Rethinking American National Strategy for the 21st Century

July 24, 2015 Topic: Security Region: Americas Tags: United StatesU.S. Grand Strategy

Rethinking American National Strategy for the 21st Century

"The United States, as the world’s most powerful nation, should continue to take the lead in sustaining and extending a rule based international order."

Foreign policy and national security seem likely to play a significant role in the 2016 presidential election campaign. Candidates from both parties will probably try to distinguish their approaches from that of the current administration. Recent events, most notably Russian aggression in Ukraine, the rise of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS), and the continued proliferation of other violent extremist groups throughout the Middle East, South Asia and much of Africa have created concern that current American responses are still inadequate. Cyber security, climate change, and the increasing power of China are also growing national preoccupations. While some criticize the Obama administration for weak and indecisive leadership, significant voices on both sides of the political spectrum argue for even greater restraint, lower resource commitments and reduced engagement in addressing at least some of these issues.

Defining national strategy was easier when the country faced a single overarching threat. During the Cold War it was possible to relate almost any endeavor to a genuinely existential competition with the Soviet Union. With the collapse of the Warsaw Pact and disappearance of the Soviet Union, the expansion of Western values and institutions into this space became the initial focus of American policy. In the aftermath of 9/11, the global war on terror became the organizing principle for American engagement with partners and against adversaries in every corner of the world. These oversimplifications led the United States down some costly and unnecessary paths but such easy to grasp rationales nevertheless succeeded in mobilizing domestic and international support for strong action and costly commitments.

Today the United States faces no existential threat; rather it confronts an unusually wide and diverse array of challenges. Russia has reemerged as an aggressor state. China has become more hard line at home and more powerful abroad. Al Qaeda has spawned offshoots and imitators more powerful and even more radical than itself. Global warming has advanced, and predictions of climate related disasters have become more ominous, more imminent and more credible. Cyberspace has emerged as a new battleground between the forces of order and disorder. Expansion of international travel makes the emergence of new communicable diseases like Ebola more dangerous. The last few years have been a reminder that stability is not the natural state of the international environment, that peace is not self-perpetuating, and that whole regions can suddenly descend into anarchy.

The world is more dangerous than it was a few years ago and the mounting chaos in the Middle East has fed wider, more exaggerated anxieties. Many feel that the pace of technological change is quickening, that the international order is disintegrating, that power is shifting from national governments to individuals and non-state actors, and that America’s capacity to lead is waning. These portends of disaster and decline are overstated. Certainly computers and the internet are driving rapid change, but the pace is not more rapid or revolutionary than that following the introduction of electricity, radio, telephones, internal combustion engines, airplanes and the atomic bomb. The Middle East is in turmoil, but even taking account of the chaos in that region, inter and intra state conflicts continue to decline, as do the casualties and destruction these produce. States are being challenged by terrorists and insurgent groups in the Middle East, as they once were in Southeast Asia, Latin America and the Balkans, but governments are actually more capable today in those other once turbulent regions, and they remain so in Europe, East Asia and North America. The Chinese economy has grown compared to the United States, but the United States has for many years been growing faster than most of Europe, Russia and much of East Asia. Russia is misbehaving, but nothing on the scale of the former Soviet Union.

The United States nevertheless faces a number of difficult choices resulting from heightened global interdependence and the vulnerabilities it brings with it. The continued expansion of international trade, finance, travel and communications has widened personal horizons, increased opportunity, promoted economic growth and extended longevity for billions of people around the world. As we become more connected to the outside world, however, we become more affected by what occurs abroad. Climate change, for instance, is the direct result of global economic growth. Terrorists and criminals can mix with the millions of tourists and business people who cross national borders every day. The communications revolution makes it easier for violent extremists to spread their ideology, recruit followers, and orchestrate attacks from great distances. As physical infrastructure becomes more dependent on digital controls, the possibility for catastrophic interference grows.

Alternative Models

The academic literature offers several competing templates for formulating a national strategy.

The “realist” perspective emphasizes the centrality of states, and particularly great powers, the inevitable competition between them for influence and power, and the primacy of security and economic objectives as the focus of this competition. This school tends to envision national interests not as what a given population may actually be interested in, but rather as goals toward which all nations tend to strive.

The “neo-conservative” school shares with realists an emphasis on the importance of hard power, but with an inclination to employ it toward softer, that is more value based, objectives, most notably democracy promotion.

