International Security Studies


The Global Response to U.S. Primacy: Implications for Nonproliferation

March 03, 2005 // 11:00pm

This meeting, jointly sponsored by the Center's Division of International Studies and the Los Alamos National Laboratory, was another in the ongoing Nonproliferation Forum series.

Professor Walt discussed the main themes of his forthcoming book, Taming America: The Global Response to U.S. Primacy (Norton, 2005). He focused, in particular, on how American global preeminence affects the proliferation choices of other countries. Walt argued that the adverse perception of American power reflected in opinion polls (e.g., the Pew Global Attitudes Project) stems from three sources: first, the sheer magnitude of American power relative to other states; second, opposition to specific U.S. policies (such as the preventive war in Iraq), and third, Washington's perceived double standard (e.g., tolerating nuclear proliferation in Israel while opposing it in Iran).

Walt stated that states are either accommodating or resisting American power in this so-called era of unipolarity.

The strategies of accommodation include: (1) "bandwagoning," or deflecting U.S. power through appeasement or acquiescence; (2) enlisting the United States to address regional security problems (e.g., Qatar); and (3) "bonding" or aligning with the United States to shape U.S. policy and gain concessions or prestige (e.g., British Prime Tony Blair's approach toward both the Clinton and Bush administrations).

The strategies of resistance include: (1) balancing (as pursued diplomatically by the French, German and Russian governments in the United Nations during the lead-up to the 2003 Iraq War); (2) asymmetric responses – such as the pursuit of weapons of mass destruction by "rogue states" in an effort to level the playing field with the United States; (3) "blackmail" (as North Korea is trying to do with its nuclear weapons program); (4) "balking" – just saying no (e.g., Russia's continuing nuclear relationship with Iran despite U.S. objections); and (5) delegitimation – attempting to portray U.S. actions as self-interested and illegitimate.

Walt concluded that international concerns about U.S. power are undermining Washington's nonproliferation efforts. He argued that self-restraint was one mechanism to defuse this tension. In the current nuclear crises with North Korea and Iran there are significant constraints on the use of force against suspect facilities. This may require a shift in U.S. strategy to de-emphasize the option of military preemption and to offer security assurances to the countries of proliferation concern as an incentive for them to forgo the nuclear option.

Experts & Staff

  • Robert S. Litwak // Vice President for Scholars and Academic Relations and Director, International Security Studies
  • Tonya Boyce // Program Assistant, International Security Studies

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