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New US Army War College paper on grand strategic choices in the early 21st century

May 1, 2013

Dr. Patrick Porter is a native Australian who teaches strategic studies at the University of Reading in the UK.  In a new paper published by the US Army War College’s Strategic Studies Institute, Porter makes a case for a power-sharing grand strategy built around “concert of powers” and “balance of powers” theories.  For Porter, these are the strategies by which a no-longer hegemonic US will maintain its influence and status as a great power.  I agree with Porter that these can and should be the strategies that the US employs in the first half of this century.  I disagree, however, that this is because the US will lose hegemony.  I think the US will employ these non-dominance strategies in order to maintain hegemony (leadership) over the world system.   There really is no other option – India, the obvious candidate to replace the US as hegemon over the world system (as we have come to know it for the last 500 years), is not yet ready structurally or militarily (I think India will take the lead in the next cycle, late in the current or early in the next century).  Chinese ascension would  fundamentally change the nature of the world system in ways that the US cannot accept (with threats to both our liberty and our prosperity).   The US, then, has no choice but to both rise to the challenge and to successfully meet it.  Toward that end, Porter’s outline shows the way.

From the paper abstract:

The subject of U.S. grand strategy has been getting increasing attention from the policy and academic communities. However, too often the debate suffers from being too reductionist, limiting America’s choices to worldwide hegemony or narrow isolation. There is a wide spectrum of choices before Washington that lie “somewhere in the middle.” Frequently, not enough thought is given to how such alternative strategies should be designed and implemented. The future cannot be known, and earlier predictions of American decline have proven to be premature. However, there is a shift in wealth and power to the extent that America may not be able to hold on to its position as an unrivalled unipolar superpower. Therefore, it is worth thinking about how the United States could shape and adjust to the changing landscape around it. What is more, there are a number of interlocking factors that mean such a shift would make sense: transnational problems needing collaborative efforts, the military advantages of defenders, the reluctance of states to engage in unbridled competition, and “hegemony fatigue” among the American people. Alternative strategies that are smaller than global hegemony, but bigger than narrow isolationism, would be defined by the logic of “concerts” and “balancing,” in other words, some mixture of collaboration and competition. Can the United States adjust to a Concert-Balance grand strategy that made space for other rising powers without sacrificing too much of its forward military presence, without unleashing too much regional instability, and without losing the domestic political will? It is not certain that a cumulative shift to a new grand strategy would necessarily succeed, since other powers might turn down the chance to cooperate. But with soaring budget deficits and national debt, increasing burdens on social security, and possible agonizing choices in the future between guns and butter, it is surely worth a try.

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