Owens – Primacy And Global Leadership: A Grand Strategy For Republican Empire
Global Leadership: A Grand Strategy For Republican Empire
Remarks at the
2001 Meeting of the Philadelphia Society
21 April, 2001, Philadelphia Pennsylvania
Mackubin Thomas Owens
Professor of Strategy and Force Planning
US Naval War College
Newport, Rhode Island
If any one
therefore wishes to establish an entirely new republic, he will
have to consider whether he wishes to have her expand in power and dominion like
Rome, or whether he intends to confine her within narrow limits.
Machiavelli, Discourses, I. 6.)
had been said that respectability in the eyes of foreign nations was not the
object at which we aimed; that the proper object of republican Government was
domestic tranquility & happiness. This was an ideal distinction. No
Government could give us tranquility & happiness at home, which did not
possess sufficient stability and strength to make us respectable abroad.
(Alexander Hamilton, speech to the Federal Convention, June 29, 1787)
The development of strategy–the
formulation of the application of means to achieve the nation’s goals–is a
critical component of effective security planning and policy implementation.
Without a strategic framework for setting priorities and guiding the
development and employment of the instruments of national power, it is difficult
to evaluate proposed actions to ensure the nation’s security and prosperity.
In general, strategy serves three purposes.[i]
First strategy relates ends, the goals
of policy (interests and objectives) to the
limited resources available to achieve them.
Both strategy and economics are concerned with the application of scarce
resources to achieve certain goals. But
strategy implies and adversary who actively opposes the achievement of the ends.
Second, strategy contributes to the
clarification of the ends of policy by helping establish priorities in light of
constrained resources. Without
establishing priorities among competing ends, all interests and all threats will
appear equal. in the absence of
strategy planners will find themselves in the situation described by Frederick
the Great: “He who attempts to
defend too much defends nothing.”
Finally, strategy conceptualizes
resources as means in support of policy.
Resources are not means until strategy provides some understanding of how
they will be organized and employed. This
is the logical link between strategy and force planning.
Defense budgets and manpower are resources.
A strategic vision helps to transform these raw resources into such
military means as divisions, wings, and fleets.
Strategy is an indispensable element of national security.
Without strategy, something else will fill the void.
In war, service doctrines will dominate the conduct of operations if
strategy is absent. this state of
affairs is captured by Andrew Krepinevich’s description of the Vietnam War:
“a strategy of tactics.”[ii]
In peacetime, defense planning comes to be dominated by what Sam
Huntington called “structural decisions,” i.e. decisions “made in the
currency of domestic politics.”[iii]
Traditionally, the term “strategy” has been used to describe the
employment of military forces in war. For
example, B.H. Liddell-Hart defined strategy as “the art of distributing and
applying military means to fulfill the ends of policy.”[iv]
However it is increasingly the practice to employ strategy more broadly
so that one can speak of levels of strategy in both peace and war.[v]
Accordingly, strategy can be understood to apply not only to
the application of force in wartime to achieve the goals of national policy, but
also to the steps taken during peacetime to enhance national power in order to
prevent war or win, should war become necessary.[vi]
Thus in the words of Edward Mead Earle:
is the art of controlling and utilizing the resources of a nation–or a
coalition of nations–including its armed forces, to the end that its vital
interests shall be effectively promoted and secured against enemies, actual,
potential, or merely presumed. The
highest type of strategy–sometimes called grand strategy–is that which so
integrates the policies and armaments of the nation that resort to war is either
rendered unnecessary or is undertaken with the maximum chance of victory.[vii]
Although it may be difficult, it is necessary
to construct a generally accepted grand strategic design, a framework for
establishing priorities, choosing a strategic approach, and allocating the
resources necessary to implement the chosen strategy.
In the absence of such a framework, responses are all too
often incoherent and reactive, and resources are allocated on the basis of
short-term, parochial interests rather than long-term, national ones.
The process of developing a grand strategy begins with a delineation of
national interests and goals. The dominant national interests of the United
States can be defined in a general sense as the security
and prosperity of the American polity and its citizens.
A grand strategy essentially lays out a plan for employing the various
integrated instruments of national power to insure that these national interests
A grand strategy can be envisioned as the answers to a series of
1) What conditions do policy makers wish to prevail in the world?
What security environment is most in accord with the interests of the US?
2) What steps should be taken in order to achieve those conditions?
what plan of action is most likely to bring about the desired conditions?
3) What combination of the instruments of power best supports the chosen
4) What are the opportunity costs and risks associated with the preferred
The security environment that would best ensure continued American
security and prosperity is a liberal world
order: one characterized by
economic liberalism and an expanding number of liberal democracies.
It is this sort of global environment that would seem to offer the best
hope of continued peace and prosperity.