An opposing school advocates the United States adopt the role of “off-shore balancer,” employing its political and economic weight along with its maritime military capacity to maintain regional equilibria without engaging U.S. assets too heavily. This is a “no boots on the ground” variant of realism.

The Wilsonian tradition, named after Woodrow Wilson, shares with neo-conservatism the evangelizing goal of democratization, but sees this arising more from good example and willing emulation than from coercion. It also places greater stress than the other schools on multilateralism, international law and thus regional and global institutions.

The national security strategies of recent administrations contain traces of all these schools. In the immediate aftermath of the Cold War, there was a general expectation that the rest of the world would naturally gravitate to the only societal model left standing, that of liberal Western democracy. The first term Clinton national strategy thus set as its core goal expanding this democratic community through the power of example and the deployment of positive incentives. Accordingly, the administration championed the expansion of both the European Union and NATO. Later in the decade, this Wilsonian vision took on more forceful overtones as that administration sought to protect endangered populations and promote democracy in the Balkans, albeit still within a multilateral framework.

George W. Bush campaigned on a realist platform (no nation building) but moved in a more neo-conservative direction in reaction to the 9/11 attacks.

Obama has pursued a policy of retrenchment abroad and nation building at home, a tentative form of offshore balancing.

The realist model adapts itself fairly well to East Asia, a region of strong states governed by regimes that tend toward realist, value free external policies, a region moreover without significant insurgencies or terrorist movements.

International politics in Europe today is much more value-laden. Its problems derive as much from weak states on its periphery as competition among peers. Here the choices largely lie between realism, which would tend to leave these weak peripheral states to their own devices and thus effectively allow them to be drawn into the Russian orbit, as opposed to Wilsonian and neo-conservative approaches, that would seek to bring these outlying states within the Western economic and security perimeter.

For much of the post-WWII era, the Middle East presented a classic opportunity for American offshore balancing. For decades, Iraq and Iran effectively contained each other with minimal need for U.S. involvement. As a result, the United States could maintain acceptable equilibria between Arabs and Israelis and among Arab states with only periodic, usually minimal and short term applications of U.S. military force. Saddam Hussain’s 1991 invasion of Kuwait drew the Unites States more deeply into the region. The American invasion of Iraq in 2003 destroyed the Iraqi/Iranian equilibrium. For the present there does not seem any regional balance to maintain.

Beyond these theoretical constructs there are three broad strategic tendencies which compete for support within the American body politic.

The predominant but never uncontested view for most of the period since WWII has favored well-resourced internationalism, that is to say American leadership in the sustainment and expansion of a rule based international order promoting free trade and the peaceful settlement of disputes, combined with a willingness to commit diplomatic, economic and military resources to develop and help enforce such norms.

A more hawkish camp places somewhat less emphasis on multilateralism and tends to be even more ready to employ economic and military coercion in support of U.S. security interests.

The third group feels the United States is overextended abroad, does not believe it need assume the dominant responsibility for addressing every challenge to global order, and would like to reduce the overall level of its overseas commitments. On the political right, this group includes small government conservatives and libertarians. On the left it supporters include those who prefer “nation-building at home,” generally oppose the use of force, and resist further globalization.

The Obama administration put in place a national strategy of retrenchment and redirection: retrenchment in Europe, the Middle East and South Asia, and a redirection of attention and resources toward East Asia. This strategy was responsive to the public mood. Most of the President’s individual decisions pursuant to this strategy had broad support, to include withdrawing American forces from Iraq, moving to do the same in Afghanistan, leading from behind in Libya and not intervening militarily in Syria. But while each individual decision may have been popular, the overall results have not been. The American people may have been happy to assume less cost and less risks abroad, but they have not been satisfied with the resultant decrease in influence and increase in threatening disorder.

Obama’s policies, indeed Obama’s very election have been the result of more than a decade’s disappointment with counterinsurgency, nation-building and democracy promotion. If one might caricature the first term foreign policy of George W. Bush, as action without reflection, then one might contrast Obama’s approach as reflection without action. Neither charge is entirely just, but certainly Bush’s greatest failing was one of commission (invading Iraq) whereas Obama’s have been ones of omission (leaving Iraq, not stabilizing Libya, and not doing anything about Syria before it became overrun by militant extremists).

