity to analyze complex information, respond to changing circumstances, and build relationships across borders.

Mariano-Florentino Cuéllar

The Domestic Foundations of American Grand Strategy

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Hoover Institution

Stanford University

Conventional foreign policy bureaucracies may be relevant but are rarely the primary players in addressing problems such as food safety risks or the threats posed by transnational criminal organizations. Instead, the pivotal agencies responsible for helping the United States manage discrete transnational threats often operate outside the realm of conventional foreign and defense policy. Soldiers, sailors, spies, and diplomats are among the essential actors affecting a country’s ability to manage transnational threats. But the importance of transnational flows and non-state actors underscores the importance of a different set of players who are also stewards of American security: food safety experts at the Food and Drug Administration, epidemiologists at the Centers for Disease Control, criminal investigators at the FBI with specialized knowledge of transnational criminal networks, Coast Guard skippers, and cybersecurity specialists at the Federal Communications Commission among others. Key to managing the United States’ position in the world is the project of forging and sustaining these organizations—and assuring that they have the right kind of people and skills, sufficient legal authority, the culture and capacity for organizational learning, and the ability to perform effectively within and beyond American borders. More capable, creative, and competent public organizations can both complement and substitute for the use of conventional military power or diplomatic initiatives. To summarize: the United States’ ability to effectively define and advance its interests in the world depends on trimming the drama associated with fiscal policymaking and forging a reasonable bargain to support long-term economic growth, strengthening the country’s distinctive capacity to integrate immigrants from around the world, improving educational performance, and bolstering the capacity and creativity of the organizations that help manage transnational threats. A United States that overcomes these hurdles will have plenty of room to make a range of perfectly plausible choices about its military posture and foreign affairs priorities. By contrast, if the United States ignores some of the structural problems bedeviling the nation’s immigration and education policies, its public organizations, and its fiscal policy process, our capacity to leverage military and foreign affairs influence will starkly diminish, as will the economic resources necessary to sustain our international position. This is not an argument for “retrenchment.” Instead, it is a reminder that American strength depends on what happens at home.

Mariano-Florentino Cuéllar

The Domestic Foundations of American Grand Strategy

6

Hoover Institution

Stanford University

Notes
1  Robert J. Art, A Grand Strategy for America (Century: 2004). 2  US Department of Education, For Each and Every Child: A Strategy for Education Equity and Excellence (2013). 3  US Census, American Community Survey (2010). 4  National Institute of Population and Social Security Research, Population Projections for Japan: 2001–2050 (2002). 5  Giovanni Peri and Chad Sparber, Task Specialization, Immigration, and Wages, 1 Am. Econ. J. 135 (2009). 6  Migration Policy Institute, Issue Brief No. 7: Side-By-Side Comparison of 2013 Senate Immigration Bill with Individual 2013 House Bills (August 2013).

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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The Domestic Foundations of American Grand Strategy

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Stanford University

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.
Mariano-Florentino Cuéllar Mariano-Florentino Cuéllar is the director of Stanford’s Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies and a senior fellow at the institute, the Stanley Morrison Professor of Law at Stanford Law School, and professor (by courtesy) of political science at Stanford. Cuéllar’s research and teaching focus on administrative law and governance, public organizations, and transnational security.

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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