America's Grand Strategy: A Pattern of History

March 1, 1996 Tags: Cold WarGulf War

America's Grand Strategy: A Pattern of History

Mini Teaser: America's Grand Strategy: A Pattern of History Byline: James Kurth     In recent years, there have been many proposals about what should be the future direction, even the grand strategy, of American forei

by Author(s): James Kurth

 

Under such conditions, the
U.S.
error in
Vietnam
was to undertake military intervention in the first place. The far better course would have been to use the different Asian communist states, especially
China
and a united
Vietnam
, to contain each other (as indeed subsequently happened as early as 1979). In short, the great failure, even disaster, of the Vietnam War would never have occurred if the
United States
had better understood and integrated the concepts of the regional sphere of influence and the regional balance of power.

 

Indeed, less than twenty years after the
U.S.
political defeat in
Vietnam
, communist
Vietnam
was doing everything it could to enter into the American-led open international economy. In some ways, the war that the
United States
had once lost by an aberrant military strategy had now been won by its global economic strategy. Indeed, in this sense the really decisive battle of the Vietnam War had actually been fought and won at Bretton Woods in 1944.

 

The causes of the ultimate victory of the
United States
over the
Soviet Union in the Cold War were many, and they have received thorough and illuminating discussion, as readers of The National Interest are especially advantaged to know. It is clear, however, that among the central causes were the dynamism of the open international economy, the inability of the Soviet system to cope with this, and the pressures that this put upon the Soviet leadership to change--and ultimately to abandon--that system.

 

The
U.S.
victory in the Cold War certainly brought an era to an end. But it is not so clear that it brought the third cycle in
U.S.
foreign policy to an end. Rather, it may have initiated that cycle's most dangerous phase.

 

It is possible that, after its victory in the Cold War, the
United States
can now look forward to successes and achievements comparable to those after the Revolutionary War, the Civil War, and the Second World War. More ominously, however, the
United States
could experience failures comparable to those suffered after the Mexican War and the First World War. To grasp the promise of the first and to avoid the perils of the second, the
United States
must construct a foreign policy that draws upon certain enduring positive features of past
U.S.
strategies, while transcending other equally enduring negative ones. These two kinds of features come into sharpest relief when the American strategic tradition is contrasted with that of two other great powers.

 

The British and German Traditions

 

The American tradition of grand strategy as it developed in the twentieth century may be usefully compared with the equivalent traditions of the European great powers. In particular,
Britain
and
Germany
represent two great and opposing national traditions of grand strategy.

 

The British strategic tradition was based upon
Britain
's position as an island off the European continent and its identity as a maritime power. As is well known,
Britain
sought to prevent a single land power from gaining hegemony over t

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