Assessing and Accepting Risk

Many of the choices facing the next administration will come down to the tradeoff between expenditure and risk. The United States can spend more on defense, or risk strategic setbacks in Europe, East Asia, and the Middle East. It can spend more on reducing carbon dioxide emissions, or risk the many negative consequences of climate change. As long as the risk is not of existential damage, recovery remains possible, albeit perhaps at much increased expense. The United States was unprepared for WWII, for the Korean War, for Saddam Hussein’s seizure of Kuwait in 1991, and for 9/11, but recovered from each. The size and power of the United States relative to the rest of the world provide it unique resiliency. In such cases, strategic decisions may come down to a choice between spending more now, or possibly having to spend a lot more later on.

It thus makes sense not only to examine desirable objectives, but also minimally acceptable outcomes. In Europe, the United States might like to see a unified Ukraine moving toward NATO and European Union membership, but might be able to accept a divided Ukraine with the larger part linked to Europe but forswearing NATO membership. In the Middle East, the United States would like to see a peaceful Syria under a moderate pro-Western government, but at this point could probably live with a peaceful Syria under almost any government actually able to impose control. In East Asia, the United States faces little difficulty helping ensure its treaty allies against actual invasion and occupation. The sources of friction with China tend in many cases to be issues in which the United States has no inherent interest. Absent some major miscalculation, the risks are not existential either for the United States or its allies. Some non-treaty partners or potential partners are more vulnerable. So there are legitimate cost/risk equations to be evaluated when drawing red lines in seeking to contain China.

This is not to suggest a race to the lowest acceptable outcome, but rather to note that the cost/benefit ratio associated with doing better than the acceptable minimum needs to be part of the decision process. Declaratory policy will naturally set out desired outcomes; actual strategy needs to leave room for bearable outcomes that fall short of declared goals. Strategic failure will ensue when resources committed prove insufficient to reach even the minimally acceptable goals.

Values and Interests

The next administration, like its predecessors, will want to ground its national strategy in American values as well as interests. The ultimate test of leadership, after all, is followers. Washington needs to enunciate policies that its public will support, its partners join, and its adversaries respect.

At a certain level of abstraction, this is easy enough to achieve. The United States values democracy and free markets and is interested in peace, international collaboration, and expanding trade. It is easier to collaborate with established democracies and to trade with free market economies than to do so with authoritarian governments and closed economies. Therefore our values and interests cohere.

At the retail level, promoting values can be rather more complicated. Non-democratic regimes resist and resent efforts to remake them in our image, and will sometimes withhold collaboration on otherwise shared interests as a result. Freedom, democracy and human rights may be universally applicable, but much as we would wish otherwise, they are not universally attractive, particularly within conservative societies where gender inequality and authoritarian rule are sanctioned and even enforced by religious authority. Finally, as the aftermath of the Arab Spring has demonstrated, there are worse things than a cooperative authoritarian government, to include an uncooperative and even more authoritarian government, as in today’s Egypt, or anarchy and bloodshed, as in today’s Yemen, Libya and Syria.

In practice, therefore, there is sometimes a tension between promoting democracy and human rights and advancing security and economic interests abroad. This requires case-by-case assessment of the local receptivity to the export of values, the cost in terms of other issues of pressing too hard, and the likelihood, if change comes, that it will move in the right direction.

Even back at the dawn of the Cold War, George Kennan, the father of containment, cautioned against looking at the world through a single prism. Reacting to what he regarded as President Truman’s imprudent commitment in 1947 to support any nation threatened by communism, Kennan was “struck by the congenital aversion of Americans to taking specific decision on specific problems, and by their persistent urge to seek universal formulae or doctrines in which to clothe and justify particular actions.” Containment, in Kennan’s view, was a very specific response to a very specific problem, not an organizing principle for America’s global engagement. “Whatever the origins of this tendency, it is an unfortunate one. It confuses public understanding of international issues more than it clarifies it. It shackles and distorts the process of decision making. It causes decisions to be made on the basis of criteria only partially relevant or not relevant at all. It tends to exclude at many points the discrimination of judgment and the prudence of language required to the successful conduct of affairs of a great power.”

Keeping Pace with Change

As noted above, there is a common perception that the world is changing today at a much faster pace than heretofore, making it difficult for U.S. policymakers to keep up. Certainly information flows more quickly and more widely than ever, allowing and even requiring rapid responses to distant events. Moore’s law, which held that computing power would double annually for several decades into the future, is sometimes extended more broadly to suggest a comparable acceleration of geopolitical developments. Events in the Arab world are cited to illustrate this thesis.