If a liberal world order is our desired outcome, what approach best
achieves it? Although several
taxonomies exist, the one I will use here describes four alternative grand
strategies: strategic disengagement, cooperative security, selective engagement,
These alternative approaches provide a useful point of departure.
Although often dismissed as impossible in today’s world, strategic
disengagement commands the visceral support of many Americans.
Indeed, in the absence of an alternative, it may be the
default grand strategy.
Advocates of strategic disengagement contend that no state or coalition
is capable of developing the aggregate power necessary to threaten the
well-being of the United States. The
United States is an extraordinarily secure country, with weak and/or friendly
neighbors, protected by two oceans and the fact that any aggressor who wishes to
attack the US homeland must overcome the “tyranny of distance.”
In addition, the United States controls about one quarter of
the world’s economic output, nearly twice that of its closest competitor.[ix]
For advocates of strategic disengagement, there is no justification for
intervention abroad. Threatened
states have the economic wherewithal to defend themselves, either alone or in
combination with others. Indeed,
intervention abroad is itself the source of most US security problems.
Were the US to stand aloof from the squabbles of others, it would not
attract the attention of others. According
to Posen and Ross, “The strong try to deter the United States; the weak to
seduce it; the dispossessed to blame it.”[x]
This reasoning applies in spades to terrorism, which is an asymmetrical
response to the use of US power abroad.[xi]
Disengagement would be political and military, not economic.
As a result, many of the burning issues of current US foreign policy,
e.g. the future of NATO, the Middle East Peace Process, UN peacekeeping
missions, etc., would disappear. The
“troops and the money” would come home.
The US military establishment would shrink.
Future force structure would emphasize fundamental, as
opposed to extended, nuclear deterrence, homeland defense against air attack and
ballistic missiles, and small conventional forces.
On the other hand, nothing would preclude Americans from engaging in
international trade, but they would do so at their own risk.
While strategic disengagement is seductive, it makes a number of
unwarranted assumptions. First
among these is the assumption that the natural condition of the world is peace
and prosperity, and that if the US were to disengage, other players would not
try to fill the vacuum. It is very
likely that the disengagement of the United States would unleash military
competition as potential hegemonic powers vie for regional dominance.
Countries heretofore defended by the United States would feel compelled
to arm, and in many regions previously characterized by relative peace and
prosperity, e.g. Western Europe and East Asia, the “security dilemma” would
manifest itself as arms racing. If
prosperity depends on stability, and stability depends on some level of
security, a US retreat would in all likelihood lead to a less secure and less
Advocates of selective engagement share many of the assumptions of those
who favor strategic disengagement, e.g. the United States is an extraordinarily
secure state due to geography and nuclear weapons.
However, the primary focus of selective engagement is prevention of war
among the great powers, i.e. those states possessing the preponderance of
industrial and military potential.[xii]
Selective engagement seems to be the preferred strategy of the Bush
While advocates of disengagement argue against US intervention anywhere
outside of North America, advocates of selective engagement would limit US
military and diplomatic engagement to critical regions of Eurasia, viz. Western
Europe, Northeast Asia, and because of oil, the Middle East/Persian Gulf. There
are at least two variations of selective engagement.
The first is the traditional geopolitical policy, arising from Realist
international relations theory, of providing a counterbalance to the emergence
of a potential hegemon capable of dominating the Eurasian continent.
The second variation of selective engagement is an attempt to adopt a
discriminative policy toward the developing world: the idea of a “pivotal
state.” A pivotal state is “a
hot spot that could not only determine the fate of its region but also affect
Selective engagement envisions the use of diplomatic and military
instruments in order to ensure that peace prevails among the great powers.
To that end, it envisions alliances, both bilateral and
multilateral, as means of linking US interests to the interests of the other
Since resources are limited, the United States cannot afford to fritter
away its force structure in peacekeeping operations on the geopolitical
periphery of the world. The
periphery is important only to the extent that it directly affects the well
being of the industrialized “core.” This
underlies the logic of the pivotal state, permitting the US to employ the
military instrument for deterring or fighting regional war, not as a
There are a number of problems with selective engagement.
The first arises from its Realist roots.
Selective engagement posits a strategic logic based on the emotionless
calculation of power politics. Regime
questions have little bearing on the practice of the strategy.
Such an approach is alien to the US political tradition.[xiv]
Another problem arises from the fact that, in ignoring a great deal of
the world, selective engagement creates the same sort of vacuum that strategic
disengagement does. Those areas of the globe not “selected” by the United
States will be characterized by instability, leading to the same outcome as
strategic disengagement: the
emergence of security dilemmas and arms racing.
Some advocates of selective engagement stipulate that certain parts of
the periphery are so important to the security of the core, e.g. the Persian
gulf, that the US must be willing to intervene there.
