Blogs: Paul Pillar

Inconsistent Impatience on Cuba

True, and False, Meanings of U.S. Leadership

The Forgotten Benefits of Offshore Balancing

Paul Pillar

Forgotten among the prevailing attitudes are the substantial advantages that the United States could enjoy if it today were to practice policies of offshore balancing. They are advantages that Hans Morgenthau, in his classic realist statement about balances of power, attributed to whatever country is able because of geographic separation or other reasons to play the role of balancer, making particular reference to the role that Britain traditionally played in multipolar European politics. One advantage is to conserve one's own blood and treasure while someone else expends his, by utilizing the fears and interests of some other state to check the ambitions and advances of yet another state (or group). Another advantage flows from not being permanently attached to, or estranged from, other countries: the ability to utilize leverage in playing one side of a rivalry off the other, in the process of which one can better advance one's own interests.

The United States has at times skillfully exploited to its advantage other conflicts and rivalries in this way, beyond just the Middle East. The outstanding example in modern times was the triangular diplomacy with the Soviet Union and China that Richard Nixon and Henry Kissinger engineered. Unfortunately policies through several administrations since then toward China and especially toward Russia have squandered the U.S. advantage and driven those two powers closer together than they otherwise might have been.

Meanwhile in the Middle East, similar advantages from offshore balancing could still be realized. But politically it will be hard for any U.S. administration to do so unless prevailing American attitudes about dealing with the region change substantially.                   

Paul R. Pillar is a contributing editor to the National Interest. He is also a nonresident senior fellow at the Brookings Institution and a nonresident senior fellow at Georgetown University’s Center for Security Studies.

Image: Wikimedia Commons/Public domain

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ISIS and the Reversible Stages of Revolt

Paul Pillar

Forgotten among the prevailing attitudes are the substantial advantages that the United States could enjoy if it today were to practice policies of offshore balancing. They are advantages that Hans Morgenthau, in his classic realist statement about balances of power, attributed to whatever country is able because of geographic separation or other reasons to play the role of balancer, making particular reference to the role that Britain traditionally played in multipolar European politics. One advantage is to conserve one's own blood and treasure while someone else expends his, by utilizing the fears and interests of some other state to check the ambitions and advances of yet another state (or group). Another advantage flows from not being permanently attached to, or estranged from, other countries: the ability to utilize leverage in playing one side of a rivalry off the other, in the process of which one can better advance one's own interests.

The United States has at times skillfully exploited to its advantage other conflicts and rivalries in this way, beyond just the Middle East. The outstanding example in modern times was the triangular diplomacy with the Soviet Union and China that Richard Nixon and Henry Kissinger engineered. Unfortunately policies through several administrations since then toward China and especially toward Russia have squandered the U.S. advantage and driven those two powers closer together than they otherwise might have been.

Meanwhile in the Middle East, similar advantages from offshore balancing could still be realized. But politically it will be hard for any U.S. administration to do so unless prevailing American attitudes about dealing with the region change substantially.                   

Paul R. Pillar is a contributing editor to the National Interest. He is also a nonresident senior fellow at the Brookings Institution and a nonresident senior fellow at Georgetown University’s Center for Security Studies.

Image: Wikimedia Commons/Public domain

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Pick Your Fights Carefully—With China, Iran or Anyone

Paul Pillar

Forgotten among the prevailing attitudes are the substantial advantages that the United States could enjoy if it today were to practice policies of offshore balancing. They are advantages that Hans Morgenthau, in his classic realist statement about balances of power, attributed to whatever country is able because of geographic separation or other reasons to play the role of balancer, making particular reference to the role that Britain traditionally played in multipolar European politics. One advantage is to conserve one's own blood and treasure while someone else expends his, by utilizing the fears and interests of some other state to check the ambitions and advances of yet another state (or group). Another advantage flows from not being permanently attached to, or estranged from, other countries: the ability to utilize leverage in playing one side of a rivalry off the other, in the process of which one can better advance one's own interests.

The United States has at times skillfully exploited to its advantage other conflicts and rivalries in this way, beyond just the Middle East. The outstanding example in modern times was the triangular diplomacy with the Soviet Union and China that Richard Nixon and Henry Kissinger engineered. Unfortunately policies through several administrations since then toward China and especially toward Russia have squandered the U.S. advantage and driven those two powers closer together than they otherwise might have been.

Meanwhile in the Middle East, similar advantages from offshore balancing could still be realized. But politically it will be hard for any U.S. administration to do so unless prevailing American attitudes about dealing with the region change substantially.                   

Paul R. Pillar is a contributing editor to the National Interest. He is also a nonresident senior fellow at the Brookings Institution and a nonresident senior fellow at Georgetown University’s Center for Security Studies.

Image: Wikimedia Commons/Public domain

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