However, in terms of shifts in global power balances, prior periods have seen even more rapid change. WWI brought the collapse of the Ottoman and Austrian empires and the creation of more than a dozen new countries. During the two decades after WWII, control over more than half the world’s surface and population shifted radically, as dozens of “non-state actors” — then known as liberation movements — seized power and set up new regimes, both in established states like China and Cuba, and throughout the colonial world. Even without the benefit of television and the internet, contagion and imitation from one society to another throughout this period was quite rapid. Change occurred at an even greater speed during in the first two years of the George W. Bush administration, with the unification of Germany, the disintegration of the Warsaw Pact, and the collapse of the Soviet Union. Again there was broad contagion, with very similar political changes occurring throughout Eastern Europe and 15 new states emerging from the former Soviet Union. Further, with the end of the Cold War, a number of civil wars in Africa, Asia and Latin America that had been stimulated by superpower competition were quickly brought to a conclusion.

Most of these earlier geopolitical shifts changes were favorable to the United States — in contrast to current developments in the Arab world. Not surprisingly, people seem more likely to notice the pace of change for the worse, as opposed to that for the better. Nevertheless it would be hard to maintain that the distribution of power among states is changing more quickly today than after 1918, 1945 or 1989.

This leaves the issue of the power distribution between states, on the one hand, and non-state actors, including individuals, on the other. Are states losing their grip? Is power devolving downward? An oft heard concern is that the inter-state system first formalized by the Treaty of Westphalia in 1648 is unraveling. But most governments in Europe, East Asia, and the Western Hemisphere have not experienced diminished capacity. Africa has long been home to a number of failed and failing states, but the problems there are no more acute today than at any time since the decolonization of that continent some 60 years ago. What is new and disturbing is the fragility of Arab states. Several have descended into civil war. The rest are deathly afraid of so doing, leading their governments to take extreme and often ill-considered measures to counter what they regard as the forces of dissolution.

Region-wide upheavals are by no means a new phenomenon. In the 1950s, anti-colonial revolts, usually employing terrorism, created dozens of new countries throughout Africa and Asia. In the 1960s and 70s, all of Southeast Asia was engulfed in conflict. In the 1980s, Latin America and sub-Saharan Africa experienced multiple civil wars. At the end of the Cold War, the Balkans exploded. Throughout these decades, most authoritarian Middle Eastern regimes have exhibited a durability based on rigid resistance to change, which has contributed to their current fragility.

Another concern is that even well-functioning states are losing ground as power is dispersed downward and outward. The continued expansion of international trade, finance, travel and communications has increased vulnerabilities even as it has widened horizons, increased opportunity, and lifted of people around the world out of poverty. Terrorists and criminals can mix with the millions of tourists and business people who cross national borders every day, but security agencies also have new and more powerful tools to track and impede their movements. Contagious disease can spread more rapidly, but resources to contain it can also be mobilized and dispatched more quickly. The communications revolution empowers individuals and states alike. Violent extremists can more easily spread their ideology, recruit followers and orchestrate attacks, but security authorities can more easily collaborate to foil these attempts. As physical infrastructure becomes more dependent on digital controls, the possibility for catastrophic interference grows, requiring ever higher levels of digital safeguards.

The Arab world aside, states are not fragmenting, nor are most of them losing ground to individuals or groups, malign or otherwise. Technology is neutral and can be used both to challenge and extend state authority. There is admittedly a race between the forces of order and disorder in all these domains, but it is not one that effective states are predestined to lose.

Overlearning Lessons of the Past

It took the United States a generation to get over the lost war in Vietnam. The United States can ill afford to wait another generation before recovering from the setbacks in Iraq and Afghanistan and the disappointing results of the Arab Spring. This is not to say that policymakers do not need to reflect upon and absorb the lessons of the past decade. But those lessons are not that nation building never works, that counterinsurgency is always too expensive, or that democracy promotion is ineffectual and potentially counterproductive.

Tomes have been written about the mistakes made by the first term Bush administration in Afghanistan and then Iraq. The United States went into both countries determined not to engage in nation building, so it should surprise no one that its record in this regard disappoints. In both cases, the administration grossly underestimated the resources needed to stabilize these societies, eventually deploying the needed assets only years later, by which time large-scale, well-organized resistance movements had emerged.