But there are no clear rules that delineate the more important parts of
the periphery from the less important. As
Barry Posen and Andrew Ross observe, selective engagement “gives its least
precise positive guidance on matters that will most commonly figure prominently
in the media, and hence in the public debate on US foreign policy.”
Far from simplifying foreign policy choices, selective engagement in
practice will require extended public debate on each alternative.
Selective engagement and strategic disengagement are based on the
assumption that peace is divisible: conflict in one region will not necessarily
affect the peace and prosperity of others.
Cooperative security starts from the reverse premise: a high level of
“interdependence” makes it likely that the impact of conflict in one place
will extend far beyond the local environs.
This interdependence takes a number of forms: informational,
environmental, economic, and cultural. Terrorism
and the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction are two of the most obvious
examples of how problems in one area can have an impact in another.[xv]
Cooperative security goes well beyond collective security.
Collective security is reactive. It
is designed to punish by means of collective military action a member who
violates the sovereignty of another. A
cooperative security system seeks to institutionalize mechanisms for preventing
aggression in the first place. By
means of preventive diplomacy and confidence-building measures, a cooperative
security regimes increases transparency and trust among states, removing them
from the horns of the security dilemma. Cooperative
security is to collective security as preventive medicine is to acute care.
Advocates of cooperative security believe that the world is ripe for such
a system. The end of the Cold War
and the apparent triumph of liberal political and economic principles provide a
rare window of opportunity for cementing a cooperative system into place.
Additionally, the instruments necessary to the success of a cooperative
security system are available: 1) the increasing importance and reach of
international institutions; 2) the development of preventive diplomacy as an
improvement on traditional collective security; 3) the existence of a mature
arms control regime; and 4) a decisive military-technological superiority in the
hands of the United States, making it possible to defeat an adversary in short
order while incurring low casualties.
While cooperative security represents an advance over collective
security, the approach as generally conceived is still flawed.
These flaws result from the apparent assumption that
interdependence and cooperation have replaced competition in international
affairs. It is useful to
remember that the last time the world was as “interdependent” as it is now
was on the eve of World War I. In
his memoir The World Crisis, Winston
Churchill mocked this sort of fatuous optimism as it manifest itself during the
Agadir crisis of 1911, which although it was peacefully resolved, marked another
milestone on the road to Armageddon:
“[War] is too foolish, too fantastic, to be thought of in the 20th
Century ….Civilization has climbed above such perils.
The interdependence of nations in trade and traffic, the
sense of public law, the Hague Convention, liberal principles, the Labour Party,
high finance, Christian charity, common sense have rendered such nightmares
impossible. Are you quite sure? It
would be a pity to be wrong.”[xvi]
There is no more reason to believe that the international security
environment is naturally less competitive than it has been in the past. Anarchy
still prevails in the international system, meaning that the realm of
international politics is one of “self-help” in which each state is the
arbiter of its own security requirements. Insofar
as a cooperative international society exists, it is because the hegemonic power
of the United States underwrites it.
Most advocates of cooperative security acknowledge the central role of
the United States in the creation and maintenance of such a system, but then act
as if the United States should subordinate its power and interests to other
actors in the international political system, e.g. international institutions
such as the United Nations and non-governmental and trans-national
organizations. The fact is that
what most analysts call cooperative security depends on preponderant US power
and the willingness of the United States to use it on behalf of a community of
As Donald Kagan has observed, history seems to indicate:
good will, unilateral disarmament, the avoidance of alliances, teaching and
preaching the evils of war by those states who…seek to preserve peace, are to
What seems to work best…is the possession
by those states who wish to preserve peace of the preponderant power and of the
will to accept the burdens of and responsibilities required to achieve that
This is called primacy.
Primacy hold that the key to future peace and prosperity is for the
United States to maintain the power position it held at the end of the Cold War.
The central purpose of primacy is preventing the emergence of a potential
new rival along the lines of the former Soviet Union.
In the words of a draft of the Bush administration’s Defense Planning
Guidance (DPG) that subjected to much ridicule after it was leaked to the press
in March 1992, the US must “endeavor to prevent any hostile power from
dominating a region whose resources would, under consolidated control, be
sufficient to generate global power…Our strategy must now refocus on
precluding the emergence of any potential future global competitor.”[xviii]
Primacy is based on hegemonic stability theory, which holds that fundamental
…international trade based on the liberal principles of comparative advantage
and the division of labor does not just occur through the actions of a global
“invisible hand.” Instead,
economic openness only arises in the presence of a hegemonic power, a state
willing and able to provide the world with the collective goods of economic
stability and international security. A
state will only adopt the leadership role of hegemon when it is in its national
interest to do so. In short, the
theory of hegemonic stability rests on two propositions:
(1) order in world politics is typically created by a single dominant
power, and (2) the maintenance of order requires continued hegemony.[xix]
According to the theory of hegemonic stability, a
decline in relative US power could create a more disorderly, less peaceful
The precedent for the United States is the decay of
Pax Britannica, which, many believe, created the necessary, if not
sufficient conditions for the two world wars of the twentieth century.
