4 Options for U.S. Grand Strategy Going Forward | News | Department of Political Science

One of the most important — but underappreciated — aspects of foreign policy that any state must address is its grand strategy. As we have explored, grand strategy is an outline of how a state manages its resources as a means to an end. Whether these purposes are aimed at conquest, security, the spread of a particular ideal, or economic stimulation, every state needs a grand strategy if it is to survive in the modern world. So, as a global superpower, what are the options for US grand strategy? Not only in the current geopolitical climate, but also as we look to the future?


After 20 years of occupation in Afghanistan, it is understandable that many Americans would want to move away from military interventions abroad and focus instead on diplomacy. Report 2021 from the RAND Corporation says that implementing the realist grand strategy would require the United States to “take a more cooperative approach toward other powers, reduce the size of its military and forward military presence, and end some of its security commitments or negotiate them.”

A more restrictive stance relies on diplomacy to resolve conflicts and encourages other states to take the lead in their own security so that the US can focus only on vital interests. What would the change to restriction look like? Through this approach, the report says, the country would have a smaller military, fewer security commitments, and a higher bar to initiate an armed response.

Among the most famous of the “restrainers” are MIT Professor Dr Barry Posen. In his book, aptly titled “Restraint,” Dr. Posen argues that “the United States has spent hundreds of billions of dollars on unnecessary military preparations and unnecessary wars, billions that it can no longer afford. The wars have unnecessarily taken the lives of thousands of US military personnel and injured thousands more.”

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NDISC The Principal Dr. Eugene Gholz, along with his co-authors Daryl Press and Harvey Sapolsky, expressed their support for the grand strategy in their 1997 article “Come Home America” ​​in which they said, “The United States often intervenes in other people’s conflicts, but without a coherent rationale, without a clear understanding of how to advance US interests, and sometimes with costly unintended consequences.”

Deep Engagement

Although opposed to containment, the strategy of deep engagement is also viable. Citing Stephen Brooks and William Wohlforth, Jeffrey Friedman outlines the four main elements of grand strategy:

  1. The US maintains sufficient military power to defeat any other state.

  1. Providing security commitments to allies such as NATOJapan, and South Korea.

  1. Leverage the benefits of this protective web to financial advantage.

  1. Participation and leadership in the rules-based international order.

The deep engagement strategy is an expensive strategy. As Friedman notes, the United States spends more than $1 trillion on its foreign policy agenda each year.

Brooks and Wohlforth can count themselves among the deep stakeholders when they say, “Revocation of security guarantees would leave the world and the United States less secure. In Asia, Japan and South Korea are likely to expand their military capabilities if the United States leaves, which could provoke a dangerous reaction from China.”

Liberal Internationalism

20221025 Ndc Grandstrategyrestraint 600x400
Through a grand strategy of Containment, the US would pursue diplomatic solutions to conflict.

While deep engagement may seem like the status quo, the US does not currently adhere to the strategy of deep engagement—liberal internationalism is the current grand strategy—indeed, Friedman says that President Trump is an exception to many new Presidents. -modern when “his behavior” was involved. largely consistent with the prescriptions of deep engagement” rather than liberal internationalism.

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If this is the current US approach to grand strategy, it is extremely important that we understand what this strategy entails. International liberalism refers to the belief that states should reach multilateral agreements with each other, uphold rules-based norms, and spread and embed liberal ideals — especially liberal democracy. The model of liberal internationalism allows states to intervene in other states to achieve liberal objectives and humanitarian aid, although violence is positioned as a last resort.

Unfortunately, the flaws of the liberal international model must be ignored: the NATO The intervention in Bosnia and Herzegovina and the bombing of Yugoslavia represent dark times in the history of grand strategy.

President Woodrow Wilson is considered among the first modern liberal internationalists – particularly through his work in establishing the League of Nations, the forerunner of the United Nations. Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton also agree with this grand strategy.

Conservative Primacy

Does global security depend on the decisions and actions of the United States? Is the US the only hegemon in the world? If this is the case, the United States should adopt a grand strategy of conservative primacy. Paul Avey, Jonathan Markowitz, and Robert Reardon state that while there may be disagreements and differences among group members, “conservative primacy formulation of all kinds combines classical liberal assumptions and hegemonic stability theory to arrive at larger strategic prescriptions assertive. These prescriptions rest on a theory of hegemonic stability that combines ‘caring’ and ‘coercive’ elements.”

Conservative preference, like liberal internationalism, favors the promotion of liberalism, especially democracy against authoritarianism, and capitalism and free trade against communism. Unlike liberal internationalism, however, which prioritizes diplomacy and negotiation, “advocates of conservative primacy do not rule out spreading democracy by the sword” such as the 2003 invasion of Iraq.

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It could be argued that the cornerstones of conservative primacy were in question when Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said, “An international order that reflects our values it is the best guarantee of our lasting national interest” [emphasis added].

The Grand Strategy of the United States

These three major strategies are part of the hegemonic theory of stability, which asserts that “openness and international economic stability are likely when there is a single sovereign state.” Restraint, on the other hand, argues that a state can ensure its own survival by preventing another state from accumulating enough power to defeat them.

Like all good theories, this can be charted in twos:

International institutions critical to securing US interests



Domestic institutions critical to securing US interests


Liberal Internationalism

Conservative Primacy


Deep Engagement


*table courtesy of Texas National Security Review

As you can see, hopefully there are many options available for the grand strategy of the United States. Which policy do you like? Are you ready to learn more and have your voice heard on a bigger scale? Notre Dame’s Center for International Security helps students build a platform to learn about International Relations, Foreign Policy, and Grand Strategy. If you want to learn more, we hope you will contact us.

Originally published by Notre Dame Center for International Security at ndisc.nd.edu on October 26, 2022.


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