The lesson to be drawn from Afghanistan and Iraq is not that nation building does not work, but rather that it can be very expensive and time consuming. There are more than a dozen countries around the world today that are at peace because U.S. troops — or NATO, European, United Nations, or African Union forces, intervened to end a civil war, then provided security to the population, oversaw elections, installed new governments, and stayed around long enough to make sure the new regime took hold. None of these societies are prosperous, well governed, or fully democratic, but they are more prosperous, better governed and more democratic than before. Most importantly, they are at peace with themselves and their neighbors, which was the prime objective of the interventions in the first place.

A second lesson already evident in Iraq and in Libya is that forced regime change which is not followed by successful stabilization can actually create a situation that is worse than the one the original intervention was intended to correct.

The objective of a stability operation is to prevent the renewal of conflict. Insurgency is what one gets if the stability operation fails, as it did almost immediately in Iraq and after several years in Afghanistan, or is never attempted, as in Libya. At that point, one must either counter the insurgency, or allow it to prevail. Obviously it is better to leave this to indigenous forces, assuming they exist. But the United States will not be able to help other regimes do counterinsurgency if it lacks the expertise and capacity to do this successfully itself.

Democratization is not a binary condition. Some societies have moved rapidly from authoritarian to democratic rule. In others, that process is much more gradual. Since the end of WWII, and particularly since the end of the Cold War, dozens of countries have moved from one camp to the other, until democracy is now the dominant form of government throughout the world. There has been some limited regression over the past decade, and several Arab societies have transitioned from authoritarian government to none at all. Rather than giving up on the process, however, Americans need to temper their expectations and work to promote the foundations of democratic government —civil society, rule of law, growth of the middle class — so that when future upheavals occur, as they inevitably will, the results will be more positive.

U.S. National Strategy

Since becoming the world’s most powerful nation the United States has labored to build a rule-based global system dominated by market democracies and dedicated to promoting free trade and the peaceful settlement of disputes. This new order emerged from the Truman Doctrine, the Marshall Plan and the reconstruction of Germany and Japan. It was bolstered by the creation of the United Nations, NATO, the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund and the World Trade Organization. It fostered the end of colonialism, European integration, the unification of Germany, the liberation of all Eastern Europe, the peaceful dissolution of the Soviet empire, the extension of democracy to 144 countries, and the greatest advances in global longevity and poverty reduction in human experience. Preserving and extending this world order should remain the core objective of U.S. policy, first, because it provides the best environment for America’s own security and prosperity, and second, because if the United States does not lead, no one else will.

Defining a national strategy toward this end requires the identification of ends, ways and means.


American interests and values will be best served in a world in which states adhere to established norms of behavior that ensure peace and promote prosperity. Importantly, these same states must remain capable and willing to ensure that their citizens observe such norms. Threats to this order are posed both by states that flout the rules and states that prove incapable of enforcing them.

Today’s state-based threats to international order come primarily from Russia, Iran, North Korea, and potentially China. Russia’s aggression against Ukraine needs to be made costly enough to discourage repetition or imitation. China needs to be deterred from any similar behavior. Iran must be prevented from acquiring nuclear weapons. North Korea must be prevented from exporting its nuclear capacity and dissuaded from attacking its neighbors. China’s growing power needs to be channeled constructively. One can pose and even pursue more ambitious goals, such as turning back Russian aggression, dismantling Iran’s nuclear infrastructure, denuclearizing Korea, or preventing an expansion of Chinese influence. The costs and risk associated with these more ambitious aims may be prohibitive, however.

Today’s non-state-based threats come principally from violent extremist groups based in the Middle East, North Africa and South Asia. Eliminating these groups entirely is probably beyond U.S. capacity, but they should at least be suppressed to the point that they no longer hold territory and govern large populations, are no longer are able to do great damage at great distance, and no longer recruit and inspire large numbers of individuals from within Western and other societies. Ending the civil war in Syria, even at the expense of dealing with Assad, is probably the single most important step toward suppressing the most virulent of these groups, the so called Islamic State, and diminishing its ability to attract new recruits and inspire imitators. This will require engaging Iran while also maintaining existing U.S. alliances.

The defensive aspects of American strategy must be to punish past and deter future state-on- state aggression while suppressing violent non-state extremist movements that threaten U.S. citizens and those of our friends and allies. For these efforts to have any lasting effect, the United States also needs to sustain and extend a rules-based international order founded upon states that are willing to observe such norms and able to ensure that their citizens do likewise. A major goal of U.S. policy should therefore be to improve the capacity of international institutions to channel collective action, to strengthen the capacity of individual states to engage effectively in such action, and to further develop international norms in new areas of vulnerability, most notably in the cyber and climate domains, where an adequate body of generally accepted rules are currently lacking.