As British hegemony declined, smaller states that previously had
incentives to cooperate with Britain “defected” to other powers, causing the
international system to fragment.
The outcome was depression and war.[xx]
The decline of American power could lead to a similar outcome.
In the words of Sam Huntington,
maintenance of US primacy matters for the world as well as for the United
world without US primacy will be a world with more violence and disorder and
less democracy and economic growth than a world where the United States
continues to have more influence than any other country in shaping global
The sustained international primacy of the United States is
central to the welfare and security of Americans and to the future of freedom,
democracy, open economies, and international order in the world.[xxi]
Critics claim that it is futile for the United States to pursue primacy
for several reasons.[xxii]
First, the very economic system that the hegemonic power of the US
underwrites leads to the diffusion of the economic and technological instrument
upon which the United States depends to maintain its preponderant power.
Thus it is likely that, despite the best efforts of the US, other great
powers will arise.
Second, despite the fact that US hegemony is qualitatively different from
the hegemonies of the past in that it eschews territorial conquest, US power,
benevolent as it may be, is likely to engender resentment on the part of other
states. One consequence will be increasing resistance to US leadership, possibly
undermining the various multilateral institutions that the US requires in order
to ensure that it does not bear the burden of international security alone.
Another, more serious consequence might be that disaffected states will
attempt to balance against the US.
Finally, there is the temptation of what Paul Kennedy calls “imperial
There may be a tendency to argue that if a certain level of power is
good, more power is better.
For primacy to be effective, it would be necessary for the
United States to maintain such overwhelming power that others would not even
think of challenging it. One
consequence of this may be that at some point, commitments far outstrip the
resources the public is willing to provide for defense.
Another is that potential adversaries may employ asymmetric,
cost-incurring strategies to increase the US defense burden.
This leads to the final objection to primacy: it requires a level of
public commitment that may not be possible to achieve in a democratic society in
the absence of an identifiable threat. Without
such a commitment, it is impossible either to fund security needs or to use US
power abroad. Obstacles to such a
commitment include economic complacency and the erosion of a commonly accepted
understanding of US national interests.
Despite these very serious objections, primacy offers the best hope for
achieving US national interests in the world, both today and in the future.
Without a grand strategic vision that seeks to shape the security environment as
primacy does, policy-makers are left in a reactive mode, rushing from one crisis
A Strategy of
US Global Leadership
Primacy can be caricatured as a “go-it-alone” approach to world
affairs in which the US intimidates both friends and allies, wields power
unilaterally, and ignores international institutions.
The strategy presented here can be characterized as a “benevolent”
primacy, one in keeping with the liberal political traditions of the United
States, but one that recognizes the world as a dangerous place in which peace is
maintained ultimately by the power of the strong.
This form of primacy is based on the assumption that US power is good not
only for the United States itself but also for the rest of the world.
The point is that the United States can be fully secure and prosperous
only in a world where everyone is secure and prosperous.
Such a liberal world order is possible only if the United States is able
and willing to make the effort to create and maintain it.
A grand strategy of primacy through US global leadership does not require
unilateral US action everywhere. Realistic primacy depends on the interaction of
Churchill’s “two As,” arms and alliances. To employ a common analogy, the
US is not so much the world’s policeman as it is the world’s sheriff who
organizes the posse to maintain order: alliances, coalitions, and the various
international institutions that create, at least in some parts of the world, an
international society, the sine qua non
of cooperative security. And it
does not mean that all regions of the world are of equal importance to the
United States: a strategy by definition implies priorities.
The overarching goal of US foreign policy is to create and maintain a
liberal world order. This goal is
best achieved by creating and securing a commonality of interests among a broad
array of other states, while deterring the use of force by potential aggressors.
There is a clear “ideological” character to a diplomatic strategy
associated with primacy. It does
not subscribe to the notion of moral equivalence among states.
Republican government is better for its citizens than other forms and
because the United States is a republic, US leadership is better for the world
as a whole than the alternatives.
As a consequence, the grand strategy presented here favors the expansion
of liberal democratic principles and practices over the expansion of illiberal
ones. But this diplomatic strategy
is realistic in that it recognizes the impossibility of expanding these
principles by force. For practical purposes, a diplomatic strategy of primacy
recognizes that regional powers possess security zones, within which it is
imprudent to threaten to use US power. It does not “presume that the goal of
international order means the prevention of regional spheres (except our
The diplomatic strategy presented here does not mandate a single approach
to the world. It recognizes that in
certain parts of the world, viz. Western Europe, multilateral cooperative
security structures exist; that in others, e.g. East Asia, a commonality of
interest sufficient to support bilateral relations but not multilateral
structures prevails; and that in still others, there are few prospects for
cooperation. A discriminating
diplomatic strategy should seek to strengthen and expand cooperative structures
where they exist, and to take advantage of whatever opportunities may arise to
develop them where they do not.
