"A Grand Strategy for America"

A book launch co-sponsored by the Division of International Studies
and The Century Foundation

This meeting on Professor Robert Art's new book, A Grand Strategy for America (Cornell University Press, 2003), was another in the Division of International Studies' series, "Ideas in American Foreign Policy," which showcases important new books. He began by noting that the United States today is perhaps more powerful and strong than Rome was at its height. He believes that the United States is likely to remain the world's preeminent power for at least several decades to come. The question addressed in his book is: What behavior is appropriate for such a powerful state? To answer this question, he focuses on "grand strategy," which he defines as the deployment of military power in war and peace to support foreign policy goals.

Professor Art offered his definition of U.S. national interests, developed a typology of seven possible grand strategies, and then assessed the suitability of each in terms of its ability to safeguard those interests. He clustered American national interests under the following rubrics: homeland security, Eurasian great-power peace, secure oil supply at stable prices, international economic openness, spread of democracy and protection of human rights, and climate change.

The seven strategies are: (1) dominion – forcibly trying to remake the world in America's own image; (2) global collective security – attempting to keep the peace everywhere; (3) regional collective security – confining peace-keeping efforts to Europe; (4) cooperative security – seeking to reduce the occurrence of war by limiting other states' offensive capabilities; (5) isolationism – withdrawing from all military involvement beyond U.S. borders; (6) containment – holding the line against aggressor states; and (7) selective engagement – choosing to prevent or to become involved only in those conflicts that pose a thereat to the country's long-term interests.

Professor Art made the case for "selective engagement" as the most desirable strategy for contemporary America, arguing that it protects all major U.S. interests and is politically viable at home and abroad.

Commentator Kenneth Pollack highly praised the book, but questioned whether a "hubs and spokes" deployment pattern for U.S. military forces – that is, basing them in Western Europe, the Persian Gulf and Northeast Asia – was suitable for the current era of unpredictable threats. Discussion also focused on whether the author's definition of "grand strategy" was too focused on the military dimension of American power for the 21st century.