The ways of dealing with threats from strong states are conceptually well developed, if expensive and demanding in application. These include diplomacy, economic pressure, deterrence, containment and collective defense.

The ways of dealing with threats emanating from weak states include counterterrorism and counterinsurgency operations combined with state and nation building.

Counterterrorism and counterinsurgency campaigns can disrupt extremist movements, but only the establishment of states willing to adhere to and capable of enforcing international norms will allow such campaigns to be concluded. State and nation-building are long term, resource-intensive enterprises, but at least they have a defined end state. Counter-terrorist operations do not.

American participation will be essential to the resolution of these challenges but it is seldom sufficient. Slowing global warming is only the most extreme example. Deterring or turning back aggression almost always requires collective defense. State and nation building requires support from neighbors and near neighbors, from the societies that have the most at stake and possess the most influence by reason of their proximity, and commercial, criminal, religious and cultural connections. Partnerships are essential. Coalitions are the norm. And one cannot afford to be too choosy about the company one keeps. Russia is needed to help prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons. China is needed to restrain North Korea. Iran is needed to fight ISIS. Both Russia and Iran will be needed to end the war in Syria. Stemming global warming will require almost universal efforts. Partnerships in this era are thus not just about defending friends and confronting enemies.

State building will remain an essential mission for the United States. More government may or may not be the answer to America’s domestic problems, but it is certainly essential to meet most of its external challenges.


As a proportion of national income, the American defense budget is headed for its lowest level in some 50 years. Yet with the continued rise of China, the emergence of ISIS and intensified Russian belligerence, the United States now faces the need to fight, or at least deploy forces sufficient to fight, on three fronts against at least three different opponents. The current budget and envisaged force structure are inadequate to this task as successive Secretaries of Defense have themselves acknowledged.

During the Cold War, the United States sized and organized its military establishment to be able to fight and win two major wars at once, one in Asia and one in Europe. In recent decades this requirement has been nominally sustained, but the scale of each envisaged conflict has been reduced, reflecting both a diminished threat and reduced American capacity. The current standard is to defeat one regional adversary and deny the objective of, or impose unacceptable costs on, a different aggressor in another region. Additionally, discouraged by the results of its efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan, the Obama administration has decided not to require the U.S. armed forces to be ready to conduct large-scale, protracted stability or counterinsurgency operations, and it has cut the size of the Army and Marine Corps accordingly. Meanwhile, many modernization programs have been slowed or truncated and readiness has eroded due to reduced levels of defense funding.

These trends are clearly incompatible with the three-theater challenge the United States now faces. The current international environment does not permit the United States to continue to transfer its time, attention and national resources from West to East. Further military reductions from Europe, the Middle East and South Asia to East Asia are not prudent. The current decline in the U.S. defense budget, and the national security budget more generally must be slowed and all three theaters need to be adequately resourced.


The United States, as the world’s most powerful nation, should continue to take the lead in sustaining and extending a rule based international order. It should promote the development of new norms in domains where these do not yet exists, like cyber and climate. States are the essential building blocks in any such system. Challenges come from strong states that break the rules, and weak ones that cannot enforce them. Both of these challenges need to be addressed. A focus on defense, deterrence and dissuasion is essential but it is not enough. State capacity needs to keep pace with the growing capacity for disruption by individuals and groups. The most successful eras of American statecraft have been periods of construction, the birth of new institutions, the reconstruction of shattered nations, the establishment of new norms for international behavior. The United States needs to combine its defense of existing institutions and norms with a rededication to such a positive agenda.

There remains a sizeable constituency in the Congress as in the country in favor of a well-resourced foreign and security policy agenda, but it spans both parties and dominates neither. This constituency can prevail only if there is willingness on both sides to cross party lines and support sensible policies. As long as the two parties remain dug in behind the ramparts of “no new taxes” and “no cuts to entitlements,” America’s external problems will mount, as new challenges pile in on top of old ones which have not been met. As a result the global order will indeed begin to erode, and fundamental American interests will suffer.

James Dobbins, senior fellow at the RAND Corporation, is the lead author of "Choices for America in a Turbulent World," first of a series of RAND publications rethinking strategic options for the United States.

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