Thus it is possible to support NATO expansion into Central Europe but
recognize that further expansion into Eastern Europe may be “a bridge too
far,” expanding US-NATO commitments and threatening a Russian security
zone beyond what resources and the public will may realistically support.
For Eastern Europe and Central Asia, Partnership for Peace and OSCE will
have to fill the bill.
This diplomatic strategy cannot be separated from the other instruments
of national power. Preventive
diplomacy is predicated on the ability of the US to use its military forces as a
magnet for attracting potential allies and partners.
A goal of this diplomatic strategy is to convince other actors in the
international political system that because of the power and effectiveness of US
military forces, “band wagoning” is preferable to anti-US balancing.
Finally, coercive diplomacy often employs economic sanctions and rapidly
shades into the use of force.
The great obstacle to the development and implementation of a coherent
diplomatic strategy of primacy is the subordination of US national interests to
domestic interest groups, both ethnic and commercial.[xxv]
This was a particular failing of the Clinton administration.
Consider the case of China. The
Clinton administration was very happy to allow US companies to help China
increase its military power. US
companies have sold China advanced machine tools that its People’s Liberation
Army (PLA) can use to build improved missiles and aircraft, super computers that
can be used to simulate nuclear tests, and satellite and missile technology that
has improved the accuracy of Chinese ballistic missiles, many of which are
capable of carrying nuclear warheads.
US leadership must transcend American ethnic and commercial interests.
While recognizing the limits to US power posed by geography and culture,
the US must not permit commercial consideration to dictate foreign policy.
National security and economic prosperity are inextricably linked.
To secure its existence in the international system, a state must make
strategic choices in both peace and war. To
implement a strategy, the state must have access to adequate economic resources.
Ultimately, it is impossible to separate economic power and
political-military power. Whatever
enhances the commercial, financial, and industrial power of a state increases
the military potential of that state.
There is a reciprocal relationship between economic prosperity and
military power. As Paul Kennedy
observes, “…wealth is usually needed to underpin military power, and
military power is usually needed to acquire and protect wealth.”[xxvi]
The dependence of military power on adequate resources seems clear.
But the reverse is also true. Economic
well-being and prosperity do not occur in a vacuum.
As Thomas Hobbes observed, there is no production without security.
Insofar as military forces provide security, they underwrite
prosperity. This relationship is
summed up by Colin Gray:
post-1945 eventual prosperity of OECD members undoubtedly supported security
regimes and arrangements of a kind strongly reinforcing of economic progress.
But, the entire OECD experience, indeed the whole fabric of what used to be
called western economic life, has been underwritten by the military protection
provided largely by the United States.[xxvii]
Problems arise, of course, if security commitments outstrip available
economic resources. Paul Kennedy
has concluded that imperial overstretch, the mismatch between capabilities and
commitments has been a major factor in the decline of once great powers.
It is possible to take advantage of such a mismatch between an
adversary’s economic power and military strategy.
Some observers attribute the rapid collapse of the USSR in 1990 to a US
grand strategy that identified the weakness of communist economic organization
as a strategic center of gravity upon which to focus the main US security
effort. This strategy exploited the
economic mismatch between the US and the Soviet Union: while the US spent around
6.3 percent of a large and growing gross domestic product (GDP) on defense, the
USSR spent a considerably larger portion of a much smaller economy on security.
There are two components of an economic strategy of primacy. The first is
to take the steps necessary to sustain non-inflationary economic growth at home
not only to ensure the prosperity of US citizens, but also to preserve US
military and technological dominance abroad.
The second is to employ the economic instrument as both a carrot and a
stick in the international arena.
Strategy and Force Structure
The purpose of military strategy is to secure national interests and to
attain the objectives of national policy by the application of force or the
threat of force. Military strategy
is dynamic, reflecting the changing circumstances and other factors that
A state’s military strategy operates in peacetime as well as during
war. In peacetime, military
strategy provides a guide to what Sam Huntington calls “program
decisions”–the strength of military forces, their composition and readiness,
the number type and rate of development of weapons; and “posturing”–how
military forces are deployed during peacetime to deter war and carry out other
mission (Clausewitz’s “preparation for war”).
In wartime, military strategy guides the employment of military forces in
pursuit of victory (Clausewitz’s “war proper”).[xxviii]
A state’s approach to its security can take the form of either strategic
pluralism or strategic monism.
The former “…calls for a wide variety of military forces and weapons
to meet a diversity of potential threats.”
In contrast, the latter refers to primary reliance on a single strategic
concept, weapon, service, or region. Strategic
monism “presupposes an ability to predict and control the actions of possible
Strategy answers the question: what plan will best achieve the ends of
national security, given scarce resources for defense?
The answer to this question serves as a guide to employing current forces
and planning future forces.
In theory, the strategy-force planning process is very logical: To
execute a chosen strategy, certain strategic
requirements must be fulfilled. To
fulfill these requirements, military planners develop
operational concepts and the military
capabilities to implement them. These
operational concepts and required military capabilities should then drive the
acquisition of forces and equipment.
Throughout the process, the planner must constantly evaluate
any risk that may be created by a potential ends-means mismatch.[xxx]
In reality, strategic decisions are often subordinated by the domestic
political process to what Sam Huntington calls “structural” considerations.[xxxi]
Strategic requirements have evolved considerably since the end of the
Cold War, requiring us to reevaluate the interrelationship among ends, means,
and the security environment. Potential
mismatches between ends and means create risks.
If the risks resulting from an ends-means mismatch cannot be managed, we
must reevaluate and scale back the ends, increase the means, or otherwise adjust
The military strategy of the Clinton administration failed for two
reasons. First, as a result of the incoherence arising from the
administration’s general approach to security, the strategy often did not
establish priorities, leading policy makers to expend US forces in open-ended
areas of only marginal importance to the United States.
Second, although its security agenda was very ambitious, the Clinton
administration substantially under funded defense. The resulting
policy-resources mismatch created both readiness problems and continued delays
in necessary modernization.
A strategy of primacy through global leadership is militarily demanding.
It must enable us to lead coalitions to deter aggression and win if
deterrence fails, restore order to unstable regions, support international law,
and enforce peace in regions of vital interest to the United States. Primacy
through global leadership requires a flexible military strategy and a force
structure able to respond to contingencies across the entire spectrum of
These forces must be able to execute four basic missions:
deterrence, both nuclear and conventional, constabulary operations, the
projection of power to areas of importance to the US, and homeland defense.
Requirements of Primacy
The central requirement generated by a strategy of primacy is to be able
to shape the security environment in order to sustain a stable international
order and prevent the emergence of a hostile global competitor.
The main constraint faced by the United States in meeting
this requirement is geography. Since
most threats to international order have arisen on the Eurasian land mass, the
US must be able to influence actors there.
To do so requires dealing with the “tyranny of distance.”
Therefore a cornerstone of the strategy presented here will be to
maintain bilateral and multilateral relations with allies and friends on the
littorals of Eurasia.
By the nature of its geographical position, US strategy must focus on
Eurasia and US forces must be expeditionary.
To reassure friends and allies and deter/defeat adversaries, especially
on the Eurasian landmass, the US must maintain the capability to project power
over substantial distances. Sometimes
it will be sufficient to project power by means of long range precision strike.
On other occasions it will be necessary to employ land forces–to be
assured of achieving our national interests, it ultimately is necessary for the
US to be a Eurasian land power. But
to be a Eurasian land power, the US must also be a global sea and air power.
Constabulary operations or “imperial policing” are essential to
shaping the security environment and drawing allies into a cooperative security
system. By thus helping to shape the security environment, constabulary
operations may in fact reduce the chances that the sort of hostile adversary we
fear will emerge in the future.
On the other hand, if the United States is to deter war, it must possess
a credible war-fighting capability, and it certainly requires such a capability
if deterrence fails. The belief
that the United States can reduce or even shift away from a war-fighting stance
since the prospect of large-scale war is remote ignores the fact that war may
very well be remote precisely because of the existence of a US war-fighting
A strategy of primacy requires a balanced force that can be employed
across the spectrum of conflict and prevail under diverse circumstances against
adversaries employing a variety of strategies, including asymmetric strategies.
These forces must be able not only to prevail in war, but also reassure
friends and allies and generally influence actors in those parts of the world of
the greatest importance to the US, especially Eurasia.
These forces must be capable of operating jointly in all operational
environments: land, sea, air,
space, and across the electromagnetic spectrum, both now and in the future.
Accordingly, while remaining of sufficient size and composition both to
fight and win major theater wars and carry out constabulary operations in the
present, this force structure must also be flexible enough to exploit new
technologies, doctrine, organization, and operational concepts in order to
maintain military preeminence in the future.
This strategy will require a higher level of defense spending than in the
recent past. The fact is that the
United States is a rich nation that acts poor. The US is currently spending
about $300 billion on defense, which constitutes three percent of US GDP. There
is a growing consensus that this level of spending is insufficient to fund even
the force mandated by DoD’s Quadrennial Defense Review (QDR).
For instance, the Service Chiefs have argued that they require $60
billion more than is now projected over the Five Year Defense Program (FYDP) in
order to modernize the force. The Congressional Budget Office has projected a
requirement for $90 billion more over the same period merely to ensure steady
state procurement of the QDR’s legacy systems.[xxxiii]
complain that in absolute terms, this is as much as the aggregate defense
budgets of the next five major military powers.
But this is misleading. US
military forces essentially provide an international “public good” by
underwriting the security upon which global stability, interdependence, and
ultimately prosperity depend. If
the US forces that provide this public good are stretched thin because they are
under-funded, the result may be a decline in stability and prosperity. World War
I illustrates how rapidly an interdependent world order can collapse if the rise
of aggressive powers are not checked.
Given the contribution of US military power to a global prosperity which
benefits the US disproportionately, it seems reasonable to suggest that the US
should spend a least 4.5 percent of GDP on defense.
Several years ago, much was made of Paul Kennedy’s thesis of imperial
overstretch and the suggestion that, in keeping with this thesis, the burden of
US defense spending was dragging the US down relative to the other industrial
powers. The stagnation of the
economies of other industrial powers, especially Europe and Japan, has taken
much of the wind out of this argument. But
there is another flaw in the thesis that we should consider when considering the
US burden of defense.
Kennedy contends that Great Britain was the victim of imperial
overstretch. But one can make the
argument that it was not imperial overstretch that led to the decline of
Britain, but the onset of a war Britain could not prevent: it was World War I
that doomed the British empire, not the expenditures to maintain the empire.
In light of this observation, the burden on the US of its
defense posture is significant, but the benefits of the resulting world order
far outweigh the costs.
One obvious benefit of bearing this burden is the prevention of war.
4.5 percent of GDP is a small price to pay when we consider the
alternatives. During the peak years
of World War II, US defense spending was nearly ten times greater than what we
propose. US defense spending constituted 38.6 percent of GDP in 1943, 39.9
percent in 1944, and 40 percent in 1945, not to mention 280, 000 dead over the
course of the war.
Clearly, the cost of preventing war is far less than the cost
of fighting one, even if it results in victory.
And prevention of war is the objective of a grand strategy of
[i] I am indebted to Dr. Robert
S. Wood, Dean of the Naval War College’s Center for naval Warfare Studies,
for this formulation.
[ii] Andrew F. Krepinevich,
Jr., The Army in Vietnam
(Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1986), pp. 164-193.
[iii] Samuel Huntington,
The Common Defense: Strategic Programs in National Politics (New York:
Columbia University press, 1961), pp. 3-4.
[iv] B.H. Liddell Hart,
Strategy (New York: Praeger,
1967), p. 335.
[v] Paul Kennedy, ed., Grand
Strategies of War and Peace (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1991);
Edward N. Luttwak,
Strategy: The Logic of War and
Peace (Cambridge: Harvard
University Press, 1987).
[vi] This more expansive usage
of strategy, usually termed grand strategy, inevitably overlaps with the
common meaning of “policy” which is defined as 1) the general overall
goals and acceptable procedures that a nation might follow; and 2) the
course of action selected from among alternatives in light of given
conditions. In their military
history of the United States, Allan Millett and Peter Maslowski define
defense policy as “the sum of the assumptions, plans, programs, and
actions taken by the citizens of the United States, principally through
government action, to ensure the physical security of their lives, property,
and way of life from external military attack and domestic insurrection.
Allan R. Millett and Peter Maslowski, For
the Common Defense: A Military
History of the United States of America (New York:
The Free Press, 1984, revised and expanded 1994), p. xiii.
[vii] Edward Mead Earle, ed. Makers
of Modern Strategy (Princeton: Princeton
University press, 1943), p. viii.
[viii] Barry R. Posen and
Andrew L. Ross, “Competing Visions for US Grand Strategy,” International
Security, Vol. 21, No. 3, Winter 1996/97.
[ix] On strategic
disengagement, see, e.g. Isolationism
Reconfigured: American Foreign
Policy for a New Century (Princeton:
Princeton University Press, 1995); Doug Bandow, “Keeping
the Troops and the Money at Home,” Current
History, Vol. 93, No. 579 January 1994; Earl Ravenal, “The Case for
Adjustment,” Foreign Policy, No.
81, January 1991; and the foreign policy publications of the Cato Institute
[x] Posen and Ross, p. 13.
[xi] See. Ivan Eland, “Does
US Intervention Overseas Breed Terrorism?
The Historical Record,” Cato Institute Policy Briefing No. 50,
December 17, 1998.
[xii] On selective engagement,
see e.g. Christopher Layne, “The Unipolar Illusion:
Why New Great Powers Will Rise,”
International Security, Vol. 17, No. 4, Spring 1993;
Robert Art, ” Geopolitics Updated: The
Strategy of Selective Engagement,” International
Security, Vol. 23, No. 3, Winter 1998/99; Stephen Van Evera, “Why
Europe Matters, Why the Third World Doesn’t:
American Grand Strategy After the Cold War,”
Journal of Strategic Studies, Vol. 13, No. 2, June 1990; and Kim R.
Holmes, ed., A Safe and Prosperous
America: A US Foreign and
Defense Policy Blueprint (Washington DC: The Heritage Foundation, 1994).
[xiii] Robert S. Chase, Emily
B. Hill, and Paul Kennedy, “Pivotal States and US Strategy,”
Foreign Affairs, Vol. 75, No. 1, Jan/Feb 1996, p. 33.
[xiv] Robert Kagan, “The Case
for Global Activism,” Commentary,
Vol. 98, No. 3, September 1994.
[xv] On cooperative security
and its underlying assumptions, see, e.g., Inis L. Claude, Swords
into Plowshares: The Problems
and Progress of International Organization, 4th ed. (New York:
Random House, 1971; Arnold
Wolfers, Discord and Collaborations: Essays
on International Politics (Baltimore:
Johns Hopkins University Press, 1962); Ashton Carter et
al, A New Concept of Cooperative
Security, Occasional Paper (Washington DC: Brookings Institution, 1992);
and Janne E. Nolan, ed., Global
Engagement: Cooperation and
Security in the 21st Century (Washington DC: Brookings Institution,
[xvi] Winston Churchill,
The World Crisis, Vol. I (New York:
Scribners, 1923), p. 45.
[xvii] Donald Kagan, On
the Origins of War and the Preservation of Peace (New York: Doubleday,
1995), p. 570.
[xviii] “Excerpts from
Pentagon’s Plan: ëPrevent the emergence of a New Rival,” New
York Times, March 8, 1992, p. 14.
[xix] Ethan Barnaby Kapstein, The
Political Economy of National Security:
A Global Perspective (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1992), p. 3.
[xx] Robert Gilpin,
War & Change in World Politics (Cambridge:
Cambridge University Press, 1981); Joseph Greico, Cooperation
Among Nations (Ithaca: Cornell
University Press, 1990); and Charles Kindleberger,
The World in Depression: 1929-1939 (Berkeley: University of
California Press, 1973).
[xxi] Samuel Huntington, “Why
International Primacy Matters,”
International Security, Vol. 17, No. 4, Spring 1993, pp. 82-93. Cf.
also William Kristol and Robert Kagan, “Toward a Neo-Reaganite Foreign
Policy, Foreign Affairs, Vol. 75,
No. 4, July/August 1996; Joshua Muravchik, The
Imperative of American Leadership: A
Challenge to Neo-Isolationism (Washington DC: AEI press, 1996); and
Robert Kagan, “The Benevolent Empire,” Foreign
Policy, No. 96, Summer
[xxii] Cf. Robert Jervis,
“International Primacy: Is
the Game Worth the Candle?” International
Security, Vol. 17, No. 4, Spring 1993; and Layne, “The Unipolar
[xxiii] Paul Kennedy, The
Rise and Fall of the Great Powers (New York:
Random House, 1987).
[xxiv] James Kurth,
“America’s Grand Strategy: A
Pattern of History,” The National
Interest, No. 43, Spring 1996, p. 18.
[xxv] Cf. Kurth, “America’s
Grand Strategy” and Samuel Huntington, “The Erosion of American National
Interests,” Foreign Affairs,
Vol. 76, No. 5, September/October 1997
[xxvi] Kennedy, The
Rise and Fall of the Great Powers, p. xvi.
[xxvii] Colin Gray, “Global
Security and Economic Well-being:
A Strategic Perspective,”
Political Studies, Vol. 42,
No. 1, March 1994, p. 36.
[xxviii] Samuel Huntington, The
Common Defense: Strategic
Programs in National Politics (New York:
Columbia University Press, 1961), p. 3; Clausewitz, On
War, pp. 131-132.
[xxix] Gordon W. Keiser, The
US Marine Corps and Defense Unification, 1944-47:
The Politics of Survival (Washington DC: National Defense
University Press, 1982), pp. 121-122. Huntington
coined the terms strategic monism and strategic pluralism.
Cf. The Soldier and the State
(Cambridge: Harvard University
Press, 1957), pp. 400, 418-427; and The
Common Defense, p. 264.
[xxx] Mackubin Thomas Owens,
“An Overview of US Military Strategy:
Concepts and History,” Chapter 28 of
Strategy and Force Planning Faculty eds.,
Strategy and Force Planning, 2nd ed. (Newport:
Naval War College Press, 1997), p. 387.
[xxxi] Huntington, The
Common Defense, pp. 3-4.
[xxxii] Frederick W. Kagan,
“Wishful Thinking on War: The National Defense Panel Gets It Wrong,” The
Weekly Standard, December 15, 1997.
[xxxiii] CBO Testimony—